Driving Across the Border in a Rented Car
Generally speaking, both American and Canadian citizens can cross the border into either country in a rental car without much problem. However, there are things you need to prepare for, as customs agents are always on the lookout for people trying to import a vehicle without paying taxes, so they pay special attention when you are driving a vehicle that is not yours.
The basic question the customs officer is trying to determine is whether you are bringing the vehicle across “temporarily” or permanently. If the agent is not confident the rental is coming back across the border relatively soon, they may decide you are importing the vehicle. You will then be subject to duties, taxes, and all of the country’s vehicle safety laws. If they catch you lying about your intent, they will likely seize the vehicle start talking about jail time and large fines.
The trickiest situations arise when you fly across the border, rent a car, and then drive back to your country of origin. This will always raise questions with customs agents so you need to have your paperwork and justification in good order.
General Rules and Tips for Driving a Rental Car Across the U.S. / Canada Border
Below are general items that apply any time you are going to take a rented vehicle across the U.S. / Canada border in either direction.
- You must let the rental company know you are going to take their car out of the country, and they must confirm it is ok. Not all companies will allow cross border travel, and in fact, there may be different rules between different rental locations for the same company. You will be violating your renter’s agreement if you cross without their approval, and all kinds of very expensive problems will come up if you get a ticket or have an accident. In addition, U.S. Customs actually requires that the rental company has given their consent for the car to leave the country, so it had better be in the rental agreement.
- Auto Insurance: Most auto insurance will cover you in both countries, but you must confirm this with your provider. You must always carry your usual insurance card, but you may need to get an insurance card for the country you are visiting as well. Your carrier should provide this at no charge. If you take out the rental agency’s insurance, they should issue you a non-resident insurance card, which must be kept in the rental vehicle.
- Make sure you understand how the mileage rates will work when converting between metric and U.S. standard measurements.
- Keep in mind that rental agencies are never responsible for legal fees, fines or tickets. You may see additional penalties or fees if they end up being assessed against the vehicle.
- Make sure you have all the normal required documentation for a border crossing, such as passports and driver’s license. If you are driving a rental car and have other basic documentation issues, you are just asking for a secondary inspection.
Americans Driving a Rented Vehicle into Canada
American or other foreign citizens should have no problem bringing a rented vehicle into Canada. Questions will arise, however, if you are a dual U.S. / Canadian citizen or have a permanent residence in the country. In that case, you will be questioned much more closely to determine your intent with the vehicle.
Make sure to confirm whether you need a Canadian Non-Resident Insurance Card.
Canadians Driving a U.S. Rental into Canada
Canadians can drive a U.S. rental car across the border into Canada without paying GST, HST, or Green Levy taxes if they meet all of the following requirements:
- You have been out of Canada for more than 48 hours
- The vehicle is for non-commercial use
- You return the vehicle to the U.S. in no more than 30 days
This is useful if a Canadian tourist flies into the U.S. and then decides to drive back home to Canada.
Canadians Driving a Rental After Less than a 48 hour U.S. Stay
If a Canadian resident wants to drive a foreign rental back into Canada but they have not been outside Canada for at least 48 hours, there will be a partial levy of GST/HST taxes. The GST/HST will be computed based on an amount intended to approximate the average cost of a weekly rental of the same type of vehicle in Canada. These rental estimates will generally be as follows:
- $200 / week for cars
- $300 / week for pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans
- $1,000 / week for recreational vehicles, such as motor homes
The tax will be computed on these amounts, so you will pay a tax of somewhere in the neighborhood of $24 for cars, $36 for trucks, etc.