Incorporation is a big decision for an entrepreneur, and there is a lot of advice out there that can make it seem more complex than it needs to be. But never fear, this article has everything you need to know about how to incorporate a business in Canada. Let’s get started!
When are you ready to incorporate?
There are two main drivers when considering whether to incorporate your business: limited liability and taxes.
The benefits of limited liability cannot be overstated. By incorporating, you will separate your personal and business obligations. This is crucial, as an Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada study concluded that only about 70% of all small businesses survive beyond their first five years.
If you incorporate and your company goes south, your personal assets will remain protected and untouched. If you do not incorporate and operate your business as a sole proprietorship or a partnership, you will remain personally responsible for the debts of the business – which can put your personal property (like your home, car, and computers) all at risk.
NOTE: There are times when directors can remain personally liable for a business’s debts if certain preconditions are met. The most common examples include:
- Unpaid employee wages and vacation pay: Up to six months’ wages and 12 months’ vacation pay.
- Employee source deductions and remittances: Includes source deductions for employee income taxes, EI and CPP contributions.
- GST/HST Remittances: This includes GST/HST that has been collected by the corporation but was not remitted to the government.
How to incorporate your business in Canada
Setting up a corporation is manageable if you break it down into discrete tasks. Let’s take a look at the steps to incorporate a business in Canada. By following these one by one, you’ll be able to incorporate your business and adhere to legal requirements from the beginning, saving yourself the trouble of having to deal with mistakes down the line.
Choosing a business name
Choosing a name for your business can be stressful, but ultimately, it’s a fun exercise. Keep in mind, you can always incorporate as a numbered company (ex. 12345678 Canada Inc). Then you can choose a name at a later date, or if you don’t have a public-facing business, operate without a legal name. But most entrepreneurs are excited to give their business a name and have it legally registered.
First up: decide on what you would like to call your business. Remember that this is your formal legal name. It’s not necessarily the same as your brand name.
Next, make sure your business name satisfies three legal requirements. It must have (1) a distinctive element, (2) a descriptive element, and (3) a legal ending:
[Distinctive] + [Descriptive] + [Legal Ending]
For example: Rhino Ice Cream Inc.
Bonus step: trademark search. Have a look through Canadian trademarks to see if anyone else has registered a trademark on your desired name. You can conduct a free search with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
One final note about trademarks: they are tied to specific goods or services. This means that you may still be able to use a registered trademark, if that’s your desired name, so long as your intended use is in a different industry.
Also important to note, if you incorporate through Ownr, we handle all required NUANS searches so you don’t have to worry about conducting your own business name search in advance.
Choose incorporation jurisdiction
You can incorporate your business at either the federal or the provincial level. We’ll provide more detail about the differences below, but for most entrepreneurs, both jurisdictions are appropriate.
Filing Articles of Incorporation with government
After you’ve decided on your name, you’ll need to file the initial registration forms with the government. For this step, you’ll need to determine your share class structure along with deciding on the company’s initial directors.
With Ownr, we automatically file your initial registration documents with the government, by collecting all required information during your onboarding. Learn everything you need to know about articles of incorporation.
Pay incorporation fees
The federal and provincial governments charge a fee for incorporation, so be prepared to pay this when you file your Articles of Incorporation.
Company formation documents
Filing documents with the provincial or federal corporate registry is only half of what’s required when incorporating your business. You also need to create and sign all of your company formation documents: Corporate Bylaws, Shareholder and Director Resolutions, Director Consents, Share Subscriptions, and Share Issuances.
There are significant risks if you fail to obtain these documents and set up your company properly from the start. Risks include having no owners in your business (because shares were never issued to shareholders) and the inability to have investors. These risks can increase over time and cost more to fix than to set up correctly from the start.
We often get the question: are company formation documents (otherwise known as minute book documents) really necessary? The short answer is yes. This Government of Canada article goes into detail about the different documents that a corporation must prepare and keep.
With Ownr, we automatically prepare all company formation documents. Based on the information you provide during the onboarding process, our technology tailors all documents for your business, sends them out for eSignature, and once signed, saves them all in your Ownr account.
How much does it cost to incorporate a business in Canada?
The total cost to incorporate with Ownr is between $599 and $699, depending on your jurisdiction. This includes all government fees, name search fees, company formation documents as well as 12 months on the Ownr platform. Get started and incorporate in minutes with Ownr.
You can also go directly to the government to incorporate, where prices will vary based on your jurisdiction and type of incorporation:
British Columbia: Incorporation in British Columbia costs $350 CAD, plus an additional $30 charge for name approval.
Alberta: Incorporation in Alberta costs $275 CAD, along with a name approval fee of $30. Incorporation is done through agents who generally charge an additional fee of $150 or more.
Saskatchewan: In Saskatchewan, it costs $265 CAD to incorporate, plus a fee of $60 for a search report for named corporations.
Manitoba: The government incorporation fee in Manitoba is $300 CAD, plus a search report fee of $49 for named corporations.
Ontario: In Ontario, it costs $300 CAD to incorporate a business online or by mail. There is an additional $60 fee to register your business name.
Quebec: Incorporation in Quebec costs $367 CAD, with an additional $50 charged for the business name search.
New Brunswick: In New Brunswick, it costs $290 CAD to incorporate, which includes a government fee of $260 plus a name search report fee of $30.
Nova Scotia: The fee to incorporate in Nova Scotia is $200 CAD, plus a $70 fee for a name search report.
PEI: It costs a total of $255 CAD to incorporate in PEI, which covers the government fee and the name search report fee.
Newfoundland: In Newfoundland, the fee to incorporate is $300 CAD plus a $30 charge for a name search report.
Yukon: Incorporation in the Yukon costs $345 CAD, which covers a basic government charge and a corporation name search fee.
It’s important to note that completing government filings done yourself may still incur some paperwork and costs to ensure that your business is compliant. It’s highly recommended that you hire a legal professional to help prepare the documents needed for compliance.
Is compliance causing you stress? Looking for an easier way? Incorporate with Ownr and save additional fees for government filings. With our one-stop solution, you receive with your provincial incorporation:
- A full year of our Online Minute Book plan
- Company name registration
- Company organization documents & share issuances
- Access to Ownr Perks
Federal versus provincial incorporation
In Canada, you have the option of incorporating provincially or federally. If you choose federal, you’ll also need to register the company in the province where your business is located.
The differences between incorporating provincially or federally are often exaggerated. Both allow the company to operate in all provinces and service clients from anywhere in the world.
The main benefit to incorporating a federal corporation is that it provides your company with increased name protection. Your business name will be registered throughout Canada (rather than just one province).
One other difference between a federal and provincial corporation is the requirement for the directors of the corporation to be Canadian residents. Federal corporations require that at least 25% of the directors of a corporation must be resident Canadians. There are no Canada director residency requirements for Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and several other provinces and territories.
One of the downsides of federal corporations is that in some jurisdictions, they can take extra work to register and, depending on the province, can cost more money. With Ownr, however, we’ve automated all the additional paperwork for federal corporations in Ontario, and it is actually less expensive to incorporate a federal corporation than an Ontario provincial corporation.
Different roles in a corporation
There are three major roles in a corporation: shareholders, directors and officers. It’s common in small businesses for one person to be the sole shareholder, sole director, and sole officer.
A shareholder is a person that owns shares in a company. The unit of ownership is called a share.
Shareholders are legally separate from the company. As a result, shareholders are generally not liable for the debts of a company (unless a shareholder has signed a personal guarantee on behalf of the company).
A director has overall responsibility to oversee the activities and strategy of the corporation. Collectively, the directors are called the Board of Directors.
A director is appointed by the shareholder(s) of the corporation.
Officers actively operate and manage the business.
A company can have several different officer positions. Companies can create whatever officer positions suit them. Common examples of officer titles include President, Secretary, CEO, Vice-President, and Treasurer. These can all be held by the same person.
Officers are appointed by the directors to run the day-to-day operations of the corporation.
How to structure your corporation?
The number of shares owned by each shareholder reflects the proportion of the company they own. But that doesn’t mean all shareholders are equal. When first incorporating your company, you can create multiple share classes to allow different groups of shareholders to have different rights and privileges over the company.
Also, it’s important to remember that you can choose to have multiple share classes when you incorporate, but you don’t need to issue shares in each share class at the outset. For example, you could choose to have your company structured with three share classes: Class A Common Voting Shares, Class B Common Voting Shares and Class C Common Non-Voting Shares, but only issue shares in Class A.
So what are the different types of share classes? We’ve provided a basic overview below:
Voting and non-voting shares
The most common difference among share classes is the ability to vote on matters relating to the business. Voting shares will be held by those shareholders who want to actively participate in the decision-making process (like the founders, directors, and senior managers). Non-voting shares are intended for shareholders who wish to benefit from the company’s long-term growth, but don’t necessarily want to get involved in high-level decisions (for example, employees).
Common shares are the standard shares in the corporation. As the corporation grows and becomes profitable, the value of the Common Shares will increase.
Common Shares do not have any special priority over the corporation’s assets. If the corporation stops operating, the holders of common shares will be paid out in proportion to their ownership stake.
The directors can declare and pay dividends on common shares at any time and in any amount.
Preferred shares are only called ‘preferred’ because they entitle the shareholder to get paid back first if the corporation stops conducting business. However, it is important to understand that preferred shares are not necessarily more valuable than common shares. preferred shares usually have a limit on the amount they can increase in value over time. They are often issued for tax-planning reasons on the advice of an accountant.
After incorporation: Ongoing obligations
After incorporating, your business has an obligation to maintain certain documents and records. In exchange for the legal and tax benefits of incorporating, you are expected to keep your corporation up-to-date and in compliance with the law. There are three main things that every company is legally required to keep up-to-date:
Minute book and share records
You are required to keep your company documents in an organized manner. This can be in an old-fashioned paper binder, or, like we do at Ownr, through a secure electronic minute book.
Anytime your company details change (like when you want to add a new director or change your registered address), you have an obligation to file forms with the government and prepare corporate resolutions which officially approve the company changes.
Ownr automatically takes care of all this paperwork on an ongoing basis: automatically preparing and filing forms with the government, preparing the required corporate resolutions, gathering e-signatures, and securely storing all documents back into your account.
Annual return and resolutions
Each year, your company will need to file an annual return with the government and pay the associated fees (which can range from $20 for a federal corporation to $50 for an Alberta corporation).
You’ll also need to prepare annual shareholder and director resolutions, even if you’re a single-person corporation. These are all mandatory documents in order for your business to stay compliant. If you fail to file the annual return, the government can dissolve your company.
Ready to start your business? Ownr has helped over 100,000 entrepreneurs hit the ground running quickly—and affordably. If you have questions about how to register or incorporate your business, email us at [email protected].
Incorporating a business FAQs
How many shares should I issue when incorporating in Canada?
There is no rule about how many shares you should issue when incorporating in Canada, and you can technically issue just one share. Many newly incorporated small businesses start with anywhere between 100 to 10 million shares, which can be issued to others in the future.
What’s the best way to incorporate a business?
The best way to incorporate a business is by filing with your local provincial government, the federal government, or a third party platform with extra benefits like Ownr.
What documents are needed to incorporate a company?
To incorporate your company, you will need your Articles of Incorporation, company formation documents, and in some cases, a NUANS report.
How long does it take to incorporate in Canada?
Incorporating in Canada doesn’t take very long. Once all documents and fees are submitted, approval can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
What’s the difference between corporation and incorporation?
A corporation is a business structure that creates a new legal entity for the business, while incorporation is the process of setting up a corporation.
What’s the difference between inc and ltd?
Both “inc” and “ltd” are abbreviated suffixes that are commonly used in the names of corporations. Inc stands for incorporated, while ltd stands for limited.
What’s the difference between incorporated and limited?
An incorporated business is a distinct legal entity, separate from its owners. A limited liability company is an American business structure that isn’t used in Canada, while the term “limited company” is rarely used to refer to corporations in some Canadian provinces.