How to register a business (in any Canadian province)

LaunchCategory
15 min read
Amanda Schewaga

The notion that every business begins with a great idea can inspire the entrepreneurial spirit in just about anyone, but it doesn’t quite capture the full story. To transform your idea into an actual company, you’ll need to register your business.   

Registering your business determines: 

  • Who owns the business 
  • How it will be taxed 
  • Other critical details about how your business will operate 

Business registration is especially important for partnerships, or businesses that you’re running with other people. But all entrepreneurs should plan to eventually register their business.  

Open sign in business window

In this article, you’ll learn how to register a business in Canada. 

You’ll also gain access to registration instructions and supporting materials for your specific province or territory.  

If you’re considering starting a business or are actively getting one off the ground, go ahead and bookmark this article. That way, you can refer back during each step of the registration process.  

Want to jump ahead? Use the below links to find your province or territory's resources for each action

  1. Choose a business structure
  2. Register your business with the provinces or territories where you plan to do business
  3. Confirm your business name is available
  4. Apply for a federal business number and CRA tax accounts
  5. Get any applicable licenses or permits
  6. Apply for trademarks or copyrights (optional)
  7. Join small business groups

This content should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation. 

Choose a business structure 

From the outside, all businesses might seem relatively similar – one or more people selling goods or services.  

Man in apron standing in front of food truck

There are different business structures, each with benefits and challenges.  

The type of structure you choose will determine business ownership, liability and taxation.  

Let’s compare the different types of business entities so you can pick the structure that best represents the business you want to form and will work best for you long term.  

Sole proprietorship 

A sole proprietorship business is owned and managed by one person. Legally, there is no distinction between the business owner and the business itself.  

This makes the taxes associated with the business quite simple.

But it's not without risk – the owner is personally liable for the business, meaning their personal assets are at risk if the business can’t pay its debts.  

Ownership: One person 

Owner liability: Unlimited personal liability 

Taxes: 

  • Self-employment tax 
  • Personal tax 

Requirements: None 

Pros Cons 
Easy to set up Owner’s assets are at risk 
Low fees/costs Difficult to raise capital 

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Doing Business As (DBA) 

Woman holding up two blouses

The Doing Business As (DBA) structure is a bit unique, as it does not represent a legal entity. This structure exists to allow individuals to operate their businesses under a trade name, which is protected when you register as a DBA.  

From a liability and tax perspective, DBAs are similar to sole proprietorships.  

Ownership: One person 

Owner liability: Unlimited personal liability 

Taxes:  

  • Self-employment tax 
  • Personal tax 

Requirements: None 

Pros Cons 
Allows individuals to have a trade name to conduct business Personal assets of owner are at risk 

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General partnership 

A general partnership is run by two or more people, who share in the business profits, losses, and assets. 

Two men looking at a laptop

This business entity is similar to the sole proprietorship but involves multiple people.   

The managing partner is personally liable for the business, unless it is specifically set up as a limited partnership.  

This form of partnership is relatively easy to set up or dissolve.  

Ownership: Two or more partners 

Owner liability: Unlimited personal liability 

Taxes: 

  • Self-employment tax 
  • Personal tax 

Requirements: Written partnership agreement 

Pros Cons 
Easy to set up Partner’s assets are at risk 
Low fees/costs (compared to corporation)  
Easily dissolved if one partner leaves  

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Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) 

In a limited liability partnership (LLP), two or more people run the business.  

Unlike limited partnerships, where one managing partner is held personally liable, in an LLP all partners enjoy limited liability.  

Here, partners are only liable for up to the amount they’ve invested in the business.  

An LLP is a common entity for law firms, real estate agents, and other organizations where individuals work somewhat independently while pooling resources.  

Ownership: Two or more partners 

Owner liability: Partners are liable up to the amount they’ve invested in the business 

Taxes: Taxes pass through to partners 

Requirements: 

  • Written partnership agreement 
  • Must comply with government requirements around documentation, reporting and meetings to maintain status 
  • Management responsibilities must be equally divided 
Pros Cons 
Limited partners can leave without dissolving partnership Harder to set up and maintain 
Creditors cannot go after limited partners if partnership fails  
Partners can share benefits without management  

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Corporation - provincial or territorial 

Overhead view of a room full

In Canada, business owners have the choice to incorporate either federally or in a specific province or territory.  

That said, any business owner who chooses to incorporate in this manner will also need to register as an extra-provincial or extra-territorial corporation in any additional jurisdictions they look to do business in. 

Ownership: One or more shareholders (individuals or legal entities) 

Owner liability: No personal liability, except in cases of fraud 

Taxes:  

  • Corporate taxes on profits  
  • In some cases, shareholders are also taxed for their portion of the profits on their personal taxes 

Requirements: Must comply with government requirements around documentation, reporting and meetings to maintain corporate status. 

Pros Cons 
Asset protection More expensive than partnership or sole proprietorship 
Privacy  
Tax savings  
Easy to transfer ownership  

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Corporation - federal 

By choosing to incorporate federally, a business has the ability to do business anywhere in Canada. 

Classified Balance Sheet Woman and Man Shaking Hands

However, federal incorporation can sometimes come along with a more rigorous approval process – particularly when it comes to company name approval and similar such processes.  

Ownership: One or more shareholders (individuals or legal entities) 

Owner liability: No personal liability, except in cases of fraud 

Taxes:  

  • Corporate taxes on profits  
  • In some cases, shareholders are also taxed for their portion of the profits on their personal taxes 

Requirements: Must comply with government requirements around documentation, reporting, and meetings to maintain corporate status. 

Pros Cons 
Asset protection More expensive than partnership or sole proprietorship 
Privacy  
Tax savings  
Easy to transfer ownership  

Related: Need help finding an amazing business name? Read this 

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Corporation - Nonprofit 

As the name suggests, a nonprofit is an entity that exists not to earn a profit, but to serve a charitable, educational, religious or scientific purpose.  

These businesses enjoy tax-exempt status, but they also cannot distribute any profits to their owners or shareholders.  

Ownership: One or more people 

Owner liability: No personal liability  

Taxes: Tax-exempt 

Requirements: Must comply with government requirements around annual reports, minutes, meetings, etc. to maintain status. 

Pros Cons 
No legal liability Subject to strict nonprofit by-laws 
Tax exempt  

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Register your business with your province or territory 

Crowd viewed from above

Part of registering your business involves registering with your provincial or territorial government.  This will let you legally operate and set you up for future tax filings.  

How you register and how much it costs will vary based on your province or territory.  

Keep reading to learn about the provincial or territorial registration process and to find links to filing your business application.  

Editor’s note: Fees were accurate at time of publishing. Please use the links below to confirm current pricing.

1. Confirm the business name is available 

First, you’ll need to confirm your business name is available for registration.  

There are two national databases — Nuans and Canada’s business registries — that each cover most of the jurisdictions you may want to search in Canada.  

After exploring these resources, you may want to also search registered trade names across the provinces or territories you intend to do business in.  

However, it’s important to remember that registering a trade (or operating) name at the provincial or territorial level does not give a business exclusive rights to use that name at the federal level.  

It's in your best interest to choose a name that’s not being used by another business or corporation.  

Select the link for your province or territory from the list below to access a lookup tool to see if your business name is available. Please note that these tools are not necessarily a definitive way of determining that the name is available. 

Alberta Newfoundland and Labrador Ontario Yukon 
British Columbia Northwest Territories Prince Edward Island  
Manitoba Nova Scotia Quebec  
New Brunswick Nunavut Saskatchewan  

 When checking for a business name, be sure you also consider whether a website domain is available for that name.  

You can use GoDaddy’s domain name search tool to check your preferred business name’s availability. Having a domain name that matches your business name makes it easier for customers to find your website.  

Check to see if the domain name you want is available now! 

2. Register your business 

Man sipping coffee

Once you have confirmed that your desired business name is available, it’s time to register your business. This would be a great time to purchase your business domain, so you can claim the website address you want and get started with establishing your online presence.  

Only one person may use a specific domain name at a time.

Find your province or territory in the table below to get started with the business registration process. 

Alberta Northwest Territories Prince Edward Island 
British Columbia Nova Scotia Quebec 
Manitoba Nunavut Saskatchewan 
New Brunswick Ontario Yukon 

Note: In Newfoundland and Labrador, there is no provincial government registration for sole proprietorships or partnerships. 

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Apply for a federal business number and CRA tax account 

Depending on your business structure, you may be required to file federal and province or territory taxes on behalf of your business.  

 Obtain a business number (BN) 

A federal business number (BN) can be thought of like a social insurance number for your business. It’s a unique, nine-digit number issued by the CRA to identify your business for tax administration purposes.  

New businesses will need a BN to: 

  • Incorporate 
  • Interact with other federal, provincial and municipal governments in Canada 

You can get your BN by applying online through the CRA website 

Canada Revenue Agency program accounts  

Closeup of woman holding a smartphone

In addition to your federal business number, you may need to register for one or more CRA program accounts if your business:

  • Collects GST or HST 
  • Pays employees 
  • Participates any other number of additional business-specific scenarios 

You can register online for nearly all CRA program accounts through the CRA website (link above) 

Related: Worker’s compensation in Canada – what employers must know 

Be sure to file taxes on a timely basis 

Filing taxes on time is as important for your business as it is for you as an individual.  

Business taxes can be filed online or by mail but are subject to different deadlines than your personal taxes. For more information, check out the CRA’s digital services for businesses online hub, which has a great deal of helpful information and resources.  

If you’re pressed for time, consider hiring a CPA to ensure your taxes are filed correctly and on time.  

Related: Small business guide to the Goods and Services Tax 

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Get any applicable licenses and permits

Some businesses will need to obtain certain licenses and permits, which can be applied for at the federal, provincial or territorial levels. 

Determine if you need a license or permit 

Businesses will need to obtain a license or permit if their industry or activities are regulated by a federal and/or provincial or territorial agency.  

Federally mandated permits apply nationwide, while provincial or territorial licenses and permits can vary a great deal from location to location.  

To learn which permits might apply to your business, we recommend checking with the government’s online BizPaL permit and license search for all federal, provincial, and municipal needs.  

 Investigate and consider business insurance 

In addition to the licenses and permits required by the federal, provincial/territorial, or local government where you intend to operate, you may also want to consider getting business insurance.  

While not strictly required to own or operate a business in Canada, some business owners may appreciate the protection from unexpected costs. This is especially true when you as an owner are not protected from personal liability.  

There are six common types of business insurance: 

  • General liability insurance, which protects any type of business and its owners from claims related to injuries, property damage and other expenses resulting from your business’ products or services.  
  • Product liability insurance, which protects businesses that manufacture and sell products from damages related to injuries caused by their products.  
  • Professional liability insurance, which protects service-based businesses (such as medical practices) from financial loss related to malpractice or errors. 
  • Commercial property insurance, which covers businesses with physical and/or property assets (such as retail stores) from losses related to damage of their company property, such as from natural disasters or vandalism. 
  • Home-based business insurance, which is a homeowner’s insurance supplement for businesses that are run out of the owner’s home.  
  • Business owner’s policy, which helps small business or home-based businesses by bundling together other typical business insurance coverages into a single package.  

Related: How much liability insurance does your business need? 

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Apply for trademarks or copyrights 

Your business idea and products are valuable and worth protecting! By applying for the appropriate trademarks or copyrights, you can ensure that your business and livelihood are protected from use by others.  

Tim Horton's logo

A trademark can be applied to business assets, such as

  • Your business name 
  • Logo 
  • Slogan 

You can also trademark one or more words, sounds, tastes, colours, textures, moving images, three-dimensional shapes, modes of packaging or holograms used to distinguish your goods or services. 

Any business that considers its branding a distinguishing factor that separates it from the competition might want to invest in a trademark.  

A trademark on your business slogan or logo means that a competitor down the street can’t market their products or services with the same language or imagery.  

Go to the federal government’s digital trademarks hub to get started with applying for a trademark.  

A copyright, on the other hand, protects original works so that only the owner can display or sell that work. The following businesses might benefit from pursuing a copyright: 

  • Photography business that sells stock images. 
  • Blogger that writes about current events or business. 
  • Musician that sells albums or access to downloadable sound bites. 

To register for a copyright, visit the federal government’s digital copyright hub for instructions.  

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Join small business groups 

Business Development People Networking

Starting a business can be a challenge, but you don’t have to go it alone. Using local resources, such as grants or webinars on topics helpful for entrepreneurs, can give your business a competitive advantage.  

Additionally, consider connecting with other small business owners in your area. You can: 

  • Share insights about the customers in your community 
  • Run cross-business promotions 
  • Strengthen your business’ ties to your area 

The table below provides links to resources for each province or territory. You should also look into small business resources that are specific to your city or region. 

Alberta Newfoundland and Labrador Ontario Yukon 
British Columbia Northwest Territories Prince Edward Island  
Manitoba Nova Scotia Quebec  
New Brunswick Nunavut Saskatchewan  

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In summary: How to register a business 

No doubt about it, starting a new business is a thrilling experience. 

Amidst all the excitement, remember the administrative tasks required to operate in your province or territory.  

In this article, we’ve covered all the essential steps and provided province- or territory-specific resources to help you manage these tasks, including: 

  • Choosing your business structure  
  • Picking the perfect name  
  • The applications associated with running your business 
  • Registering for taxes 
  • Getting the required permits, insurances, and protections 

While it might seem like a lot, you’re not alone — there are resources in your city and province or territory to support you. Seek out the many small business owners that you can network with and learn from. 

Lindsey Fogle contributed to this article. 

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