What you need to know to import a car into Canada


Sep 25, 2014

By John Weight

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What you need to know to import a car into Canada

It's often worth the time and patience required to import car to Canada for one (often both) of two main reasons. The first is of course, if you are a car enthusiast and find a gem that you simply must have. The most common reason actually concerns current high-end cars. Selling prices in the States are often so much lower than anything available to us here that it's worth the time and effort to import a car into Canada, on a purely financial level.

This article discusses cars but applies to pretty much anything that moves on wheels, be it a truck, motorcycle, RV or anything else.

Disclaimer: This article is NOT to be considered as a complete / comprehensive guide. It focuses mainly on US imports and even then, only serves to illustrate the research and due diligence that using W2C can spare you. So before you throw the checkbook in your suitcase and buy a plane ticket, take a few minutes to learn about the details and expenses that lie ahead before you import car to Canada.

It's alarming how often people find themselves literally stranded at the border, leaving their new car on US or Canadian Customs premises (subject to storage charges, naturally). The unfortunate importer must find alternate transportation home, sort out the issue(s), then return and pay the incurred storage fees before they can bring the car into Canada. Do your homework, put in the hours and make sure your ‘t's are crossed and ‘i's dotted. This is why W2C is in business. We ensure that importing a car into Canada is the cool and exciting adventure it should be.

Details fall under three main categories, with enough sub-categories to give you an idea of the steps required to import car to Canada.

  1. Country of export
    1. State-specific export requirements
    2. Vehicle / purchase documentation
    3. Customs
    4. Recalls
  2. Canadian requirements
    1. Federal
    2. Provincial
    3. Vehicle inspection
    4. Expenses
  3. Finally, the FUN part: Method used to import car to Canada
    1. Simple drive-away or the ‘fly & buy‘
    2. Trailer it
    3. Vehicle carrier services

Country of Export

Most Canadians live close to the US border so logically, most of our imports come from the U.S. For information on importing from overseas, call W2C and we'll fill you in. Requirements vary by state so consult the appropriate DMV website and fill-out / print any required online forms.

The ‘release package' to be presented to US customs consists of:

  • State-specific forms, as mentioned above
  • Title / registration
  • A properly formatted bill of sale, listing the VIN, purchase price, the buyer and seller, all properly signed and dated
  • Transport Canada Authorized Release Certificate – Form One
In many cases, an electronic export declaration must be prepared via the AES website

The release package must be received by US customs at your intended port of crossing, 72 hours in advance of the time the car is to leave the US. If you naively show-up at the border with paperwork in-hand, grab a hotel. If there are any missing, incomplete or incorrect forms, things can quickly become much, much worse.

Canadian Requirements

Step 1 is to make sure the car is even eligible to be imported into Canada. Many European and Asian cars do not meet certain Canadian standards and cannot be modified to be compliant. Just visit www.riv.ca and fill-in their online questionnaire.

You must now gather all required documentation to satisfy the Canada Border Services Agency (CSBA), Transport Canada, the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV), your local license bureau and in some cases, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The RIV generally requires a declaration from the manufacturer, certifying that the car has had all recalls performed. EG, if you're importing a Honda, you'll need to contact Honda of America to validate that your car has indeed had all recalls performed and have the proof sent to you.

Back home, the most typically encountered expenses are:

  • CSBA will collect 6.1% duty on the either the declared purchase price or estimated value of the car. Cars being imported from the US are exempt from this duty, thanks to NAFTA.
  • If the car is equipped with A/C, a $100 excise tax will be collected.
  • Luxury cars may be subject to a ‘special levy tax', depending on fuel consumption.
  • Cars under 15 years old are subject to an RIV fee of $310.
  • Depending on a number of obscure factors including the location the car came from, the CFIA may need to inspect the car and if deemed necessary, a thorough / involved steam cleaning may be required.
  • Provincial taxes will be collected by your local license bureau.
  • You must pay for a mechanical & safety inspection by a province-approved vehicle inspection station.
  • Depending on your home province, the car may need to be E-tested.
  • Daytime Running Lamps are mandatory in Canada, unless the car is very old.
  • The instrument cluster may need to be modified or changed, to display in kilometers.

Transporting the car to Canada

There's nothing like a good road trip, especially when there's an exciting new car waiting for you at your destination! If the car is in the northern United States and only a few hours away, it can be as simple as driving down with a companion and returning home with both vehicles (if the state in question allows drive-aways). Before leaving, make sure you have a temporary ‘transit' license sticker and proof of insurance. If not, a practical solution is to trailer the car back to Canada.

The further south one goes, the more ‘fly & buy' becomes an appealing option. Fly-down, complete the purchase and drive home. W2C makes the fly & buy the great, fun adventure it should be. If you want to DIY, check state regulations concerning drive-aways, as this impacts your available options.

If either option above is practical, there are numerous, highly specialized car transportation services. This greatly increases the cost of importing so this is at your discretion / budget. All professional carriers use customs brokers because they know what's at stake at the border.


A motivated and detail-oriented person armed with a lot of patience can navigate the maze of requirements but beware: a single mistake on some obscure form can cause nightmares when you reach the border. The simplest and safest option is of course to use a customs broker. It's what we do. Contact W2C today and we'll be happy to help make it a pleasant experience, to be fondly remembered.

About the author

author picture

John Weight

Customs Management Specialist

John is our senior consultant with more than 40 years of experience in the industry. A licensed and certified customs broker and a certified customs specialist, he has an extensive knowledge of all aspects of import and export regulations.

John is our go-to guy when trying to navigate the complex world of trade compliance. When it comes to customs compliance audits, saving money on import duties or any other Customs issues, John is the one you want on your side.