Do I Have to be Canadian to Start a Business in BC?

So…do I have to be Canadian to start a business in BC? Short answer, No, but there are legal and tax requirements for non-Canadians starting a business in British Columbia.

As of March 29, 2004, non-residents are permitted to own a corporation in British Columbia. BC offers the most flexibility of all Canadian jurisdictions with regard to non-Canadian business owners. Requirements for starting a business vary across provinces and for the country as a whole, known as federal incorporation, so there is some confusion whether non-residents can start a business in Canada.

In BC, you have to have a physical address for your business, a post office box is not enough. You will also have to follow all of the usual legal requirements for starting a business. Review our Small Business BC check list and visit the BC Corporate Registry for further information.

If you do not plan to work on your business in British Columbia, you should contact Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) “Temporary Workers Unit” in Vancouver to confirm what kind of permit you will need to enter the country.

If you plan to work on your business in Canada, you will also have to contact CIC to obtain “working status”. If you are a student, and want to start a business while studying, you will have to apply to CIC for a modified study permit to work on your business. A working permit doesn’t enable you to become a Canadian Citizen. If you want to be a Canadian, you will have to apply to CIC for citizenship status.

As an entrepreneur generating revenue in Canada, you will have to submit a tax return on any Canadian revenues generated.  You should contact the Canada Revenue Agency for a business number in order to submit a tax return. If you generate more than $30,000 in annual revenues, you will also have to register for an HST number. Review our check list for starting a business in BC.

Another government office non-Canadians will have to visit on the internet is Investment Canada. Under the Canadian Investment Act, “Non-Canadians who acquire control of an existing Canadian business or who wish to establish a new unrelated Canadian business are subject to this Act, and they must submit either a Notification or an Application for Review.” Click here for the application to start a new business for non-Canadians.

The information above is for BC only, not for other provinces nor for the country as a whole, known as federal incorporation.

Some provinces require residency while others do not so check with the provincial office responsible for registering your business. If you want to federally incorporate, here are the current Canadian residency requirements: “Ordinarily, at least 25 percent of the directors of a corporation must be resident Canadians. However, if a corporation has fewer than four directors, then at least one of them must be a resident Canadian. In addition, corporations operating in sectors subject to ownership restrictions (such as airlines and telecommunications) or corporations in certain cultural sectors (such as book retailing, video or film distribution) must have a majority of resident Canadian directors.”

For more information on federal incorporation visit the Federal Guide to Incorporation.

The alternative to the above option is to immigrate to Canada. I’ll explore the different immigration paths that non-Canadian entrepreneurs can apply for in a future post.

Here to Help

No matter what stage of your business journey you’re at, Small Business BC has the resources you need to succeed. Check out our range of business webinars, on-demand E-Learning Education, our Talk to an Expert Advisories, or browse our selection of business articles.

Nominate and Vote in our 20th Annual Small Business BC Awards

Have you nominated your business (or a business you love) for our 20th Annual Small Business BC Awards? Nominating is simple, and only takes a few minutes. Our four winning businesses take home a prize of $10,000 each.

Learn More