How to Start a Business in Canada When You're Not Canadian

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Are you a non-Canadian who has an established business in your own country and would like to start a business in Canada? Or are you a non-Canadian who would like to open a new company in Canada? Read on for important information and advice. There are several steps you need to take before you can be up and running a Canadian-based business. Some of the things you will need include registering for sales tax and getting a business license.

Expanding Your Business Into Canada

Expanding into Canada for an already-established foreign business is straightforward: each province has registration procedures (and fees) for extra-provincial incorporation.

So, for instance, if you, a non-Canadian, currently operate a corporation in India, and you want to open a business in Ontario, you need to register your business as an extra-provincial corporation in that province.

For extra-provincial incorporation, you will need an Agent for Service, an "individual, 18 years of age or older who is resident in Ontario, or a corporation having its registered office in Ontario."

Note that although Ontario is the province in this example, all the Canadian provinces and territories have similar requirements. To start a business in Canada, you will need to contact the provincial registry of the province you want to do business in and go through its required procedure. If you wish to do business in more than one province, you will need to register your new business separately with each province. 

If, on the other hand, you are not Canadian, want to start a company in Canada, and do not already have an established business in your country of origin, there are several ways you can open a business in Canada.

Start a Business in Canada by Immigrating

First, if you wish to live in Canada, you could apply to come to Canada as a business immigrant. This is the only way that you will be able to both start a business in Canada and live there.

When you look through the information on immigration to Canada from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, you'll see that there are two types of business immigration programs: the start-up visa program, and a program for self-employed persons. 

To participate in the start-up visa program, you must:

  • Have a qualifying business.
  • Have a letter of support from a designated organization (venture capital groups, angel investors, or business incubators).
  • Meet the language requirements (proficiency in English or French).
  • Have enough money to settle and live in Canada before your business starts making money.

To come to Canada as a self-employed person you must have either:

  • Relevant experience in cultural activities or athletics, and intend and be able to make a significant contribution to the cultural or athletic life of Canada.

Other factors affecting your application to come to Canada as a self-employed person include your education, age, adaptability and language abilities; you must be able to listen, speak, read and write English or French proficiently to come to Canada.

Start a Business in Canada Without Living in Canada

 If you do not immigrate to Canada and are not a Canadian citizen or a landed immigrant (have permanent resident status), you can still start a company in Canada. The important thing to understand is that the rules about who can and who can't start certain types of businesses are determined by Canada's individual provinces and are different from province to province (or territory).

For instance, currently, the province of British Columbia (B.C.) has the most flexible rules regarding non-resident businesses. In that province, anyone can start a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation whether they're a Canadian citizen or not.

To start a business in B.C. you need to:

  • Have a real physical address for your business (a post office box is not good enough).
  • Have the correct work permit from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
  • Submit an Investment Canada application for review. (The Investment Canada Act states that "non-Canadians who acquire control of an existing Canadian business or who wish to establish a new unrelated Canadian business are subject to this Act, and they must submit either a Notification or an Application for Review.")
  • Then you're ready to follow the necessary steps to set up your new small business in Canada.

If you want to start a business in any other province or territory, you will have to check on their particular requirements. If they do not allow non-Canadians to start the type of business you would like to start there, you might set up a partnership or a corporation with one or more Canadian citizens or landed immigrants.

Obviously, as a non-Canadian, if you are setting up a partnership with one other person, that other person would have to be a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant.

For corporations, as per the Ontario Business Corporations Act,

At least 25 per cent of the directors must be resident Canadians (if 25% of the directors is not a whole number round up to the nearest whole number). Where a corporation has less than four directors, at least one must be a resident Canadian (S. 118(3)).

When you start a company in Canada, if that company is a partnership, you will need to register your partnership in the province or territory you are going to do business in. Contact the provincial registry of the province you want to do business in and go through its required procedure.​

If the company you are starting is a corporation, you will first need to decide whether you are going to incorporate your business federally or provincially.

The Bottom Line

If you are a non-Canadian who wants to start a business in Canada and live in Canada, you will have to immigrate to Canada or find one or more Canadians to team up with. The only way you can live in Canada permanently and operate your business is if you immigrate to Canada.