A big issue with getting parts and accessories from the US is that companies like FedEx and UPS (and probably DHL, haven't dealt with them) charge you a brokerage "service fee" on packages shipped from US to Canada based on the value of the package.
In some cases the brokerage fee can be double or more of the shipping charge. So your total cost to ship is the shipping charge + the taxes + the service fee. The worst part is the fee is hidden at time of order, so you don't realize how hard you are going to get hit until later. Probably not news to anyone and pretty crappy business practice if you ask me. You can research and find out the fees on the shipping company websites, but if you aren't expecting it you learn a hard lesson.
What may be news is that you can avoid paying the fee if you "self clear" or "self account" the package as long as the value is under $2500.00 and it is for personal use, not commercial. On only four deliveries I estimate I have saved over $300.00 in fees by clearing things myself.
You also really need to be within reasonable driving distance of a CBSA office that offers the self clearing service, and there is some work involved. Up to you to decide if it is just cheaper/easier to pay the fees. Note that depending on where you live things might be a bit different, this is just my experience here in Calgary. YMMV.
- You only have to worry about this if you send it International Ground (generally the cheapest option). The more expensive "Worldwide" options have the brokerage fee baked in. You will still have to pay tax of course. The Worldwide options are in some cases almost double the Ground. For an expensive package, if you cannot or do not want to self clear, it will be worth it to pay the higher shipping option in the long run.
- UPS will not deliver you the package until you pay the fees, holding it hostage. This can really suck if you weren't expecting it.
- You will get an email at some point from UPS telling you what the fees are, and giving you a "convenient" option to pay before you get your package and avoid yet another 5% they will tack on to the bill. At this point (or once you have the tracking number), call UPS and pick the customs brokerage option through their automated menu. You will need to give them the tracking number and tell them you want to self account/clear. They may give you a bunch of bs, asking you if you are a licensed broker, etc. Again, as long as it is under $2500.00 you do not have to have a customs broker. Just repeat yourself until they understand. Note that you can refuse to pay the fees at the door as well and start the process then, but saves time to contact them earlier.
- Once the UPS customs brokerage person and you are on the same page, you will get an email you a commercial invoice and a printed page with instructions on self clearing. You cannot self clear until the package is in the country, so may take a day or two after you call them to get the email.
- Take the documentation to the CBSA office and tell them that you are paying the tax on the shipment yourself. They will ask if it is personal or business, yadda yadda. After they get everything entered into the system they give you a "B15" form showing you paid the GST and ask you to go over to the cashier to pay it. After you do you will get a customs stamp on the form and are done at the CBSA.
- Once you have your stamped B15, you drive to the UPS depot (about 5 minutes away from the CBSA office here in Calgary), show them the information and get your package. You will also probably need to scan and email the B15 to the UPS person you got the invoice and instructions from.
All told, it takes me about an hour. Most of that driving. If I lived closer to the CBSA office it would be about 15 minutes.
FedEx International Ground
- Note that FedEx Ground and FedEx Express are two different entities in Canada. Not sure of the procedure with FedEx Express, the brokerage fees may be baked in.
- FedEx Ground works differently than with UPS, in that FedEx will deliver the package before you pay the fees. They will send you an invoice for the extra fees, sometimes weeks after you get the package. So you pay your shipping, get your package, and then a surprise in the mail saying you owe them an extra $90.00. Fun.
- Instead of contacting them once you have the shipping notification, you have to wait until after you receive the package. As soon as it is delivered you follow a similar set of steps as with UPS. You call FedEx, get the commercial invoice, go up to CBSA and pay your taxes and get your B15 form. Then you scan and send the info to them. Note that it is not FedEx Ground you contact, they use a separate company for customs called FedEx Trade Networks and Brokerage. If you call them and give them your tracking number you should be on your way.
- Stuff shipped through USPS ends up going through Canada Post, and you get charged a flat $10.00 brokerage fee plus tax. Obviously the cheapest and easiest option, but a lot of the places for pinball accessories and parts do not provide it as an option, and it will be slower.