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How To Import Into Canada: Handy Checklists For Happy Importing

Today we’re talking about what’s required to import food into Canada. We’ll give you pointers, as well as a handy check-list you can use whenever you’re unsure about which paperwork is needed to guarantee smooth sailing at the borders.

Many of our clients are in the food importing industry, a $4T market that’s popular amongst importers and exporters. We help companies like Vega and SmartSweets, amongst a few, ensure their delicious products get where they need to go, without hassle at the border.

If you’ve ever wondered about how to crack into the food industry, here are some handy tips to make it a satisfying experience for both you and your hungry customers.

In Canada, rules about importing food come from the CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is dedicated to safeguarding food, animals and plants, which enhances the health and well-being of Canada’s people. It dictates precisely how and what can be imported as a food product into Canada. Your broker should be able to easily answer any questions you may have about CFIA and importing food into Canada. If not, our A & A brokers are experienced, enthusiastic, and keen to help.

Getting Started: Preparing For Importing Into Canada

First things first, do you have an Import License? Without this, you cannot import food products into Canada. Learn more about obtaining a license here. Import permits or licenses are issued in accordance with Import Permit Regulations.

Permits are issued by Global Affairs Canada, and they recommend using a Customs Broker recognized as having access and comprehension of the Export Import Controls System (EICS). The Canadian Trade Controls Bureau has a list of online brokers with access to EICS, and you guessed it, A & A is front and centre on page 1. Having a trusted customs broker for this process will make your life a lot easier. You are required to have a license to import food, including food ingredients into Canada. This license number and all other salient information about the shipment must be presented to both the CFIA and the CBSA, for each shipment you intend to import.

You must sign up with an online My CFIA account. You can create more than one profile depending on your business’ needs. If you need help figuring out which profiles you need or any other support in the process, our A & A experts are ready, waiting and are leaders in the field.

Checklist #1: Pre-import

Via Inspection Canada:

  • Do you have a current Import License?
  • Can you describe the food you import? (this includes the type of food, its common name, the quantity you intend to import, the packaging of the food)
  • Have you identified the hazards reasonably expected to occur with the food you are importing? These hazards must be prevented from occurring, or they must be eliminated or reduced to a level that does not pose a risk to human health
  • Do you have a general understanding of the supply chain(s) for the foods you are importing? Consider the following:
    • Is the food sent to Canada directly from the manufacturer?
    • Is it subject to another process such as being packaged, processed or labeled by another company and/or in another country before it arrives in Canada?
    • Are you familiar with any applicable requirements, regulations and possibly legislation related to standards, grades, net quantity and labeling?

Supply Chain Considerations

Knowing your supply chains is key, including knowledge of who manufactures, prepares, stores, packages, and labels any food products prior to arriving in Canada. Understanding the supply chain for your foods is important for identifying and addressing hazards. Bear in mind, the supply chain could extend past the contact who supplied the food to you before arriving in Canada.

No matter what food products you’re importing, you as an importer have set rules that you must abide by to prevent penalties, halted shipments, and lost product.

Checklist #2: Importer Requirements

As an importer you are required to:

  • Create, implement and maintain a PCP (a written document outlining measures and controls ensuring the food you’re importing is safe for human consumption and follows
  • Canadian import requirements)
  • Develop and maintain recall and complaints procedures
  • Have a license to import
  • Keep traceability records of where you sourced your food from and who you sold it to (essential for the unlikely event of food-borne illnesses)

What to Expect…When You’re Expecting to import Food: Health, Safety & Standards

By now, you should be ready on the domestic front of what your roles and responsibilities are as a food importer into Canada. You have your check-lists marked off, you’re licensed and ready to THRILL…the palates of your destined food imports.

Every relationship you have in the importing and exporting business is crucial, which is part of why we’re so proud of and obsessed with the satisfaction and longevity of our clients.

One of the most crucial external relationships for you as a food importer is choosing the right, reputable foreign supplier.

Choose a Reputable Foreign Supplier

Choosing a foreign supplier who complies with and maintains the same standards abroad as domestically is required. They are key cogs in food handling, storage and health & safety, and thus your foreign supplier is one of the most important relationships that you as an importer will have.

Checklist #3: What You Need: Foreign Suppliers


  • Your foreign supplier is manufacturing, preparing, storing, packaging or labeling the food before it is imported into Canada, under the same conditions required in Canada
  • For meat and shellfish, you can import only from countries that have a food safety system that the CFIA has approved and recognized as providing the same level of protection as that provided by the Safe Food for Canadians Act and its regulations
  • The type of information you need from your foreign supplier will vary. It will depend on
    • The food being imported
    • The types of activities or processes the food is subject to before being imported and
    • Whether there are existing oversight measures in place that the foreign supplier is subject to
  • Confirm and keep documented evidence that the food to be imported is part of the arrangement; and
  • Confirm and keep documented evidence that the foreign supplier(s) is subject to the oversight of the foreign government and is in good standing within the recognized system

The foreign supplier is not subject to enforcement action in the foreign country. “Foreign supplier” means any person or company that is manufacturing, preparing, storing, packaging or labeling the food in the foreign country from which you are importing.

Crisis Management & Prevention Preparedness Plans

In the unlikely event that your food product causes illness or runs afoul of Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulations, you must preemptively prepare a plan that demonstrates controls applicable to the food you’re planning to import into Canada.

Upon identifying the preventative controls needed for your shipment, you must have written confirmation that the controls are effectively in place and being implemented. As for verifying and confirming these details are approved, this is where it gets murky.

Checklist #4: Control & Prevention Measures

Accepted means for confirmed preventative controls include:

  • On-site foreign supplier visits to observe effectiveness of controls
  • Visits could be conducted by you, the importer, or by a credible third party acting on your behalf
  • Written documentation from the foreign supplier that demonstrates control measures are effectively implemented and in keeping with CFIA standards
  • The name, address and contact information of the process authority or technically competent person who developed the process and implements the preventive controls
  • A product and process description that includes technical information demonstrating that the product was adequately processed and that the preventive controls were adequately implemented to address the hazards most likely to occur in the food
  • A written statement signed by the process authority or technically competent person attesting that the described process will produce a food that meets Canadian requirements

Recall & Complaints Procedures

No one wants to think their food imports will be subject to recalls, returns or complaints. But – the CFIA requires clearly written, communicated and reinforced procedures for each of these. If a consumer complaint or other finding (for example, company testing) results in a recall, you must be prepared to quickly recall all affected products from the marketplace. If the food subject to the recall poses a risk to the health of Canadians, you are required to notify the CFIA of this issue immediately.

Checklist #5: Recalls & Complaints

  • Written procedures to show how you receive, investigate and respond to complaints will help you handle them in a timely and consistent manner
  • A complaint received on a product could be a red flag of a possible issue with food safety controls applied by the foreign supplier and/or problems arising during distribution and handling of the food
  • If a consumer complaint or other finding (for example, company testing) results in a recall, you must be prepared to quickly recall all affected products from the marketplace. If the food subject to the recall represents a risk to the health of Canadians, you are required to notify us of this issue immediately
  • To prepare for a potential recall, you are required to create a written recall procedure that:
    • Describes how the recall will be conducted and the name of the person who is responsible for maintaining the procedure, and
    • The name of the person who is responsible for conducting the recall

It’s Go Time: Importing into Canada

Once you’ve ticked off all the boxes on the above check-lists, it’s time for you to import your food products into Canada!

Checklist #7: Reporting Your Importing

  • Notify the CBSA and the CFIA of all food shipments imported into Canada for selling to Canadians
  • Keep accurate, comprehensive records of all shipments, available in both French and English for 2 years
  • Records can be electronic or paper, if electronic, they must be easily read and accessible by standard computer software

Pro-tip: whether you use a customs broker or decide to manage all of this on your own, there is a handy reference tool called The Automated Import Reference System (AIRS), used for both importers and brokers. It highlights import requirements for commodities regulated by the CFIA. It is you or your brokers’ responsibility to provide the CFIA with all required information, including documentation of each shipment into Canada.

Ready, Set, Let Your Imports Flow!

We hope you find these check-lists helpful as you prepare your shipments. We’re here to help with every step of the process, and have been for over 30 years. Our customers are our best advocates, with companies like SmartSweets and Vega trusting us with their multimillion dollar imports.

Are you ready to chat with an A & A customs broker to ensure you start importing into Canada on the right foot? Send us a note or give us a call, we’re salivating at the idea of helping you bring your scrumptious food products into Canada! Call 1.800.663.4270 for your free consultation!

NOTE: All details pertaining to CARM R2 processes are based on the current information available at the time of writing. As this is subject to change, it’s recommended you periodically check in with the CBSA or your customs broker.