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 will ask you to make modifications through a registered importer that will run you a couple thousand dollars.
The biggest pain in the ass that I’ve heard from other expats is the Tire Pressure Monitoring System. Your car needs to have this installed to meet US safety standards in order for it to be imported. Many cars in Canada do not have TPMS installed and expats have been quoted upwards of $5000+ for this modification and this is possibly not worth your money or time.
Additionally, it does have to be done by the original manufacturer and people have mentioned they’ve had a hard time finding someone who can do it for them in Canada. Have you had TPMS installed into your Canadian car in order to import it? Can you tell us more about it in the comments to help your fellow Canadians out?
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.
Start by calling your car maker brand in Canada to get your EPA compliance letter and they will likely direct you from there for next steps to get your US safety standards approval letter.
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.
I think we paid around $40 for this test and it took 20 minutes tops. My only advice is to do the test FIRST before you go to the DMV. They will need the approved smog test before they can process your registration, otherwise you’re looking at TWO trips to the DMV and waiting in that line twice! It’s the worst – trust me.
3) Import at the Border
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. I think you have a year to import your car.
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.
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. Keep your receipt as you can either expense it through work or ask your accountant if you can expense this under your moving expenses if you are moving for a job.
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 to 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.
Geico gave us our lowest price. Progressive was super helpful too and we had a good experience with them. Costco has a good insurance program too and I think they throw in roadside assistance.
As Canadians, you need to be aware that your liability coverage is really low on these plans – usually around $100K. Which is also why the premiums are so cheap. With the cost of health care in this country, $100K probably wouldn’t even cover medical bills if you were in a really bad accident.
You might want to consider purchasing a separate Umbrella Liability Insurance to cover you for up to $2 million in case anyone ever tries to sue you – because they can do that here in the USA. It’s something to think about.
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 thread and read my post on tips for moving from Canada to the USA.
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What was your experience in importing your car from Canada to the USA?