Planning for Canadian Music Festivals: A Reference for U.S. Musicians (by Michael Freeman)

Well, its about that time of year when you should be thinking about the summer (lets face it, for planning purposes and your own sanity. It’s damn cold here in Boston right now). Michael Freeman has some good advice for folks who are looking to head to the great north and share their songs in Canada. It’s always good to get some advice, especially from someone like Michael who truly knows what they are talking about! Check out his advice for traveling US musicians heading on up to Canada below:

Many of the U.S. based musicians that I meet and represent in the course of my entertainment law practice travel to and from Canada frequently. Canada has some wonderful, well attended music festivals that enthusiastically welcome U.S. musicians. But, especially the first time, a solo musician or band may not anticipate the preparation required when traveling to Canada and may incorrectly assume that so long as they have their passports, they’ll be all set. Whether your plan is to drive or fly, there is extra paperwork required by the Canadian government that takes time to process and the challenge of transporting instruments and merchandise across the border can be complicated and costly. None of these obstacles are insurmountable; the key is to start planning months before your trip. To save you time and research, I have explained the purpose behind some of the paperwork below and have provided references to corresponding Canadian websites. I have also listed some practical tips that should help make the logistics easier. Musicians who have been invited to perform at a Canadian festivals should be proud and excited. Attending a Canadian Music festival may take some extra effort but the reward is the opportunity to share music that truly has no borders!

Registering for a Canadian Business Number
The Canadian Business Number (BN) is a unique number that is assigned to businesses by the Canadian Revenue Agency for tax purposes. All Canadian businesses must have a BN and U.S. individuals or companies doing business in Canada usually need one. If you plan to import merchandise into Canada or apply for a Regulation 105 Waiver (discussed below), you will need to register for a BN. To register for a BN, complete Form RC1. Allow a few weeks for processing. If you have questions, call the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) at 1-800-959-5525.

Regulation 105 Waiver
Most bands who will be invited to a Canadian folk festival will be asked if they want to file a Regulation 105 Waiver. CRA Regulation 105 mandates that Canadian businesses who pay non-residents for services provided in Canada must withhold 15% of the non-resident’s gross income. Music festival organizers must comply with this regulation. Fortunately for many musicians, there is a Regulation 105 Waiver which offers relief from this withholding and allows the musician to be paid in full. Check out the waiver requirements here to be sure you qualify. To apply for the waiver, submit Form R105 with a copy of your Music Festival contract and other attachments. If your band or group operates as a business, you will need to include your Canadian Business number on this form.

Documentation Needed at the Border
The Canada Border Service Agency oversees the border crossing. In recent years, there has been more scrutiny at the border so be certain to be well organized and have all of the proper documentation available. Do not assume that the border officer will accept verbal explanations; the border officer is looking for written proof of your plans. Be prepared to present the following documents at the border:

  • Your Passport – Check the expiration date
  • Signed contracts or letters from the music festival host showing the performance date and location – Discuss this with the festival organizers and/or your booking agent ahead of time.
  • List of all of the instruments and equipment that you are transporting including the make and serial numbers – this will help upon your return to the U.S. to show that you did not purchase these items when you were in Canada.

Canadian Work Permits
Canadian Work Permits are usually not required for performers who are attending a music festival. But, if there are unique circumstances or you are planning to conduct other business while in Canada, you may want to review rules relating to work permits here at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Canada (CIC) website.

If you are planning to transport merchandise over the border to sell in Canada, you will need a Business Number and a Canadian Import/Export account. So long as you have already received a Business Number (see above), the application for the Import/Export account can be processed in minutes over the phone. To apply for the Import/Export account by phone, call the CRA at 1-800-959-5525 and have your Canadian Business Number available.

If you are driving across the border, bring a detailed inventory of the merchandise that you are importing and be prepared for the inventory to be examined by the Customs Officer. You will need to complete Form B3, Canada’s Custom Coding Form. This form is fairly complicated. Rather than fill it out manually, most people choose to complete the form when they get to the border using the computer terminals at the Border Services Office. In order to complete Form B3, you will need to know the wholesale cost of the merchandise you are importing and the applicable tariff codes. Bring receipts documenting the wholesale cost of the goods. I have seen Tariff Code 8523.29.90.29 used for Musician’s CDs and 6109.10.00.11 used for T-Shirts but call the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) at 1-204-983-3500 before you leave for help in determining the proper tariff code for your merch. Given the complexities of customs rules and regulations, the multitude of tariff codes and the wide array of merch that a musician could be importing, it is difficult to estimate in advance the amount of duty and tax that you will have to pay. There are Duty and Tax Estimators on line but they are complex as well. Suffice it to say that costs add up quickly so only bring items that you realistically think you will be able to sell. Duty and tax costs must be paid at the border by check, credit card or cash. Save the receipt because if you have any unsold merchandise, you may fill out some additional paperwork on the return trip for a credit but it may take weeks before you actually receive reimbursement from the Canadian government.

Many music festivals will allow you to mail your merchandise in advance. Whether you choose to mail your merch through the US Post Office or some other mail service, you will need to complete a Customs Declaration form. This is a relatively easy form on which you describe the merchandise, the weight and the value. You do not have to enter a tariff code or a Business Number. Upon arrival to Canada, all international mail items are inspected by the Canada Border Service. The payment of duties and taxes are typically the responsibility of the receiver. So, be sure that you know the folk festivals policies before you mail merch to the festival.

Driving A Borrowed Vehicle Across the Border
Sometimes, musicians fly to the festival and one person (i.e. the Road Manager) is assigned the job of driving across the border with the instruments and equipment. If the vehicle that the driver is using is in another person’s name, make sure that the driver has a permission letter signed by the car owner. The letter should clearly state that that the named driver has permission to borrow this vehicle from the named owner for the purpose of going to the festival on these specific dates in this vehicle (Registration and VIN). If possible, have the owner’s signature notarized. Also, be certain that all vehicle documentation (registration, insurance card) is up to date and that the driver has an inventory of all instruments and equipment in the vehicle.

Oh, and don’t forget… pack warm clothes, even in the summer. Music warms people’s hearts but Canadian weather is unpredictable. Safe travels, have a wonderful time and I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or just an interesting “crossing the border” experience.

Michael Freeman is an Entertainment lawyer representing actors, musicians and businesses throughout the United States and Canada. For more information, contact Attorney Freeman at