Are you thinking of expanding your small business and selling to the United States? 

Before exporting your products or services into the U.S. market, you need to ensure you comply with their laws, rules and regulations. 

While there is no substitute for good legal counsel, you can make better-informed decisions if you consider these five factors first. 

5 things to consider before selling to the United States:


1. NAFTA (now CUSMA)

Before you consider selling in the United States, you should familiarize yourself with the North American Free Trade Agreement. The agreement was created to remove barriers in trade and investments amongst the U.S., Canada and Mexico. 

As of November 2018, a new agreement was signed and became the CUSMA (Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement).  

There are certain benefits to be made from CUSMA. For example, it eliminates tariffs on imports and exports between the three countries. However, to waiver tariff fees, exporters must have Certificates of Origin – meaning, the exported goods must originate in the U.S., Canada or Mexico. 

The CUSMA can be complex and has many different regulations. To understand how these regulations may affect your specific activities, you need to consult with a cross-border trade specialist.

2. Dealing with U.S. taxes

The U.S. applies taxes to both individuals and businesses. There are two different levels of tax jurisdiction in the U.S.: 

  • the first is at the federal level under the IRS 
  • the second is at the State level

Taxes can be determined by income or on the sales tax of goods and services – many States in the U.S. impose a sales tax at the point of sale and the rate varies from State to State.

There is Canada-United States Tax Treaty, whose purpose is to avoid double taxation, which affects the way both Candian and U.S. federal tax systems will evaluate your export trade. However, the treaty does not apply to State income taxes so depending on your activities, you should seek professional advice to avoid any unexpected penalties.

3. U.S. sanction laws and regulations

Potential exporters to the U.S. need to be aware of their sanction laws and regulations administered by OFAC (the Office of Foreign Assets Control). If you’re exporting goods that originate in a country other than the U.S., Mexico or Canada, then make sure this country is not affected by U.S. trade sanctions. There is a list of countries currently subject to trade sanctions by the OFAC. 

4. Export contracts for goods and services

Export contracts are not as straightforward as domestic contracts. You, therefore, need to consider disputes that may arise between the contracting parties. 

Acknowledge the different business attitudes as well as laws and regulations. 

Create an export contract that is clear, precise and comprehensive as reasonably possible to avoid potential disagreements.

To gain a better understanding of common terminology for international shipping and contract terms, the International Chamber of Commerce has devised a set of terms known as “Incoterms”. Incoterms rules provide clear guidance to individuals engaging in the import and export of global trade on a daily basis. 

5. Patents, trademarks and copyrights

Before moving into the U.S. market, consider your business’s intellectual property and or any proprietary technology you might own. This might be your most valuable asset and you should protect it from theft. There are a few legal methods that have been developed to protect these assets, including: 

  • PatentsPatents protect an individual’s inventions including innovative processes, machines, technology, products and innovations made to existing inventions. This stops other people from reproducing, using or selling your idea. 
  • TrademarksTrademarks protect a combination of words, letters, sounds, or designs that distinguish your business products or services from others in the market.
  • CopyrightCanada’s copyright law gives the creator of any original artistic works the copyright license, and it is up to the creator on how these works are used and distributed. 


Taking on cross-border sales can be complicated and will require professional guidance. Connect with a small business lawyer to ensure it is the right move for you and your business.