Canadian Regulations for Travel Agencies in a Nutshell

 

We have a pretty comprehensive article on US Seller of Travel Laws (SOT), but we don’t want to leave out our neighboring Canadian travel agents. Canada has enriched my life with many great gifts like poutine, Justin Trudeau, Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, the prettier half of Niagara Falls, hockey, and Alaska (jk, that last one was from Russia. Thanks, Russia!).

Plus, from a design standpoint, their flag is pretty awesome. This is my long way of saying, I owe you one, Canada. So allow me to attempt to repay my huge debt with an article that includes some updates on Canadian travel agency regulations.

The SOT Lowdown on the High-Up Country:

Only three provinces have specific regulations for selling travel—Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. In short, this means that if you are a travel agent that operates your business in of any of these provinces OR if you sell to any residents of those provinces, you need comply with each province’s regulations.

There are no extra-territorial laws, so agencies that want to operate in or sell to clients in multiple of these provinces will need to register for licensing in EACH of those provinces. There’s no reciprocity, my friend.

Let’s take a look at different provincial requirements.  

Quebec:

Travel Agent License:

Quebec is a bit complex, and not only because my French is veeeeeeeery rusty. But, in the spirit of licensing, there are oodles and oodles of bureaucratic hoops to jump through (let’s be honest, this is NOT limited to Quebec).

Like most licensing requirements, the Quebec Office of Consumer Protection (OPC) differentiates between travel agencies and travel counsellors. This is a line that can be pretty blurry for hosted agents, but I’ll attempt to bring it into focus below.

For hosted agents, I don’t want to mince words. Here’s OPC’s definition of an outside agent, verbatim, “travel agents who are contractually bound to a single travel agency. Most of the time, they do not work in the office. These counselors may not receive clients at home unless a duplicate of the travel agency’s permit has been issued for an establishment located at their address.”

Here’s what you need as a hosted agent:

To be licensed as a hosted agent in Quebec, you must have Travel Counsellor Certificate (on the English translation of the site, it’s sometimes referred to as “the travel agency stewardship certificate”—don’t be fooled, it’s the same thing). The process for receiving the certificate is relatively straightforward:

1. Pass the Travel Counsellors Exam: You can register for your exam through the Institute of Tourism and Hotels of Quebec (ITHQ). The exam runs $53 and there are optional study guides and exam simulations (not required) also available for purchase. 

The exam consists of True/False questions, and applicants need to score a 65% to pass. Travel counselors must retake this exam annually to renew their license.  

2. Travel Agency Certificate: Before you even apply, you must hold a Travel Agency Steward Certificate. This runs $56 CAD and you must renew it annually (the renewal is $28CAD). In order to receive your Travel Agency Steward certificate, you must be affiliated with a licensed travel agency.

3. Register Your Business with Registraire des entreprises du Québec.

The caveat here is that everything you do and sell must be under the umbrella of your host agency (including service fees). This means that, while you can have your own travel agency brand, you will still need to disclose to clients the name of the host agency you sell under, and you cannot accept money from your clients (only commissions from your host).

If that’s too restrictive, travel agencies can apply for a Travel Counsellor General Permit (not to be mistaken for the “Certificate”). You will need one whether you are based in Quebec OR selling travel to clients in Quebec. There are some exceptions, but they mostly apply to outfitters and folks who book travel without any compensation or commission (probably not you).  

In order to apply for the General Permit, you must do all the above to get your Travel Agency Certificate, plus you get to have a little extra bureaucratic fun:

Eligibility to qualify for a Travel Counsellor General Permit in Quebec:  

1. Another exam! Joy! This one is the Travel Agency Managers Exam, and it runs 70CAD and lasts 90min. If you’re taking the exam for the first time, you must pass it before you apply. But if you’re renewing (which you will do annually), you just need to make sure you pass it before the renewal date of your license. 

2. Cost: The cost of permit is $74/$75 CAD per month for an agency and $46/$47 CAD per month for a branch office1

3. Bond: You will need to provide a $25,000 CAD bond. This is used to compensate customers in the event the agency fails, closes or needs to provide compensation for services promised then not rendered. None of this will apply to you, but it’s a safety net that will help you as much as it will help your clients 🙂 

If the bond is a bearer bond or cash (CHA-CHING!), you will need to also submit a Merchant’s form (so you can’t go all anonymous superhero, and sell travel under the cover of night).   

4. First-time applicants must demonstrate proof they have $5,000CAD of working capital, and this must be verified by an external accountant and or auditor. (Sorry, you can’t submit janky homemade Excel sheets like I always try to do.) 

5. Copy of agency’s opening documents and signature from of each trust account signed by its financial institution.

6. If your company is registered outside of Quebec, you need a certificate of compliance from Registraire des entreprises du Québec.

The licenses are issued 15 days after the completed application is received, but can be rushed in 3 days if you’re really in a pinch.2 Did I mention my French is horrible? If I missed anything, let me know.

Ontario Seller of Travel License—TICO Registration

TICO logo

Travel agents in Ontario, Canada, you’re the most highly restricted. The first thing you need to know is that there is a difference between the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) Education Standards Exam (or the TICO exam) and being a TICO registered travel agency.

Every employee working at an Ontario agency that is selling travel/providing advice (and yes, this includes you, supervisors and managers!) must take and pass the TICO exam. But get this. Even if everyone in your office has taken and passed this test, you aren’t legal unless your travel agency is registered as TICO agency.   

That’s right Ontario travel agencies, you need two parts to be compliant:

1. a TICO agency registration

2. all employees to pass the TICO exam

Or, on the flip side, if you’re a hosted travel agent in Ontario, you need:

1. a TICO registered host agency (search for TICO registered travel agencies)

2. to take (and pass) the TICO exam

So, here’s the info that will help make sure you’re legal! The (TICO) exam currently rings up at $35 CAD for travel counsellors, $35 CAD for managers/supervisors, and $50 for the combined travel counsellor/manager-supervisor test. Here’s a great resource if you’re looking for in-depth information on the TICO exam process.

Getting registered as a TICO agency is going to require quite a bit more moola. You can find more specifics on the requirements of the TICO agency registration on their site but we’ve shortened the list for you. Here’s the things that will jump out to you and have you gawking at your screen:

  • There’s a $3,000 CAD application fee for new agencies
  • You need to show financial statements proving you have $5,000 in capital to work with
  • You’ll need letters of reference
  • A $10,000 security deposit (returned to you after 2 years of showing you’re not going to rip anyone off)
  • You need to set up a trust account

If you’re already a TICO registered agency, the renewal fee is based on your travel sales:

Sales VolumeRenewal Fee
<$2 million$300 CAD
$2-4.9 million$600 CAD
$5-9.9 million$900 CAD
$10-$49.9 million$1200 CAD
>$50 million$1800 CAD

One last thing to note, the TICO agency registration is NOT transferable. So if you were looking to buy an agency, know that the costs to re-register will be significant. And after all that, if you’re still ready to make the leap, here’s the registration forms to become a TICO registered travel agency!

British Columbia Travel Agency Licensing

Travel agencies in British Columbia will need to:

  1. Register your business with the BC Corporate Registry (Tele: 1-877-526-1526, $40 registration fee)
  2. Apply for your license to sell travel through the Consumer Protection BC (Tele: 1-888-777-4393, $1,126 fee for travel agencies/wholesalers and $675 for branch offices)

If you are a hosted agent and your host agency is located in British Columbia, you will need to file for a license as a “branch location” of your host agency. Here’s it straight from Consumer Protection BC’s mouth:

If employees or other “agents” (independent contractor, outside sales agents) of a travel agent work from a location other than the location licensed by Consumer Protection BC, a separate “branch office” license is required.

The Nutshell

Here is all is, simplified into a nifty infographic:

If you want to operate to your agency in any of provinces outside of QC, ON and BC, AND you don’t plan on selling to resident in any of those provinces, you’re in the clear and don’t need to worry about of this (but you’re dang smart!). 

I reached out to Justin Trudeau for comment, but his offices mentioned something about him being busy running a country or something like that. Oh well. You can’t win them all. Look no further. But I’d like to extend a very special thank you to two excellent resources who shared their expertise for this article: Mike Foster, President of Nexion Canada, ULC, and James Shearer, Chief Operating Officer of Travel Masters who offered a ton of great insights and information for this article. 

Do you have thoughts or comments or ideas or experiences you’d like share? We want to hear from you!


Steph Lee Travel

 

Hi, I’m Steph! I specialize in working with people looking to start and/or grow their travel agencies. I’ve worked with thousands of agents and helped them learn more about the travel industry… and I’m happy to help you out too. If you’ve found this article helpful, please help give it some love via like/tweet/share or drop us a comment! Learn More About Steph>>

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Howdy! Mary BioHave we met? This is your fellow wanderer, Mary Stein. I’m a writer by trade, and a traveler in my heart and soul. I joined the Host Agency Reviews crew as Content Editor in 2015. This means that I’m learning along with you. You can learn a little more about me (and my pup) here. >>>

But enough about me! I want to hear about you and your journey into the industry! Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions or if you just want to say hello!

 


Comments

  1. Depends on when application is submitted: If it’s before May 1st, it’s the lesser amount in both cases. If you apply after May 1st on any given calendar year, it’s the higher amount
  2. if you want to do that, you will need to pay 50% of your entire permit—which would be half of the monthly cost times 16 months.

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