Friday, January 21, 2011

How to import a car into Canada

Canadian border photo courtesy of scazon on flickr under creative commons

When we decided to move to Canada we heard all sorts of things about how hard it was to import a vehicle into Canada and that we would be charged all kinds of duty, but we did our research and it was not difficult at all. It cost us $635.00 in fees, new auto tags, and modifications to import our car. It is a multi-step process, but if you know what you are doing it should be simple.

I’m also going to give you tips on how you might save on auto insurance and homeowner’s/renter’s insurance after you move to Canada.

Below are some of the things we learned, but we are not experts at importing cars, so please double check to make sure that any of this information also pertains to your situation.

Here is the website we used for all our information. RIV = Registrar of Imported Vehicles.

Whether or not you are charged duty on a car you import to Canada depends on;

a. Whether you are a new immigrant, ie: an American immigrating to Canada for the first time, or

b. Whether you are a returning Canadian citizen or former Canadian resident. If you are a returning Canadian citizen or resident, even if you lived in Canada many years ago, you may be charged duty if the value of your car exceeds $10,000. Canadian immigration authorities will check the Canadian red book value of your car. If you are a returning Canadian resident, and the value of your car is less than $10,000 you should not be charged any duty.

Basically, if you have never lived in Canada before, you can import your car duty free (regardless of value) as a new immigrant.

In our situation, my husband was a new immigrant from the US, whereas I am a Canadian citizen returning to Canada. Because I am a returning Canadian, any car title with my name on it made the car I imported subject to duty if its value exceeded $10,000. We had a tense moment as the customs agent looked through the Canadian red book to see what our car was worth, otherwise I may have been charged duty. Fortunately, the value of our car was listed as less than $10,000. so we were not charged any duty.

Here is a step by step account of what we did to import our car.

Before you move to Canada

1. Open a folder to keep all your car import paperwork in. If you are organized it should all go smoothly.

2. You must check with RIV that your vehicle is not prohibited for importation into Canada. They have a list of vehicles that you cannot import.

3. You need to get a recall clearance letter from your car manufacturer that the vehicle is not subject to any recalls. This has to be dated within a certain number of days before your arrival in Canada. You can fax or e-mail this to RIV. Here is the RIV site containing the instructions

4. You must pay off all the liens on your car. You cannot import the car into Canada without the car title, and you cannot get the car title from the lender without paying off the lien. This makes it nearly impossible to import a leased vehicle.

5. If you have a car warranty, it may not be recognised by Canadian dealers. Check with a Canadian dealer whether they will recognise a US warranty.

6. Very Important......You will need to export the car from the US before you can import it into Canada. Find the US crossing point that you will be using from the RIV website. Contact the US Customs and Border Protection authorities at that port and ask them what they will need from you, and ask for instructions where they want you to go when you arrive at their facility to complete the export of your car. Pay close attention to everything they say, as they can be vague in their instructions. Get their fax number.

7. At least 72 hours before (we did this a week before) the crossing you will need to fax a copy of your car title to the US authorities at your port of exit. It is highly recommended to have proof that this has been received by the US authorities. What we did was to have our fax machine print a report that we had sent a fax to the number of the US authorities. Keep a copy of this report with your car export paperwork in case you need it when you arrive to export. 

You don’t need any of the following items to import your car into Canada, but we found them very helpful once we arrived in Canada.

Tip 1: Get a copy of your driving abstract from your state. This shows your driving history. You don’t need it to import your car, but if you have a good driving history it could make your car insurance in Ontario a little lower, and may be helpful when you get your Ontario driving licence.

Tip 2: Contact your auto insurer in the US to get a letter of your auto insurance history showing any claims. We had no claims on our insurance and as a result our auto insurance premium in Ontario was lower because of this.

Tip 3: Next get a copy of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance if you have a history of no claims. It should make homeowner’s/renter’s insurance premiums a little lower.

On the day of your move to Canada

1. Remember ... You will need to export the car from the US side first. Go to the address you have sent your car paperwork to. Note: It should be a quick process to have your car title stamped, but it’s Homeland Security and they can be difficult. That’s why it’s very important to do all the steps correctly. The US authorities will check the car and stamp the car title “export” with a date. Do not skip this step, because the Canadian authorities will not allow you to import the car into Canada without this stamp on the car title.

2. Now you are free to cross the border into Canada. Yay!

3. When you arrive at the Canadian Border you will be sent to a secondary area to show the stamped car title to the Customs and Immigration Agent. If you fit the above category of new immigrant, or the car is valued at less than $10,000, no duty should be payable (but check your own situation to confirm).

4. Next is the RIV fee which is on their website. We paid $195.00 plus HST which came to approx. $220.00. We had the option to pay this at the border or pay it later. We chose to pay at the border because the customs agent knew what paperwork to fill out and she went over it with us to make sure it was filled out correctly. They will take credit cards for this payment.

After you arrive in Canada

The RIV website tells you how long you have before you need to make the modifications to your car. I think it’s 60 days, but I’m not certain. We made the modifications to our car within a couple of weeks of entry.

First, we took our RIV paperwork that we received in the mail (at our new address in Canada) to Canadian Tire and let them do the modifications. After the modifications were done, Canadian Tire sent the paperwork to RIV.

Here is what Canadian Tire did:

Install daytime running lights for$170.00; safety inspection test for $85.00; emission test for $35.00. Total: $290.00. Add the RIV fee of $220.00 makes a total of $510.00 so far.

Second, we took our Florida driving licence and abstract showing our driving history and went to get our Ontario driving license, cost $75.00 each. The driving history will show all your years of driving which can be added on to your driving history here. Important: You must get your driver license first because you need your driver licence to get car insurance and you need car insurance to get auto registration. Check where you need to go if you have never had an Ontario driving licence (or whatever province or territory you move to), since new licences may be issued only at certain offices. We turned in our Florida driving licence.

Third, we went to purchase auto insurance, so we went to an auto insurer and took (1) our new (temporary – until photo licence arrives in mail) Ontario driving licence, (2) driving abstract showing our driving history, and (3) letter from present insurance company with our driving history showing no claims so we could get a lower rate.

You need the car insurance to get the auto licence tag.

Fourth, we went to get a new Ontario auto licence tag at a Driver and Vehicle Licensing office. We took our old Florida title, new auto insurance, and RIV paperwork. The Florida title was kept by the clerk, and a new Ontario title and tag was registered, good for 2 years. Cost $125.00. Add to $510.00 totals $635.00.

Fifth, a few weeks later we received paperwork from RIV stating that everything that we needed to do to import the car had been done. RIV also sends a decal with instructions on where to attach it in your car. I filed this paperwork with our car paperwork.

And that is all you have to do!

Downsides to importing a car into Canada.

What I have noticed. As our car was imported from the US, the speedometer is in miles. It has kilometers, but they are smaller than the miles. This means when you are driving you have to look very closely to see what speed you are going. We’re used to it now, but having a car in kilometers would be easier on the eyes.

I know there are a lot of steps, I think I have detailed them correctly but please double check the RIV site to make sure in your case. It was worth it for us to import our car because it was only 3 years old and we didn’t want to buy a car as soon as we moved to Canada.

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