Exporting to Canada

Understanding Canadian customers

Canada has a multi-cultural society, with a wide range of influences. Around a quarter of the population is of French-Canadian descent. There are also ties to the UK and Ireland: between 10 and 20 per cent of Canadians can claim ancestors from Ireland or Northern Ireland.

More recently, significant Hispanic, Chinese and Arab communities have developed. Meanwhile, the US exerts a powerful influence on the country, particularly through trade. The US is by far Canada's largest foreign trade partner.

The country is officially bilingual, using both English and French-Canadian. There are substantial differences between the different provinces that make up the country. French is the dominant language in the province of Quebec.

Business culture and structures are similar to those in Northern Ireland. However, job titles vary and may not tell you much about a person's role, so you should establish in advance who the decision-maker is before you make an approach.

For the exporter, there are important business implications.

  • Outside of Quebec, English is typically used for business, but there is scope for misunderstanding.
  • French-Canadian is required for doing business in Quebec, and is a legal requirement for labelling of most products.
  • You may need to research business customers to identify key decision-makers. Market visits are likely to be an important part of identifying contacts and building relationships.
  • It is a mistake to generalise about the Canadian market, or all Canadians. Different provinces have different cultures, and separate regulations. Local contacts, with local knowledge, can be important.