Sunday, August 31, 2008

Advice - Importing an Auto to Canada from the U.S.

Please note there are differences between importing a vehicle temporarily and permanently into Canada. Eric and I immigrated with Temporary Work Permits so I will be writing about temporary vehicle importation.

There are many agencies that must be contacted to properly import your vehicle. Be familiar with the rules and regulations of all agencies. In many cases one must complete certain tasks before moving on to and completing others. Documents
** take time to obtain. Possible modifications to your auto require appointments and more time. Auto insurance is necessary for registration and obtaining it at the lowest cost requires prior insurance records. There are also several inspections and officially stamped mandatory forms. If you have financed your auto you will need a letter of approval from the lien holder to export your auto out of the U.S.

**Make multiple copies of all documents. In most cases, Canadian agencies will only accept original documents and not copies. However, the same document may need to be given to several agencies so having multiple copies of each is in your best interest. This may seem contradictory. Several times I presented a document only to have it inspected and then returned to me. Other times, the document was taken and not returned. Try to keep your originals.

Websites of Importance:
**A note on both Service Ontario and Service Canada offices. Expect queues in both. Possibly long ones. Service Ontario has both government offices and franchised private offices. If there is any possible way to go directly to the main government office - in my case, Service Ontario on Bay St. and College St. in Toronto - DO IT. Save yourself time and go directly to the mother ship. In my experience with exchanging my California driver's license to that of Ontario, I originally went to one of the smaller franchise offices. They weren't authorized to do license exchanges (not mentioned on the website) and directed me to a second, larger franchise office which informed me that they couldn't confirm the legitimacy of the California license number I had for six years and that I needed to obtain a certified driver's record to complete the license exchange. Driving home frustrated I decided to push my luck and go to the main office of Service Ontario in downtown Toronto hoping their computer software was more up-to-date. It was. They processed my license exchange without any issues.

Importing a U.S. auto into Canada
Canadian customs requires anyone importing a vehicle from the U.S. to show Title. You must also show proof of registration and insurance. Providing proof of Title might be extremely difficult if you've financed your auto. Paying off the remaining loan might be the answer to obtaining this document. You may, however, not wish to pay off the remaining loan - especially if you have 0% financing like we do. Additionally, Canadian Customs requires any lien holder, in this case the finance company, to provide a letter of approval to export the vehicle out of the U.S. Through a customer rep. our finance company, Ford Motor Credit, stated explicitly that auto export approval was not usually granted for periods longer than ninety days. Our approval was eventually granted for the length of our work permits. We also received a Disposition of Title from Ford, a document explaining why Title could not be issued. Both documents were signed on Letterhead and Canadian Customs accepted both and allowed us to import our vehicle.

Your finance company may require certain documents prior to approving your auto export. These may include:
  • Job offer letter
  • Canadian Temporary Work Permit
  • Guarantee of auto insurance coverage
Your U.S. auto insurance should continue to cover your auto for a short period of time once you move to Canada. In my case, that amount of time was approximately twenty days. A SNAFU between my U.S. insurance broker and Ford Motor Credit reduced that time to eleven days. Arrgh

At the Border
Importing your car will be part of declaring your personal goods at the border with the Canadian Border Service Agency (Customs and Immigration). For temporary immigration you will be exempt from paying any fees or taxes.

The customs agent will provide you with a completed/stamped
Vehicle Importation Form 1. This form can be stamped in three separate places. If they do not cross out a section requiring but missing a stamp, make a polite inquiry. One of our stamps was forgotten which caused a wasted trip to Service Ontario and several extra phone calls and an extra visit to Canadian Customs to correct - not to mention a delay in auto registration.

Vehicle title is required to import your vehicle. If you don't own the vehicle outright chances are you won't have the official title. We were able to obtain a "Disposition of Title" letter along with the Vehicle Export Approval Letter from Ford Motor Credit. These along with our California Registration card satisfied Canadian Customs.

Canadian Auto Inspections Required for Registration:
  • Safety Inspection
  • Emissions Inspection (Not required for Gas Electric Hybrid Vehicles)
  • RIV Inspection (not required for Temporary Import) (Done at Canadian Tire)
Auto Insurance
To obtain the lowest insurance premium you will need to provide a history of auto insurance. You should also come prepared with Certified copies of your driving history or driving abstracts. Each state calls them something different and you will need one from the DMV in each state in which you were a licensed driver. Somehow I managed to obtain auto insurance with the lowest premium and the best driver's rating without these documents. I credit my amazing insurance broker. My advice would be to come prepared with all in hand.

Approved Autos and Modifications
Not all U.S. vehicles can be imported legally to Canada. Transport Canada has a list of vehicles acceptable for import. Check it out (HTML).

Many U.S. autos do not have daytime running lights which are mandatory in Canada. Autos temporarily imported are exempt from this
federal requirement. Despite the federal exemption, the Province of Ontario still mandates all imported autos to have activated daytime running lights. This is just one example of a potentially required auto modification. In my experience, each agency is aware of only their own regulations.
Anyone importing a vehicle will need to contact both the RIV and their own Provincial Ministry of Transportation to determine necessary modifications.

Obtaining an Ontario Driver's License
Normally no actual driving or written test is required for U.S. license holders to obtain one from Ontario - simply pay a fee and complete an application for the exchange. A minimum of two years prior driving history is required to receive a Class G (full/no restrictions) Ontario license. Service Ontario will confirm your previous state license information by computer.

Wrapping up Affairs in your Former State
There always seems to be "one more thing to do" in all regards when immigrating across the border. Closure, seemingly achieved on whatever issue, may be short lived when you receive a "notice" stating something dire. This type of thing annoys me greatly because it usually involves something rather easy to do (see below) that isn't mentioned on a website-or mentioned SO deeply on an information tree that no one would ever see it. And chances are few folk need to do it and because you moved to another state/country a computer coughed up your name because it wasn't completed. It is also usually something critical that will land your name on some list in red ink that will affect EVERYTHING and cost you BILLIONS of dollars for years to come. ...OK, I am being inappropriately dramatic. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself revisiting seemingly retired issues when "Official" notices arrive demanding action yesterday.

In our case the notice in question regarded our auto registration and insurance. Two weeks after landing I sent our license plates back to the California DMV with a change of address (to T.O. Canada). Two months later the notice arrived. Apparently I had to prove new insurance AND new registration to the California DMV or be put on some list that surely would complicate obtaining the least expensive insurance and possible registration of my vehicle if I should ever return. I take these kind of things seriously because both my partner and myself have family in the "Eureka" state and one never knows what the future holds.

So, if applicable, make a copy of your new insurance card and your provincial auto registration and send it (along with the license plates?) to your former state DMV.

And then cross your fingers and hope there isn't just "one more thing."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hindsight on the Immigration Process

Eric and I have now been in our Toronto flat twenty plus days. Nearly all of our belongings are unpacked and after weeks/months of complete disruption we have a functional home again. There are hints and glimpses of a new routine emerging. A much healthier diet is being consumed - healthier for me than the one I had in California! I am even exercising regularly! I would like to think that we have caught up on our sleep and are once more breathing properly. There are still a couple of critical tasks to accomplish but most have been completed. The light at the end of the tunnel is becoming very bright.

Though it might not seem so to those we know who watched it transpire, the time frame of our immigration process was incredibly short. There was absolutely no way we could have successfully navigated it without a massive amount of research beforehand. Much of the information gathered was done through the official Government websites of the U.S., Canada and Ontario. A lot more was done off of the blogs of experienced U.S. to Canada immigrants. Their advise was critical in many respects.

It is wonderful to live in the moment. Sometimes it doesn't take a crisis and one is fortunate enough to experience this through "benevolent" acts of their own - yoga, meditation, sports, painting, drawing or any of the arts come to mind. Immigration has been like that for me. Planning, completing the necessary actions, following deadlines - it's been nearly 24/7 for months. I admit I exaggerate a bit - there's been some down time interspersed between the completion of the tasks, applications, documents, forms, phone calls, etc. But there was always to-do and follow-up lists. Additional items were continuously being added to both. And it was all either critical to successful immigration to Canada or it's mere possibility.

Has all this ended? Is the immigration process complete? As I mentioned above and in prior posts - not exactly. We can live and work here legally for two years. We now have to wade through the current Canadian immigration environment to gain permanent residence. If that takes more than two years we can renew our work permits. I'll keep y'all* updated.

Many U.S. to Canada immigration bloggers have pulled information from a variety of sources and included it in their writing. This bevy of knowledge and experience can greatly reduce the work and stress of future US2Canada immigrants. Eric and I now have an intimate familiarity with the temporary work permit, border crossing and post-landing processes. If you are interested in such things, stay tuned and keep reading.

* I am a native New Yorker and have never lived in The South.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thoughts on Our Journey Across the U.S.

Eric and I threw the cat, Caesar, his litter box and crate, several pieces of luggage full of clothes and some camping equipment into the car and drove away from San Francisco on Wednesday, July 23rd. The plan was to visit friends and family on the way to our final destination, our new home, Toronto, Ontario. We broke the trip up into segments, sometimes making stops only to sleep and taking extra time at others to see the sights and visit with friends or family.

We drove from S.F. to Las Vegas on the first leg of the trip. Neither of us had ever been to Vegas and figured if we didn't go there on the way to T.O. we never would. Gambling is not our thing and there are other destinations that interest us more. Still, despite there being casinos in many places all over the U.S., Vegas is unique and we decided not to miss the opportunity to experience it.

Our drive to Vegas began by leaving San Francisco as non-residents. We will, of course, return to visit. We both have family there we care deeply about. And a great group of friends. We may even move back permanently. It's an incredible place and a wonderful area in which to live. It is, though, very odd to close the door to your home knowing you will not re-enter...and then drive away. My brother and nephew hosted us at his house in Berkeley that night for a proper send off. Unfortunately my sister in law was travelling for work. We also stopped at the homes of Eric's brother and sister beforehand to say farewell to them.

The next morning we drove from Berkeley to Las Vegas. We stayed an extra day and spent much of that time at three of the larger casinos; the Bellagio, Caesar's Palace and the MGM Grand. Our hotel allowed pets as did all the accommodations we stayed in. Our cat, Caesar traveled in the car really well, though he did have some help thanks to some great drugs provided by our veterinarian in San Francisco. We also consistently set up a space in the car that we kept identical during every leg of our journey. Caesar became very comfortable, drugs or not, in "his" space right behind the driver and front passenger seats. He had an open crate, lined with a clean towel with space in front and on the side leading to his litter box. We made sure he could lay inside or outside his crate, that he had both food and water during the entire trip and access to his litter box at all times. Caesar is an older kitty, about sixteen - so we were keenly aware to reduce his stress wherever possible.

Las Vegas is a sprawling city in the middle of a desert. It has no business being there. It can only exists because of the electricity produced by the Hoover Dam and the water of the Colorado River. And the city obviously uses a lot of both. Vegas is dry. And hot - like an oven. Unfortunately we were in town at the end of July - the middle of the summer. I am not a big water drinker. I drank a lot of water. During one walk down the strip at about nine thirty at night I realized my eyelids were sticking to my eyeballs. Vegas is hot.

Las Vegas, is, however, amazing for just the reasons it can exist. The city is grand, flashy, and extremely over-the-top. There is never a minute you aren't reminded what keeps the city thriving; money, water, and electricity. The extreme amount of all three flowing into the city is beyond obvious, it is ostentatious.

We spent most of our time at three of the larger casinos; the Bellagio and the MGM Grand and Caesar's Palace. I have only gambled once before in my life. I left that casino, in Connecticut, with significantly more money than when I arrived. I did not have the same amount of luck my second time around. But it took me a day and a half to lose the money gambled, win back that amount and more and then lose almost all of it again. It was fun. I had a good time. I would do it again. We also attended a Cirque du Soleil performance. The scale of the theatre and the production was grand, staged on hydraulic platforms used at one hundred percent vertical as well as horizontal. And the renown athletics of the performers are even more impressive live.

Our next stop was Albuquerque for some sleep. New Mexico was surprisingly beautiful. The landscape was very diverse and I didn't realize how verdant parts of it would be.

Eric lived for several years in Denver so we made our way there to visit for an extra day. We had a very lovely time with Eric's friend, Christina, who hosted us at her house, made us a family dinner with her brother, sister in law and their family and allowed us to thoroughly relax. During our time there we also walked around Denver's downtown pedestrian mall and met up with a large group of friends for a dinner at a local restaurant.

After Denver we traveled through to Omaha, Nebraska only to rest and then on to Chicago. We stayed an extra day in Chicago, got a good nights sleep, toured the downtown loop, went to the top of the Sears tower to the observatory, and visited Boystown and had a couple of drinks. I've been to Chicago twice now and both times really enjoyed it.

Better rested thanks to our stay in Chicago we traveled to Pittsburgh, PA to visit with my mother and Step father. I haven't been to Pittsburgh in years and it was nice to visit with my mother and her husband and to allow her to show off her city a bit to Eric, who had never been before. He also got to add another state to the list of those visited. I believe he has been to most of them.

That was the last stop before ending our journey in Toronto. The last leg seemed the easiest. We had to stop at immigration and customs at the border between New York state and the province of Ontario to declare our "landing" and personal possessions. We were completely prepared and all went very smoothly.

Eric, Caesar the cat, and I successfully crossed the country ending our journey on August 2nd in T.O. - Toronto, Ontario. It was a good trip and I am very glad we made the opportunity happen.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Who Lives in Toronto?

Hello all. Just a short post to declare, "We've Landed!"

Our drive across the U.S. with our cat Caesar is finished. We crossed the border with "flying colours" having no issues with Canadian Immigration or Customs.

Having arrived early evening on Saturday, we've now been in our new flat on Oriole Parkway one full day. Our belongings are currently sitting in a warehouse somewhere on Front St. and we are expecting delivery in a day or so. I would like to sleep in my bed and not in the camping gear we brought along so cross your fingers for us.

Today we explored our new neighbourhood, had a bite to eat, attended the movie, "The Dark Knight" at the local cinema, and introduced ourselves to the grocery shopping at the Dominion up the street.

Happily, we have been exchanging text messages from our friends in San Francisco who are busy with the normal weekend frolic, wondering what our state of affairs are, and missing our company. We miss them, too, despite being pleasantly distracted by our new surroundings.

It's great to finally be here. More posts to follow regarding our trip across the U.S., our new home, and details about our landing as soon as I catch up on some sleep.