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Canada & USA Free Trade

Canada & USA Free Trade

April 7th, 2006  · stk

Consumer Thoughts After Buying a Casio EX-Z850 Digital Camera

The population of the United States is roughly ten times that of Canada. It's no surprise then, that the U.S. has a much more efficient consumer marketplace than Canada. I recently discovered just how much more efficient, after purchasing a Casio EX-Z850 digital camera.

Firstly, I should state that I have no great patriotic allegiance when it comes to making consumer purchases. "Made in the U.S.A.", Canada, China, Taiwan or Mexico, I don't really care. All things being equal, I will buy local, to support the local economy, but in truth, I'm after the best quality/price ratio I can find, with a leaning toward one end of the spectrum or the other, depending on the product. I mean no disrespect to either the U.S. or Canada, as I think both are great. Rather, my experience reflects a growing dissatisfaction over the disparity in pricing, availability, shipping costs, regulations and red tape associated with purchasing products to obtain the best deal.

The EX-Z850 is very new to the marketplace. It was debuted at the PMA Annual Convention & Trade Show in Orlando, Florida, on February 26th (press release). I was happy to get my hands on one at a price well below the MSRP of $399.99(USD), but the convolutions I had to go through, in order to accomplish this, underscores the marketplace differences between Canada and the U.S. This is something that NAFTA is supposed to help fix, but it doesn't really seem to be working too well.

Read on to learn about my purchase choices in Canada, versus the United States and the creative methods employed to obtain the better deal.

New Camera Needed

 Casio EX-Z750

Our existing digital camera, an HP-735, was purchased two years ago. It has served it's purpose, but it has a number of annoyances that precipitated a new purchase: It's not pocket-sized (unless you're wearing cargo pants), it chews through batteries faster than a cow through cud, the two-second shutter delay has caught Alex a number of times, just AFTER we wanted to and you might as well forget accessing anything on the menu for 2 minutes after taking a photo, for that's how long the camera seems to be pre-occupied with writing the image file. The camera freaks out too, from time-to-time, as the menu goes blank, after turning it on, and we have to cycle the on/off switch to get it to behave. Besides, when we're cycling, it would be nice to have two cameras, as we're often separated by a mile or so and whatever opportunity for photo taking is lost, if you're not the one with the camera.

So much for our justifications. :|

The new Casio EX-Z850, despite having nearly 3X the mega-pixel capability as our HP-735, is tiny. (I'll post a photo comparison, after it arrives). According to Mike Davidson it's the size of an Altoids tin. It has a dedicated battery that provides hundreds of photos on a single charge. Shutter lag is "imperceptible". I'm not certain about the write time, but a medieval scribe could probably write faster than the HP camera, so I'm willing to take my chances.

Initial Low Price Investigations


The first place I turn to, when looking for the lowest price on an item that I know I'll purchase, is the Internet. This camera was no exception. Once I had identified the Casio EX-Z850 as the camera I wanted to buy, I visited a couple of shopping bots, to find the best deal.

I'm not a shopping bot guru, but I have seen "BizRate" and recognized it. I gave it a try, typing in "EX-Z850" into the "I'm shopping for [ ]" space. Up came approximately 26 comparisons, ranging in price from $312 to $399 (USD). Prestige Camera came up as the lowest price (at the time $312 - though I suspect that it will only go down from there). I noted that they were a U.S. company and jotted down the price. THIS was my target.

In Canada, purchasing products from the United States has its inherent problems.

First is shipping. It doesn't matter if you live in the outback of Borneo, or the suburbs of Toronto, as far as a U.S. company is concerned, you're "International". To my way of thinking, there's a huge difference. Shipping a package to Borneo requires several plane trips, customs inspections and ultimately, locals have to strap the thing onto the back of buses, water buffalo, bicycles or mopeds, just to get it to its destination. In Canada, there's a simple exchange at the contiguous border and the package then travels pretty much as it did before, only in a slightly different colored mail carrier. However, as far as cost is concerned, Zimbabwe or Vancouver, it doesn't matter. I noted that the International shipping cost from one low-cost camera provider was $99 (USD), fully 1/3 of the cost of the camera! 88|

Second, is import duties. Now I don't know exactly HOW these duties are calculated, I just know that I've been on the receiving end of some pretty innocuous packages and had to pay a whole heck of a lot more than I was thinking I should.

A case in point. Rachel will kill me for telling you this story, but it's germane to my argument. I have a Paul Revere cook set that I brought with me from the States. It's a nice set, but they're not sold in Canada. When Rachel accidentally fried a pot (She put veggies on a steamer tray, but forgot to fill the pot with water. She turned the element on HIGH, only to return and smell 'something burning'. After throwing cold water into the flaming red-hot pot ... it looked the worse for wear, as the bottom was discolored, warped and the aluminum disk at the bottom, had melted). We located a replacement on eBay, for $20 (USD), but shipping was another $18 (USD) and to add insult to injury, we had to pay another $10 (CAD), at the door, for import duties. Our $20 replacement pot was now a $50+ replacement pot, thanks to shipping and import fees.

The Canadian Comparison

London Drugs

To avoid extra shipping fees, import duties and to buy through the Canadian economy, I figured that I would 'buy Canadian'. I called several of the Canadian consumer electronics retail outlets - Staples, Best Buy, Future Shop, London Drugs and Walmart. Most didn't carry ANY Casio digital cameras, let alone the new, EX-Z850 camera. One did - London Drugs. They're a great store and it didn't surprise me that they carried Casio AND that they had this new model for sale. What DID surprise me, was the price - $499 (CAD). Ouch.

Having exhausted the retail outlets, I turn my attention to the Internet. Trying to identify Canadian-only websites is tough. If one goes to, there's a radio button for "Canadian Only" web pages. It doesn't work. It invariably turns up U.S. sites as well. But, I gave it a go anyways.

I see now that the Future Shop now has this camera, but it didn't at the time I was looking for it. I also see that The Source has one for sale now, but again, it wasn't available when I was looking. At the time, the ONLY Canadian camera store that was selling the EX-Z850 was Henry's. Regardless, even now, their prices are ALL identical - $499.99 (CAD).

So, in Canada, the availability was less and the price was substantially more. [For those that don't know $499.99 (CAD) is roughly equivalent to $436 (USD)] All things considered, the camera cost in the U.S. was ($312) ... fully 28% less expensive.

Getting Creative

I bought the camera for my parents as a gift. They're coming to visit later this month. I'm hoping that they'll forget to take the camera, when they leave!

If I had simply followed a straight-forward path and paid $99 (USD) for shipping and suffered through who-knows-how-much in import fees, one might argue (correctly) that it would have been less expensive to buy the one at my local London Drug Store. BUT, because I'm from the U.S. to begin with, I have allies there (my parents). :D

So, I concocted a new plan. I would ship within the U.S., to another U.S. destination. This cut the shipping fees from $99 to $25 (which I still thought was a tad steep, especially considering that they advertised $15 shipping fees on the shopping bot I used). I was so jazzed to get the camera, that I didn't question it. There was no State sales tax, as I was shipping from N.Y. to California (where there would have been a 7.25% National sales tax, had I bought it from my local London Drug Store).

Total cost to Scott for the gift? $312(USD) + $25(USD) shipping = $337 (USD). Had I purchased it and then shipped it up? $312(USD) + $99(USD) shipping + $???(USD) import fees = $411+ (USD). Had I bought it locally? $499.99(CAD) = $436(USD) + 7.25% National Sales Tax ($37 CAD) = approximately $468 (USD). Hmmm. Which do you think is the better deal?

I've saved $100+ USD on a $337 USD purchase, nearly a third, by being "creative". It's just too bad that one must play these games, in order to get the best deal. Shouldn't the border be more open? Isn't NAFTA supposed to allow for help in this regard? While I would have preferred to purchase locally, I'm all for getting the best deal, even if it means that I get it for my parents, instead of myself.

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1.flag RON BAYNES Comment
I'm living in Canada and coincidentally was looking for exactly the same camera. So I was fascinated.

One question about the total cost of buying in Canada for delivery in Canada. The total you give is approximately: $473 USDA. That should be $473 CAD shouldn't it?.

2.flag stk Comment

London Drugs wanted $499.99 CAD for the camera (about $436 USD). GST would be $37 CAD (not USD). The London Drug total (at the time): $537 CAD (or $468 USD).

The Canadian dollar has strengthened since then and camera prices have come down some: London Drugs - ($449.98 CAD); Prestige Camera - ($285.00 USD).

Hope this helps.
3.flag Scott Comment
Looking at buying new Panasonic camera and came across this great story. Will be checking out this Casio camera on cnet. I agree it really sucks buying things in Canada now the dollar is at par you can really see how much we overpay. None of the big internet co like amazon will ship to Canada. I can see the border from my house. Thinking it is worth a trip in my boat and still pay duties and still be ahead. So much for free trade. Cheers
4.flag stk Comment
LOL, yeah, free trade! Taking your boat across the strait to make a purchase doesn't sound too bad though. ;) :p
5.flag JI Comment
I came across what appears to be a Canadian site the other day that offers Canadian Internet shoppers shipping from any store on their site. They use a package forwarding service that costs $25 to sign up for, but the savings to be had even with this cost make it worthwhile, not to mention the wider product selection.
6.flag stk Comment
JI -That link looks like a "click-through" middleman, but more interesting, was the US Global Mail service link, a mail-forwarding service in Houston, TX. Canadians can sign up & get a Houston, TX address (Box#, Suite#, Office# or Department#), suitable for FedEx, UPS and DHL deliveries.

Of course, there are fees for this, but it means you can order US products, ship them to a US address & then have them forwarded to your Canadian address.

Depending on volume and savings, you might still come out way ahead. It means the whole U.S. market is open to you (no more "we can't ship internationally" or "it'll cost you an arm and a leg").

I've found as far as shipping is concerned, Canada is considered "international" (many companies say "nope" or apply the same rates as if I were shipping to Zimbabwe or India).

Thanks for the comment!
7.flag John Reid Comment
Interesting, I am setting up an estore based in Canada but it will probably be of little use to Canadians, sad isnt it?

Most suppliers currently wont ship "international" which of course includes Canada and it may not be worth it anyway what with the shipping and duties (which I am trying to get a handle on).

Suppliers will ship to a US address for me to forward but I would have to fund a shipping operation in the US to do this, which isnt feasible.

I really wish there were a way around this so I can provide Canadians with the same (cost effective) access to my products but I dont see how as of now.

I bought one of those Roomba robotic vacuums a while back and was handed a bill for $90 for duty by the courier, I almost fell over !!

8.flag Catherine Comment
I too, have come across the same issues with ordering jewelry, health foods, and anything else from the states. I lived in California, and recently moved to Canada. I'm always trying to devise plans to ship to family and friends to save money on the shipping and duty. My biggest issue is that I can't figure out the duty. The post doesn't know, and navigating the Canadian government websites is a pain. Anyways, it's tough if you really need something right away. I've also had my folks write"gift" on the package, and there is no duty. But, what a pain in the ass! Glad your camera worked out.

9.flag Wes Comment
You could use these guys.

They offer shipping discounts of up to 55% using DHL and you can consolidate your packages with friends, to save even more on shipping.
10.flag stk Comment
Catherine - Calculation of duty is difficult, as it depends on a number of factors (cost of product and country of origin, key amonth them). I've not found any type of simple "duty calculator" anywhere on the internet. :(

It's frustrating the hoops one has to go through, in order to obtain products (at a decent cost) from the U.S. The frustration is exacerbated by the fact that we're from the U.S. and we know how simple it could be.

Canadians could use a service like the one Wes (above) links to - a U.S.-based mail forwarding service, but the problem I see with this is (a) you have to pay shipping twice (once to the forwarding svc & again into Canada); (b) the forwarding svc may not (like this one) be anywhere close to the Canadian border (so a WA purchase has to go to Springfield, MO ... then turn around and head back to Canada; (c) in addition to extra postage, there's handling fees, a subscription fee and recurring membership fees.

It would be better to find such a forwarding service that uses U.S. addresses just south of the border (e.g., Blaine, WA). Canadian living close to the border could pop across and pick up their items in person and Canadians in the interior wouldn't be paying to have their stuff shipped far south, only to turn around and head north again.
11.flag Wes Comment
I see that a little different.
I ship stuff for friends to europe.
You pay set up only once.
After that 20 bucks a year.
Most goods you offer have shipping included anyway and if not it all depends where the goods come from.
I know that it does not matter if I ship from springfield MO to belgium or Germany. The cost is the same. All freight is sent first to the airport dhl is flying from anyway.
For fedex everything goes to memphis first where it is all consolidated and flies from there.
Does this calculator help ?(google)
12.flag stk Comment
Wes - Certainly shipping stuff to Europe can be viewed differently, but this post is about buying U.S. goods from Canada.

RE: Set-up fee. It may only be one-time, but it's still a FEE. The annual fee may be $20, but that's still an extra FEE. Shipping may be included, but it also may not be. If not and it's coming from Washington state ... you'd have to pay to ship it to Missouri and then from Missouri back to Canada (inefficient and costly).

Thanks for posting the calculator, but it doesn't help me much (especially since it makes some gross estimates, e.g. duties), but it does show all the things that can add $$ to a US-based purchase.

13.flag Wes Comment
I know that you are talking USA- Canada but in essence it is the same.
Who cares how it goes. As long as it gets there for a fee you can live with.
I found them on ebay and there are by far the most affordable company I could find and the easiest to work with since it is such a simple set up.
The coolest thing is that they will let you ship directly from your home too with the same rates.
If my friends want me to buy something locally and they want me to send it to them I box it, send the company an email with the weight size etc and they email me the shipping label and int paperwork. You can also have the invoice sent to the receiver so they can pay for it directly
Sorry I am so enthusiastic but it works great.
PS If you decide to use them, would you mind putting in my client # in the promobox? It is USA9889. They give me $10 off my next shipment for a referral.
14.flag Bryan Comment
Hi there - I work for a Canadian Customs Broker. Our clients are importers and exporters and we deal with Canada customs on their behalf.

Import taxes can be a pretty complex thing to calculate.

First and foremost, when you import something, your almost guaranteed to be paying GST on imports (5% of the value paid in CAD dollars) as well as PST (case dependant, for casual goods only). NAFTA has no effect on these, NAFTA only relieves Duty tax which is a seperate tax.

Duty is more complicated, you have a few different factors that affect what rate is applied to an import.

First the item needs to be classified in the Customs tariff, a book which is used to "classify" items which tells customs what they are. Each classification # has a specific rate of duty applicable to it ranging all over from free to 6.1% up to even 18% calculated on the value paid in CAD dollars.

Duty is applied to specific goods for many different reasons which I will not get into here. Specific goods will also have different rates of applicable duty based on which trade agreements are available for use.

A good example of this is NAFTA (a trade agreement between the USA Canada and Mexico). If you look through the customs tariff, you will see that on most items that are dutiable, they can have this duty rate switched to free if the goods meet NAFTA rules of origin (rules to determine if the goods qualify as being considered manufactured in a NAFTA country, another discussion in itself). This is of course based on the country of origin, so goods that were originally manufactured in China but are coming from the USA will still be dutiable because China is not a NAFTA beneficiary. Goods that were manufactured in the USA Canada or Mexico are almost always duty free for casual importations, there are very few items in the customs tariff that do not support the NAFTA tariff treatment.

As you can see it is not the simplest procedure, but a Customs broker can definately assist casual importers in gettings items brought up here for the minimal amount of duty payable.
15.flag stk Comment
Bryan - Thanks for responding. Based on your information, it sounds like the Canadian Customs Broker you work for, has knowledgable staff. ;)

So, if I found a good deal on a US-manufactured automobile in Arizona, I could hire your company to help facilitate in getting it into Canada with the least hassle and fees?

Any way to estimate what your fees might be for assisting with an auto import?
16.flag Bryan Comment

I am glad to be of help. I actually coordinate all of the casual imports that we deal with. A lot of customs brokers actually turn away casual/non permanent account holders due to difficulty in maintaining the back end of it all and forward them on to us. This is something that we definately specialize in.

To answer your question, yes we could definately help you out with the car you are looking at. Car imports right now are absolutlely huge, the savings are quite exceptional, even after import taxes and associated costs.

If you are interested in getting some specific costs STK you can email me at and I will be happy to give you some pricing information.

17.flag LZ Comment
Hi neihbors.
I run a small time operation helping expats purchase items in the US and I ship the items to them in their current country. If you are interested in saving a lot of money while buying the same quality products you can contact me at
18.flag john Comment
This is an option how to ship from U.S. to anywhere in the world
19.flag Mike Ford Comment
You think that's bad? I wanted a new battery for my camera. I went to several local shops. They ranged in price from $79 to $110. I searched online, and found the exact same battery for $12 +$10 shipping. I bought two of them and they only charged me $10 to ship both. So for $35 taxes included I'm getting two batteries. instead of one at $110 + tax. This does not make sense to me. So I checked out other small markets (New Zealand) In New Zealand you can buy the battery for $27. Still less than a quarter of what I have to pay for it in Canada.
20.flag stk Comment
Mike - It's a shame local retailers aren't competitive. They're sealing their own fate, as more Canadians realize there's better deals than down the street. (I need a back-up camera battery. Where do you think I'll go?) ;)
21.flag Shanti Comment
It is a shame! My cousins, who moved to Canada from California, were heartbroken to find some many things unavailable to them - especially stuff from Target etc. All the cheap girlie make-up stuff and everything! For me to send it to them was a pain in the neck too. On a forum, I read this comment about a company called ShipIto. They let you buy anything from any store. Once the store sends it to them, they forward it to my cousins. So, I think it works for them, knowing that no matter what, they can still shop from stores that aren't in Canada.
22.flag stk Comment
Shanti - A reader has already mentioned "Shipito" and the link to the company has been posted. Personally, I believe they are expensive, but it is an option that - like your cousins - people might employ and like.
23.flag Wes Comment
I commented a long time ago on a company I have been using.
The company is Mailbox International.
They really have a good deal now.
You pay a one time $5.00 admin fee and then you can ship as much as you want to and get 33% off fedex economy or express rates. No mark ups of any kind, unless you want to consolidate different ppackages or need extra insurance.

Bigger discounts are possible too
They just require a small membership fee. I have(the old) 50% discount.
they used to ship DHL but recently switched to fedex
Their website is
24.flag IntelGenius Comment
Viaddress offers low shipping rates to forward packages from the U.S. to other countries (including Canada). Anyone can compare the shipping rates to see if Viaddress is the best option if you're planning to shop from U.S. merchants.

They don't have a setup fee or membership fees and I used them for my last purchase from the States. I was quite satisfied with the speed of the processing of my packages.

I also follow them on twitter and I've gotten some coupons which I've used to get discounts on my purchases.
25.flag stk Comment
IntelGenius - I've left your comment (though I've edited it and added rel="nofollow" to the links), because it appears to be a legitimate package forwarding service.

Following the link, one also gets the name of several other such services:, Bongo International and Border Linx.

Note: I have no experience with any package forwarding service company and I post these links only because they may be useful to readers. (We live close enough to the U.S. border and purchase U.S. products seldom enough that we simply ask visiting U.S. friends to mail or bring the products up when they visit.)
26.flag Lorna Comment
Thought y'all might find these postings interesting regarding ViaAdress. ViaAdress looks like a company to definitely avoid.

Customers sharing their experience with ViaAddress
27.flag stk Comment
Lorna - Thanks for sharing. This article has attracted quite a bit of SPAM comment messages and it's been difficult to determine what's a SPAM scam from legit companies. Readers are cautioned to use these services at their own risk (I have no affiliation or experience with any of these package forwarding companies listed in the comments section.)
28.flag Mike D Comment
This is an old article but...

Some of this has gotten better.

I've noticed prices have come down for consumer goods in comparison to the US. Esp. since the great uproar a few years back. has more and more US affiliates that will ship to Canada, and more are charging less, if you go through If you go through, it costs more for shipping, from the same place. Go figure.

I never use UPS (BROWN) for shipping from outside of Canada. They charge stupid high brokerage and paperwork fees. I will never use them again. Other then them, I've never been charged anything but taxes and a $5. fee via customs/Canada Post, and most of the time, not even that. Usually I don't buy big ticket items non local. (over $100).

I've had too many things broken out of the box, and I'm afraid I'll have to pay shipping again and wait, and wait...

I've generally found London Drugs to cost more than most places. But I have an extra problem... I live on Vancouver Island, and everything costs more because it needs to take a boat ride to get here. If I want to go to Vancouver to buy something, it costs over $100 for the boat ride there and back, including my car.

Its often cheaper to ship things. I may have to break my rule, because I'm looking for a Casio WK-500 electric workstation piano, and I can't find one local.

US cheapest, $275, $100 shipping.

Toronto: $285, $15 shipping.

I've emailed the Toronto company asking about returns policy.

Finally, I asked some sellers on why they won't ship to Canada. They each said that it was too much hassle. They have so many days for it to arrive but the items often get clogged up at the border. Items often go missing completely.

I have to agree that Canada Customs often has long backlogs (or used to, they don't seem as bad as they once were). I've never had anything go missing in the mail. I wonder if the problem is in the US, at the border, with some contracted out service? Or perhaps just some Canadians who are scammers. Scammers and fraudsters tend to get off easy if caught in Canada, so we seem to be a destination of choice.
29.flag stk Comment
Mike - The article is relevant b/c of the exchange rate and market efficiency differences between the U.S. and Canada are nearly the same today, as when it was published. ;)

Like you've said. Things have gotten a bit better.

My most recent US/CA comparison was for purchasing a Cricut Create machine for my wife for Xmas.

Manuf. (US) Website - $189 USD
eBay (US) - $159
Michaels (CA) - $199

I bought it locally (Nanaimo, BC).

I think the big issue for most U.S. companies is that "Canada" means "International" (lumped in the same group as Zimbabwe, Tonga or Sweden). Only progressive companies and those close to the Canadian border seem to have figured out that Canada doesn't mean "overseas".