What Is a Canada Revenue Agency Business Number?

Definition & Examples of Canada Revenue Agency Business Numbers

Business owner putting up grand opening sign

 David Zaitz / Getty Images

The business number is a nine-digit number the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) assigns your business or nonprofit as a tax ID. It is unique to your organization and is used when dealing with the federal government and certain provincial governments.

Learn why you might need one and how you could utilize it when accessing various CRA programs.

What Is a CRA Business Number?

Your business will be given a business number by the CRA if you:

  • Incorporate it federally
  • Register for any CRA program accounts, such as paying the GST (the 5% federal Goods and Services Tax) or HST (harmonized sales tax, which is a combination federal-provincial sales tax paid in the provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island)
  • Register or incorporate it with any of these provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan
  • Register it using Business Registration Online

The business number is supposed to allow for the easy identification of a business at all levels of government. It also prevents confusion of entities that have the same or similar names.

Acronym: BN

The province of Quebec has a different system for identifying businesses. Registraire des entreprises Québec assigns 10-digit Québec enterprise numbers. And Revenu Québec handles payment of the GST and HST.

How Does a CRA Business Number Work?

The BN is included in 15-digit CRA program account numbers that businesses and nonprofits use when reporting on certain activities to the CRA. The first nine digits are the business number. Then there's a two-letter program identifier. Last, there's a four-digit reference number that identifies the specific account. The reference number enables a company to set up more than one account for a type of business activity.

The program identifier for GST/HST is RT. The other major program accounts, their identifiers, and their purposes are given in the following chart.

Type of Program Account Identifier Purpose
Payroll deductions RP Enables companies to calculate and report deductions from employees' pay
Import-export RM Enables the CRA to process customs documents for businesses that import or export products
Corporation income tax RC Enables companies to file their income tax and determine tax rates
Registered charity RR Enables the filing of charitable donation receipts
Information returns RZ Enables companies to file many different types of information returns with the CRA, including those for securities transactions, registered retirement savings plans, and pooled registered pension plans
Source: Canada Revenue Agency

An example of a payroll account number might be:

112233445 RP 0001

If the company created a second payroll account, its account number would logically be:

112233445 RP 0002

The CRA has a list of lesser-used program accounts on its website, including the air travelers security charge (RG) for airlines and softwood lumber (SL) for those who export soft lumber products.

Do I Need a BN?

Your company does not require a BN if it doesn't need to participate in any of the CRA programs mentioned above or to be registered or incorporated federally or with any of the eight provinces mentioned above.

A chart on the CRA's website enables you to figure out whether your business or nonprofit is required to charge GST/HST. If your revenue or sales do not exceed certain thresholds, you are considered to be a small supplier and are exempt from charging those taxes. You are also exempt if your business offers so-called exempt supplies, which include legal aid services and music lessons.

Use of BNs for Provincial Programs

Several provinces have partnered with the CRA to use BNs for their own programs. For example, if your business is located in Winnipeg and you register it with the province of Manitoba, you can use your BN when paying provincial and city taxes and obtaining licenses and permits from the city. The program identifier for Manitoba is MT; for Winnipeg, it's MM. 

The provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan (through a company called ISC) can also provide your business with a BN and allow you to use it for certain provincial programs.

Changing a BN

A change of owners, partners, or directors may require a company to obtain a new BN, depending on how the company is structured. If you change how it is structured, you may also have to change its BN.

If you sell or close your business, you should contact the CRA about giving up your BN and closing your CRA program accounts.

Key Takeaways

  • A business number (BN) is a nine-digit number the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) assigns to a business or nonprofit as a tax ID.
  • A BN is unique to a single organization and is used when dealing with the federal government and certain provincial governments.
  • One purpose of the BN is to enable governments to easily distinguish between like-named or similarly named entities.
  • A BN is also used as part of 15-digit CRA program account numbers that businesses and nonprofits use when reporting on certain activities to the CRA, including paying taxes and making deductions from employees' paychecks.
  • Six provinces have adopted the use of CRA BNs and enable companies to identify themselves with their BN when reporting information to those provinces.