Customs officials for the U.S. and Canada are always on the lookout for stolen vehicles or people trying to avoid duties on cars or trucks they purchased out of the country. As a result, alarm bells will go off anytime someone tries to cross the border in a vehicle that is not theirs.
This is especially true when you fly across the border and then come back into the country in someone else’s car. To a border official, this looks very much like you flew to the country to purchase the vehicle. We have received unfortunate stories from travelers who flew from Canada to the U.S. to visit relatives, and then had real problems when they tried to cross the border in a borrowed car.
This does not mean you will always be stopped and questioned. For example, a family member who also resides at the address that is on the vehicle registration is likely to be sent on their way without any problem.
Neither the U.S. nor Canada have a formal requirement that you bring a written permission letter to drive someone else’s vehicle. It is a judgement call by the customs officer whether to examine the situation more closely. However, to avoid an extended stay at the border, and a secondary inspection, you should be prepared.
Steps to Loan Your Vehicle to Another Person
First, make sure that the driver has all of the normally required documentation. See our page about “Documentation You Need to Cross the Border”.
Secondly, it is very important that they have with them in the vehicle the up-to-date vehicle registration and current proof of insurance.
Permission Letter to Take a Vehicle Across the Border
You should then prepare a Permission Letter which gives the driver approval to take your vehicle across the border. There is no legal requirement for a permission letter, but it is strongly recommended by both the U.S. and Canadian border services.
- Make sure the signature on the letter matches the name on the ownership certificate of the car.
- It is not mandatory to get the letter notarized, but it will provide another level of comfort to the customs officer. It is recommended by the border services, so you should have it done if it is not too much trouble.
- You should bring along a another copy of this letter, in case for some reason the original is damaged or the customs official wants to keep one.
- If you are driving a company vehicle, it would be best to have some documentation available showing that you are authorized to drive the vehicle or are the owner of the company.
What to Do When You Reach the Border
You do not need to offer up the permission letter when you reach the border. As is always the case, answer only the questions you are asked and have the letter and other documentation ready if the officer requests it. You should make sure to read our page on how to prepare for a border crossing.
If the officer has concerns about what is going on, they will pull the driver aside for a secondary inspection. At this point, they will look more closely at the vehicle ownership and the driver. They may want to actually call the owner, so it would be helpful if they are available when the borrower gets to the border.