importing major appliances to Canada

carolmlMarch 20, 2012

I was recently in the US and compared the pricing of a number of major appliances with the prices here in Canada. I could save thousands of dollars by making the effort to buy 'down south'. I called customs and was told that there was no duty on anything fabricated in North America (free trade agreement) and 8% duty on anything made outside of NA. Then I called the Canadian Standards Association and was told NOT to buy in the US, that our electrical standards were different, blah, blah, blah. I have trouble believing that major companies, ie Sub Zero build a different appliance for the Canadian market than for the US. There are compliance symbols on many appliances that are for both countries (usually there is a small c next to the symbol). Of course, I never thought to look when I was in the US appliance showroom.

Does anyone know anymore about this?


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A friend looked into this and was told that it was fine to import as long as the appliance has the cSA seal. But she was warned that if the item hasn't been approved by the Canadian Standards Association and the item 'causes a problem (i.e. sets your house on fire) it could invalidate your house insurance. In the end she opted to purchase her appliances up here. It's something you should double check with your house insurance company. Personally, even though it's tempting, I wouldn't do it.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 12:30AM
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Thanks canuckmom. That is exactly what the CSA guy told me. I just find it frustrating that the mark up is so much greater.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 12:59PM
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carolml use the web instead "looking when in a US appliance showroom". The web is your friend. When you get to choosing something, more specific tips can be given. When people move across the border, no one tells them to sell their appliances. Hint hint.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 1:39PM
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I don't make a habit of looking, but I would think that pretty much all appliances now made for NA would be CSA compliant (since Canada is a major part of NA). There is not much, if anything, different about the electrical parameters either. The only thing that might be different is the plugs, which any competent electrician can take care of.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 2:50PM
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I just made a trip down to Bellingham from Vancouver for exactly this research. The vast majority of appliances are CSA approved but the official folks need to make those warnings due to liability issues. The border guys are fine with it - if there was truely an issue, they would check. The store in Bellingham recommended that I show up with my own truck (I can rent a 2 ton cube van for ~$100 and they will load them in. This route solves the biggest 'gotcha' for cross border shipping which are the 'brokerage fees' These mysterious fees can seriously impact your final price and are very difficult to get pre-quoted! If you use a company that ships regularly across the border, that will smooth things over.
For the record, I plan to save about $7,000 by getting my appliances from the US.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 5:04PM
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Thanks everyone for the input. I agree, weedmeister, that most appliances should be compliant in both countries.
tomcarter101 - I am also from BC. In the appliance store I was in in Portland, the salesman had just sold an entire high end kitchen of appliances to a guy from Whistler. We are also planning on driving our own vehicle to pick up anything we buy.
davidrol - I may be dense or just tired but I'm not sure what you mean by "more specific tips can be given" and your hints about moving your own goods. I will do some more web browsing but shipping across the border can be dicey. As tomcarter101 pointed out, brokerage fees can be a killer. Better to ship to a border town and bring the goods across yourself. (Am I starting to sound like a smuggler?) But is this any different than buying in a store and bringing them across?

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 1:36AM
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davidrol - since typing that response I have been trying to work out exactly what you were suggesting. I wonder if a US online company that would ship to Canada would be obliged to send product that is CSA approved?
Just to be clear, I am not worried about the safety of the appliances, just the liability if something were to happen. I wouldn't want to invalidate my insurance so would like to have the little cSA seals.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 2:02AM
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tomcarter101 - me again, if you are still tuned in. Could you tell me the appliance place you went to in Bellingham?

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 12:03PM
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Sure, its Dewaard and Bode

They explicitly advertise to Canadian customers.

Their website only has links of appliance brands they sell but they are responsive to emails and information over email.
They are just off the I5 - an easy drive.

Good luck

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 2:39PM
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We bought a steam oven from the States. It needed some repair, and we were told the warranty from Gaggenau was void because we bought it in the States and not in Canada. Sorry to deliver bad news. I think this would apply to the warranties of most appliance makers.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 6:55PM
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Thanks Tom. I'll give them a try.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 1:07AM
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Oh, yes. The warranty thing. You will not have a warranty. You will have to take your savings (hopefully not all of it) to use for warranty repairs. This is part of the risk.

But I would like to think that there are warranty extension companies in Canada, same as there are in the US.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 4:35PM
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How is it that a company like Miele, who controls all its own pricing, shipping, repairs, etc. and builds its product outside of North America, does not honour warranties North America wide? With products made in the US, we pay no duties (free trade agreement), will US companies not offer warranties either? We need a North America Free Trade AND Warranty agreement!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 8:40PM
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My wonderings precisely, carolml. It makes no sense. I'm not really sure if this is relevant, but when I was in Canada with my Honda, and needed warranty work done, they wouldn't do it up in Canada. It was just so ridiculous. There was some explanation that kinda sorta made some vague sense at the time, but my brain has reverted to utterly-ridiculous mode now. I can't fathom what this should be about. Same car, same company, same problem, same responsibility; same customer, same reputation: Huh?

Then again the whole US-Canada price differential is absurd too. Once when there was a currency difference, well, it still didn't make sense. If there's a currency difference, then changing between currencies will take care of that difference; you don't have to mark a difference in retail??

Isn't capitalism a wonder? And yet ... the insurance-liability-thing may be most of it. I can see how having good, no-fault, state-subsidized insurance (do you, on houses too?) could "cost", say, in the order of 7K for a kitchen's worth of goods over the course of the appliance's lifetimes. There is a cost to having a caring society, which we have foregone down here in the south.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 1:35AM
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I don't think we get state subsidized insurance for anything other than health (which is a biggie). Our house and car insurance is pretty high. Where we do differ is in liability insurance, mostly because settlements do not run into the quazillions of dollars that Americans could be faced with.

The car warranty thing is something else - some companies honour it, some do not. We purchased a BMW in the US and had to have the servicing done in Seattle, though warranty work was covered here.

I think I'll look into purchasing warranties for my appliances as weedmeister suggested - after I call the various companies just to make sure of their policies.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 1:45PM
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Actually, the warranty doesn't carry over specifically to be a disincentive to have you country hopping for your purchases. Aliris's example is the unfortunate consequence of when people move across borders and lose their warranty coverage, but a warranty isn't a right, either. It's an incentive for the shopper to buy. The company says, look, you're not taking such a big risk with us. We'll warrant the product for a year (or however much) so that you'll be sure that we'll take care of any faults. A warranty is just a little piece of paper. Much easier than manufacturing and testing in a way that people have that much confidence to buy your product that they know there won't be a problem.

Warranties are also used as pricing tools. When Gaggenau had the big sucky price increase they also increased their warranty to five years. Gaggenau products aren't without fault, but pert near. People have never had a lack of confidence in the brand. Still, when you raise the prices 38% (part for the rise in price of steel, part for the stress of the difference between the dollar and euro at the time, part to cement their position as a luxury brand), you have to do something to keep the people coming. Saying, "Remember us? The uberreliability people?" is pointless. Quintupling the warranty says, you're giving us more money, but we have your back.

Similarly, on the low end, companies use warranties to salve their reputations. When new Korean makers of low price little cars entered the U.S. market, they slapped really long warranties on them as an incentive to buy. You don't know us and you think we're junk but we'll keep that junk going for a long time. When foreign cars were beating American cars for reliability, the American companies slapped bigger, better, longer warranties on them to say, the press may have you believe you'll be spending more on repairs, but we'll cover it, so really we have a better price.

So. What's the deal with portability? Pricing is set by how many units they think they can sell to optimize their profits. If selling more units means that the cost per unit rises and eats into the total profits, they won't expand their production. If selling fewer units means they're under utilizing their resources and undercutting their profits, they'll make more. They use these optimal production ideas, and pricing information from the various places they sell their goods, to figure out how many to sell in each place at each price. Again, to optimize profits.

Canada has about a tenth of the population as the U.S.A. Most of the population is fairly near the border, however, as opposed to up in the arctic region. We're not talking about the pricing in Yellowknife. It seems logical that Vancouver or Toronto should be the same as Seattle or Detroit. But much as it sometimes seems like there isn't a difference, Canada does have different laws and regulations, different distribution systems, tax structures, etc. The manufacturers set up their systems for each country. They might even have the same rep serving the entire NW, including both Seattle and Vancouver, but they have different structures and goals for each.

Neither Canada nor the U.S.A. object to you taking appliances across the border, so the manufacturers have to do whatever they can to support their optimal pricing structure in the two different places. They do this to support the dealers, who don't want you flocking across the borders instead of buying from the local guys like them. One disincentive that costs the makers absolutely nothing, and, in fact, actually gains them a bit in missed warranty calls, is denying coverage if you go outside of your local market to buy their stuff.

But many of you have warranty work done? I did have a service call on my gas cooktop in the first few months, but it was an installation issue. Wolf wanted to have it checked out anyway, but they could have told me the likely culprit over the phone, and I would have had the electrician fix it without having the service call, if there was no warranty.

I know we hear a lot about warranty work about this and that appliance here, but that's because of the nature of a forum. When things don't work, people talk about them.

The very least regard I put into whether to import my induction cooktop from Europe was the lack of warranty. I talked to Gaggenau service, here, to make sure they could fix it, since I didn't want an orphan, like some of the folks who bought Fagor or DeDietrich from out of the country had before induction was plentiful here. As long as there was someone who could fix what might go wrong, I wasn't hung up on who would pay for it, figuring it would be out of the warranty period by then anyway.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 3:03PM
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Years ago I went to graduate school in Canada and Ford, Canada honored the warranty on the Mercury Cougar that I had purchased in the states. I don't know if things have changed, if it depends on the company, or if you just have to be persistent to get your warranty honored. With an international corporation there's no reason the warranty shouldn't be honored. When I lived in Canada, the Canadian dollar was 10% higher than the US dollar and yet prices on cars, electronics, appliances were still much higher. I used to bring back stereo equipment for friends and even with paying duty at the border, they saved a lot of money. I honestly don't remember whether they got a warranty or not but in those days, things were made to last.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 3:18PM
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Wow, plllog, well thought out. You are right, I don't think I've ever had warranty work done on appliances, though I have to say most of mine are from the "old days" when things were built to last (like my 28 year old Maytag washing machine and my 30+ year old Sub Zero).
I wonder how much of the price differential between US and Canadian goods has to do with dealer mark-up. As you said, we are a much smaller country so less of a market to sell to. In the US, with many more people, retailers can still make a profit based on a bigger volume. I find it hard to believe that the manufacturers, where ever they may be, charge more for their product in different countries. While I used the example of Miele earlier, it might be better to look at Sub Zero. As US manufactured product, because of the free trade agreement, there should be no import taxes, and yet, the price in the store is about 30% more.
I try hard to support my local economy in most things. But with this, I feel that I am being taken advantage of.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 7:26PM
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OK, plllog -- but here's what I don't get ... it's like gerrymandering. Where you choose to draw your lines matters in terms of 'representation', or who would become elected from a specifically setup district. So: why are they drawing artificial lines around "Canada" and "USA". As you point out, the markets between the megalopoli that includes, say, Detroit and Toronto or Seattle and Vancouver, are more-or-less one.

They're not one in terms of local laws and tax structures and cultures -- but I think you were saying that these things aren't really mattering in the end, it's just market-draw; that Canada has 10% the population of the USA. But then you point out that 90% of that 10% is concentrated right on our borders; it's essentially a contiguous population.

So I'm back to not getting it at all. You say, I think, they're protecting their smaller buying-power within the smaller Canadian market. But it's only smaller because you decided to draw a geopolitical line through it. In terms of consumerism, that's cultural and that's contiguous. See, gerrymandering? They're gerrymandering for profit.

I think, basically, they charge more in Canada because they can. They always have. They like to say there are fewer buyers. It's not so easy to haul several tons of kitchen appliances across a border station. So, basically, they just can.

But what's the excuse for, say *Books*????

Sorry, it's mysterious to me still.

But I do appreciate your point about the warrantee being just a surrogate for reliability and trust, just a marketing tool.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 9:20PM
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We often call the price differential of buying in Canada vs USA as the "Canadian Tax". Both plllog and aliris touch on some of the issues. The one that really peeves me is that often, a Canadian distributor has exclusive contractual rights to sell to Canadians, which prevents out-of-area dealers from selling to Canadians. This extra level of distribution adds an extra level of overhead to the price structure. But wayyyy too often (although I'm not sure whether this is the case with appliances), the Canadian distributor is a partly or wholly owned subsidiary of the American parent. I suppose this could be construed as gerrymandering?

Currently, some major American retail chains are looking to move into Canada. Our economy has not suffered to the same extent over the past few years of banking crises, so many of us are able shop ( as well as renovate). But despite currency equivalency, many are setting their Canadian prices 20% above American prices. The justification is that we are used to paying higher prices, and it would be unfair to undercut the established domestic dealers. Unfair??? What does fairness have to do with free enterprise???

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 10:22PM
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Exactly -- that's what I'm saying, I think. The "gerrymandering" (if you're willing to call the US-Canada border a gerrymandered line), is essentially anti-free-market. I guess we all know this, it's just bizarre, seems to me.

And I live in the US!

Thing is, if the differential were going to the government, I could understand that. But it's not, I don't think; it's just going into various random middlemen's pockets (again, because they can). Well, I suppose that's what constitutes "economy" and maybe there's a teensy bit of the equation in there as to why Canada is doing so relatively well economy-wise?

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 11:46PM
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The price of anything is what the market will bear. In a bigger market, there's always someone willing to charge less to increase trade, thereby putting downward price pressure on goods which are otherwise valued higher.

I don't think NAFTA has anything to do with it. You can get certain things cheaper, or at all, in California because it's, like, the 8th largest economy in the world. OTOH, there are other things, scarcer things, which cost more in California because there's more competition for them. Additionally, the general cost of living is higher, wages are higher, etc., than in some states in the middle of the country.

The manufacturers of appliances often have regions they sell to, especially higher end appliances, rather than the Sears/Walmart/Lowe's level where the megaretailers are going to want uniformity. Those giants drive the manufacturers, rather than vice versa. That is, they set the price points, and, as you know, makers often design products or packaging especially for them, to hit that price point. These often look the same as the ones that cost more, but are of inferior quality (fabric, fixtures), or function (Kenmore, for example, is known for fewer settings and options than the maker's equivalent unit). Regular small to medium businesses, however, deal with distributors and territories.

Nowadays with the internet where people can much more easily bargain shop, there has been a levelling out of prices. It used to be, however, that the same coffee pot might cost almost twice as much in New York as in Peoria. Some of that is the merchant, who certainly has higher overhead. Some of that is, or used to be, the sales territory. Just as they have different prices country by country, they used to have different prices region by region.

I'm not sure I understand Aliris's gerrymandering argument because the border isn't an artificial line. I believe that American companies often have to, or have significant advantages from, having a Canadian subsidiary to officially do business in Canada. Nafta is just about duty. There are still regulatory differences (cSA vs. UL), a different tax structure (NAFTA is no duty, not no taxes), etc. For all that culturally these may be megalopoli in many ways, economically, they really aren't. That's not to say that it won't happen! But for the moment there really is a bigger difference between Canada and the U.S.A. than the flavor of the iced tea, the bilingual signage, and the verbal punctuation of "eh?"

One thing to remember about free markets is that they really only happen at swap meets, and only happen there if they aren't so free-wheeling as to incur government notice. Governments are good things. They give us product safety regulations, clean air, and any number of other things that are to the public good but cost the makers money. Government also provides roads, security, fire brigades, etc., also to the public good, and which cost us, as a group, money (taxes). All of this good, however, that those of us with any sense do want, impinges on the freedom of the markets.

The populism of the 'net is finding new market freedoms, however. Maybe in the future, we'll all just bid for our appliances in an online marketplace, perhaps paying a premium for a quick deliver, and getting a bargain for ordering early.

As it is now, Canadians pay more for American goods than it seems like they should because of a few miles farther down the road. Big makers, like Kimberly-Clark, just have all their boxes say "plus doux" or whatever, so they can sell them in Canada. How much is a box of Kleenex there? What about the small farm cooperative that wants to market their peas? They have to design a whole new package, right? And they think having to have nutrition info in joules will confuse Americans, so they keep their old labels as well. So now they have increased inventory costs because they have to guess how many crates of frozen peas they'll be selling in Canada, and, if they go over, their customers won't be happy if they receive French/English packages that look different from the regular packages just because the Canadians didn't order enough peas. So, then they decide to sell in the Southwest. They can add Spanish to the labels but not have to change the fine print. But what if they want to sell in Nogales where there is a (hypothetical) big fad for English peas?

It really and truly is just about everybody in the entire supply chain making as much money as they can, and trying to guess right how much to invest in each market.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 2:15AM
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I recently bought a Hansgrohe faucet from a plumbing supply store in Portland. They had discounted the faucet by several hundreds of dollars because the same one was being sold at Costco for the lesser price. The store buyer called her Hansgrohe dealer and requested the same price. As she explained to me, Costco goes to the manufacturer and tells them how many (thousands) of units they will order and the price they will pay, the manufacturer makes less money per unit but more because of volume. For the consumer, a good deal, as long as that is the faucet they want.

And then we have US retailers that particularly market their products to (disgruntled) Canadians. These retailers are usually located near the border. I was given the name of one earlier in this post and will be interested in hearing what they have to say about warranties, CSA approvals, etc. - and to see what kind of prices they are offering. I'll call tomorrow.

Interesting discussion.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 1:26PM
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"everybody in the entire supply chain making as much money as they can" = "what the market will bear" = "because they can".

If it all really is just a numbers-thing then that's a pretty interesting, graphical demonstration of how much smaller than the US is Canada; conversely how huge the US is. I know the US is larger, I know volume is said to make up for absolute cost. But the reality of the markup never fails to surprise me. I just don't somehow envision in my head the "value" of volume being as great as it evidently is.

Geometrical scaling is just hard to envision. Bankers know this well. ;)

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 1:43PM
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