How To Import Your Car From Canada to USA

import your car canada to usa

One of the questions I get over and over again on my blog is how to import your car from Canada to USA. There’s not a lot of information online and it’s not super clear on what it is you need to do.

So I thought I would share our experience in case it can be helpful for anyone else trying to do the same thing. I do advise checking the rules of your state for exact info as I am not a professional. Once we imported our car, it was a permanent import.

Here’s what we did…

 

1) Get A Compliance Letter

Does your car meet US safety standards? This is the very first question you need to ask. We drive a 2007 Honda FIT and were advised to call Honda customer service to get a letter stating that our car meets US safety standards. Our car did meet the criteria and we were sent a US compliance letter within one week to our address in the US.

What do you do if your vehicle does not comply with US standards? From my understanding, you will have a hard time importing it. They may even ask you to make modifications through a registered importer that will run you a couple thousand dollars.

In this case, you might be better off selling your car in Canada and leasing when you get to the USA. Which is why I suggest getting the compliance letter as far in advance as possible before your move so you can decide what you want to do with your car.

 

2) Smog Test

Does your state require you to get a smog test? If so, make sure you do this ahead of time before you import your car officially. In California, we did have to do this. So double-check as the rules are different in each state.

 

Route-66

 

3) Import at the BorderΒ 

If you’re immigrating at a ground crossing, you can choose to import your car at the border with your corresponding letter. Make sure you have the title, registration and all paperwork related to your car ready to go. You can also go to the border early and import your car before your big move so it’s taken care of ahead of time.

 

4) Go to a Port

If you choose not to import your car at the border, I believe you have up until a year to import your car. We chose this option and had to go to our closest port for the import process. From Los Angeles, we had to go to Long Beach to fill out some paperwork. Call US customs if you’re not sure where to go.Β 

 

Route-66-Oklahoma

 

5) Pay the Taxes + Duties

You will pay a percentage on the value of your car based on the Kelly Blue Book Price. I think our tax + duties were around $500, less then 10% on our 2007 Honda FIT.

 

6) Insuring Your Car

We also had no problem getting insurance with our Canadian plates. Our insurance was based on our VIN #, not our plates in California. We also used our Canadian insurance for the first few months when we arrived here. So I would advise you call your Canadian company to see what kind of coverage they will provide you in the US. Then, be very clear with your US insurance person that you have Canadian plates – and see if there is an issue with that in your state.

 

 

If you’re looking for more information or experience from other expats that have tried to import their car from Canada to the USA, you can check out the comments in this threadΒ on tips for moving from Canada to the USA.Β Good luck!

 

What was your experience in importing your car from Canada to the USA?

 

  • Vishnu G

    Very useful information. DMV website is not clear on if you are bringing your car from other country. Thanks for posting such detail information

  • BrendonBrown

    Immigrants importing a car do not have to pay duties.

    • Omid Fazeli

      Hello Brendon, I had a same question, I am still paying lease of my car and I am moving to the states by green card. what happen to insurance? can I stop Canadian insurance and switch to the states insurance? Thanks

      • BrendonBrown

        I don’t believe you can “import” a leased car per se, since it is the owner who has to conduct the import. My Canadian insurance is still covering my car 4 months in. Talk with your provider and get their consent to cover you in writing and you should be fine.

  • Patricia Jean Thomas

    Doesanyone know if there are complications with importing a car that has yet to be paid off through a loan? Does it have to be fully owned or can you continue to pay your loan after importing?

    • BrendonBrown

      No problems importing while repaying a loan. I just did it two days ago.

      • Patricia Jean Thomas

        Thanks!!!

      • Maggie M

        Hi Brendon, do you require any documentation from the Auto Loan company? . thanks

        • BrendonBrown

          No, you do not.

        • BrendonBrown

          None whatsoever.

      • jwrober

        Have you registered the car with a State DMV ? I wonder if that is where problems might arise.

      • Mehdi

        Thanks Lisa for all the valuable info! Brendon, i will take my car also with me to US in few weeks, I’m still paying the loan, called the bank and they informed me i can’t import my car in the US if it’s not fully paid! any advice please?

        • BrendonBrown

          Is your car leased or bought with a loan? If you own the car, the bank cannot prevent your import process, and you do not need the bank’s permission for this.

          • Mehdi

            Thanks Brendon, the car is bought with a loan, when i called the bank to inform them of my plans to move to us and take my car with me they said i cannot do that unless i pay whats left on the loan, otherwise i have no proof that i own the car and cant start the import process… may be they are just trying to push me to pay th erest of loan before leaving?

          • BrendonBrown

            They are not being forthright with you. When you buy your car it is YOUR car. You may have borrowed money for it, but it is yours, so you can do what you will with that ownership. The bank would have a hard time if you defaulted on that loan while in another country, so that is why they are being misleading.

          • Mehdi

            Makes sense, thanks for the clarification! I will go forward with the import process, I will update in few weeks with the result.

          • Briggs

            Be very careful. I did the move and my vehicle was purchased with a loan via BMO and I was not allowed to import the vehicle without the loan being paid off. You may not run into any problems at the border, but when you go to register it, they can deny you. I called my loan provider and the initial clerk I spoke to told me it was ok, but then I got transferred to the auto loan department and was told, no I could not import it. It is technically the bank’s vehicle. I took out a personal loan to pay off the car which solved that problem.

          • Mehdi

            Thanks Briggs, I will go and try, maybe its different from state to state(moving to Ohio btw). But definitely good to know and personal loan will be a good solution if I face the same problem.

          • Asad

            Hi Mehdi, were you able to import the car to OH. do you mind sharing your experience? I moved to OH last week but havent imported the car.

          • Mehdi

            Hey Asad, I still didn’t move, Will be there in around 2 weeks from now, I will definitely let you know once I have an update.

          • asad

            Hi Mehdi, any update on the car import?

          • Mehdi

            Hey Asad, sorry for the delay, I just moved few days ago.

            Well, good news so far, I am here with a TN visa(work permit for Canadians) the agent at the border told me that I can import my car, but also I can keep the canadian plates as I’m on a temporary work visa.

            So I decided to keep my canadians plates(and pay nothing)! And I will book a local car insurance next weeks.

            So far no problems with the loan neither the plates.

            Please let me know if you have any other questions.

          • asad

            so you don’t have to register the car in OH? That might be a requirement for insurance. Which forms specifically did you take it to the border?

          • Mehdi

            Yes correct! I don’t have to register the car, and for the insurance it can be done based on the VIN.
            I had only my visa and my insurance plus plates registration. nothing else. The whole process took less than 25 minutes at the border

          • asad

            ok interesting. So you didn’t fill any DOT or EPA form. What did they give you as a proof that car is imported? was this at Port Erie?

          • Mehdi

            I didn’t fill any of those, and they gave me no proof. As I said, I’m on a work visa so they said I don’t have to import my car if I don’t want to.. as I can go back to canada at anytime during my 3 years visa(that’s how they see things I believe) I entered at Buffalo border.

  • Justin L

    Hi Lisa, I love your post as I am moving from Toronto to Los Angeles and figuring out how to transport my car to California. I was wondering if you used a shipping company and can recommend one? Also I’d like to know if you have any more info about the long beach port? My email is timeleejustin@gmail.com , thanks!

    • I drove my stuff down. But you can look into getting a pod and having it shipped down. From Toronto to LA you are looking at $3500 and the pod is not very big. I don’t have too much more info about the Long Beach port – I recommend just calling them first.

      • DAwu

        Hi Lisa, I’m planning to import my car from Canada to L.A. too. Just asking do you have any problem getting the CA license plate? Is it easy?

        • I didn’t have a problem getting a CA license plate, but from what I remember I think you need to import it first before you get CA plates.

  • nirmesh patel

    I am moving to California from Canada on TN visa. Planning to drive my car to SFO in 3 weeks time. My car is fairly new ( i.e 2014) and would like to keep it. Anyone know if I will be exempted from import duties/taxex if I enter usa on TN visa ??

    • I’m not sure if you would be exempt – call the port of entry office in Buffalo and see what they think. We had to pay it and we entered on an L1/L2 visa.

      • Briggs

        Depends on the make. I entered on a TN visa as well. If it’s made in North America, it’s part of the NAFTA agreement and there’s no duty. It depends on the VIN#. I think if it starts with a number, there’s no duty or taxes. I have a Toyota and didn’t have to pay anything.

    • I looked back at the post and we did pay a percentage on the value of our car based on the Kelly Blue Book Price. I think our tax + duties were around $500, less then 10% on our 2007 Honda FIT. But of course, that was on the L1/L2 visa – so you might be ok. If they do charge you, it would probably be something similar to this.

  • Sunny66

    Hey there everyone! I have just moved to CA from Toronto as well and my car has been my personal nightmare.

    I drive a 2013 Veloster and it CANNOT be imported because it does not have TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system). My compliance letter clearly states it does not meet US requirements. This became a law in the US for all cars built after 2009 and therefore since it is not a mandatory item in Canada, my car fails. πŸ™

    If your car is a model year before 2009, you should be fine, if after 2009 you will want to make sure you have TPMS on it.
    Therefore, technically it is not imported yet and it has Ontario plates. I cannot get new CA plates until I can prove it has officially been imported.

    Note, I agree with Lisa, it would have been better if I sold it in Canada and leased/bought in US, however, no one would lease to me or give me a car loan without US credit. It is a bit of a catch 22.

    I have 1 year to get it modified (must be by original manufacturer) or I have to abandon it here in the US or return it to Canada to be sold. The plan is find a Hyundai dealership here who will modify it (they have the parts, Canada didn’t) or I will be going home next summer for a vacation and selling my car there.
    So my delay of making a decision of a year is giving me time to build up US credit so I can buy or lease a car with a loan before I have to return my car to Canada (if I cannot get it modified down here).
    Just some food for thought and some insights into legislation for newer cars.

    • Cesar

      Hi . Do you know if it is possible to get the TPMS in US? . I have a Hyundai Sonata 2015, Im moving to Florida in a month and my car doesn’t have that either so I dont know if I could get that fixed in US.
      .

      • Sunny66

        Well, logically I would think so. However, I have not had any success yet. I do believe they require it to be installed by OEM (ie: Hyundai) but I was so stressed on everything else, I put this on the back burner. The Hyundai dealerships down here were not able to get me an answer before I brought my car down, but now that it is here, I need to take it in and ask for them to install it. I am just not sure what it will take. πŸ™
        Sorry I cannot be more helpful. My saga is still not at its end.

        • Pablo83

          Hey Sunny66, I’m pretty much in the same shoes now: I’m moving to California and I need to figure out what to do with my car. I think you are royally screwed with your car as you cannot drive it California with canadian plates! One year in US in general but states have different rules and in California you have 20 days to put on local plates if you are resident or working in the state. If you google for “out of state car in California” you’ll see an info page where anybody in california can report out-of-state car and where it was seen.

          In my case I’m stuck with a different problem: I have a lease (1000$/month) and I cannot put California plates on a car leased in Canada. At the same time I cannot transfer this lease because less than 12-months remains on the lease.

    • Hey Sunny, sorry to hear about all the hassle you’ve been going through. I read on another forum that if you have a bank account with TD and open a US bank account with them here (virtually), you should be able use your Canadian credit and get a car loan through them. Hope that helps!

  • NotUrEnemy

    Hey, does anyone know if there are any restrictions on selling or trading your car down the road after you’ve gone through the proper importing. I’m looking to get a new truck and the car i imported a few years ago has lots of life and i’d like to get some value for it before i get a new truck. thanks

    • I think it’s definitely possible. Call a dealership for your truck in the USA and see if they would accept it for resale or if it being from Canada and having KMs instead of miles is a big deal for them.

  • epgomez

    My car was driven from Toronto to LA. I called Long Beach port and they were not nice. They told me I have to drive back to buffalo and clear the car there which is ridiculous.

    • BrendonBrown

      Ridiculous, because imports is their job.

    • I think they are misinformed – we did ours at Long Beach.

      • epgomez

        You’re lucky. I might give them a call again. They asked me why I didn’t clear at customs in buffalo New York in the first place. I called customs in buffalo and they were nice. They told me I can call Long Beach and it’s their job to clear my car. So funny.

        • Ugh. Sometimes you just get a totally grumpy person and it sucks. Paul showed up in Long Beach and they processed him in 15 minutes. We didn’t clear it in Buffalo either because we had up to a year to do so. Hope it all works out for you soon!

  • Abigail Jade

    Hi did you get a compliance letter from US Honda? Or the compliance letter from Honda Canada sufficient? Thanks

    • From Canada Honda – they were the only people who give us a letter and it worked great!

      • Jeff Suds

        I just called Canada Honda to do the same thing and they told me I would have to do it through USA Honda…

        • Let me know if USA Honda was able to give you a letter. I’m pretty sure we had to get ours from Honda Canada.

  • Omid Fazeli

    Thank you for sharing the info! Does it matter the car is leased ? I am moving from Vancouver Canada to LA CA. I have a 2014 BMW and I prefer to import it instead of lease take over. Thank you.

    • BrendonBrown

      I don’t think you can legally import a leased car as it is not technically your car.

  • Jeff Suds

    Hi Lisa. I am also moving to California from Canada! You mentioned you stayed with your Canadian Insurance provider for a few months initially (I’m assuming there were some increased premiums associated with that – I might have to do the same). In switching to US car insurance, what was required and in what order? Did you have to have a US license and registration before acquiring US insurance?

    Thanks for your help. Your blog post is super informative!

    Jeff

    • I’m not sure, but I don’t think we paid more on our Canadian premiums when our car was first with us in the states.

      I believe when we switched to US car insurance we were told that they would insure the VIN – it did not matter that we did not have us registration or license. HOWEVER, when my other friend came down to Cali – her US insurance provider would not insure here without US registration and license. So double-check with your new provider. I think certain companies are different, also I’m not sure if we had a mis-informed rep.

      Also to note – double-check how much liability covers you for. Geico will give you a super low monthly rate but only give you $50K in liability if someone sues you etc. Which isn’t a lot of money. Look into getting personal umbrella insurance for liability – it can cover you for up to $2 million and hopefully you’ll never need it.

      • Jeff Suds

        Thanks a ton Lisa. Your blog and your responses have been super helpful! Do you have any posts related to your trip down to the California? I’m thinking of following a large portion of Route 66 and would love any of your suggestions!

      • Jeff Suds

        Also – if you don’t mind me asking – which US auto insurance company did you end up going with?

  • cvlegacy

    Hi Lisa,

    I just imported my vehicle today in the US on a TN visa and was told I’m only allowed to import it for a year and then it has to be exported after that year even if my visa is for 3 years and there are no exceptions or extensions. Have you looked into this and know if there’s something I can do about it?

    Thanks πŸ™‚

    • I’ve actually never heard of that before! Did they tell you why it had to be exported? Did it not meet compliance in the US?

      • cvlegacy

        It meets compliance.The customs lady told me I could only have it here for one year and it had to be exported at the end of that year. I’m completely at a loss. I need my vehicle to travel to and from work. I emailed CBP to shed some light on this news. I don’t understand the reasoning behind taking someones means of transportation away considering they need it to work on the Visa they are here for haha I’ll let you know what they say back to me though πŸ™‚

        • I honestly have never heard of that! Can you call a different customs or import department or even a different port to get another opinion? I feel like this lady may have given your wrong info – especially since she didn’t exactly give you a reason for why it needs to be exported.

          • jwrober

            You (or she) may have used code ‘0’ on the EPA import form which allows temporary workers to import to the US for a period of up to 1 year. There are other codes that might be more applicable to your situation and that allow it to remain.

          • Yingh He

            Hi Lisa,
            I just wondering how to clear the custom. Just bring the documents(registration, compliance letter, KBB value report, EPA form 3520, DOT form HS-7) and went to a port? Anything else?
            Thanks
            Henry

          • cvlegacy

            Yeah. I looked into it more. It’s very vague on the website and says non-residents can only import up to a year. but I found the guidelines and regulations and it states that as long as its a US identical vehicle. which it is. It was made in the US. Anyone can import it indefinitely. They weren’t very pleasant to me when I went to formally import my vehicle and they used code “0” instead of EE. No clue still how to get this changed as anyone i’ve tried contacting I haven’t gotten responses from and the number to call cuts you off and wont let you speak to a person haha but legally I have a right to have it here. It was a US made vehicle. I could even sell it here if I wanted. There’s no expiration date on my import documents or place where it states when I would have to export it so I’m not sure how that would be enforced but I’d like to find out sooner rather than later so I can get that changed haha

  • Yingh He

    Hi Lisa,
    I drove my vehicle to US several months ago, but didn’t clear the custom at that time. I am just wondering how to clear the custom. Just bring the documents(registration, compliance letter, KBB value report, EPA form 3520, DOT form HS-7) and went to a port? Anything else?
    Thanks
    Henry

    • Yes bring all of that and see what they say. If you are missing anything, they will send you back. The lineup at Long Beach was pretty short – it is NOTHING like the special place that is the DMV πŸ˜‰

      • Yingh He

        Thanks, Lisa. I live in Houston. I will find a nearest port and have a try.

  • Great process of this insights from you. I like your post.

  • Nina

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for all the info.

    I’m moving to the US for a few years, but may move back to Canada after.

    Does anyone know if we you can take a car back to Canada after importing it to the US? Do you have to pay a fee again to “import” it back to Canada?

    Thanks!

    • I’m not sure about this one – best to call the Canadian import side to see if they can help you.

  • ladyhawk

    I have read that Toyota is one of the manufacturers that do NOT give compliance letters. What do I do now? I have a 2009 Toyota Tacoma pick-up truck.

    • Call Toyota customer service to confirm – then you’ll know for sure. It’s strange that they wouldn’t!

  • Chris Fantini

    Hey all, just thought I’d share my experience so far. I just moved to Orlando on an L1A work permit. I own a 2015 Subaru Impreza which surprisingly does not conform with FMVSS (TPMS). I tried to import it temporarily at the Emerson Border Crossing. I had everything I could possibly need: The Declaration form from the CBP website, proof of title and registration. The Emerson guard did not know his stuff and insisted that I could not import the car because of the FMVSS non compliance, even though I showed him the specific clause in the declaration that allowed it. Since I was crossing the border, I did not want to argue too strongly and potentially have other problems. I have an email into CBP currently because I don’t want to drive an hour + to Port Canaveral without knowing if they will import it there.

    I really wish I could keep my car but looks as if I’ll be driving back to Winnipeg in a year to sell it. I am in the same boat as another here… I would have just sold it in Canada but don’t have the US credit yet to get a good car here.

  • Emilee

    Did you have to make an appt at long beach or just went over? do you also remember where to go, like the address, number etc. I have tried searching and have come up with nothing.

    • I think we just went over. I don’t remember too much about the address, but I believe it was the Long Beach Port Authority?!?