How to Incorporate in Ontario (2023): Step-by-Step Guide for New Entrepreneurs

You may have a lot of tasks on your to-do list when starting a business in Ontario, and selecting the correct legal structure for operating your business should be near the top of that list.

(We recommend that it be much higher on the list than things like deciding on what kind of coffee maker to buy for the break room, even though those decisions might be more fun.)

One common selection is incorporating a business in Ontario. Incorporation provides numerous benefits, including being able to fully separate the finances and liability of the business from the personal finances and liability of the owner or owners.

On the other hand, incorporating creates some complexity in the way you must manage your business. Even though incorporation is not for everyone, it is worth exploring when starting a business in Ontario. We’ll break down the steps you need to follow when you want to incorporate your Ontario business.

Key Takeaways

  • Incorporating a business in Ontario provides benefits like keeping your personal finances and business finances separate
  • Managing a corporation requires more time and paperwork than other types of legal business structures in Ontario
  • If you plan to operate your business only in Ontario, you can incorporate only in the province
  • If you plan to operate your business in multiple provinces, you can incorporate federally
  • Incorporating by email, in person, or by mail can require several days to receive a response. Incorporating online is much quicker
  • You can use a service like Ownr (which is owned by RBC) to incorporate quicker and more easily. You also get a $300 refund if you open a business bank account with RBC

How Does an Incorporated Business in Ontario Work?

An incorporated business allows for an ownership structure where multiple people can own the business at varying percentages of ownership. Each owner receives ownership shares equal to the percentage of ownership.

This differs from other types of legal structures where the owners all must hold the same percentage of shares in the business or where only one owner is allowed. (A corporation can have one owner, but it doesn’t have to have one owner.)

Should one of the owners want to sell the interest in the business, that owner could sell the shares to other owners. The owner could also bequeath the shares to family members, should the owner choose to retire.

Some corporations allow for publicly traded shares on a stock exchange, such as the Toronto Stock Exchange. Typically, the largest corporations publicly trade their shares. Someone starting a new business from scratch would rarely begin immediately selling public shares, though.

Should the business fail as a corporation, the owners’ personal finances typically are not at risk to creditors. If someone sues the corporation, the owners’ personal finances typically cannot be part of the lawsuit judgment, either.

Should I Incorporate Federally or Provincially in Ontario?

When choosing to incorporate your business, you have the option of filing the incorporation forms at the federal government level or at the Ontario provincial government level.

If you incorporate provincially in Ontario, you will operate your business out of Ontario. Your corporation is bound to the legal regulations within the Ontario province for corporations. You also only receive protection for your corporation’s name within Ontario.

If you later want to do business out of another province, you will have to incorporate in that province, too.

If you incorporate federally, you gain protection for your business name throughout Canada. You can operate your business out of any provinces. However, incorporating federally is more time consuming usually than incorporating in Ontario alone.

Most businesses don’t need to incorporate federally unless they plan to operate from multiple provinces in Canada.

Do I Need to Incorporate My Business in Ontario?

No, new business owners do not have to incorporate their businesses in the province. Instead, you could choose to make use of one of the other business legal structures allowed in Ontario, which include the following:

Alternatives to Incorporation in Ontario

  • Sole proprietorship: This type of business structure works best for a single person running a small business, as it’s easy to set up and use. However, your personal finances and business finances are not separate.
  • Partnership: Two or more people may own a partnership, and, typically, all of them share the same percentage of ownership in the business. (However, the partnership agreement can specify a different ownership percentage.) It is easier to set up and use than a corporation, but your personal finances and business finances are intertwined.
  • Co-operative: A co-operative typically is a for-profit or non-profit business where you have many owners. Each owner receives a single vote on business decisions, and the majority rules. The finances of the owners and the business remain separate.

You could start your business in Ontario under one of the other legal structures. You then could choose to incorporate your business in the future if it becomes more advantageous as your business grows.

Pros and Cons of Incorporating a Business in Ontario

The benefits of incorporating your business in Ontario include:


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    • Legal separation: Should your corporation have legal issues or become the subject of a lawsuit, you as the owner almost certainly will not have personal liability for any judgments against the corporation.
    • Financial separation: Should the corporation suffer financial losses, you do not have to guarantee these losses with your personal finances. Everything remains separate financially.
    • Transferrable ownership: Because each owner has shares to represent the percentage of ownership, one owner can more easily transfer ownership to other people by selling or giving them ownership shares.

    Some of the disadvantages of incorporating your Ontario business include:

    • Costly setup: The costs for setting up a corporation in Ontario are higher than for other types of business structures.
    • Annual filings: Corporations must keep significant records regarding the running of the business, and they must submit those records to the government annually through filings.
    • Tougher tax calculations: Because the business’ finances and the owners’ personal finances are separate, calculating taxes can be more challenging than with other legal structures for businesses.

    FAQs: Incorporating a Business in Ontario

    When Do You Have to Incorporate a Business in Ontario?

    There is no set date by which you have to incorporate an Ontario business. You can incorporate at the time you form the businesses, or you can incorporate at any point in the future if it makes sense for your business.

    However, you cannot receive the benefits of incorporation until you actually go through the process.

    How Much Does It Cost to Incorporate a Business in Ontario?

    It costs $300 to incorporate your business in Ontario only, regardless of whether you are incorporating online, by email, or by mail.

    For a federal incorporation, you will pay $200 to file online.

    How Long Does It Take to Incorporate a Business in Ontario?

    You can file everything online with the provincial government, so you may be able to incorporate your Ontario business inside the province in as little as an hour. The process takes however long you need to fill out the digital forms.

    You may have to spend a bit of time pulling together the documents and information you need before you start the online filing process. That work could take anywhere from a few hours to several days.

    Through the Business Corporations Act, the Ontario provincial government’s time estimates for providing a response about the success or failure of the incorporation process include:

    • Filing online: Immediate
    • Filing by email: 7 business days
    • Filing by mail: 15 business days

    The provincial government does not offer a time estimate for those who choose to file in person.

    Should you want to incorporate your Ontario-based business federally, the federal government estimates that a standard online filing will require one business day to receive confirmation.

    If you would like express service, you can pay an extra $100 in the federal filing (or $300 total) and receive confirmation in four business hours if you file online. (Be sure to start the filing process in the morning with express service if you would like to receive confirmation the same business day.)

    If you file by email or mail federally, and if you want express service, the federal government promises a one business day turnaround from the time it receives the information.

    What Do I Need to Incorporate a Business in Ontario?

    If you want to incorporate your Ontario business inside the province, and if you want to use the online process, you need to follow a few steps and to have certain information in hand:

    • Name availability: You can search the Ontario Business Registry to determine whether the name you want to use for your incorporated business is available. Your business name must be significantly different from any other business name in Ontario.
    • Create an online account: You must have both a One-key account and a ServiceOntario account to be able to register your business as a corporation.
    • Nuans name search: As part of the registration process for your corporation, you must order a Nuans name search that has an emphasis on Ontario business names. The province does not accept any federal Nuans name search reports.
    • Articles of Incorporation: You will need to complete and file the Articles of Incorporation, as required by the Business Corporations Act (BCA). (We’ll discuss what’s required for this form later.)

    You will pay your fees for incorporation at the time you submit your information and forms. You can pay by credit card or debit card when filing online, but you can only pay by credit card if filing by email. If filing by mail, you can pay by a cheque.

    How to Complete Your Articles of Incorporation in Ontario

    Visit the Central Forms Repository for the Ontario provincial government to download the Articles of Incorporation in a PDF that you can fill out and save. You then can upload the form with your online registration process.

    The information you must submit as part of the Articles of Incorporation include:

    • The reference number from your Nuans name search report in Ontario.
    • The date that you ran the Nuans search report.
    • The business name that you would like to use and that you searched for.
    • As the administrator for the corporation, your contact information.
    • The corporation’s contact information, including an email address.
    • The activity code for the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).
    • Your desired date of incorporation, up to 30 days in the future.
    • The registered office address for the corporation that must be in Ontario and that cannot be a P.O. box.
    • Name and address of each of the corporation’s directors.
    • The planned structure of the ownership shares, along with any restrictions on share transfers.
    • Any restrictions on the type of business that the corporation can perform.
    • Any powers the corporation may exercise.
    • Any other provisions that may apply to your incorporation process.

    If you have an attorney helping you with the incorporation process, the law firm may have its own Articles of Incorporation form that the provincial government would accept.

    Where to Incorporate a Business in Ontario

    You have a few options for incorporating your Ontario business. If you need any help with incorporating your business, you can contact ServiceOntario by email or by telephone.

    OnlineDo It Yourself

    You can use the Ontario Business Registry to incorporate your business online. You will have to have both a One-key account and a ServiceOntario account.

    OnlineBusiness Registration Service

    The easiest way to incorporate a new business is through an established business registration service. The service we recommend is Ownr, which is owned by RBC. Click here to learn about Ownr – and get 15% off + a $300 refund on your registration.


    You can reach out to the Ontario Business Registry by email to learn more about incorporating your business by email.

    By Mail or in Person

    Although ServiceOntario prefers to have documents associated with incorporation submitted digitally online, you can send forms by mail, or you can visit a local ServiceOntario office. ServiceOntario recommends that you reach out to the local office before visiting. You may need to set up an appointment.

    Through an Authorized Service Provider

    Two authorized service providers for the Ontario provincial government can help you with the incorporation process.

    Checklist for Incorporating a Business in Ontario

    • Make sure your desired business name is available through a Nuans name search.
    • Create a One-key Is account.
    • Create a ServiceOntario account.
    • Complete the incorporation form at ServiceOntario.
    • Submit your Articles of Incorporation.
    • Pay any fees related to the incorporation process.

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