Starting an Import/Export Career: Training & First Steps for Beginners

Updated January 2024

Walk into any store (online or in person), and chances are, you'll find products from all over the world.

Whether you're looking at food, clothing, car parts, or electronics, many of the things we buy here in Canada were brought in from foreign markets, by import/export specialists.

Globalization and international transportation networks have made it easier than ever to move products across borders and overseas.

The import/export business in Canada is worth billions of dollars annually. And the latest data from the Government of Canada Job Bank shows steady-to-good demand for import/export professionals in most areas of the country. Every province (except Newfoundland and Labrador) gets at least three out of five stars for employment outlook in this field.

If you've noticed opportunities in this sector and are considering starting your own import/export career, what should you know about breaking into the business?

Here's a look at your employment options, and available training programs, in the field of international commerce.


Entry-level Import/Export Career Options

If you're just starting your import/export career, you may want to consider a position as an import/export clerk.

In this role, you would be responsible for organizing shipments of goods, communicating with buyers and sellers, and ensuring all customs regulations are followed. Import/export clerks work for air, sea, and road shipping companies, retail businesses, and manufacturing firms.

Any company that wants to bring in products from overseas (or sell them abroad) needs the help of an import/export clerk to coordinate the shipping and delivery process. Key skills and tasks for this job include:

  • Preparing shipping quotes, invoices, customs clearance, cargo receipts, and other documents
  • Tracking all shipments, and keeping clients updated on progress
  • Communicating with international customs agents to arrange deliveries (and get clearance)
  • Getting price quotes from shipping companies
  • Ensuring shipping containers are properly packed
  • Calculating tariffs and duties on goods being imported/exported

To do this job well, you will need to understand the laws and regulations that govern the import/export trade in Canada (and abroad). You will need training in how to complete shipping and customs documentation as well as knowledge of the supply chain involved in transporting goods across the globe.

These are just some of the skills taught in import/export diploma programs, which are specifically designed to prepare students for entry-level roles in international commerce (like import/export clerk). 

As a clerk, you'll be able to learn the business, gain practical experience, make contacts, and lay the groundwork for starting your own import/export company.

Related: What it's Like to Work as an Import/Export Clerk


Setting up your own import/export business

There are a few different options for people who want to start their own import/export business. For example, you could work toward setting up an Export Management Company (EMC), which would help Canadian businesses export their products overseas. The EMC would handle all the legal details, shipping logistics, and distribution of the products abroad.

Or you could start an Export Trading Company (ETC), where you would research what foreign markets want and locate Canadian companies that could export those goods. You would arrange the details, broker the deals, and ship the products.

Another option is becoming a free agent—an import/export merchant. In this role, you would buy merchandise direct from a manufacturer (at home or abroad), and then find buyers interested in purchasing your products.

There are more upfront costs and risks involved with this import/export career path—but the rewards can be greater, too!


First steps in Becoming an Importer/Exporter

There are several very important first steps to walk through when going into business for yourself as an importer/exporter. You will need to consider:

  • Which products you will deal in
  • Whether the goods you want to import/export are subject to any permits, restrictions, or regulations
  • Which parts of the world you will target
  • Who your customers will be
  • How much money you'll need to get started
  • How to handle international transactions and organize your accounting records
  • What training you need to understand and follow the laws of international commerce

The Government of Canada offers a helpful checklist for anyone who wants to start importing goods into Canada. These steps show how complex the process can be and provide some of the technical knowledge needed to set up your business.

Key points on the list include obtaining a business number, figuring out how to classify goods, calculating duties and taxes, and deciding whether or not you'll need a licensed customs broker.

Click here to see the complete checklist.

There is a similar checklist of steps for exporting goods out of Canada to overseas markets.

For example, you'll need an international marketing plan, detailed research on your target market, knowledge of international commerce laws, and an understanding of how to protect your property in foreign markets.


Completing Import/Export Training to Launch Your Career

No one should start an import/export career without the proper training in procedures, laws, and logistics. Penalties are high for those who break regulations, and you could easily lose your investment if you don't follow the rules of the game.

If you're looking for an alternative to a four-year university degree in international commerce, an import/export diploma could be an ideal option. With programs as short as 15 months, you can learn the fundamentals needed to start your import/export career and eventually launch your own business.

Quality import/export training includes courses in:

  • How the global import/export system works, how deals are structured, and typical pros and cons of the business
  • How to complete the paperwork and documentation needed to import/export goods
  • How to arrange international payments
  • The laws of international trade; how to legally bring goods into and out of Canada
  • How to analyze global markets to see where opportunities are, identify possible risks, and get a competitive edge on other importer/exporters
  • How to create an international business plan and market your goods to buyers overseas
  • How to coordinate the shipment of goods and negotiate with producers, suppliers, and distributors

Your import/export program should also include an internship, so you can experience international trade in a real business environment. You can expect the work placement to run from six to eight weeks, and offer valuable hands-on training at a local import/export company.

Related: Should You Study International Commerce? 5 Things to Know Before You Enrol


What's next?

The import/export business in Canada is thriving and offers exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs. However, getting involved in international trade without thorough knowledge of how the system works is very risky.

If you're interested in pursuing an import/export career and want to learn more about training, we'd love to hear from you.

We recommend talking with an admissions advisor to understand how the program is structured, what you'll be learning in class, and what job options you'll have after graduation.

Chat live with an advisor right now. Or click below to explore the program in more detail. We're here to help!

Learn More About Import/Export Training at Herzing


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