Every year, over $700 billion in goods cross the border between Canada and the United States, with trucks carrying a large portion of that freight, including less than truckload, ful truckload, and other equipment moves, such as box truck or courier van. Physically, those trucks are navigating over just one line — the border. But bureaucratically, they are maneuvering through a rather complicated network of many paths that can sometimes induce wrong turns or even U-turns.


Every year, over $700 billion in goods cross the border between Canada and the United States, with trucks carrying a large portion of the freight. Physically, those trucks are navigating over just one line — the border. But bureaucratically, they are maneuvering through a rather complicated network of many paths that can sometimes induce wrong turns or even U-turns. 


This guide offers an in-depth look at overcoming the challenges of moving freight from the United States to Canada and the best practices shippers can use to make cross-border shipping a smoother trek, including working with a customs broker and a skilled third-party logistics (3PL) partner. 


 Specifically, this guide covers the following:

  • Shipping Practices Between Canada and the U;.S.
  • Best Practices for Cross-Border Shipping
  • Step-By-Step Process: Freight Truckload Shipments to Canada 
  • Border Points of Entry
  • Contacts & Resources for Cross-Border Shipping
  • Choose a Transportation Partner with Proven Cross-Border Shipping Success 
  • Break Through to the Other Side With Zengistics

I. The Shipping Practices Between Canada and the U.S.

Shipping goods and freight north across the border into Canada from the U.S. can be more expensive than moving shipments within the 50 states. But the flow between the countries over the past few years has proved the extra cost is worth it. Canada and the United States trade over $2 billion in goods and services daily, and trade in goods and services between the countries totaled $762.8 billion in 2021. How those goods and services get across the borders varies. Let’s look at the many shipping practices used and each country’s regulations and considerations.

Shipping from the United States to Canada

Shipping to a country the size of Canada provides a unique set of challenges. As with other countries, a significant portion of the people and businesses in Canada are in urban areas, but many others are scattered across the expansive countryside. The greater consumer demand for fast shipping includes those not in easily serviced areas, meaning the demand on shippers grows ever larger. That, combined with different sets of procedures and regulations, means shipping managers must stay on their toes. In addition to a bill of lading, commercial invoice, and applicable import and export licenses, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) requires shipments from the United States to include a Canada Customs Invoice (CCI). A CCI must list the following:

  • The date of the shipment.
  • The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the shipper and consignee.
  • A detailed description of the item or items shipped.
  • The total estimated value of the shipment.

To curb some of those costs and paperwork, U.S. shippers can apply for non-resident importer (NRI) status. Being an NRI can simplify the importing and exporting process. Many Canadian businesses require their U.S. partners to be NRI if they do not already have an existing residency in Canada.


It is also important to take into account a few other factors:

  • Canada is a bilingual country, which means most of the paperwork will be in English and French.
  • The government has its own currency.
  • Winter weather conditions can be much more severe than those in the lower 48 states.

Shipping from Canada to the United States

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires that all formal shipments entering the U.S. from Canada have the following: 

  • Importer ID Number. Either your IRS business registration number or your social security number.
  • Bill of Lading. Required at the time of pick-up.
  • A Commercial Invoice. A Commercial Invoice describes the shipped product, including its estimated value. One copy should be with the BOL and one with the U.S.-bound freight.
  • Electronic Export Information (EEI) form. If a shipment’s value exceeds $2,500, the U.S. Census Bureau requires an EEI form to compile trade information and control exports. 
  • Import/Export License. This particular license might be required if your product or shipment is regulated.
  • USMCA Certificate of Origin. Used by the countries under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, it certifies that a shipment qualifies for the preferential tariff treatment agreed to in the USMCA. The exporter completes the certificate.


Shipments might also need to be approved by other government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Transportation.

II. Best Practices for Cross-Border Shipping Freight 

Cross-border shipping may seem somewhat intimidating, with tens of thousands of trucks crossing the Canada-U.S. border daily. But if you plan and get everything in order beforehand, it Therefore will save a lot of headaches and wasted time. Here are some must-knows for a journey into Canada.:

It can be highly beneficial to set up a customs broker.

Though shippers can clear their shipments while crossing the border, customs brokers can expedite the process and save the shipper time and money. Knowing the rules and regulations, brokers facilitate the crossing by handling the documentation and paperwork that can get tricky when crossing into Canada. They take care of duties such as determining how the freight should be classified, evaluating what duties or tariffs need to be assessed, and filing paperwork with customs and the border patrol.

You must establish an importer of record.

An importer of record (IOR) is responsible for the tariffs owed to the U.S. and Canadian governments. The shipper or receiver can be the IOR listed on customs documents, which also obligates them to ensure shipments adhere to all importing laws. Therefore, it is often easier if the receiver is the IOR.

Finding a reliable cross-border transportation provider is important.

There are two main options in choosing a cross-board transportation provider. Shippers can work directly with a carrier or freight forwarder or use a 3PL or freight broker specializing in cross-border shipping. One benefit of a 3PL is that it usually has partnerships with many cross-border freight carriers and can offer some flexibility in capacity and pricing. If you go with a carrier, remember they must have the authority to operate in the U.S. and Canada.

Make sure you have all the needed documents.

Number One on the list of things that will ensure a swift border crossing is having all the documents ready and filled out correctly. These documents are a must:

  • Bill of Lading (BOL) – The essential details — shipper’s address and contact information and a description of the goods with the size and weight.
  • Certificate of Origin – A document showing proof of origin. The importer, exporter, or producer can complete and sign the certificate electronically. 
  • Commercial Invoice or Canada Customs Invoice (CCI) – This document helps the importer clear the shipment with customs. Required information includes:
    • The importer’s details and contact information
    • A detailed description of the goods
    • The net and gross weight
    • The net price of each item
    • The currency used for payment
    • The agreed-upon terms of delivery and payment,
    • The date the goods went into transit
    • Any reference numbers (purchaser’s order number)
    • The import license (if applicable)
    • Freight charges/insurance


A handful of other documents can be important when crossing the border. These conditional documents are:


  • Shipper’s Export Declaration (SED) – This document is required when exporting controlled goods from the United States. Controlled exports are products that could potentially be contrary to the country’s interests. You must check the commerce control list (CCL) to determine whether your goods fall under this classification. You can contact the Bureau of Export Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce for that list.


  • Packing list – This is yet another document showing the shipment details. The packing list can include quantities, items, model numbers, dimensions, and net gross weights. The list can help a customs broker gain further information about the shipment so that if customs authorities have questions, the details in the packing list can help the broker provide quick answers.


  • Import permits – If your goods fall into particular categories, you might need import permits. Both the U.S. and Canada have restrictions on specific items. For instance, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provides “Importing into the U.S.” guidelines. Check the Special Requirements section of that document before shipping anything into the U.S. 


  • USMCA Certificate of Origin – This document is used by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to determine if imported goods are eligible for reduced or eliminated duty as specified by the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). The USMCA replaced the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 2020.


Have your documents ready for pre-clearing shipments (PARS/PAPS).

This is one area that can help the shipper get ahead of the game. The Pre-Arrival Review System (PARS) allows brokers to submit information to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for review and processing before the goods arrive at the border. This system helps expedite the carrier’s release or examination process once the driver arrives at the border. The U.S. version of this is the Pre-Arrival Processing System (PAPS).


Get to know the Harmonized System.

 The Harmonized System (HS), maintained by the World Customs Organization, is a standardized method of classifying traded products. Customs officials around the globe use it to identify products when assessing duties and taxes. The HS, which categorizes about 5,000 commodity groups, uses coding in which the first six digits of the code are the same in all countries, and then each country can adjust its codes by adding two or four numbers. You will need both the U.S. and Canadian codes for the export process.

Avoid these common mistakes.

 Some errors are easy to avoid, but not paying close attention can leave the driver stuck at the border. Here are five of them:

  • Taking too long to choose a customs broker.
  • Having information on the commercial invoice and BOL that do not match.
  • Releasing a shipment before being in total alignment with your customs broker.
  • Failing to confirm after-hours contact information.
  • Underestimating transit time. 


III. Step-By-Step Process: Freight Truckload Shipments to Canada 

The best way to understand a complicated process like cross-border shipping is to visualize exactly what needs to happen to be successful. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Preparation of the Shipment 

To be prepared, you will need to have these ducks in a row:

  • Procure a business number or employee identification number.
  • Identify the goods you will be shipping.
  • Hire a customs broker
  • Determine the country of origin of the goods you are shipping.
  • Verify whether your shipment is subject to any permits, restrictions, or regulations.

Step 2: Classification of the Goods

This is where some knowledge of the Harmonized System comes in handy. The U.S. and Canada both use the HS to classify goods. From that, you can determine the tariff classification number and the cost of the duties you will be paying. Brokers can be very helpful with this step.

Step 3: Estimating the Duties and Taxes

The correct tariff classification number can now help you determine how much the duties and taxes will be on the shipment. For goods being shipped to Canada from the United States, the CBSA has a duty calculator. The calculator does not guarantee its accuracy, but it is an excellent tool for estimating costs. It’s also important to determine the tariff treatment that applies to the shipment. Canada has 18 different tariff treatments which serve to reduce duty rates.


Duty-free status and reduced tariffs are possible for eligible goods. Shippers or the IOR must prove the goods were manufactured in the country of origin and shipped from the beneficiary country without moving from one vessel to another during transit.


Step 4: Shipping the Goods 

Choosing a reliable carrier is crucial to getting your freight across the border into Canada. Your carrier and broker must communicate to preclear the shipment before pickup, electronically submitting all paperwork to Advance Commercial Information before arrival at the border. If approved, they will need to provide customs with a PARS document, entry, and an ACI number at the border.

Step 5: Customs Clearance 

IA customs broker can easily handle clearance, but you must have power of attorney to clear any shipments if you are going it alone. To make sure your customs clearance goes smoothly in either case, make sure you have done the following:

  • Handed over all required information to your customs broker as soon as possible.
  • Attentively prepared invoices in an organized manner and ensured all data was legible.
  • Created invoices with all the details, just like a packing slip.
  • Marked and numbered each package for identification.
  • Synced those marked and numbered packages with your invoice.
  • Provided detailed descriptions on the invoice for each freight item.
  • Confirmed that the country of origin is displayed prominently.
  • Collaborated with your broker on the packing standards for the shipment.
  • Verified security protocols at your facility and during the transport of your freight.

Step 6: Keeping Records Organized and Available

Importing into Canada requires that you keep all the records (see the list of key documents stated above) available in either digital or paper format for six years following the shipment. If you use a customs broker, they are responsible for recordkeeping.

IV. Border Points of Entry 

The U.S.-Canadian border spans 5,525 miles and includes over 100 border-crossing checkpoints, from Washington state and British Columbia out west to Maine and New Brunswick in the east. There are many locations with highway-land border offices through which commercial goods can go through. Note: Find maps in the Resources section below.

V. Contacts and Resources for Cross-Border Shipping

U.S. Contacts

Canada Contacts


VI. Choose a Transportation Partner with Proven Cross-Border Shipping Success 

After going over all the documentation, regulations, and permutations, it’s easy to see why having a 3PL with cross-border shipping experience is the best road to take when you want to head north. Choosing a proven 3PL puts you closer to crossing the border in plenty of ways: 

  • A 3PL partner with a technology and data-driven approach not only gives you the experience to handle cross-border shipping but also provides a deep network to make moving your freight within Canada a breeze.
  • The robust technology of a 3PL can see pricing in core lanes in Canada, volumes, tender rejection rates, and more.
  • A 3PL not only gives you great focus, but if you work with a brokerage division with Canadian assets, it helps ensure capacity at the best pricing. The 3PL will also help the shipper stay abreast of the market balance and the possible strategies to ensure service and pricing.

VII. Break On Through to the Other Side With Zengistics

It’s clear that an experienced and knowledgeable 3PL can make it a lot easier to move shipments across the U.S.-Canada border. With entities in the United States and Canada, Zengistics is fast becoming one of North America’s premier digital brokerages, specializing in strategizing and executing full truckload, less-than-truckload, and intermodal freight. Zengistics is extremely familiar with border crossing protocol and has the ability to accept funds in both U.S. dollars and Canadian dollars. If you are ready to make some dollars on both sides of the border by shipping into Canada, we are ready to make that happen. To schedule a free virtual demo test drive, visit our website to start your journey to another land.