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Migrating from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online

Are you considering migrating from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online, but a little unsure of where to start? This walkthrough guides you through the process. In this article, you’ll learn:

  1. Whether you should migrate to QuickBooks Online
  2. What does and doesn’t convert from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online
  3. How to prepare for migration
  4. How to migrate your data
  5. What to do after you migrate
  6. How to troubleshoot migration issues
  7. How to start using QuickBooks Online
  8. Where to get more help

QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are both powerful tools, but there are some things to consider to help you determine if your company is a good candidate for migration.

The success of your migration depends on how complex your company file is. The company file is where all of the information about your business is stored, including inventory, employee information, customer lists, banking history, accounting records, and so on.

Large companies typically have complex company files with extensive histories, large inventories, and large overall file sizes. If you’re a QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise user, for example, this may indicate that you are quite a large company and may not be a good candidate for migration based on the complexity of your company file.

However, this doesn’t mean that you do not have the option to migrate to QuickBooks Online, if you understand that the size of your company may require additional setup in QuickBooks Online. Read through this guide carefully to determine whether your company could still benefit from migrating.

If you’re a small- or medium-sized company using QuickBooks Desktop Pro, Premier, or Premier Accountant, you’re a good candidate for migration to QuickBooks Online, as your company file’s complexity will be relatively low.

Before you start the migration process, consider the features your company needs to run the business. Some of these differences are detailed in the chart below.

Should I convert to QuickBooks Online?
I use QuickBooks Desktop to… Can be done in QuickBooks Online Can be done in QuickBooks Desktop
Access my company file and manage my data Back up my data All editions All editions*
Revert to prior version of my company file Not available All editions, with backups
Work with my accountant All editions All editions
Access my company file remotely All editions All editions**
Allow multiple users to access my company file Essentials, Plus All editions
Maintain multiple company files Requires additional subscriptions All editions
Work with multiple QuickBooks windows open at once All editions All editions
Work with my customers Create and manage invoices and bill customers All editions All editions
Create and manage estimates, send to customers, convert to invoices, and use progress invoicing All editions; Progress invoicing in Plus only All editions
Track sales, accept payments, and calculate sales tax All editions, with QuickBooks Payments Not available
Track sales and expenses in multiple currencies Essentials, Plus All editions
Track projects including time expenses, pending payments, unbilled work Plus All editions
Invoice with batch invoicing Not available All editions
Prevent sales to customers with overdue invoices Not available Enterprise
Work with my suppliers Manage bills and pay suppliers Essentials, Plus All editions
Billable expenses Plus All editions
Track and manage contractors All editions All editions
Manage employee data Track employee time, including billable hours Essentials, Plus All editions
Pay employees, efile payroll taxes, and print and file T4s All editions, with Enhanced Payroll All editions, with Payroll subscription
Use online banking Connect to my bank, download transactions, and reconcile All editions All editions
Undo previous bank reconciliations By an accountant, in QuickBooks Online Accountant All editions
Manage inventory Use the FIFO method to track inventory quantities, sales revenue, and COGS Plus Enterprise, with Advanced Inventory
Use Average Costing method to track inventory Not available All editions
Set and manage inventory reorder points All editions All editions
Create and run reports Track income and expenses and organize according to tax categories All editions All editions
Run custom, Profit & Loss, expense, and balance sheet reports All editions All editions
Forecast sales and expenses Plus Premier, Enterprise
Create custom reports with Intuit Statement Writer Not available Enterprise
Use Advanced Reporting Not available Enterprise

*Online backups require a subscription to Intuit Data Protect.
**Requires remote desktop application, terminal server setup, or hosting provider.

If any of these present an issue for your company, you might not be a good candidate for migration at this time.

When you switch from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online, you can transfer much of the information from your company file without having to re-enter it manually. However, there are some pieces of information that Won’t convert or transfer automatically with your company file.

Information that Will convert, with changes may be handled differently in QuickBooks Online than it was in QuickBooks Desktop and may need some adjustment after migration.

Information that won’t convert won’t be automatically transferred with your company file and will need to be manually re-added after migration.

Review our article on how data converts from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online for more information.

In addition, some features are only available in certain editions of QuickBooks Online. Compare the list of features in each edition to select the one that best suits your business.

There are a few steps to take before you start the conversion process to ensure your information migrates properly. You can watch a short video on the process before you begin or jump in to the steps below.

Back up your company file

In QuickBooks Desktop, it’s good practice to back up your data regularly. In QuickBooks Online, your data is stored securely in the cloud—there’s no need to back up manually.

To back up your data before you migrate, follow these steps:

  1. If you’re currently in multi-user mode, go to the File menu, then select Switch to Single-user Mode.
  2. Go to the File menu and hover over Back up Company. Then select Create Local Backup.
  3. In the window, select Local Backup and then Next.
  4. In the Local Backup Only section, select Browse, then select where you want to save your backup company file.
  5. Set the number of backups you want to keep —this is optional.
  6. A test runs to ensure your backup file is correct before you save. If you encounter any issues, see our Troubleshooting section.
  7. Select OK when you’re ready to proceed.
  8. Select Save it now and Next. A confirmation message displays when the backup completes.

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Backups can be run manually, as above, or automatically. Review our article to learn about the different ways to back up your data.

Update QuickBooks Desktop

Ensure QuickBooks Desktop is up-to-date before you begin migration by following these steps to download and install the latest updates for QuickBooks Desktop:

  1. Open QuickBooks Desktop.
  2. Select Help, then Update QuickBooks Desktop...
  3. Select Update Now.
  4. Select Get Updates.
  5. If you're not in single-user mode, choose File, then Switch to Single-User Mode.
  6. Select File, then Exit.
  7. Restart QuickBooks Desktop.
  8. If you have payroll, run it now.

Check your Total Targets

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Next, check your number of Total Targets. In QuickBooks Desktop, press Ctrl+1 to open the Product Information window. Your number of Total Targets is displayed in the File Information section.

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If the Targets number is over 350,000 for Canada and over 500,000 for the UK and South Africa (ZA) then you are only eligible for a list and balances conversion which can be done with the self-help articles.

Save your Sales Tax Liability report

Save or print a copy of your Sales Tax Liability report. You’ll need it to enter adjustment entries after you migrate. Follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Reports menu and select Suppliers & Payables.
  2. Select Sales Tax Liability.
  3. From the Dates dropdown, select All.
  4. At the top, from the Print dropdown, select Save as PDF.
  5. Choose the folder you want to save it in, name the file, and select Save.
  6. After you’ve saved the file, you can print it if you’d like a hard copy.

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Export your reports and lists

Note:   Exporting your reports and lists is optional, and generally only needs to be done if your company has in excess of 350,000 targets. Otherwise, you can skip to Create a QuickBooks Online account.

Exporting your lists before migrating saves you from having to set up the items from your lists one-by-one when you start using QuickBooks Online. Follow these steps to export your reports and lists from a QuickBooks Desktop company:

  1. In QuickBooks Desktop, go to the Reports menu and select Report Centre.
  2. Find and open any report.
  3. Select the desired date range from the Dates drop-down menu.
  4. Select Excel on the toolbar. You can also select Print or Email to save the report as a PDF.
  5. Select Create New Worksheet to create a new Excel workbook.
  6. If you want to update an existing workbook with the data in the open report, select Update Existing Worksheet.
  7. Select Browse and locate the workbook on your computer.
  8. If you want to format the data a specific way, select Advanced—this is optional.
  9. If you see a message that says your report has too many columns, select Advanced. Select and uncheck the Space between columns checkbox, then select OK.
  10. Select OK when you’re ready to export.

Repeat these steps for each report or list you’d like to export.

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Create a QuickBooks Online account

Create a QuickBooks Online account

Create your QuickBooks Online subscription so that you are ready for the migration process. Review the list of options to select the appropriate plan, and review our system requirements before you start to make sure you have what you need for the best QuickBooks Online experience.

Important:   You can only move a company file within 60 days of signing up to QuickBooks Online, so ensure you’re ready to convert within that timeframe when you subscribe.

When you’re prompted to sign in, use the same credentials you used to sign in to your QuickBooks Desktop account. Can’t remember it? You can easily reset your QuickBooks Desktop password.

Don’t set up your QuickBooks Online company just yet—we’ll do that in the next step.

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You’re ready to export your Desktop file to QuickBooks Online. Follow the steps below depending on the edition of QuickBooks Desktop that you use.

Note:   You'll need to use a trial version of QuickBooks Desktop to convert your file if you’re using a version older than 2017.

QuickBooks Desktop Pro or Premier

  1. In QuickBooks Desktop, log in as an admin to the company file you need to import.
  2. Go to the Company menu, then select Export Company File to QuickBooks Online.
  3. Select Get started.
  4. Click Select destination, then sign in to your QuickBooks Online account.

If you track inventory in QuickBooks Desktop:

  1. Select Yes to bring them over, then specify the starting date.
  2. Select No if you want to set up new items later in QuickBooks Online.
  3. When conversion is complete, we’ll send you an email. Click the Complete your setup button in the email.
  4. Sign in to your QuickBooks Online account.
  5. Choose the company file you want to open.

The QuickBooks Online dashboard opens.

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QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise

Important:   If you use advanced features, such as advanced reporting and advanced inventory, we recommend starting fresh with QuickBooks Online because some of your data won't be converted. If you want to keep using these features in Enterprise, learn about cloud-enabled QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise.
  1. In QuickBooks Desktop, log in as an admin to the company file you want to import.
  2. Press Ctrl+1 to open the Product Information window.
  3. Press Ctrl+B+Q, then select OK.
  4. On the export window, select Start your export.
  5. Sign in as an admin to your QuickBooks Online company.

If you track inventory in QuickBooks Desktop:

  1. Select Yes to bring them over, then specify the as-of date.
  2. Select No if you want to set up new items later in QuickBooks Online.
  3. Select the Choose online company dropdown, and choose the QuickBooks Online company you want to be replaced by your company file.
  4. Select Continue.
  5. Enter “Agree” in the text field, then select Replace.
  6. Select Yes, go ahead and replace the data, then select Replace.

If you get an error during this process, review how you can fix them so you can resume moving to QuickBooks Online.

Move your lists

Earlier you exported your lists from QuickBooks Desktop so that you can import them to QuickBooks Online. Each type of list requires a different step of steps. Choose a list below to view the steps for importing.

Set up inventory

You can turn on inventory tracking in QuickBooks Online by following these steps:

  1. Go to Settings (gear icon) and select Account and Settings.
  2. Select Sales.
  3. Select Edit (pencil icon) in the Products and services section.
  4. Turn on Show Product/Service column on sales forms.
  5. Turn on both Track quantity and price/rate and Track inventory quantity on hand.
  6. Select Save and then Done.

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QuickBooks Online calculates inventory costs from the inventory start date using the First-in-First-Out method (FIFO). Any existing transactions on or after this date are also recalculated under FIFO. Because of this, we recommend using the first day following your company’s last tax filing period to avoid filing amended forms.

Note:   If you prefer not to use FIFO or enable inventory in QuickBooks Online, during setup, select No, don’t turn on inventory and don’t track quantity on hand. You can change these settings later, but if you do, you will need to set up new inventory items. We recommend that you reach out to a tax professional if you need help to make this decision.

To add inventory products to QuickBooks Online, follow the steps in our article. Once you're set up, it's easy to track inventory in QuickBooks and add products to sales forms. QuickBooks updates the quantity on hand as you work so you don't have to.

For products and services you sell but don’t track as part of your inventory, refer to this guide.

There are still a few tasks you'll need to perform before you start using QuickBooks Online. It's best to complete these as soon as possible before you make any changes to the data or enter new transactions.

Go through the following checklist after migration to ensure that all of your data transferred as expected, and to import information that wasn’t included in the migration.

1. Check your data by comparing reports

Compare the below reports in QuickBooks Online and in QuickBooks Desktop to ensure that your data was transferred correctly:

  • Balance Sheet Report
  • Trial Balance – All Dates
  • Customer Balance Summary – All Dates
  • Supplier Balance Summary – All Dates
  • Sales Tax Summary Report for the most recent period
  • Any other reports you’d like to check

To verify your reports, run the reports by "All Dates" and set your accounting method to Accrual in both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop.

2. Confirm company settings

Although we’re able to move your accounting figures into QuickBooks Online, we don’t carry over information like company name, address, and email details. You'll need to enter this information in your QuickBooks Online company by following the steps below.

  1. Select the Settings (gear icon) menu, then select Account and Settings.
  2. On the Company tab, enter your company and contact information.
  3. Enter the email address in the Company email box where you would like to receive the monthly invoices from Intuit for your QuickBooks Online subscription.
  4. If you do not want to use the company email address for your customers to contact you, enter an email address in the Customer-facing email box.
  5. Select Save.

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3. Configure your sales tax settings

It’s important that QuickBooks Online is set up with the correct CRA Business Number and filing frequency before you start using it. You can skip these steps if your business isn’t registered for sales tax.

  1. Select Taxes from the left menu.
  2. Select the Set up sales tax button.
  3. Choose the province or territory in which you do business, then select Save.
  4. On the next screen, fill in the required information, then select Next.
  5. On the next screen, select OK.
  6. You can go back and edit these settings at any time.

4. Connect bank and credit card accounts

For your safety, bank and credit card information isn’t transferred when you migrate from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online. To connect your accounts in QuickBooks Online, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Banking menu or Transactions menu.
  2. Select Connect Account from the landing page, or select Add account if you've already created an account.
  3. Search for your bank.
  4. Select Continue, then enter the username and password you use for your bank's website in the pop-up window.
  5. Select the accounts you want to connect.
  6. For each account, select the account type from the dropdown menu. These are accounts currently on your chart of accounts.
  7. Select the date range for the download.
  8. Select Connect.

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Read our article to learn more about connecting bank and credit card accounts to QuickBooks Online.

5. Clean up bank reconciliations

Since you have not yet performed a bank reconciliation in QuickBooks Online, it assumes that no bank transactions have been reconciled. You need to tell QuickBooks to mark all transactions up to the conversion date as reconciled, so it only considers future transactions for reconciliation.

  1. Select the Settings (gear icon) menu, then select Reconcile.
  2. Choose the relevant bank account from the drop-down menu, add the Ending balance and Ending date, then select Reconcile Now.
  3. A list of transactions displays. Select the top checkmark boxes to select all transactions in the list. If the data is in two columns, ensure you’ve selected all transactions in both columns.
  4. Find and uncheck transactions that are still not cleared. When the Difference is zero you have completed the reconciliation successfully.
  5. Select Finish Now.
  6. Repeat these steps for each account you have connected to QuickBooks Online.

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6. Link payments and credits to open invoices

Since the transactions downloaded into QuickBooks Online did not link invoices with their respective payments, you may notice names that have zero balances in your A/R and A/P aging reports. You can easily link credits and payments to your open invoices by turning on the Automatically apply credits preference:

  1. Select the Settings (gear icon) menu near the top right of the screen, then select Account and Settings.
  2. On the Advanced tab, select Automatically apply credits, then select Save.

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7. Review your accounts’ detail types

After conversion, QuickBooks Online keeps your sub-account hierarchy. However, it also uses an additional level of account typing called a Detail type. Detail types allow you to be more specific with your account organization.

The conversion process assigns detail types to accounts where the detail is obvious. For accounts where it isn’t clear what the detail type should be, the conversion process assigns a generic detail type, such as Other Miscellaneous Income. You can correct this now.

Run the Account Listing Report to review and edit your accounts’ detail types:

  1. Select Reports from the left menu.
  2. Search for and open the Account List report.
  3. Review your accounts.
  4. Select the account name to edit an account's detail type.
  5. Select the correct detail type from the Detail Type drop-down menu.
  6. Select Save and Close.

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8. Complete payroll setup

Transactions and payroll accounts are converted to balance your books, but the details behind the transactions such as payroll item breakdowns and employee year-to-date numbers, don't convert.

Liability refunds, adjustment transactions, and opening balance transactions that affect accounts convert to journal entries.

To complete your payroll setup:

  1. Go to Employees or Payroll menu.
  2. In the Paid in [Year] column, ensure each employee who received a pay cheque this year is switched to Yes. Employees who haven't been paid in the current year are automatically listed as No.
  3. Select Complete payroll setup to enter or verify your year-to-date payroll totals and employee information.
  4. Follow the onscreen instructions to complete the setup.
  5. Use Run Payroll once you're ready to pay your employees.

You may be asked to match your payroll items if your pay types from QuickBooks Desktop were not mapped with a standard QuickBooks Online pay type. Follow these steps to map your QuickBooks Desktop pay types with those of QuickBooks Online:

  1. Select the (choose one) drop-down in the QuickBooks Online column.
  2. Select the pay type that closely matches how the item was set up in your Desktop file.
  3. To make sure the pay types match, it's a good practice to check your QuickBooks Desktop file and see how your items are set up.
  4. Select Save and close after complete the mapping.
  5. Perform the same process for each item that needs to be mapped, then select Continue.

Don’t see options to choose from? Some pay types imported are not supported in QuickBooks Online Payroll. If this is the case, select Skip for now in the bottom right of the screen. Note that you cannot go back and map your pay types if you select Skip for now. You'll have to manually create pay types for your employees to complete the payroll setup.

9. Link your Payments account

While you can't transfer your existing Payments account to QuickBooks Online, you can create a new one. Follow these steps to enable Payments in QuickBooks Online:

  1. Select the Settings (gear icon) menu, then select Account and Settings.
  2. Select Payments. In the QuickBooks Payments section, select Learn more.
  3. Select Set up Payments. A signup window opens with three sections.
  4. In the Business section, select Start. Fill out the form, then select Next.
  5. In the Owner/Proprietor section, select Start. Fill out the form and then select Next.
  6. In the Bank section, select Start. Select Add a new bank connection and search for your bank.
  7. Select the account you want customer payments to go into.
  8. Enter the sign-in info you use for your bank, then select Connect.
  9. When you're finished with all of the sections, select Activate Payments.

Review our article to learn more about signing up for QuickBooks Payments.

10. Add users

Make sure that any users you want to add in QuickBooks Online have the proper access. You can view your current users by selecting the Settings (gear icon) menu, then Manage users.

To add additional users:

  1. Select the Settings (gear icon) menu, then Manage Users.
  2. Select Add user.
  3. Select the user type you want to create. More options display on the screen depending on the user type you select.
  4. Enter your new user’s name and email address, then select Save.

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After you complete these steps, your new user receives an email from QuickBooks. Ask them to follow the link in the email, which will take them to a sign in or account creation page.

11. Invite an accountant

You can invite up to two accountants to work with you in your QuickBooks Online company. To invite an accountant, follow these steps:

  1. Select My Accountant from the left menu, enter your accountant’s email address and select Invite; or
  2. Go to the Settings (gear icon) menu and select Manage users.
  3. Select Accounting firms.
  4. Select Invite.
  5. Complete the required fields and select Save.

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Most of the time, converting from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online is quick and easy. But there are some issues you may encounter during or after conversion. Let’s take a look at the most common issues and how they can be resolved.

Rebuilding your company data

If you have trouble importing your company file from QuickBooks Desktop for Windows into QuickBooks Online, you can easily resolve this issue by rebuilding the data file and restarting the export process.

Step 1: Verify your company data

  1. In QuickBooks Desktop, select Window, then Close All to close all open windows.
  2. Select File, then Utilities, then select Verify Data.

If QuickBooks reports a problem, continue to Step 2: Rebuild your company data to repair problems
below.

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Step 2: Rebuild your company data to repair problems

  1. Select Window, then select Close All to close all open windows.
  2. Select File, then select Utilities, then select Rebuild data.
  3. If you see the message Rebuild has completed, continue to Step 3: Verify your rebuilt company data below.

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Step 3: Verify your rebuilt company data

  1. Select Window, then Close All to close all open windows.
  2. Select File, then Utilities, then Verify Data.
  3. If you see the message QuickBooks detected no problems with your data, continue to Step 4: Start the export process again below.

Step 4: Start the export process again

  1. Update QuickBooks to the latest release: Select Help, then select Update QuickBooks.
  2. Close and reopen QuickBooks to install the updates.
  3. Select Company, then Export Company File to QuickBooks Online.
  4. Follow the onscreen instructions.

Error messages

Some of the most common migration errors are found below:

Post-conversion issues

Issue: Customer balances are off in QuickBooks Online

If you used journal entries to apply payments to invoices, the links between journal entry credits and invoices break once imported. This causes the customer balances to be off. To resolve, turn on auto-credits in QuickBooks Online:

  1. Go to Settings (gear icon), then select Account and Settings.
  2. Select the Advanced tab, then the Edit the Automation section.
  3. Select the Automatically apply credits checkbox.
  4. Select Save, then select Done.

Don’t want to automatically apply all payments? You can record the payments by matching the journal entry credits to existing invoices. Do this on a customer-by-customer basis.

Issue: Invoices or sales transactions were converted to journal entries after importing to QuickBooks Online

This can happen if you have flat rates (0.00) for sales tax items or groups in your Desktop file. This often occurs in Mac files because you can save a sales tax item without a % symbol.

To keep your sales transactions from importing as journal entries, edit the sales tax item rates category. If you have multiple items with flat sales tax rates in them, edit all the item rates to import all your transactions properly.

Now that you’re set up in QuickBooks Online, learn about its features and functions in our guide to Getting started with QuickBooks Online.

Need a little more help navigating QuickBooks Online? In the video below, we show you how to get around and where you can find the most commonly-used functions:

Or, watch short videos on a variety of topics for tips and tricks and step-by-step guides through the process of using QuickBooks Online.

Check out some of these additional resources we offer to learn more and remember that we’re always here to help if you need it.

Live webinars: We offer free webinars that demonstrate almost all facets of QuickBooks Online, from getting started to managing customers and sales to making sure you’re ready for year-end. Topics change regularly, so view upcoming sessions and reserve your place.

Keyboard shortcuts: QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop each have their own set of keyboard shortcuts. Speed up your navigation by learning the keyboard shortcuts for QuickBooks Online.

Completely stuck? Reach out to us for support and we’ll help get you back on track.

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