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A Guide to CBSA Bonded Warehouses

If you’re looking for more information about CBSA Bonded Warehouses, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to take a look at what exactl


Canada Cross Border Freight
October 9, 2019
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If you’re looking for more information about CBSA Bonded Warehouses, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to take a look at what exactly these types of warehouses are and how they can help you, whether you’re an entrepreneur, established business or importer acting on behalf of other firms. It’s important to note from the outset that not all warehouses in Canada are the same. The type of warehouse that we’re going to discuss here brings a number of benefits that help to take some of the risks out of your enterprise and keep your balance sheet healthy. 

If you want to supply goods into and out of Canada, then you want to know whether you have to pay import duties the moment that they arrive on Canadian soil or if you can defer taxes until you release the goods for consumption in the Canadian market. In this article, we’re going to answer this question and many more by looking at the policies of the Canada Border Services Agency and the role of CBSA Bonded Warehouses. 

By the end, you’ll have an understanding of what these facilities are and how they can benefit the financial position of your firm.  

What is a Bonded Warehouse in Canada?What is a Bonded Warehouse in Canada

Thousands of companies import and export goods to and from the Canadian market. If these goods come from countries that do not have free trade agreements with Canada, they’re subject to trade duties. Trade duties are taxes that importers and exporters must settle with the Canadian authorities when supplying goods to Canada, or from Canada to countries that do not have a free trade agreement with Canada. 

Trade duties present a problem for companies engaged in international trade. While customers shoulder the burden of the tax in the final purchase, companies have to pay import duties based on the MSRP of the products if they want to sell them in the domestic Canadian market. 

Bonded warehouses, however, provide a helpful workaround. Bonded warehouses are select facilities approved by the CBSA that allow companies to defer the payment of customs duties until they sell products into the market. 

If you’re a company owner that imports products from overseas into Canada or exports abroad, you’ll immediately see why this is so appealing. If you have to pay import/export duties up front, you take an immediate hit to your cash flow. You must pay taxes now but may have to wait until you receive money from buyers in the future. After a large shipment, therefore, your cash position can take a significant hit, making your business less financially stable. 

There’s an opportunity cost of paying duties up front too. You can’t use the money you pay in taxes to accumulate interest in the bond market or invest in other aspects of your company. Making large upfront payments before you’ve received money for the goods can erode wealth creation over the long-term. 

How Does a Bonded Warehouse Work?

So, how exactly does a bonded warehouse work in practice? Bonded warehouses in Canada are privately-run facilities that participate in the Customs Bonded Warehouse Program operated by the CBSA. The idea is to provide a space in which companies can store items and defer the payment of taxes and duties until the release of goods to market. Custom bonded warehouses are, therefore, a way of giving both importing and exporting firms inventory flexibility while making the timing of tax payments more financially manageable.

CBSA Bonded Warehouses can benefit the following types of organizations and businesses: 

  • Companies or individuals who move goods into or out of the North American Free Trade Area. (So, for instance, companies that help other commercial interests manage their imports and exports). 
  • Businesses that import items for trade shows and exhibitions and then export them after the event to recoup costs. 
  • Companies that import goods into Canada and want to store them or perform “minor manipulation” - a concept we’ll discuss in more depth later. 
  • Companies that import goods and then prepare them for export out of Canada

Once you operate a bonded warehouse in Canada, you’re able to defer all of the taxes that you’d ordinarily have to pay until you eventually come to sell the goods. It’s important to note that bonded warehouses are not a government-run facility, nor are there specific bonded warehouses that you must use. Instead, bonded warehouses are best thought of as being part of the Custom Bonded Warehouse Program. You can either choose to use a warehouse already in the network or build one of your own and apply for membership. 

What Are the Advantages of a Bonded Warehouse?what are the advantages of a bonded warehouse

If you’re a business owner, you can appreciate the utility of being able to defer taxes with a bonded warehouse. As we discussed, being able to put off taxes until you actually sell your goods helps to dramatically improve your cash position and avoid costly cash flow issues. 

It’s worth pointing out that there are other advantages too. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits you can expect. 

  1. Avoid double payment of taxes. Canada doesn't have free trade agreements with every country in the world. It does, however, have what are known as double-taxation agreements with foreign governments. Let’s say, for instance, that you want to export goods from Canada to Saudi Arabia. Both Canada and Saudi Arabia charge duties on the import and export of products, so there’s a risk of having to pay double taxation. However, when you use a CBSA Bonded Warehouse, the double taxation agreement between the two countries kicks in, meaning that you only have to pay duties when you finally ship your goods to Saudi Arabia. You do not owe taxes to the Canadian authorities. What’s more, the same principle applies in reverse if you’re importing from Saudi Arabia. 
  2. Inventory safety. If you decide to create your own bonded warehouse, then the security of the facility depends on the measures that you take. If, however, you choose to plug into the existing network, then you can benefit from enhanced security. Many bonded warehouses use security personnel, security cameras, and physical perimeter defences to ensure that your goods remain safe while in storage. Insurance companies may agree to lower your insurance costs if you use known, high-quality facilities.
  3. Long-term storage. Finding facilities to hold your goods is a common challenge. The benefit of the CBSA Bonded Warehouse is that it gives you the space you need to keep your products if you need to put them into long-term storage. Often companies ship their goods to bonded warehouses and then wait until demand picks up.
  4. Processing efficiency. Organizing any import/export operation is an administrative challenge. Passing management over to a third-party company can generate substantial efficiencies, helping to reduce shipping, logistics, and inventory processing costs. 

While most business leaders will be most interested in the duty deferment component of CBSA bonded warehouses, there are many other benefits, particularly if you decide to slot into the existing network. Bonded warehouses provide the same efficiencies and benefits that you find in the private third-party inventory management industry. In fact, given that CBSA bonded warehouses are private facilities with membership of the Custom Bonded Warehouse Program, this is precisely what you’d expect. 

Customs Bonded Warehouse Rules and Regulations

As with any program of this nature, there are rules and regulations to prevent abuse of the system. The main goal of the program is to grease the wheels of international trade, helping to reduce transaction costs associated with cross-border trade. It is not designed as a tax avoidance scheme or a way for companies to indefinitely defer tax payments on goods entering and leaving Canada. 

If you’re thinking about using CBSA bonded warehouses, you probably have questions about what is allowed under the system, and what’s forbidden.

The CBSA defines what it calls “allowable activities” in its policy document. These are actions that you can apply to the goods in your inventory while inside a bonded warehouse. 

Take a look at the following examples of what are allowable “minor alterations” under the scheme: 

  • Disassembling and reassembling goods. The CSBA allows companies to disassemble and reassemble products for packaging and processing in bonded warehouses - helpful if you want to reduce shipping volumes or make goods ready for distribution by Canadian post
  • Testing. Companies are permitted to test products stored in bonded warehouses
  • Inspecting goods
  • Marking. Marking includes any action that you use to identify a good, such as ticketing and labelling. 
  • Packing and unpacking. This goes hand in hand with disassembling and assembling discussed above. 

The CBSA rules also allow you to perform other minor modifications of stock such as cleaning, preserving, diluting, sorting and grading, and trimming, slitting, and cutting. The basic idea is that you’re doing things that prepare the goods for market. You’re not doing anything that adds value, besides enabling products to remain in storage for longer. 

What about other regulations? As you might imagine, once inside a custom bonded warehouse, inventory has to meet the regulatory requirements of Canadian law. Banned goods cannot be imported to CBWs, for instance. Neither can products that do not meet government department requirements - including permits and authorizations. 

Anyone who wants to operate a custom bonded warehouse must complete Form E401 - Application for a License to Operate a Customs Bonded Warehouse. You must then take this form to the CBSA office that’s closest to the location of the proposed warehouse. If you plan on using a third-party warehouse, you must still complete the form. 

How Long Can Goods Stay in a CBSA Bonded Warehouse?how long can goods stay in a bonded warehouse

If you run a business looking to ship freight to or from Canada, then the question of timing is essential. How long can you keep goods in a CBSA bonded warehouses?

The standard answer is that you’re allowed to keep goods in storage for four years. This length of time differs from that of the US where the authorities there let exporters and importers keep inventory for five years tax-free. 

The start of the four years begins from the moment that the goods enter the warehouse. However, while the four-year limit applies to the majority of products, there are some exemptions. 

Schedule 19 of the Custom Bonded Regulations lists four groups of goods all with varying time limits. The first group are non-consumer goods, including aircraft, ships, drilling supplies and other heavy plant and machinery. These goods attract a time limit of 15 years. The second category is beer and wine. The CSBA allows you to hold these in bonded warehouses for five years. The third category includes goods that you might want to use for marketing purposes. So, for instance, if you’ve imported products that you’d like to display at a trade show or exhibition. In this case, you have 90 days before the tax is due. 

All other goods fall into the fourth category and attract the four-year limit we discussed above. 

What Does the CBSA Do in a Bonded Warehouse?

The CBSA’s role is to oversee bonded warehouses in Canada and ensure that the businesses using them remain compliant with the regulations set out in the Customs Bonded Warehouses Regulations Document. The rules put specific requirements on CBSA warehouses, dictating how they must operate if they wish to remain a part of the Custom Bonded Warehouse Program. 

Here are some of the things that the CBSA does regarding bonded warehouses:

  1. The CBSA reserves the right to grant, suspend and terminate licenses. The CBSA uses a Minister - an agent with authority to act on behalf of the organization - to communicate with licensees. If a company or warehouse does not comply with the rules of the CBSA, then the Minister will write a letter informing them of any changes to their license status. 
  2. The CBSA provides literature that companies importing and exporting goods can use to learn about the law governing their activities. The CBSA, for instance, provides documents on the transfer of goods to a sufferance warehouse, what products are restricted, and when tax has to be paid, irrespective of whether or not goods have been sold or not. 
  3. The CBSA has the power to impose sanctions on businesses who do not comply with the Customs Bonded Warehouses Regulations, thanks to the power the Canadian parliament granted it in the Customs Act. The CBSA has the legal authority to impose fines and, in cases of continual non-compliance, suspend licenses.  

The primary role of the CBSA in bonded warehouses is to oversee operations. As you can see, they’re similar to any other regulatory body. They don’t have any experience in operating warehouses themselves. Instead, they set the rules and then use the law against anyone who violates them. The purpose of the organization in this regard is to establish that importers and exporters correctly use the facilities, and manage them according to CBSA standards. 

How Many Bonded Warehouses Are There in Canada?how many bonded warehouses are in canada

While official figures are not available on the precise number of bonded warehouses in Canada, common sense leads you to suspect that there is a high number. Custom bonded warehouses in Canada are facilities that are licensed by the CBSA and have obtained a license to operate. These warehouses don’t have to be custom-designed storage spaces in the traditional sense. They can be any facility that meets the requirements of the Custom Bonded Warehouses Program.

This fact means that the number of bonded warehouses in Canada is likely to be high. A business can create a custom bonded “warehouse” out of its existing office space if it wants, as long as it meets the regulatory requirements set out in Memorandum D7-4-4. This memorandum provides general guidelines and information that the occupiers of custom bonded warehouses in Canada must follow. These guidelines include detailed instructions for how companies are allowed to both process and store bonded goods in their possession. 

Cost to Use a Bonded Warehousecost to use a bonded warehouse

As you might expect, space in custom bonded warehouses isn’t free, just as it isn’t for any other storage facility. There are many costs associated with using these facilities, besides any tax or duties that you might be liable to pay. 

The first charge relates to storage area accommodation. If you’re using a third-party warehouse, then you’ll need to pay a fee that is proportional to the space you need. Different warehouses have different rates, so it’s worth inquiring ahead of time to find out which offers the best value. 

The second cost you’ll likely face is the cost of insurance. The more valuable the goods in your inventory, the more your insurance premiums will be. 

The third cost is customs duty handling charges. The CBSA considers goods in bonded warehouses in Canada to be imports that have not yet attracted import duties.

The Receiver General for Canada also has an additional requirement for Customs Bonded Warehouses. Warehouses must offer a security of 60 percent of the total amount of duties and taxes owed at any given time. The idea here is to ensure that even if there is a dispute or issue with the business model, the Receiver General still gets paid. 

How Is This Different From an FTZ?

An FTZ is a “free trade zone” - a special area in Canada where businesses can get tax exemptions for goods and materials that come into the country. The idea of FTZ is to allow companies to import products into Canada for assembly and then re-export them abroad without attracting taxes. As with bonded warehouses, it’s a way for businesses wanting to ship freight to avoid double taxation and only pay duties in one country. 

Businesses can store goods in an FTZ, process them, or assemble them as they see fit. Then, if the products are destined for a foreign market, the company doesn’t pay any duties or taxes. Or, if the goods are for the Canadian market, the company can defer paying taxes until the products are sold. 

At first glance, FTZs and bonded warehouses seem quite similar, but there are several differences. 

  • FTZs are a geographical area while bonded warehouses are not. FTZs have been a part of the import and customs processes in North America for nearly one hundred years. Bonded warehouses, however, are different. While importers can process and distribute goods in an FTZ without attracting the customs processes, those using bonded warehouses are limited to the modifications they can make.
  • A bonded warehouse is also just a concept as we’ve discussed, not a physical premises. As such, importers and exporters are allowed to use any facilities available to them to store goods, including company offices or garages. A bonded warehouse is simply a facility that qualifies for the Custom Bonded Warehouses Program. An FTZ, on the other hand, is a well-defined geographic region. 

It’s important to note that the CBSA considers FTZs in Canada to be outside of the territory of Canada for collection of trade duty purposes. The border authorities do not insist that companies create a record for when particular goods entered the country in an FTZ, whereas they do for a bonded warehouse. As a business, you’re free to ship products from a bonded warehouse to an FTZ. However, if you move products to an FTZ, it must be for destruction or export purposes. You cannot process goods in an FTZ and then send them back to a bonded warehouse for distribution in Canada. 

What Changes Can be Made to Goods While in a Bonded Warehouse?what changes can be made to goods in a bonded warehouse

We’ve hinted already in our discussion that you’re able to make changes to goods while in a bonded warehouse, but there are limits to the kinds of changes that you can make. In general, you’re not permitted to make changes that will substantially alter the character of the goods that you intend to import or export. The primary role of the Custom Bonded Warehouse Program is to provide you with a facility for the delay of tax payments on your inventory. It’s not meant to be a way to bypass certain import or export restrictions. 

So what changes can you make? 


Labeling is essential if you need to distribute items in the post or ship to a variety of locations. It helps make it clear who the intended recipient is, what’s in a particular parcel, and provides tracking facilities. Labeling, according to CBSA rules, does not constitute a significant change to the goods themselves. 


Many companies need to verify that the items in their inventories are functional. The CBSA, therefore, allows importers and exporters to test the goods in their possession to ensure that they are fit for the market. 


Some chemicals and other products require dilution before being shipped. You could argue that this involves a material change to the product, but it is allowed under the CBSA rules. 


The CBSA allows companies to sort and grade inventory in bonded warehouses. 

Service and Maintenance

Companies are allowed to service and maintain equipment in bonded warehouses. This feature is particularly helpful for companies importing and exporting expensive vehicles, such as airplanes. 

Alternatives to Bonded Warehouses

While bonded warehouses might seem like a great choice for the majority of businesses there are alternatives. What's more, these alternatives may be far more suitable for particular kinds of operations.

Here are some of the alternatives to bonded warehouses:

  • FTZ Zones
  • Drawback Program
  • Duties Relief Program
  • The Export Distribution Centre Program
  • The Exporters of Processing Services Program

Which of these programs you choose is related to the kinds of activities that you undertake. Each comes with a host of benefits but also qualifications. 

Take the Duties Relief Program, for instance. This program, available through bonded warehouses, relieves duties on goods that you import into the country for processing. The qualification, however, is that you must export them within four years. 

The Drawback Program is similar. The program refunds duties on goods coming in and out of the country. To claim, however, the products must have been exported within the last four years. 

The Export Distribution Center Program provides upfront relief on Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). You’re able to take part in the program if exports make up 90 percent of your sales and 90 percent of the money your business makes is from commercial activities. 

The Exporters of Processing Services is something different again. This program allows companies to import goods that are not destined for the Canadian market and then export them back without paying duties. The interesting thing about this program is that it does not place any restrictions on the value of the sales that you can add to the goods of non-residents. So, for instance, you could import cars, modify them, and then ship them off overseas at a massively inflated value, attracting no additional tax. 

What Is Bonded Cargo?what is bonded cargo

Some goods enter Canada in the form of an in-bond shipment. The vast majority of these in-bond shipments come from the US, Canada’s largest trading partner. The way the concept works is simple. Instead of processing the truck carrying goods at the border and settling any import duties there and then, it is allowed to travel on Canadian highways “in-bond.” 

In-bond cargo, like CBSA bonded warehouses, helps to make the process of conducting international trade smoother. The in-bond truck drives to the appropriate bonded warehouse or CBSA office, deposits the goods, and then returns to its depot. The products then remain in the warehouse or offices until the seller in Canada distributes them. Once released, the seller then pays any import duties owed to the Canadian government. 

It’s worth pointing out that only bonded highway carriers are allowed to take part in in-bond shipment processes. These are entities that the CBSA trusts to make the requisite deliveries to approved facilities throughout Canada. 

What Details Do You Have To Include In A Bonded Warehouse Application?what details do you have to include in a bonded warehouse application 

Any business that wants to make use of a bonded warehouse has to complete Form E401 which we discussed above. They must also provide the CBSA with additional information about the bonded warehouse that they intend to use. 

Here are some of the details that you’ll need to include in your application to the CBSA:

  • The location of your proposed custom bonded warehouse
  • The site plan of your proposed custom bonded warehouse, including the location of where you will store inventory
  • Details on the record-keeping system that you’ll use to record shipments of goods
  • Approval of the provincial liquor authority if you intend to keep alcoholic beverages on site

Once the CBSA receives your application, they will consider it. If they believe that what you propose meets the requirements of the Custom Bonded Warehouses Program, then they will grant you a license with a unique number. 

Shipping Goods to Canada With R+L Global Logistics

If you’re planning on shipping goods to Canada, then you need partners who you can trust to get the job done. While navigating Canada’s complicated import and export rules can be a challenge, we’re here to help simplify the process and give you what you want: effortless shipping. We can help you ship everything from clothes to wood, all while keeping you apprised of NAFTA Certificate of Origin regulations and duty on commercial product regulations from the U.S. to Canada.  

At R+L Global Logistics, we’re committed to shipping goods to Canada and helping you find solutions that enable you to defer taxes and get exemptions where applicable. We serve clients of all sizes, from mom-and-pops to large multinationals. We are your single point of contact for all shipping services that you might need for Canada. We work in cities and states all along the border, including Sweet Grass in Montana. Our team of specialists can deal with issues surrounding CBSA bonded warehouses, in-bond transport, the Canadian Duties Relief Program and much, much more. With R+L Global Logistics as your partner, you’re able to open up new markets, protect against double taxation, and improve your cash flow by deferring duties on imports and exports to Canada. 

Ready to import or export goods from Canada and want a partner who can take care of all the legwork? If so, get in touch with us today by filling out a form below or give us a call at 855-915-0573

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4 comments on “A Guide to CBSA Bonded Warehouses”

  1. I am currently evaluating the prospect of bringing vitamin supplements in to Canada from the U.S. to sell within Canada.

    Are there any import methods where by the importer can 'reduce' import costs, duty taxes that ultimately passed on to the end customer.

    For the purpose of selling vitamin supplements into Canada, what is the most efficient and cost effective method to warehouse this category? Is it best to use a FTZ warehouse to repackage (if there could be a associated cost savings).

    Can you forward a cost schedule for warehousing goods in a bonded warehouse?

    Does your company handle fulfillment for warehoused goods?

    Can you forward a cost schedule for your fulfillment services.

    Thank you, Estee

  2. We have been exporting products from Canada to Peru for over 5 years now. The product manufacturer would like to move to a 3PL system and has asked us to locate a customs bonded warehouse. One of the services we received and paid for before is labelling and we are interested in a quote for warehousing and labelling services. We are not a large company. More information can be provided if necessary.

  3. We are a textile company out of Pakistan, we want to use Bonded Wh services in Vancouver and then trucking it to Savanah port USA. Need your help to share some cost ideas.

    Looking forward to hearing from you soon.


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