Starting a Business in Canada

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by Ray Brooks

Canada is a country rich in opportunity. We newcomers came for reasons unique to ourselves but we all face the same challenge: how can we earn a living? Most of us want to find a job, but about 16 percent of us employ ourselves or we incorporate a company and work in our new business. That 16 percent means that about 40,000 newcomers to Canada start their own business. Some are natural entrepreneurs, who only want some professional advice to get started. Some are qualified and experienced people who cannot find employment in their profession and choose to use their skills the best way they can. This article is intended to serve their needs.

What Business Can You Start?

The majority of immigrants to Canada land in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. These cities offer communities that the newcomers can join, yet we are all in Canada. You need to understand the city and province in which you live.

Every business depends on knowing your prospective customers and your suppliers.

• A good place to understand the Greater Toronto Area is
• A good place to understand Greater Montreal Area is
• A good place to understand the Greater Vancouver Area is

Buy an Existing Business

There are a number of free business magazines, including: Commercial Investor thecommercial, and Business Exchange They are also available from yellow boxes on the sidewalk, or in the entrance to malls and supermarkets. They list many hundreds of businesses available for sale: dry cleaners from $25,000, gas stations from $1,000,000, convenience stores from $80,000, coffee shops from $250,000, franchises from $50,000, buildings from $150,000, and so on. Read those magazines and compare prices, make inquiries, ask about the business with the listing agent.

Always ask for the advice of an experienced accountant, lawyer and/or realtor. Their job is to help you avoid a costly mistake. They can review location, traffic patterns, any lease or rental or franchise contracts, the trading accounts over the past few years and many other items of importance. Good advice will include the possibility of the word NO. If your advisors say, “NO!” then do not buy!
The advantage of buying an existing business is that you have an existing customer base which you can develop with new marketing. This can reduce your risk and help you concentrate on business growth and development.

Open a New Business

As a newcomer, you might understand just what immigrants want. Consider this – the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has absorbed about 125,000 immigrants like you in each of the past few years. The government has unveiled plans to increase the total number of immigrants into Canada by 100,000. We can expect about 50,000 of them will come to live here in the GTA. That is 175,000 newcomers like you who will want to rent apartments, make regular telephone calls home, buy clothing and food, open bank accounts and so on.

If you can find a way of selling other newcomers the goods and services they want, you have a great business idea. Things like telephone cards, package delivery, condos, cars, mortgages, furniture. Think about what you needed and wanted when you came to Canada and how best to sell it to others.

If you wish to understand the immigration patterns into the GTA and Canada, go to

What can you export from Canada to the Old Country?

Back in your country of origin, they probably already have a chain of McDonalds, but no Tim Hortons. No Molly Maids. As you explore Canada, think about what you see here in Canada that is not available back home. Now you can approach the Canadian supplier and offer to introduce that product or service in your home country.

What can you import from the Old Country to Canada?

Do you miss the drinks, the food, the candies, the chocolates, the clothes, the jewellery, the art, anything from back home? If you cannot find it in Canada, why not import and sell these products to members of your new community? How about making and selling it here, using the techniques from the old country to keep the correct appearance, color or flavour.

Importing and Exporting

In most cases, you have to document the importation of commercial goods on Form B3, Canada Customs Coding Form. If you are a new importer, you could need some help completing Form B3. For more information or clarification, contact your customs office before you import the goods. You must obtain the form from the Canada Revenue Agency at by searching for form B3.

Invest in a Franchise

The advantage of investing in a franchise is that most of your problems are solved for you. Your product is already known and valued, your brand is recognised, your procedures are established and your office or store is planned. Their training and marketing support should allow you to concentrate on running the business.

There are many types of franchises. Restaurants, real estate, automotive care, tax preparation, cheque cashing, and so on. There is probably a franchise in your area of qualification or expertise.

I recommend that you take the advice of a franchise advisor, who will assess your skills, training and experience and match you with a suitable franchisor. They may also assist you with your application, link you to a source of finance and ensure that your application runs smoothly. Some franchise advisors will charge you a fee up front (in the range up to $10,000) while some may not charge you a fee at all.

Always take the advice of an accountant and/or lawyer before signing any contracts.

Low Cost Office Space

Many new businesses need an office to begin their business. Canada has lots of executive centres that offer low cost virtual offices that allow you to operate from your home address and appear to operate from a prestigious business location.

A virtual office in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal may cost $75 per month. They usually provide mail and telephone service with complete professional and personalized telephone coverage (9 am – 5 pm). Incoming calls will be handled according to your instructions. Twenty-four hour voice mail service, incoming fax, unlimited incoming calls and a business address for mailing purposes are also included.

You can also rent a fully equipped office in an executive centre from about $175 per month (shared space) to $500 per month for your own private, equipped office.

The ‘shared office’ features independent work stations with personal telephones. It is ideal for short term office space rental. You usually also receive telephone message serve and unlimited use of a boardroom.

Business Plan

Your business plan will inform lenders, investors, and suppliers how you plan to use their money, and to establish a basis for credibility of your project. Every application for a business bank loan needs the support of a business plan. The side bar offers some references to web sites that will help you write a business plan.

Starting a new business in a new country is not easy. Yet every year 20,000 newcomers just like you face these challenges and bet on their own success. The local library will offer access to the support services offered to new business start ups by the federal, provincial and city governments.

You may also visit the web site for additional help or support with access to free help from realtors, franchise agents, suppliers, financial experts, workskills trainers, consultants and accountants. There are many newcomers who, like me, have made the same decisions, learned from experience and would like to help you succeed.

Ray Brooks taught Accounting and Finance to Scottish Accountants. His colleagues recommended him to the UN as an expert advisory on entrepreneurial development programs. He founded Workskills Canada Inc. and emigrated to Canada. He co-founded The AccountOnUs Group Inc. and in his spare time he speaks to groups of immigrants on How to Start a Business in Canada. He can be reached at

Other Business Resources

Canada Business –
Small Business Profiles –
Business Reports –
Industry Sector Profiles –
Community and Economic Development Resource –
General Business Related Info. –
Canada/British Columbia Business Services –
Business Information by Sector –
Importing and Exporting Guides –
Online Export Information –
Export Development Corporation –
INFO Export –
Forum for International Trade Training –
Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade –
Trade Data Online –
Canadian Commercial Corporation –

The Canada Business Service Centre

The Canada Business Service Centre offers an interactive on line business planner (IBP) here: Just click on Interactive Business Planner in the business toolbox on the left hand side of the page. The IBP is the first business planning software product designed specifically to operate on the World Wide Web. The IBP uses the capabilities of the Internet to assist entrepreneurs prepare a three year business plan for their new or existing business.

With the IBP, you will: 
• be guided through each section of your business plan using a question and answer format;
• learn definitions and tips, and view sample business plans to help you to write your own plan;
• have financial projections prepared for you, based upon the information you provide; and
• use the power of the Internet to assist you in researching your business plan.

You can find specialized business plans for manufacturing, small construction firms and many other types of businesses by entering the words “business plan” in the search engine, followed by the type of business you are interested in starting. For instance, you can enter “business plan” and manufacturing in the search window. It will take you to a special page on business plans for small manufacturers.

The Canada Business Service Centre also offers start up guides for many types of businesses, from beauty shops to restaurants to seniors residences.
Business Development Bank of Canada also offers a business plan guide at

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