Shipping freight between Canada and the United States
Moving freight across the U.S.-Canada border is essentially as easy as moving freight domestically: there are just a few extra steps involved. The biggest differences are working with a licensed customs broker and filling out customs documents. Working with a licensed and bonded carrier that is well-experienced moving freight across the border makes the process easy!
Here’s how it works:
First, you’ll want to select a licensed and bonded carrier, and ensure you have an account setup with licensed customs broker. Next, work with the customs broker to complete all required customs documents, prepare the bill of lading (BOL) and package the freight. Once the carrier picks up the shipment, they may consolidate your cargo with other freight moving in the same direction, or they may head directly to the border.
During transit, the carrier will send the shipping documents to your customs broker, who then submits the information electronically to either the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for entry. This allows the CBSA or CBP to review the entry details before the freight arrives at the border. If the entry is approved, customs will immediately release the cargo upon arrival at the border.
Common questions about shipping freight to Canada
What is a customs broker?
Customs brokers are licensed individuals or companies authorized (in this case, by the CBSA and CBP) to help shippers import or export freight across borders. They make international trade easier because they know which forms are necessary for entry and which regulations apply, and they help manage payment for all duties, taxes and fees. To avoid delays, we recommend consulting with a licensed customs broker prior to shipping.
While ArcBest doesn’t operate as a licensed customs broker, we have partnered with trustworthy and licensed agents. Email us at TradeCompliance@arcb.com, or call (866) 798-1281, and we’ll connect you with one of our partners.
What documents do I need to ship freight to Canada?
The freight you’re shipping, and its value, will determine which documents are necessary, but the most common documents you’ll need are:
When shipping from the U.S. to Canada:
- USMCA Certificate of Origin
- BOL with broker’s contact info
- Canadian Customs Invoice (If over CAD $1,600)
- Commercial Invoice (If under CAD $1,600)
- Shipment Passport
When shipping from Canada to the U.S.:
- USMCA Certificate of Origin
- BOL with broker’s contact info
- Commercial Invoice (If over $800 USD)
- U.S. Customs Invoice
Access these forms with our document retrieval tool.
What is the Pre-Arrival Review System (PARS)?
The Pre-Arrival Review System (PARS) allows licensed customs brokers to submit entries to the CBSA ahead of time so a shipment is permitted immediate entrance when it arrives at the border — helping prevent delays and border congestion. The only exception is if the freight requires further examination to meet other government regulations.
Note: The Pre-Arrival Processing System (PAPS) is the U.S. version of this system and works similarly to PARS.
What is a PARS number?
A PARS number is the carrier code, the word PARS, and the PRO number for the shipment (e.g., 2604PARSXXXXXXXXX). It’s important that carriers send the correct documentation and PARS number to the customs broker in advance to avoid delays.
How much does it cost to ship to Canada?
Cross-border shipments typically cost more than shipping domestically because they’re subject to duties and taxes in addition to regular shipping costs. Factors like commodity, origin, destination, date and equipment will also affect the price. To see how much shipping costs are to or from Canada, use this online quote tool.
Note: The online quote tool only accounts for the shipping costs. If you want an all-inclusive estimate, you’ll need to get a quote for the duties and taxes you’ll be expected to pay from your licensed customs broker, and then add that total to the shipping quote.
How long does it take to ship freight to Canada?
Transit times vary based on origin and destination — use this transit time calculator for an estimate. While some shipments may arrive within 24 hours of pickup, others may take a few days. If the proper customs paperwork is provided to the driver at the time of pickup, the shipment will move more seamlessly across the border.
What happens if my freight gets stuck at the border?
Inaccurate or missing documents may result in shipments not clearing customs, which can cause delays and missed delivery appointments. If your freight gets stuck at the border, you’ll need to contact your customs broker or carrier for help.
Typically, goods being imported into Canada that are unable to clear at the border will still be allowed to move in-bond and be held at a sufferance warehouse pending customs clearance and/or a CBSA inspection. However, shipments headed to the U.S. from Canada with inaccurate documentation will not be allowed entry until all issues are resolved.
To prevent customs delays, be sure to:
- Complete all customs documents, noting the value of the goods, country of origin, the importer of record and exporting party
- Provide a clear and concise description of the commodities on the BOL
- Note ‘IN-BOND’ on the BOL, if applicable
- Work with a licensed customs broker and note the brokerage contact information on the BOL
- Work with a licensed and bonded carrier
What is the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement)?
The USMCA is a new trade agreement that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in July 2020. The goal of the USMCA is to improve commerce between the U.S., Mexico and Canada by creating a more balanced trading environment that helps grow the North American economy. It’s essentially a modernized version of the NAFTA agreement, with most of the major changes revolving around the automotive industry.
For shippers moving freight into Canada, the USMCA offers reduced tariffs for specific cargo crossing the border, and in some cases, shipments may be exempt from duties or taxes. Read more about USMCA and customs and trade facilitation, or contact your licensed customs broker or carrier for more details.
Has COVID-19 impacted cross-border shipments?
Currently, COVID-19 is NOT impacting the movement of commercial freight across the border. Shippers can continue shipping freight between the U.S. and Canada as usual. Check these resources for more information and updates:
Trust ArcBest® for your cross-border needs
Transporting freight between the U.S. and Canada is different for every shipper — that’s why it’s essential to work with a certified carrier, like ArcBest, who understands the process. Our Canadian specialists guide customers from beginning to end, making shipping to and from Canada easier and more efficient. Learn more about how ArcBest can assist with your Canada shipping needs.