There's No Barter at The Gap

In many ways doing business in Canada is not the same as back home. Roger Pierce offers four defining differences and how to manage them in this installment of his Immigrant Startup Guide

Written by Roger Pierce

Before you arrived, you knew that life in Canada would be different from that in your homeland and were prepared to make some adjustments. Similarly, you’ll find some differences in the way business is conducted here when compared with your previous professional experiences.

Here are a few features and characteristics of Canadian business life and how to manage them:


If decision-making was quick and uncomplicated in your native country, then you might be frustrated by how long it can take a Canadian to make a business decision.

You can blame that wait time on a number of factors:

  • Complexity of the Canadian legal system. Making sure a given business transaction complies with those laws takes time;
  • Three levels of government (municipal, provincial and federal). Sometimes all three may be involved in a particular business transaction or undertaking;
  • Cautious Canadians. Rather than rush into anything, many Canadians prefer to perform a lengthly process of due diligence.

Patience and persistence will weather you through these perceived delays.


There’s no bartering at The Gap.

Canadians don’t typically engage in price negotiation the way people do in many countries. When you see a product in a retail store, by and large Canadians are expected to pay the price on the tag. And we pay it.

But, there are exceptions, particularly in business-to-business transactions. For example, a Canadian supplier of consulting services may price its offering slightly higher than what it anticipates receiving—giving that supplier room to negotiate. Payment terms (e.g., paying in 30, 60 or 90 days), shipping responsibilities, warranties and post-sale support are often negotiable too. While getting the price right is important to Canadian businesspeople, it’s not the only consideration: establishing a positive, ongoing relationship with a vendor is also highly valued.


Expect to spend a good portion of your workweek completing government-required paperwork. While you are pretty much free to run your business without government interference, business owners are responsible for filing certain documents with various levels of government, including:

  • Sales tax. Depending on your business sales volume, you’ll be expected to charge customers a sales tax (called GST or HST) and remit that money to the federal government.
  • Employer remittances. If you hire employees, your business is responsible for deducting income tax, contributions to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Employment Insurance fund (EI) from each employee’s pay and submitting those amounts to the government.
  • Business registration. A new business should register with the provincial government. A simple sole proprietorship will cost less than $100. A larger, more complicated business registration, such as a provincial incorporation, will require a larger investment and more paperwork. Banks will require a copy of your business registration to open a business banking account.

40-hour workweek

If you spent 60, 70 or 80 hours a week working in your country of origin, then the Canadian workweek may seem like a vacation. According to Industry Canada, the average self-employed person works about 40 hours a week, while the average employed person works 35 hours a week.

Standard business hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and many people typically take one hour each day for lunch at noon.

Our culture values a healthy balance between work, home, social and community commitments, and too much of one activity is thought to negatively affect another. But it’s up to you how much time and attention your particular business venture requires.

Naturally, the way Canadians conduct business will differ from the way you’ve done things before. While you may initially find those differences challenging, try to accept them as part of the adventure of setting up a new life in Canada. It’s your chance to learn, adjust and thrive.

Roger Pierce is the founder of, co-author of the book Thriving Solo: How to Grow a Successful Business and one of Canada’s top experts on starting up. Pierce helps others get into business by sharing what he’s learned from launching 12 companies.

New to Canada? This is Part 2 of startup expert Roger Pierce’s 7-part series on how to make your venture a true Canadian success story.

Read Part 1: Essential Immigrant Startup Guide: Know This Before Launch

Read Roger’s other columns on starting a business

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