Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

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chonapocaNew Member
Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Jun 03, 2009 4:27 pm

Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

Post Wed Jun 03, 2009 4:38 pm


I need some advice and help. I married an American and just got my visa to move there so in a few weeks I will be moving to Michigan but I need help on our car situation. I am leasing a car but planning on buying it when my lease is up in less then 2 years. Can I bring my car over and keep my canadian licence plate or do I have to pay duty, change my plates etc.? Is there a website I can go to to read up on this?

Sleepy_HermitNew Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Jun 04, 2009 12:34 am
Location: Yakima, Washington, USA

Re: Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

Post Thu Jun 04, 2009 2:09 am

First, any warranty you may have, usually, will be invalidated after crossing the border.

Second, states require you to register your car within a certain amount of time, and you can be fined if you don't. As well, it makes "importing" your car to register it later a little more tricky.

Third, Canadian plates, as far as I know, equal insurance, so if you insurer won't insure your plate (as SGI wouldn't for me) after said time after moving, you run the rick of driving uninsured, as you cannot get US insurance without US plates and a valid US license. The price of driving uninsured is a hefty one.

Fourth, mention to CBP when coming down NAFTA, its magic allows you to import one car duty free to the United States for personal use.

Now, to import your car truly, you have to satisfy both forms HS-7 and 3520-1. HS-7 is a form of the agency NHTSA and 3520-1 is of the EPA.

I shall explain in another post the ways you can import your car legally into the US permanently in a following post, so that I don't mess up and have to type it out all-over again, as unfortunately, I'm not allowed to post links yet. . .

-- Thu Jun 04, 2009 2:27 am --

Here are the ways you can qualify to import your vehicle permanently under form HS-7:

1) If your vehicle is 25 years or older, claim code 1.

2) If your vehicle has a sticker certifying it as in compliance with FMVSS (federal motor vehicle safety standards) for the applicable model year under the hood or in the door jam, claim code 2A.

3) If your vehicle has a sticker or seal stating it as in compliance with CMVSS (canadian motor vehicle safety standards) in the door jam or under the hood, you must get a letter of compliance from your vehicle's manufacturer stating on company letterhead that it was "made to comply with all CMVSS at time of manufacture and complies with all applicable FMVSS except. . . (FMVSS standards listed after) and that it is not a salvage or reconstructed motor vehicle" then you may import it for personal use only, claim code 2B.

4) If all has failed, you must contact an RI (registered importer) to test and modify your vehicle into compliance. VIP Traders of Airway Heights, WA cost me $650 just to make a contract with them, so be prepared to fork out lots of money if going this way. They will furnish the customs bond, get a customs broker, test your vehicle, modify it, and then issue you a sticker stating it complies with all FMVSS for your door jam. If you go this route, and have a contract with an RI, claim code 3.

Here are the methods of importing your car with the EPA now on form 3520-1:

1) If your vehicle has a US EPA emission control label in the engine compartment, claim code B.

2) If your vehicle is on the EPA's list of approved identical Canadian models (I'll send you the list through PM, if I can, and other info.) and you have registration, claim code EE if intended for personal use, or FF if intended to sell.

3) If all has failed so far, and your visa is an immigrant one (K-1 and K-3 aren't as they are non-immigrant with immigrant intent), and you have proof the vehicle was manufactured for sale in Canada (registration, letter from manufacturer, etc), claim code M.

4) If you're still unlucky, you must now contact an ICI (independent commercial importer) to import your vehicle. At least, they run $1000, and are few and far in-between across the US, and to make matters worse, half listed on the EPA's list no longer do ICI work. A good one is Wallace Enviromental Testing Laboratories in Houston, TX though, as the lady is nice, and they are also an RI, so saves tons of hassle, as no cross-country driving for testing and modifications. The ICI will prepare your customs forms, get a broker, test, and modify your vehicle in much the same way as an RI.

I shall post pointers, as well as notes, and about my experience next post.

-- Thu Jun 04, 2009 2:40 am --


-You MUST qualify on both form HS-7 and 3520-1 to import your car.

-Code M on form 3520-1 can be a pain to claim, as some CBP officers will dispute that your car need not appear on the EPA's list of approved vehicles to qualify. You will find a lot of misunderstanding in the laws at CBP in regards to vehicle imports, except at busy ports like Blaine, WA. Port of Raymond, Port of Sweetgrass, Port of Portal, are just some places where the laws are heavily misunderstood.

-You DO NOT have to pay duty, under NAFTA, for your first import.

- Ask yourself, does my car have a catalytic converter, seatbelts, dual-airbags, three stop lights, and are my instruments the same as the American model before even beginning to consider importing your car. The costs of modifying your vehicle to comply can be outrageous. Canada does not require airbags, so your car may not have airbags. On the other hand, the US doesn't require daytime running lights, funny, huh?

- Once imported DO NOT LOSE THE FORM CBP GIVES YOU, as this form is the key to registering your vehicle in said state, and you cannot get a copy of it. Use the form, your registration, and whatever else to register it.

- As noted, you may still have to do some emissions testing and safety inspections depending on what county or state you will be residing in. (I got lucky in Yakima County, no tests.) In Washington State they also have an odometer check that must be done by the State Patrol. Check ahead with your future DMV or DOL to see what you need!

Good luck in Michigan!

As well, correct me if I'm wrong anyone. :)
JR_VANCanuckAbroad Regular
Posts: 34
Joined: Thu Apr 30, 2009 10:52 am

Re: Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

Post Fri Jun 05, 2009 2:37 pm

Talk to the company you are leasing the car from, maybe they will let you buy it from them before your lease is up. Sometimes all you have to do is ask nicely. Once you own it you can import it for free to the US as a new immigrant.
demsysNew Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jun 12, 2009 5:44 pm

Re: Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

Post Sat Jun 13, 2009 6:40 am

Hi There, We bought a condo in Vegas, and will be spending several months (2-3) each year there, we are Canadian
Citizens, semi retired. My question is would it be simpler to use our canadian vehicle, canadian license,plates and insurance? Or could we purchase a vehicle there, insure it there? Also would we be able to use our canadian drivers license? Possibly a international one?
Ideally we would like to purchase a vehicle there.and leave it there .
Thanks for any help you guys can provide
shaulCanuckAbroad Regular
Posts: 30
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2009 11:06 pm

Re: Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

Post Mon Jul 13, 2009 12:40 pm

Can anybody explain me... after we relocate and bring cars from Toronto to California, will our Ontario plates still on the cars? can we keep Ontario insurance for time being 9for example 1 month after moving to California?)

Re: Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

Post Mon Jul 13, 2009 4:10 pm

check with your insurance provider in Ontario before you leave, if they will cover you for any time after you move. If they have offices in California, then you can probably just transfer your policy.

As for registering and licensing the car in California, you will have to import it to the US (see above posts) and go to a California DMV in order to get the car licensed, as well as yourself. I believ California is one of the hold out states that will just take your Canadin driver's license and give you a California license without a road test. You may have to do the "written" test though. Google "California DMV" for relocation info.
shaulCanuckAbroad Regular
Posts: 30
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2009 11:06 pm

Re: Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

Post Thu Jul 16, 2009 1:11 pm

I understand that I need SSN to register Canadian car in California.

However, One car on my wife name (who will have SSN, she has L1 visa) and 2nd on mine (I won't have SSN for at least 90 days until i get L2)
rachel62103New Member
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2009 10:16 pm

Re: Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

Post Sat Jul 25, 2009 7:36 pm

I'm a Canadian in Nashville and was wondering the same thing about bringing my car to the states. My car is my own and has been paid off. Do the previous replies apply to my situation as well? Thanks!
cscdnNew Member
Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Aug 05, 2009 8:15 pm

Re: Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

Post Wed Aug 05, 2009 9:47 pm


I'm moving to the US on a TN visa and would like to import my Canadian car into the US. While there is a lot of information on the US vehicle import formalities (including the info in this thread), I have not found any information on Canadian export regulations. Is it because there are no required Canadian export formalities for cars? US seems to have car export formalities when importing a car into Canada, doesn't Canada require something similar in the opposite direction?

Thanks for any info.

Re: Bringing a Canadian Car over to the USA

Post Thu Aug 06, 2009 3:35 pm

Not unless you still owe money on it. The lien holder may not let you export it.

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