caveat empor: the casual import channel is not the best way to stock your cellar. The mark up is high and you may need to drink all your wine at once to overcome the sticker shock. What private permits do offer is a way for you to get that Bordeaux your friend shipped you out of Customs purgatory. If you are interested in collecting or sampling, most provincial liquor boards offer a B2C sourcing channel which is likely more cost-effective and less stressful.
note: If you are a traveler bringing back alcohol in your car or luggage, you merely need to declare the amount when you arrive at the frontier.
Generally speaking, each provincial liquor board constitutes a monopoly under which only they can import wine and alcohol. Even interprovincial importing is illegal, as one unfortunate New Brunswick man discovered after a beer run to Quebec. Despite this, private imports of alcohol do occur (although the procedure will vary by province).
The following procedures are based on import steps into Quebec, which has its own online portal to expedite occasional imports. First you must be:
- importing less than 45 L of wine, beer or alcohol
- a resident of Quebec
- over 18 years of age
Here is the process:
- Hire a customs broker: As usual, self-clearing is an option, although it will require a few trips back and forth between the customs office, the SAQ, and the transporter carrying your goods. Your broker will only require your transporter’s manifest and a commercial invoice with the following details:
- Quantity of wine in litres
- Percentage of alcohol for each wine
- country of origin and year of the wine
- Ship your goods and indicate your customs broker if using a third-party shipping service
- Your broker will obtain a permit from the SAQ, pay the taxes on your behalf, then bring the permit to the Customs office for release and to pay the other taxes (there are several different kinds of taxes on alcohol and all must be remitted to the correct party).
- Once released, your broker will present the proof of release to the SAQ and you will be free to pick up your wine (your broker may also arrange delivery for you)
Residents can also self-clear by following the above steps and creating an account on the SAQ’s website. If you are confused by the shipping documents, we recommend hiring a broker. Be warned when self-clearing that even once your SAQ mark up is paid, additional duties and taxes must be paid to the Customs office.
Use our mark up calculator to determine whether importing your purchase is worth it
Is there another way?
Rest assured that there is no cheaper way of getting booze into the country other than by old-fashioned rum-running.
Can businesses import private orders?
Yes, obtaining import permits for commercial samples of wine is common. If you plan on wholesaling however, you will have to deal directly with the SAQ as the permit process is for occasional imports only.
I’ve been collecting a cellar while living abroad, can I bring it back tax-free?
No, but you will be subject to lower rate of $4.40 / litre. To qualify you must have lived abroad for over a year and bought the wine more than three months before moving back.