Importing a Car From the United States or Mexico into Canada
Should you import a car from the U.S.? Financially, the answer is very often – no. The expense and work required to import a vehicle is substantial. However, if you are making a purchase of a vintage car or another vehicle with sentimental value, then keep reading. Be sure to also read our page on Importing A Vehicle for additional tips on how to more easily import your target vehicle.
Importing a vehicle into Canada is a strictly regulated process run by the The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV). As soon as you decide to buy a car in the U.S., you should call each of the following agencies or review their websites carefully to confirm the required paperwork and current process.
- Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA)
- Transport Canada
- The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV)
- U.S. Customs for the ports you will be using (see our page for that specific border crossing.)
We have the contact information for each of these agencies on our Government Information Page.
What Car Should You Buy to Import from the United States or Mexico?
Not all vehicles can be imported into Canada. Here, we will primarily be focusing on the steps for importing a personal vehicle less than 15 years old which is purchased in the U.S. or Mexico and brought into Canada.
If you are bringing the vehicle in for resale, commercial use, parts, or salvage, an entirely different set of rules apply, and you should review the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) website carefully. There are also some differences on the rules for for buses, motorcycles and other types of vehicles.
If you’re bringing a passenger vehicle, consider the following questions:
- Is the vehicle on Transport Canada’s list of permissible makes and models?
- If there is no information on your particular vehicle, you will need to contact the manufacturer to determine admissibility status or contact Transport Canada to get a “no objection” letter.
- Has the vehicle been modified from its original condition by the seller? For example, converted into a motorhome, had additional wheels added, or been equipped with a lift kit.
- Modified vehicles will greatly complicate this entire process, and may not be eligible for import.
- The RIV may tell you to make specific modifications when they inspect your vehicle in Canada, but these are to make sure the vehicle is compliant with Canadian regulations, and you should not do these before the RIV inspection.
Steps to Take Before Heading for the Border
Once you know your vehicle is permitted into Canada, you might want to check a few other things to make sure you know what you’re getting into:
- Obtain a proof of recall clearance.
- Estimate how much the process will cost.
- Look over the potential modifications the RIV could require you to make so you can estimate possible additional costs.
- Fill out Form 1.
We’ll go into detail on these topics below. You can use the RIV’s helpful checklist of everything you’ll need to do to import your vehicle to keep track of the process.
Proof of Recall Clearance
You must obtain a “proof of recall clearance” in order to register a vehicle in Canada. This document states that your vehicle has not been deemed unsafe by its manufacturer and that there are no outstanding recalls for this vehicle. You can obtain this clearance in several ways:
- A letter from the manufacturer’s head office in either country. Some manufacturers may charge to provide this letter.
- If you are buying the car from a new or used car dealer, they should provide you with a printed document for your vehicle.
- If the manufacturer has information about their vehicles’ recall status on their website, you can print this out.
- You should absolutely check out the vehicle history using a service such as Carfax before making any purchase. This report will show you the history of the car, including any accidents serious enough to block entry or require additional testing.
We have heard stories from buyers that manufacturers are sometimes unresponsive to requests to provide these types of letters. If you are purchasing the vehicle from a dealer, you may need to push them to make the request on your behalf.
How Much Will it Cost to Import My Vehicle into Canada?
Now comes everybody’s favorite event – paying import taxes. This is pretty tricky stuff, so you should discuss this with RIV and Canadian Customs Officials to make sure you know exactly what you will pay. Here are the different fees and taxes you may face:
- Canadian Registrar of Imported Vehicle Fee. This runs around $300.
- If the vehicle identification number (VIN) starts with a number 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, then it was made in North America, and there is no duty. Otherwise, you will pay a duty of about 6.1%.
- Goods and Services Tax (GST) – 5%
- Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) for your particular province
- If you are entering a border crossing in Quebec, you will pay the Quebec Services Tax (QST).
- If your vehicle has air conditioning, there will be an excise tax of around $100.
- Gas Guzzler or Green Levy Tax – If your car is manufactured after March 19th, 2007, and consumes 13 liters or more per 100 km, it may be subject to an excise tax of $1,000 to $4,000. To find out the fuel consumption rating on your prospective vehicle, check the Natural Resources Canada’s website.
Note: if Canadian Customs suspects something is not right and feel the value of your vehicle should be higher than you declared, they have the discretion to use the Canadian Red book value instead of the amount shown on your bill of sale.
How to Fill Out Form 1 to Import a Vehicle
When you reach Canadian customs, you’re going to be asked to provide Form 1. You can fill it out there, but to save yourself time at the border, fill it out as an E-Form ahead of time. There’s currently no way to submit it online, so you’ll still need to print it out to present it at the border. Fortunately, it’s only 4 pages long.
Insurance and License Plates for Importing Your Vehicle into Canada
Make sure you have valid Canadian car insurance for your vehicle from the moment you make the purchase. Canada requires all car owners to have insurance, and getting it for the trip home will come in handy if there are any mishaps along the way.
Getting insurance for an imported car may be more difficult, and more expensive, than insuring a vehicle originally purchased in Canada. Your first call should be to your current insurance company to see if you can extend your auto insurance to cover your new purchase. Carry your certificate of insurance with you throughout this entire process.
If you are buying a new or used auto from a dealer, you should receive a temporary license plate that is valid in both the U.S. and Canada for one month. If you are buying from a private party, be aware that Canadian Customs may not allow a Canadian resident to drive a car with a U.S. license plates in Canada unless they are satisfied that you intend to license the car in Canada. That shouldn’t be a problem if you are following procedures.
Dealing with U.S. Customs
At least 72 business hours – three business days – prior to your border crossing, you should contact the exact U.S. border crossing station that you’re going to be using. See our pages for each border crossing to get the contact information for the port you are going to use. Before you head to the border, make sure to check on the hours that they accept car imports.
You will need to use the “Automated Export System” (AES) to notify the U.S. of your export. The seller you buy the car from may do this for you, or you may use the self-service online portal or hire an agent (search for “AES filing” and select a provider). Whichever method you choose, ensure that you obtain an “ITN number.”
At the Border
When you reach the U.S. port you contacted, provide them with your ITN number, Form 1, and proof of ownership (certificate of title, proof of sale). They will confirm everything is in order and and then stamp the title. You will then drive on to the Canadian customs office.
Clearing Canadian Customs
When you reach Canadian Customs, you must provide title documents, registration or proof of ownership. You should also give them your filled out Form 1 (if you didn’t fill one out already, they will provide you with one.)
If all is in order, they will stamp this form and let you know how much this will cost. You can pay in person, online, or by mail.
If you show up without the proper documentation, Canadian Customs can fine you up to $500. A second form, cleverly named “Form 2,” will be mailed to your home address in approximately a week.
One note: Make sure to clean your vehicle well before arriving at the border. Soil and other organic material can be a problem if they feel it could harbor disease etc.
What to Do When You Reach Home
When you finally get home, here is what you will do to complete the process:
- Fill out Form 2 when you receive it.
- Take the car, Forms 1 & 2, as well as the “Proof of Recall Clearance” letter, to a RIV certified vehicle inspection center as soon as possible. You can find the nearest center by using the RIV’s website.
- Once the inspection agency has approved your vehicle, they will stamp Form 1. You then have 45 days to complete any additional modifications they specify.
- It’s important that you do not proceed with any modifications to your vehicle until you receive the RIV inspection form that tells you which modifications need to be completed to pass the inspection process.
- Take your stamped forms, and all of your other documentation to the license plate issuing office. You will then pay provincial sales tax to obtain your license plate and sticker, which will be mailed to you in a few days. Make sure you pay your registration fees within no more than 45 days after the date of import to avoid non-compliance notifications to law enforcement.
- Within a few days, you will receive by mail your Canadian Certification Label to affix to the car.
And that’s it. You have successfully imported your vehicle into Canada. Simple, eh?