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So, you’re thinking about starting a business in Ontario? Awesome! Being a business owner can be a rewarding experience, full of challenges AND incredible opportunities. I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 10 years and it’s been an amazing journey.  The first step for most entrepreneurs is to register their business.

What does it mean to register a business in Ontario?

Generally speaking, registering a business can mean a few different things:

  1. Securing your business name so you can perform services/sales & earn income using that business name 
  2. Protect your business name from other people using it
  3. Register your business operations with the provincial business registrar
  4. Depending on your province, you may also have the opportunity to register for federal & provincial tax programs while registering your business

PART 1: Determine your business type

Choose your business structure to register a business in Canada

We have 3 main legal business structures in Canada, with different legal and tax implications within each type. It may be a good idea to consult with a lawyer and an accountant if you’re unsure which option would be the best for you. Here’s a summary below, with some key points to consider 

1. Sole Proprietorship 

A Sole Proprietorship, (also often called being “self employed” or a “contractor”), is an unincorporated business that provides sales/services to others. You can operate this business type either under your own name (i.e. Jennifer Long) or a registered business name (The Corporate Canuck Management Services). 

Because a Sole Proprietorship is essentially an extension of you as a human, all business operations are tied to YOU. This means your income/expenses is included as part of your personal tax return each year (there’s a special tax form for this) AND you are responsible for any legal risks in your business. It’s easy to set up a sole proprietorship which is why many new business owners start with this business type when they decide to register their business in Ontario.

2. Partnership

A partnership can be two OR MORE individuals who decide to go into business together. It’s often set up similarly to a sole proprietorship, but depending on your province it may require special paperwork. (See specific links to each province below)

3. Corporation

A corporation in Ontario is viewed as a separate, legal entity. This means it is treated as if the company was a unique individual- it has a unique name and unique tax numbers. It requires its own special type of tax return each year, and may protect its individual owners from certain legal actions (Note the word “may”- it depends on the type of legal claim and who is making it). 

If you’re wondering if you should incorporate, I put together this guide on the topic. Setting up a corporation requires legal documentation (generally, creating “articles” which discuss how the corporation will be run), and may require annual provincial filings which confirm company details. It is the most costly, and professional advice is recommended before registering this type of company.


PART TWO: Register a Business in Ontario

STEP 1: Conduct a name search in your province/territory. 

This can usually be done online through the regional department responsible for business (See links below).

Tips to make the most out of your Business Name Search

*Make sure to Research potential business names before to help you come up with the best possible names (Get my Business Name Guide here)

*You may also wish to do an enhanced name search through ServiceOntario to see if the name is in use and/or where it is being used

*Use descriptive words when you can, i.e. Jennifer Long Management Services

*List multiple varieties/names for a better chance of approval (most Name Searches will usually let you choose multiples)

*Typical cost ranges from $8-26 for a name inquiry, depending on your region in Ontario

Note that in Ontario you must renew your business name every 5 years.

STEP 2: Register your business.

Once you have your name search approved, you can register your business. For sole proprietors or general partnerships this can be done online through the Integrated Business Services Application (Service Ontario) or in-person at a Service Ontario location.

If you are registering as a new corporation, and you want to use a specific business name, you will need to have a specialty name search done in advance (Called the NUANS) and provide a copy of it + provide Articles of Incorporation when you register your corporation. You can register online through a service provider or on your own by mail or in-person. Typical registration cost (not including legal consultations) starts around $300.

STEP 3: Register for tax accounts. 

Depending on your business setup, you may require federal tax numbers (GST/HST), Payroll Accounts (if you have employees), Corporate Tax Accounts (if you’re registering as a corporation), or Provincial Sales Taxes (PST/QST) if you plan to sell to other provinces. If you’re unsure of what you may need, check with a local accountant for the best advice.

The process to register a business in Ontario can actually be quick and inexpensive, depending on how complex your company needs are.

Search and buy domains from Namecheap

Here’s a summary of key links & information to help you register your business in Ontario. Good luck!

STEP 1: Name Search

Online Name Search

Time: 0-20 Days

Cost: $8-$26

NUANS (Corporate Name Search)

Time: 0-14 Days

Cost: $14

STEP 2: Register Your Business in Ontario

Sole Proprietors + General Partnerships

Integrated Business Application Services

Time: 0-20 days (can be done at same time with name search)

Cost: $60-80

Corporations

Online through a service provider, in person, or by mail

Time: 0-15 days

Cost: $300+

STEP 3: Tax Numbers

(May be mandatory; check with a local accountant to confirm if it applies to your business)

Federal Sales Tax (GST/HST) (if you are required to collect/remit GST or HST)

Federal Payroll Account (if you have employees)

Federal Corporate Income Tax (for corporations)

Provincial Sales Tax (PST) (If you are selling to other provinces and are required to collect/remit PST)

Local tools/agencies

If you’re looking for a one-stop setup, check out Ownr. They provide a complete registration service for new businesses (sole proprietorships AND corporations) and you can do everything listed above with one account. It’s awesome, and makes registering a business in Ontario a breeze.

Looking for how-to guides for other provinces/territories? Click here!

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