If you’re a Canadian exporter who’s been selling goods to global markets for more than three years, you, undoubtedly, remember the paper-based export declaration form. The highly detailed document had to be filled out every time your goods left Canada.

But the paper reporting process under the Canadian Automated Export Declaration (CAED) system has been phased out. In its place, the Canadian Export Reporting System (CERS) has made it mandatory to declare all exports electronically. 

What is CERS?

CERS, unlike its predecessor, is fully electronic. Its online portal is your entry point to a single, straightforward reporting system.

Advantages of CERS include:

  • Secure transmission of export declarations and summary reports to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA)
  • Data validation before you declare your exports
  • Easy access to your declaration submission history
  • Easy access to online help and reference materials

Note: You normally don’t need to file a CERS declaration for goods going to the United States (U.S.) or goods worth less than C$2,000.

Why do we need CERS?

Logistics and customs experts see the electronic system as a major step forward for exporters and their reporting needs.

“Your company wants to focus on product development, sales and logistics—not on administration and export documentation,” says Alan Dewar, vice-president of client services at GHY International. “That’s why CERS is a such a game-changer. It doesn’t matter whether you outsource your declarations to brokers or forwarders, or do it yourself in-house. Either way, CERS gives you a secure online tool for submitting and validating the information that CBSA requires.”


CERS and compliance

The CERS advantage isn’t just in ease of use. International trade rules evolve steadily, and so do the regulatory infrastructures that support them. This means that reporting requirements can also change, which can be hard for smaller exporters to keep up with. Even so, customs authorities still demand accurate data collection and reporting and can impose penalties and sanctions if you don’t comply—even if this happens because of an innocent mistake.

“For the average small business, dealing with customs and exporting issues can have its challenges,” says Audrey Ross, a logistics and customs specialist at Orchard Custom Beauty. “Because of this, smaller businesses have often pushed their customs responsibilities onto third parties such as brokers. This can expose them to compliance violations. CERS can help you avoid such mistakes by making reporting easier, faster and more transparent.”

Dewar provides an example that could plausibly have happened under the old paper-based system. “Let’s say, you’re exporting food products, but your forwarder, for some reason, assigns the goods a tariff classification for flooring, and you didn’t check for errors before the shipment went out. Now, you’re looking at a compliance risk and possible penalties,” he says. “But with CERS, you can easily validate the declarations made on your behalf by a broker or forwarder before the goods are shipped.”

To sum up: CERS helps you reduce your compliance risks and administrative burden, so you can spend your time on more fruitful pursuits.

Getting started with CERS

The CBSA’s Get started with electronic declarations page will help you with your registration needs. Briefly, there are two different routes for getting onboard with CERS.

  • If you were a user of the old CAED system, you should already have received your CERS activation information. If you haven’t, contact the CBSA at the email address given on the Get Started page.
  • If you weren’t a CAED user, you’ll have to apply to become a CERS client. To do this, complete form BSF831 and send it to CBSA via the email provided on the form instruction page. Approval normally takes up to five business days.

Information and support

There are several resources available to help you with CERS.