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A Quick Guide To Importing A Car From Canada To The USA

If you’re an avid Canadian traveler who often weighs the benefits of car rentals versus car ownership in the United States, it will eventually make sense to just have a private vehicle licensed south of the border. Whether you’re exhausted from making the same lengthy drives over and over again, or simply just want a personal car waiting for you as soon as your airplane lands, bringing a Canadian car to the US permanently might be your best option.

Before you start making any arrangements, read this guide to learn about some of the important legal and financial effects that are involved in the process.




What To Consider Before You Begin

As always, our blog platform aims to provide you with an easy-to-understand general overview of topics so you can stay adequately informed. In order to get the most relevant up to date and detailed information on this subject, it’s best to look over the government-mandated US Customs and Border vehicle importing requirements from the national website. If you decide to move forward with vehicle importing, be aware that this is generally regarded as an arduous process – fully licensing a Canadian car in the US is not easy or fast.

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How To Proceed With Customs

Once you reach the Canada/US border, make sure to notify customs and border patrol of your intentions at the start, especially if you’re planning on registering the car in the United States for more than one year. Failure to disclose this information right away can set you back quite a bit in the process, further delaying your registration results. By showing the customs officer any relevant supporting documents (vehicle and licensing registration, valid driver license, proof of safety, etc) you can receive border approval which you can show to the registration board down the road.

Keep in mind that you might have to pay duties on the vehicle upon exporting, although typically any car manufactured in either Canada or Mexico can dodge the tax.


Get Your Car Safety Approved

Being able to pass safety and emissions standards is one of the first things you need to ensure when importing a car from Canada to USA. Virtually every single car that gets registered under the United States must comply with the national Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). If you’re going to be bringing a Canadian car to the US, you’ll have to submit both a certified DOT HS-7 and an EPA 3520-1 form for approval.


DOT stands for the US Department of Transportation, and this form represents the overall driveable condition of your vehicle to make sure it’s safe on the road. As a rule of thumb, if your car is already deemed road safe it should have a FMVSS sticker somewhere on the car body, in most cases it can be found under the hood or inside one of the doors. Having one of these stickers can make the safety approval part of the process much shorter.

Hint: if you notice that the sticker on your car says “CMVSS” instead of FMVSS, it means that it complies with Canadian motor vehicle safety standards. However, because there are virtually no differences between the two countries in terms of vehicle safety regulations, all you need to do is acquire a letter from your vehicle’s manufacturer that declares the car is also FMVSS compatible.



This form pertains to car exhaust control in regards to emission compliance. Similar to the FMVSS/CMVSS sticker which deals with road safety, you should be able to locate a sticker on your car that says it has a functioning emission control system. Once again, if your vehicle only features a Canadian-safe label, you may contact your manufacturer to state whether or not it complies with American regulations as well. If your car’s not up to standards in either emissions or driveability, it may not be worth trying to import it to the US.


Consider a United States Driver License

To cover all your bases and be completely safe while driving through the United States you may wish to acquire a registered license south of the border. As it currently stands, the rules surrounding Canadian driver’s licenses can vary state to state and always changing. If you don’t see the act of getting a US driver’s license as a hindrance, it’s probably best just to go ahead and sign up for one. You’ll need to provide personal identification documents along with your current driver’s license to get one, in addition to a recurring annual fee so the license doesn’t expire.


Sign Up For Car Insurance

No matter how you choose to go about the vehicle exporting process, acquiring car insurance in the United States is mandatory. As soon as you transfer over your Canadian vehicle’s registration south of the border, your current insurance plan is void. In other words, you’d have to seek out a new automobile insurance provider in the US; make sure to let them know if you’re a snowbird, since it likely means you won’t be driving the car for certain parts of the year.


Complete Your Registration

A legitimate registration process involves getting a detailed inspection on the vehicle before the final paperwork can be signed. If you’ve taken the necessary precautions and are aware of what’s required, there is no need to worry. The last steps will involve getting a proper odometer check and a thorough look-over on your car’s documentation. Once approved, all that’s left to do is pay a one-time charge for your United States license plates.





The bottom line is that importing a car from Canada to USA is not a simple task, and you need a great deal of determination to follow through with it. At the end of the day, if you value convenience over cost then it might make sense to purchase a pre-approved US vehicle instead (assuming you’re avoiding car rental services). By just getting a new car once you cross the border, you can dodge all the hassle involved in the importing process.

Now that you have an idea on how to sort your vehicle needs in the United States, check out our article on the best snowbird locations south of the border to turn your trip from good to great.


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By Alex | June 19, 2020 | Guides | 0 comments