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."

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