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How to Ship Alcohol to Canada

Your business has grown to the point where you’re ready to expand, and now you want to know how to ship alcohol to Canada. America’s neighbor to the north has a healt

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Jon Michael Soracchi
October 1, 2019
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Your business has grown to the point where you’re ready to expand, and now you want to know how to ship alcohol to Canada. America’s neighbor to the north has a healthy thirst for alcohol, where the various liquids comprise a multi-billion dollar business. However, knowing how to ship alcohol to Canada can be a bear given the complex laws set by each province or territory.

When you ship alcohol to Canada, it is not easy, in large part to each province regulating its constituents’ ability to purchase and consume alcohol. So knowing how to properly get your product to the right place in the correct way is crucial. 

Canadian Alcohol LawsCanadian alcohol laws

The Canadian laws governing the production and distribution of alcohol are similar to the United States in which the provinces (similar to a state in the U.S.) are given total freedom by the federal government police themselves in regards to liquor. 

The Canadian government allows its 10 provinces and three territories to set their own laws, which govern how alcohol is purchased, distributed and consumed. The provinces have chosen to use their power to set up monopolies on alcohol within each of their borders. 

Each province purchases alcohol or even manufactures its own and sets minimum prices that private retailers or businesses like bars or restaurants can sell for. Also alcohol controlled by the local government is the only one businesses or independent liquor stores are allowed to buy to resell.

This system has two main goals for these governments — to get its constituents to make more responsible choices about alcohol and be healthier, and as revenue streams. There is big money to be made for these provinces in being the ones to regulate the use of alcohol and, in most cases, being the supplier.

Like the United States, there are also laws governing where people are allowed to drink and, in some cases, whether they are required to order food before drinking at a bar or restaurant.

How is Alcohol Sold in Canada?how is alcohol sold in canada

Again, the word complex comes to mind. There’s no simple answer to describe the way in which a customer can legally purchase alcohol without going province by province, since each one has set its own rules. Almost uniformly, Canadian businesses who wish to sell alcohol are required to buy it through the government agency in their province or territory, at the prices set by the government. Also, there is not really a wholesale market for independent stores or bars to benefit from. Whether a business buys 1 bottle of wine or 100, the cost is the same per unit in Canadian provinces with no discount for buying in volume.

Lastly, the government prices the alcohol in such a way as to make it prohibitively expensive for a person to overconsume. An example of this:

  • In September 2019, a case of Budweiser — which is brewed by LaBatt Breweries in Canada for the Canadian market and therefore not considered an import — costs $42.99 in Canadian dollars at Liquor Mart in Manitoba, compared to less than $20 at a Wal-Mart in America. Even with the Sept. 25 exchange rate of 1.33 Canadian dollars for every 1 American dollar factored in, the Budweiser costs $12 American dollars more for the same product.

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Because alcohol sells for more across the board in Canada, it stands to reason a supplier would be able to sell its product for more money to the various provincial organizations.

With that example as a backdrop, let’s look at each province or territory’s setup for regulating the sale of alcohol:  

Alberta: Only liquor stores may sell alcoholic beverages in urban areas, but unlike other provinces they are all privately owned and operated. The province has allowed supermarkets to open attached liquor stores, but with separate entrances. Urban gas stations and convenience stores may also have attached liquor stores but with separate entrances and ownership. 

In areas without another liquor retailer within about a 9-mile radius, any licensed retailer may sell beer, wine, and liquor, including convenience stores, general stores, and gas stations. The AGLC has retained its monopoly over the wholesaling of imported beer, wine and distilled spirits, although the distribution of these products is done by a private contractor.

British Columbia: Craft beer can be purchased right at a brewery, but all other alcohol is sold at private, authorized liquor stores or ones owned by British Columbia. Bars and restaurants also serve alcohol, but they are required by law to purchase this from the province-run British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB). 

While businesses have purchased their alcohol from private liquor stores without prosecution in the past, it doesn’t mean the government completely refuses to enforce its sovereignty on the matter. In rural areas, a government-appointed agency (usually a convenience store) can sell alcohol.

Manitoba: Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corporation (MBLL) runs Liquor Mart stores, which is the main place alcohol can be bought for home use. There are also private wine stores. Bars and restaurants can serve alcohol while hotels are authorized to sell beer.

New Brunswick: The New Brunswick Liquor Corporation operates in the province as Alcool NB Liquor (ANBL) and is completely responsible for all alcohol activity in the province. Grocery stores can sell some wine but all other alcohol is sold through government-owned liquor stores. Also, breweries or cottage wineries may sell directly to the public with special permitting.

Newfoundland and Labrador: Where you can buy particular kinds of alcohol is important to know in this province, which uses the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC) to police alcohol. For instance, wine is only sold at government-owned liquor stores. Beer can be bought at convenience stores while both beer and liquor are also available at NLC-run stores.

Northwest Territories: Alcohol is regulated by the Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission. For purchase, there are seven NWT liquor stores available. Bars are also readily available for alcohol consumption. There are also seven dry communities within the Northwest Territories and 10 where alcohol is limited. 

Nova Scotia: This province is one that allows more freedom in where you buy your alcohol. While there are government-run liquor stores that make up a large part of alcohol distribution for home use, Nova Scotia also allows beer, wine and hard liquor to be sold at private stores.

Nunavut: Because of the sheer size and remoteness of its towns, the Nunavat Liquor and Cannabis Commission (NULC) does not operate any stores and instead ships alcohol sales via air cargo. The Nunavut government is also unique in allowing each of its 25 communities within the territory to vote for themselves on what restrictions should be placed on alcohol. Currently, seven communities are unrestricted, 12 communities allow alcohol with restrictions and six communities have prohibited it.     

Ontario: Bars and restaurants are licensed to serve alcohol, while some grocery stores are allowed to sell beer, wine and cider. For liquor, a patron would have to go to a Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) store, which is government-run.

Prince Edward Island: Liquor store outlets run by PEI Liquor are the norm here, with the government also handing out licenses to private retailers on a limited basis.  

Quebec: Easily the most liberal province in reference to the availability of alcohol, you can buy beer and wine from corner stores and grocers. It is the only province were individual cans and bottles can be purchased at this type of location. 

Alcohol can be served as late as 3 a.m. at bars and restaurants. Buying liquor for home consumption comes from SAQ (Societe des alcools du Quebec), which are run by the Quebec government.

Saskatchewan: Hotels, government-owned stores and private contractors can all sell liquor in this province.

Yukon Territory: The Yukon Liquor Corporation (YLC) runs six retail liquor stores. All liquor in the country must be bought from the YLC, which allows businesses to sell alcohol with a permit. There is also special permitting available for a business or organization wishing to produce its own alcohol. 

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What is the Legal Drinking Age in Canada?

Just as there is a different set of rules regarding alcohol in each of the 10 provinces and three territories, so it goes for how old one has to be to legally consume alcohol in Canada.

Depending on the province, the age is either 18 or 19 years old. Unlike the United States — which outlawed the purchase (but not consumption) of alcoholic beverages by anyone under 21 with the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 — Canada does not have a federally-mandated age in which a person can legally buy alcohol. 

The following provinces allow 18-year-olds to drink:

  • Alberta
  • Manitoba
  • Quebec

The other 10 provinces require a person to be 19 to consume alcohol:

  • British Columbia
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edwards Island
  • Saskatchewan
  • Yukon Territory

In order to protect against underage drinking, the provinces instruct places selling alcohol to ask anyone who appears to be 25 years old or younger to provide identification upon purchase.

Declaring Alcohol to Canadian Customsdeclaring alcohol to Canadian customs

If you are a single person who wants to bring your own alcohol into Canada, you can. However, the amount you try to bring in will dictate whether any duties will be levied.

If you are planning to stay in the country for 24 hours or longer, you are allowed to bring in your own alcohol. If the trip is less than the minimum, you cannot. You can bring in one of the following amounts of alcohol for free:

About 287 ounces of beer (the equivalent of a 24-pack of 12-ounce bottles or cans)

or

38.5 ounces of hard liquor (the equivalent of a large bottle of liquor)

or

50.7 ounces of wine, which is about two 750 ml bottles.

Those quantities are per adult of legal drinking age for the province you are entering. If you have more than those amounts, you will be charged duties on the entirely of your alcohol, not just on the amount you are over by. But if you’re trying to bring over the amount into the Northwest Territories or Nunavut, it won’t matter the quantity because it’s illegal to bring your own alcohol into those territories.

That is the current rule but you’ll need to confirm this information still applies before traveling with alcohol to Canada.

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How to Ship Alcohol to Canada

The vast majority of wine and liquor is packaged in glass bottles, making proper packing and handling a necessity to keep the liquid airtight and also ensure all of the product gets there undamaged to maximize profits. This is of paramount importance if you’re shipping rare or expensive alcohol that can’t be easily replaced.

A manufacturer would use a sturdy cardboard box to ship, and the best practice is to also have styrofoam or cardboard dividers to keep the bottles from hitting together and possibly shattering during transport.

To ship wine, it can be advantageous to wrap the bottles in bubble wrap to further protect the product from breaking.

As far as the actual process of importing your goods into Canada, your first order of business will be to register for and get an import/export business number from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Before that, though, you could also register for the optional Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program. This is a pre-screened program that allows for faster border clearance, which will reduce delivery times and require minimal documentation. In joining FAST, shipped freight should see fewer delays.

For a 5-year membership, the processing fee is $50. There are no further fees to use the service. Also, the accompanying FAST card can serve as proof of identity.

Currently, there are five dedicated FAST lanes for use:

  • Emerson, Manitoba
  • Pacific Highway, British Columbia / Blaine, WA
  • Sarnia, Ontario / Port Huron, MI
  • Windsor, Ontario / Detroit, MI
  • Fort Erie, Ontario  

After declaring what type and quantity of product you’re planning on importing, it is time to determine if you plan on using a customs broker. While it is not required, it could be helpful to lean on the knowledge of an expert to make things go more smoothly.

In nearly every instance, the importer will be having the items shipped directly to the province’s government agency. These agencies have warehouses set up specifically for the storage and distribution of alcohol within its own borders.

The goods must be marked and labeled properly, and in order to receive preferential treatment in regard to tariffs, a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Certificate of Origin should be completed and presented at the time that the claim for NAFTA preference is made.

A shipper will also have to verify if there are documents needed by the Canada Border Services Agency and if any taxes or duties need to be paid before the shipment is released.

You will also need to ensure the goods you’re importing are allowed into Canada and it’s of the utmost importance to hold onto your records of the imports.

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How to Transport Alcohol Across Canadahow to transport alcohol across Canada

Since each province has different laws and also their own organization that governs all things alcohol-related, knowing the rules of each is paramount to successfully distribute your product.

Most of the provinces have main warehouses, which is mostly like where any shipment will be dropped off.

As far as traveling from British Columbia in the far west to Ontario in the east, Canadian provinces are like U.S. states in that there are no checkpoints or border patrol when crossing from one province to the next.

It’s also important to identify your particular needs, like whether you have a full truckload (FTL) of alcohol to be shipped or maybe just a pallet or two, which is Less than Truckload (LTL). In some cases, it could be more cost-effective to purchase an entire truck and also get your shipment there faster. Depending on the situation, an LTL shipment might be cheaper and more practical. However, keep in mind that your freight will be sharing space with that of other companies. That means it’s probable it will take longer since there will be more stops.   

Shipping Alcohol to Canada with R+L Global Logistics

Now that you know how to ship alcohol to Canada, let R+L Global Logistics ship your liquor exports to Canada. With an on-time rate of 99.5%, options for Full Truckload or Less Than Truckload and experience shipping to and within Canada, R+L Global Logistics can help make your business plan go off without a hitch. We work with a variety of states like New York and cities along the border such as Buffalo.

With great customer service and additional options such as white glove service and full logistics support along the supply chain, there’s never been a better time to partner with R+L Global Logistics. Call 855-915-0573 today for your free quote and to find out how we can meet your needs.

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