The Immigrant’s Guide To Starting a Business in Ontario

Last updated on February 14th, 2024 at 04:09 pm

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If you’re interested in starting a business in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, learn more about securing financing and finding incentive opportunities, beneficial resources, and licensing and permitting requirements in the area by continuing to read this Remitly guide.

Starting a Business in Ontario

What businesses are popular for immigrants in Ontario?

Ontario is the most common province that people migrate to in Canada. Nearly half of all new immigrants to Canada settled in the province in 2021.

New and established immigrant residents of Ontario often seek to establish businesses in many industries. However, some types of businesses are more popular among immigrants to Canada than others.

Specifically, construction, retail, transportation, professional and technical services, accommodations and food services, and healthcare and social assistance are popular industries for immigrant-owned startups in Ontario.

How to start a business in Ontario step-by-step

Some resources and funding programs can help you achieve your dream of starting a business in Ontario. We’ll explain those in a bit, for now, let’s take a look at how to get that business up and running. Simply follow these steps to go from your business idea to launching your startup.

1. Write a business plan

Before taking any steps to formally start a business in Ontario, you need to carefully think about many aspects of your business idea. A business plan allows you to do just that.

The business plan takes you beyond the basic business idea, requiring you to think about things like who your potential customers are and what appeals to your target market.

As a part of writing your business plan, you’ll conduct market research that will allow you to become familiar with your competitors, decide on fair pricing, and more.

In addition to market research, a business plan also includes a financial assessment. You’ll work out how much money you’ll need to cover startup and early business operation costs. Then, you’ll establish financial targets and make predictions about sales revenue and profitability.

Once your business plan is complete, you can use it as a road map for starting a business. You’ll also likely need to present a copy to potential investors and lenders when you apply for business loans or seek venture capital.

Check out our Immigrant Entrepreneurs’ Guide to Writing a Business Plan for tips you can apply when writing a plan for your new business in Ontario.

2. Select a business structure

Once your business plan is ready, the next step is to choose the right business structure for your business. There are four main types of business structures to consider:

  • Sole proprietorship: With a sole proprietorship, you’re the only owner of the business, and your small business operates under your own legal name. Normally, this structure is best for when you intend to work alone and won’t be hiring employees. This business structure lets you deduct your business expense list and any losses from your personal income.
  • Partnerships: With this structure, two or more people share ownership in a small business. Debts and losses, as well as profits, are shared among the owners, and you can usually deduct business expenses from personal income tax.
  • Co-operatives: When a small business is owned by its members, the business structure is known as a co-operative. With this setup, owners make key decisions via democratic voting, and each owner’s personal assets and investments are protected.
  • Corporations: A corporation exists as a separate legal entity, protecting the personal assets and investments of owners. The incorporation process needed to start a business as a corporation is more complex and involves hiring a registered search company to file a report on your behalf. Corporations also have increased reporting obligations each year under Ontario law.

If you’re not sure whether a sole proprietorship, partnership, cooperative, or corporation is best for your small business, consult a knowledgeable expert like an attorney or an accountant.

You can also learn more about having a sole proprietorship and other business structures here.

3. Complete the business registration process

After creating a business structure, the next step for a new business owner is to register your business name in Ontario. Depending on the type of business structure you opt for, this may involve applying for a Master Business Licence.

There are different versions of the Master Business License program for self-employed persons operating sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations. You can learn more about the program and apply here.

4. Obtain licenses and permits

Once you have completed the business registration process for your business in Ontario, it’s time to obtain licenses and permits.

Use the website BizPal to determine what other credentials your small business requires to begin business operations legally. Refer to the section about permitting and licensing in this guide for more details.

5. Talk to a tax specialist and an attorney

Ensuring that you comply with the legal obligations outlined in the tax system created at local, provincial, and federal government levels is important for any business in Ontario. After all, failure to pay taxes owed can result in hefty fines, fees, and other penalties.

A tax expert can help you determine what taxes will apply to your business based on your business activities and business structure.

They can explain things like whether you’ll have taxable sales and need to collect taxes from customers, if you’ll need to file a separate tax return for your business, and if you’re required to contribute to the Canada pension plan.

Although the services of a tax specialist do cost money, their services may ultimately pay for themselves, as a knowledgeable pro may help you discover tax credits and deductions that save you money as you move your business forward.

At this point, it’s also a good idea for any business owner to meet with an attorney who is an expert in their industry. An attorney can advise you on any regulations that you’ll need to comply with to maintain legal business operations.

6. Get business insurance

The next step in starting a small business journey is obtaining small business insurance. Although it’s an added business expense, insurance can help prevent financial hardship by protecting your small business from potential losses.

Some types of small business insurance that you may benefit from include:

  • Commercial property insurance: Covers costs related to damage and theft of business property, including inventory
  • Public liability insurance: Protects you from third-party liability claims, such as slip and fall accidents
  • Errors and omissions insurance: Helps cover costs when your business makes a mistake or error that harms a customer or client
  • Key person life insurance: Provides a death benefit to a business if a key person like the business owner dies
  • Employment insurance: Covers programs that provide income support to unemployed workers and will likely be mandatory for your business if you plan to hire employees

As you shop for insurance, obtain quotes from multiple providers. To choose the right policy for you, consider not only the monthly premium costs but also the amount of coverage, deductibles, and other features of the available options.

7. Open a business bank account

The next step when starting a business in Ontario is opening up a business account. Even if you’re a sole proprietor, keeping funds in a separate business bank account is wise.

When choosing where to open your business account, you can consider financial institutions with branches in your local area as well as online banks in Canada.

Compare features of accounts like monthly fees, minimum balance requirements, and online banking accessibility when selecting which account is right for your business.

8. Fund your business

The final step to starting a business is raising money to cover startup costs and other expenses like hiring employees, purchasing equipment, and advertising posts on your social media accounts.

Refer to our list of financing programs, tax credits, and other funding sources and consider whether you can use any of your own money to help fund initial costs. Our guide to popular side hustles for immigrants provides tips on how you can earn extra income to put toward your business.

How to get new business incentives and financing in Ontario

One of the reasons why Ontario proves to be a popular destination for immigrants moving to Canada is the wealth of opportunities available.

All entrepreneurs can apply for numerous government grants, loans, and tax credits offered through the provincial government of Ontario. Additional local and nonprofit programs and grants are also open to those looking for them.

Canada-Ontario Job Grant Program

This government program offers grants for business owners to cover the cost of training employees. Through the program, businesses with fewer than 100 employees are responsible for paying only one-sixth of the cost of the training, while the grant pays for the remaining costs up to $10,000.

Digital Main St ShopHERE Grant

Digital Main St (DMS) administers the ShopHERE program through a partnership with Google. Independently owned, small brick-and-mortar businesses in Ontario can win grants to launch websites and begin selling and advertising their goods and services online.

SmartStart Seed Fund

Permanent residents between the ages of 18–29 who have ideas for launching a technology or innovation-based business may qualify for a grant through the SmartStart Seed Fund. The program awards up to $30,000 of matching funding toward startup costs and an additional $5,000 loan. In addition, recipients can access regional business resources to help them succeed.

Save On Energy

The Save on Energy program from the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) offers ways to help small businesses invest in sustainable equipment.

Its Small Business program provides up to $2,000 to cover the cost of eligible lighting and up to $2,500 toward the cost of purchasing other eco-friendly equipment.

Through the Retrofit program, small businesses can get help to pay for improvements to make older buildings more energy efficient.

Co-Operative Education Tax Credit

Businesses that hire undergraduate, Master’s, and Ph.D. students from participating Ontario colleges and universities may be able to take advantage of this tax incentive. It provides a refundable 25-30% tax credit with a maximum limit of $3,000 per student hired.

Ontario Innovation tax credit

Businesses engaged in scientific research and experimental development may qualify for a tax incentive in Ontario. The incentive provides an 8% refundable tax credit of up to $3 million based on the total cost of the research and development project.

Customized Working Capital Loans

Immigrant-owned tech companies in Ontario may qualify for small business loans through this program offered by the financial institution BDC. Loan amounts vary from $250,000 to $35 million.

The program is open to established businesses with an experienced management team and strong financial forecasts.

Starting a Business in Ontario

Futurpreneur Newcomer Financing

This Futurpreneur Newcomer Financing offers business loans of up to $60,000 for immigrant-owned startups. To be eligible, you must:

  • Be between the ages of 18–39
  • Have lived in Canada for less than 60 months at the time of application
  • Be a Canadian citizen or legal permanent resident
  • Have no Canadian credit history or limited Canadian credit history

Regional development funds

Depending on your location, you may qualify for loans and grants for small businesses through regional development funds in Ontario.

There are four such regional programs:

Each one has its own funding and grant opportunities. Some are reserved for established businesses, while others are also open to startups.

Entrepreneurs can seek investments in their companies from angel investor groups located in Ontario. These groups provide funding in exchange for an ownership stake in startups and established businesses.

The Angel Investors Ontario network works throughout the province. Other groups like the Golden Triangle Angel Network Investment, Southwestern Ontario (SWO) Angel Group, and York Angel Investors Investment seek investment opportunities in certain regions or cities in the province.

How to get business licences, certificates, and permits in Ontario

To legally operate a business in Ontario, entrepreneurs must obtain the necessary registrations, licenses, certificates, and permits for their industry. Depending on your location and industry, you may need to meet some of the most common requirements for small businesses listed below.

Any business with employees, facilities, or offices in Ontario must register with the Ontario Business Registry. You can complete the entire process online by creating a ONe-key account. The cost of registration depends on the structure of your business.

For a sole proprietorship, general partnership, limited liability partnership, or limited partnership, the fee is $60. Incorporated businesses pay $300.

After you complete the registration process, you’ll receive a nine-digit Ontario Business Identification Number (BIN), which you’ll need to pay taxes in the province.

Business licenses, permits, and certificates

Provincial laws in Ontario require many companies to obtain business or professional licenses. The requirements for licensees vary based on industry. Most professional, health care, construction, consumer, and retail services need at least one license or permit to operate.

The website BizPal makes it easy to find out which credentials you need to obtain for your startup. To use the search tool, enter your location and your industry.

The site will return a complete list of all applicable licenses, permits, and certificates with links for you to learn more about the eligibility requirements and costs associated with each one.

Additional licenses, business permits, environmental permits, and zoning permits may also be mandatory for your startup. Most of these credentials are searchable through the BizPal portal.

The City of Toronto also has its own table of required licenses and permits. If you plan to start a business in another municipality in Ontario, contact the local government offices for more information about required licenses and permits.

Any Ontario business that sells taxable goods and services must register with the Canada Revenue Agency to collect Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). The Canada Revenue Agency has an online reference guide that can help you determine if you need to register. If you do, you can complete the process online.

Businesses in Ontario may also need to register to pay additional taxes at the federal and provincial levels, such as:

Canada Revenue Agency can provide advice about tax requirements for new businesses.

Other types of business support in Ontario

Entrepreneurs and business owners can also take advantage of resources and join organizations in Ontario to get support for their businesses. You can search the Internet to find immigrant business support services in your area or use the list of resources below as a starting point.

Starting a Business in Ontario

Small Business Enterprise Centres

These regional offices offer free business consulting services. At any of the locations, you can get help writing business plans, attend workshops and seminars, obtain legal advice and services, and take advantage of mentoring and networking opportunities.

Chambers of Commerce and Ethic Business Association

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce acts as an advocate for the business community. Members gain access to networking and educational opportunities organized at the provincial level. There are also regional chambers of commerce that serve communities throughout the province.

Business owners who are members of ethnic minority groups can build relationships with other business owners by joining groups like the Korean Canadian Business Association or the Black Business and Professional Association in Toronto.

Regional Innovation Centres

Located throughout Ontario, these centres provide support for scientific and tech startups and new businesses. Their programs for immigrants and Canadian-born business owners include mentorships, training seminars, workshops, market research services, and introductions to investors.

Ontario Business Improvement Area Association

The OBIAA offers networking opportunities and educational programs for entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout Ontario.

These industry-specific groups, like the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance, may provide everything from market research to training programs to networking events for their members.


These programs provide business advice, mentorships, and services to help startups in certain industries get off the ground. Examples include the Biomedical Zone for biomedical and healthcare technology startups, Canada’s Music Incubator for musicians and music-related businesses, and OneEleven for tech companies.

University of Toronto Start-Up Guidebook

This publication is available for free online and provides detailed information about launching a new tech business in Toronto.

Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

This organization offers mentoring and other services for immigrant entrepreneurs in the greater Toronto area.

Take the first steps toward starting a business in Ontario

A wealth of opportunities is available to immigrants who dream of owning their own businesses and achieving success in Canada. Immigrant-owned businesses play an important role in the Canadian economy, typically creating more jobs for Canadians than other businesses in the country. In addition, immigrants become entrepreneurs in Canada at a higher rate than Canadian-born people.

Now you know the basic steps for how to start a business in Ontario, and you’re ready to get on your way to owning your own business. Come up with a business name and begin writing your business plan today.

As you continue to start a business and begin business activities, keep this guide bookmarked so you can quickly refer to our list of resources and tips.

When your initial investment begins to make returns, and you’re ready to start sending money home to your loved ones, Remitly can help with our quick, safe, and affordable money transfer services. Download the app to learn more.

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