Importing Vehicles

You’d think that with the amount of cars crossing the border into the US and Canada that importing a vehicle would be a fairly simple task. It isn’t. A lot of vehicles sold in Canada and the US are very similar to each other, but that doesn’t mean that they will be considered admissible into the other country. There are several steps you will have to make if you want to import a car into another country and attempting this might be costly, in more ways than one. You will be required to pay duties and taxes to get the car into the country for inspection, but if it doesn’t pass, you don’t get a refund. In some cases, the car may end up getting destroyed.

Importing a vehicle from US to Canada

Info about Canadian standards, license plates, insurance

Any motor vehicle that a Canadian wishes to import into Canada must comply with the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA). Vehicles older than 15 years at importation are exempted. Modified vehicles, even Canadian-certified ones that were modified in the US and are returning to Canada, may not qualify for importation because the original factory-issued certification no longer applies.

To be granted entry, a US-made vehicle should meet the following requirements:

  • Certified by the manufacturer that it meets all the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) or that it can be modified to comply with the CMVSS.
  • Should not have been modified from its original state except for regular maintenance
  • Free of any outstanding recalls.
  • Must pass an inspection by the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV)

Other factors that can affect the success of your endeavor include:

  • the vehicle’s admissibility based on Transport Canada’s List of Vehicles Admissible from the United States
  • the branding history or status
  • cost considerations
  • CBP export requirements
Consider Insurance and the License Plates.

You will need to have a valid Canadian car insurance for your vehicle as soon as you bought it. However, insurance companies will not readily insure a vehicle that was not originally bought in Canada. You may want to inquire if your insurance company will allow you to extend your current auto insurance to include your new car.

License plates, you will need to get temporary ones that are valid in the province or territory you reside in. This will enable you to drive the car into Canada for import before it undergoes the provincial or territorial safety certification program. To get temporary plates, you will need the stamped Vehicle Import Form – Form 1, the bill of sale, the title, proof of insurance and any other document or information that the state or territory requires.


Info about documentation

Before you deal with Canadian Customs, you will have to first clear US Customs. To do that, you must be able to provide the following:

  • Original Certificate of Title or a certified copy of the original
  • Two complete copies of the original Certificate of Title or certified copy of the original.
Get in touch with the border station that you will be using to export the car and submit your documents at least 72 hours before you cross the border.

Once you deal with the US Customs, you will need to present the following documents to the CBSA officer:

  • Vehicle Import Form – Form 1
  • Bill of sale
  • Title
  • Proof of insurance
  • Recall clearance letter

Duties and taxes

Importing a vehicle into Canada is a costly event. You will need to pay a number of fees and taxes. Below are some of the expenses that you will have to cover:

  • The Registrar of Imported Vehicle (RIV) fee which is $195.00 + GST and QST for vehicles entering through a border crossing in Quebec. The fee is
  • $195.00 + GST/HST for vehicles entering through a border crossing in any other province.
  • An air conditioning excise tax of $100
  • An excise tax or green levy on fuel inefficient cars with a weighted average fuel consumption of 13 liters per 100 km or higher and was made after March 19, 2007. The tax ranges from $1000 to $4000.
  • The Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is at 5%.

Importing a vehicle from Canada to US

Before you even think of importing a Canadian vehicle into the US, you will need to first check if the car you are planning on buying meets the US Environmental and Safety Standards.

The environmental standards are upheld by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while the US Safety Standards are upheld by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

It’s safe to say that plenty of Canadian vehicles have identical emission control systems. However, even if they are identical, it doesn’t automatically mean that they meet the emission standards of the EPA. In order to verify that it is identical, you will need to do one of the following:

  • Find the vehicle emissions label that states the car is certified to federal emission standards of the United States EPA.
  • Have the manufacturer’s US representative submit a letter of compliance that states that the Canadian vehicle complies with the US EPA regulations. The letter must include the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN).

Based on the vehicle importation guidelines of the NHTSA, a Canadian-certified vehicle can be imported if:

  • Originally manufactured to comply with all Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS)
  • Bears a label that states that compliance which was permanently affixed by the manufacturer.

A vehicle that complies with all applicable Canadian motor vehicle safety standards (CMVSS) may also be imported if:

  • For personal use and not for resale
  • Not a salvage vehicle, a repaired salvage vehicle, or a reconstructed vehicle
  • There is a letter from the original manufacturer that states the vehicle’s compliance with all applicable FMVSS except for the labeling requirements of Standards Nos. 101 Controls
  • Displays and 110 Tire Selection and Rims or 120 Tire Selection and Rims for Motor
  • Vehicles other than Passenger Cars, and/or the specifications of Standard No. 108
  • Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment, relating to daytime running lamps.
A nonconforming vehicle can still be admitted into the US if the importer contracts a DOT Registered Importer (RI) to modify the vehicle and bring it up to US standards.
Cars manufactured more than 25 years ago are exempt from meeting US standards. However, it may not be exempt from state rules and regulations regarding car safety standards.
Important reminders
  • Make sure that the vehicle’s undercarriage is free of foreign soil before you reach the border. This is a requirement of the US Department of Agriculture.
  • Do not use your car as a shipping container. All the contents of your car must be declared. Failure to do so can result in seizure of the car and its contents. Also, the risk of theft of your personal belongings increases while it is in transit or on the docks.

Info about documentation

Aside from letters from the original manufacturer certifying the vehicle’s compliance with all US standards, you will also need to present the following documents to the CBP:

  • EPA Form 3520-1: a form that is used to declare the car’s emission control system and how it relates or compares to the US environmental standards. According to the EPA, this form is not required for motor vehicles that are imported by their original manufacturer and are new and are covered by an EPA certificate of conformity and bear an EPA emission control label.
  • DOT form HS-7: a form that declares whether or not the vehicle conforms to the US safety standards.
  • Documents that establish ownership: the original title for the vehicle, an original bill of lading, foreign registration, a bill of sale, and any other documents that pertain to the vehicle.
  • CBP Form 7501: an entry summary that lists the relevant information regarding the car.

Duties and taxes to import the vehicle to US

Most cars manufactured in Canada are duty-free in the US. Foreign-made vehicles, on the other hand, are generally dutiable. The following rates apply:

  • Autos – 2.5%
  • Trucks – 25%
  • Motorcycles – Free or 2.4%

A returning US resident can apply his or her $800 CBP exemption and those of family members accompanying him toward the value of the car if:

  • He or she is driving it when crossing the border
  • The car is being imported for personal use
  • The car was purchased during this particular trip.

Once the exemption has been applied, the CBP will apply a flat duty rate of 3% to the next $1,000 of the value of the vehicle. The rest of the amount is dutiable at the regular duty rate.

Some vehicles are allowed entry duty-free if they fall under one of the following categories:

  • A nonresident importing the vehicle for personal use up to a period of 1 year in the US if the vehicle is imported at the same time that the nonresident arrives in the US.
  • US citizens working abroad or government employees returning on leave are allowed to import foreign-made cars duty-free provided that they claim nonresident status, are only back for a short visit, and will be taking the car with them when they leave.
  • Employees of the U.S. government, either military or civilian, returning at the end of an assignment to extended duty outside the customs territory of the U.S. may be allowed to include a conforming vehicle among their duty-free personal and household effects. Certain restrictions apply.