You have a big trade show coming up in Toronto and think it’ll be a great opportunity to market your products. But your business is based in the US, so any goods you take with you into Canada — even your exhibition materials — must be declared at customs.
Importing items for trade shows or exhibitions is specific because generally, you only need to temporarily import your goods. To declare items for temporary import, you must follow certain customs procedures for both the US and Canada.
In this guide, you’ll learn the basics of importing exhibition items and some tips for moving your goods across the border more easily.
Types of entries for trade show goods
Your trade show goods can enter the US or Canada from abroad in a few ways. The type of entry you choose will depend on the value of your goods and what you’re using them for. Your entry options are:
- Consumption entry (US): A consumption entry is for goods that are consumable, and usually best for anything less than $100 (USD) in value.
- B3 entry (Canada): A consumption entry to bring trade show goods into Canada uses a B3 form. It covers souvenirs and advertising materials intended for sale or consumption in Canada, as well as branded paraphernalia left in Canada.
- Temporary Importation Bond (US): If the value of your imported goods is higher, then you’re usually better off with a temporary importation bond (TIB). A TIB entry allows you to import goods that are not for sale, for a set amount of time.
- E29B Temporary Admission Permit (Canada): The E29B is Canada’s version of a TIB. It allows you to bring goods into Canada for a specified period. You use an E29B form instead of a B3 form if you are returning your branded paraphernalia, office machines/equipment, or display goods after you leave Canada.
- ATA Carnet: An ATA Carnet is an international customs document that allows you to import goods duty-free for up to one year. They’re used worldwide and recognized by both Canada and the US. You can get an ATA Carnet for your trade show goods from your local Chamber of Commerce.
Your customs broker will be able to tell which type of entry is best suited to your specific trade show items.
Importing for trade shows: Letter of recognition
When you want to bring goods into Canada for a trade show or exhibition, the event must be recognized by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). You must also be a registered exhibitor for the event. This proof usually comes in the form of a letter of recognition, which you may have to provide to CBSA to import your exhibition items. Contact the event organizer for a letter of recognition to help facilitate the movement of your goods through customs.
Are your trade show items duty-free?
When importing any item from abroad to Canada or the US, there’s always a possibility of paying duties on it, even for a trade show or exhibition. The only exceptions for trade show items are:
- If the item is recognized in a letter of recognition
- If the item is imported under a TIB
- If the item is eligible for duty-free import under a free trade agreement
Even if you don’t have to pay duties on your trade show goods, note that you will have to pay a merchandise processing fee (MPF) to US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) for any imports not covered under a free trade agreement. This fee applies to all formal and informal entries and is an ad valorem fee or percentage of the value of the merchandise. As of 2020, this fee is 0.3464 percent. The minimum you will pay is $27.23 (USD) and the maximum is $528.33 (USD).
Is your item restricted?
In addition to checking if your item is subject to import duty, you must also check if there are certain restrictions. If importing into the US, you may need a license or permit to import one of the following items for trade shows:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Animals and animal products
- Firearms and ammunition
- Meat and meat products
- Milk, dairy, and cheese products
- Plants and plant products
- Poultry and poultry products
- Petroleum and petroleum products
You may also face restrictions on trademarked or copyrighted goods, particularly:
- Art materials
- Cultural property
- Hazardous/toxic/flammable materials
- Household appliances
- Some electronics
- Toys and children’s articles
If you think your trade show item might be restricted, it’s best to check with the relevant US agency to determine if you need a permit or license. Canada has similar import restrictions, so you should keep these limits in mind if you’re heading to a trade show in Canada as well.
Your customs broker can help guide you through this process and advise you on which products might require more paperwork than others.
Required documents for importing trade show goods
Because importing always requires paperwork, you should expect to bring or have certain documents with you when you travel to the US or Canada for an exhibition.
These documents include:
- Letter of recognition
- Commercial invoice
- Work permit (if you plan to sell and deliver goods to the general public)
Your customs broker can help you gather the documents you need for importing your trade show goods, and verify that you’ve filled them out correctly.
Preparing a commercial invoice for your trade show items at customs
When you bring items across the border for an exhibition, you will need a commercial invoice. When creating your invoice, keep these tips in mind:
- List every single item you bring with you and be as specific as possible.
- Determine the correct value of each item. For gifts, list a value of 0.01 cents.
- Describe the purpose of each item and the materials it’s made from.
- Register with appropriate government agencies for restricted items.
Your commercial invoice should be accurate if you want to pass through customs without any holdups. An experienced customs broker can help ensure your commercial invoice is adequately prepared.
Helping you move items across the border for trade shows
It takes a lot of planning to import items from abroad for a trade show. BorderBuddy can help you move items into the US or Canada for temporary exhibition and ensure you stay compliant with customs procedures. Contact us today to ask your questions about importing for trade shows.