mports are a large part of Canada’s economy, with more than CAD$ 54.7 billion worth of goods imported into the country in November 2021. And in 2020, Canada imported cars worth CAD$ 21.8 billion. With the great deals on vehicles in the United States and abroad, it’s no wonder Canadians are purchasing and importing cars from across the border.
Importing a vehicle into Canada is a straightforward process; however, there are a few steps that you will have to take and documents you will need to gather before bringing your vehicles into the country. In this guide, we’ll walk you through importing vehicles. We’ll answer some common questions about importing vehicles into Canada and then describe the 8-step process you’ll need to follow.
Can I import a vehicle from a country other than the United States?
If your vehicle was not manufactured for sale in the U.S., it’s unlikely that it will be certified for use in Canada. Most vehicles manufactured for sale in countries other than the United States cannot be imported into Canada because they do not comply with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act requirements.
That said, there are specific conditions under which vehicles can be imported from a small number of non-U.S. countries, mostly for personal use. Bringing your vehicle from another country may require modifications and include additional duties, taxes or fees that need to be paid before you get your car released from Canada Customs and register it.
Are there inadmissible vehicles to Canada?
Yes, some vehicles cannot be imported into Canada. According to Canada’s Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV), a vehicle is inadmissible if the manufacturer advises Transport Canada that it does not meet Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) nor can it be modified to do so.
Generally speaking, you can’t import a vehicle that has not been certified to meet Canadian safety standards. Vehicles older than 15 years can be imported without meeting these standards, but they must pass a visual inspection at the border. You also can’t import a vehicle that has been involved in an insurance write-off accident or declared to be “salvage” in the United States.
What if you have your heart set on an American car that doesn’t comply with Canadian regulations?
You can look for a similar model that does, or you could apply for a National Safety Mark (NSM). The latter is essentially an exemption from Canadian safety regulations, and it may be granted by Transport Canada if there’s no Canadian equivalent of the vehicle you want to import. In this case, you would be required to modify the vehicle to meet Canadian standards.
What’s the difference between regulated and non-regulated vehicles?
Regulated vehicles are manufactured within the last 15 years, and all light-duty trucks, including vans, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans. These vehicles must meet Transport Canada’s Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS). The prescribed (or regulated) classes of vehicles under the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations are:
- Passenger cars (including limousines and hearses)
- Multi-purpose passenger vehicles (including vans, sport utility vehicles, motorhomes)
- Trucks (including chassis cabs and service trucks)
- Buses (including school buses)
- Low-speed vehicles
- Motorcycles, open, enclosed, motor tricycles, and limited speed motorcycles
- Restricted-use vehicles (all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, utility-terrain vehicles commonly known as “side by side”, dune buggies and other similar off-road vehicles)
- Trailers, including utility, cargo, with mounted equipment, horse, boat, travel trailer, car dolly, etc.
- Trailer converter dollies
- Three-wheeled vehicles
Non-regulated vehicles are not regulated for importation by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. They include:
- Vehicles 15 years old or older (except buses) according to their manufacture date
- Buses manufactured before January 1, 1971
- Vehicles brought in temporarily by visitors, foreign students, or foreign workers
- Vehicles designed strictly for off-road use, such as farm tractors and construction equipment
- Utility terrain vehicles (UTVs), commonly referred to as side-by-side’s, manufactured prior to February 4, 2021 (those manufactured on or after that date are now regulated)
- Competition vehicles designed only for closed course competitions, with the necessary labels or paperwork
- Off-road restricted-use vehicles (dirt bikes, ATVs, and side-by-sides) of any age unable to exceed a speed of 32 km/h (or 20 mph)
- Conventional pedal bicycles with a motor assist (electric or gas) of any age unable to exceed a speed of 32 km/h (or 20 mph)
The 8 Steps for Importing a Vehicle into Canada
Step 1: Determine whether your vehicle is eligible for importation
The first thing to do is determine whether your vehicle is eligible for importation. The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) website provides an admissibility checklist to determine if your car is eligible for import into Canada. It also provides a list of vehicles that cannot be imported or are subject to additional safety requirements.
Step 2: Obtain an AES/ITN
When importing a vehicle from the United States into Canada, you need to obtain an Automated Export System (AES) Internal Transaction Number (ITN). This number is issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and confirms that your vehicle’s shipment has been reported to the U.S. government as an export.
Step 3: Ensure that your vehicle meets all safety requirements
Your vehicle must comply with Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) and all applicable U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). CMVSS is established and regulated by Transport Canada, while the CBSA regulates FMVSS compliance documentation issued by the CBP.
Canada shares safety standards with the U.S., so if the vehicle is built to North American standards, it will most likely be compliant with Canadian safety requirements. If, however, your vehicle fails inspection at the border, you will need to take it to an approved shop in the United States for modification before re-entering Canada.
Step 4: Meet all other government agency requirements
In addition to meeting the admissibility requirements of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Transport Canada, imported vehicles must meet other Canadian emission and safety standards. These are set forth and regulated by other government agencies such as Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and Global Affairs Canada.
You should also check with your provincial or territorial government to see if it requires any additional modifications so that the vehicle can be registered and insured in that jurisdiction. For example, in Ontario, vehicles must comply with the Vehicle Equipment, Safety and Inspection Regulation defined by The Highway Traffic Act (HTA).
CBSA ensures that import controls imposed by these agencies are enforced. Your customs broker can help you identify and meet the requirements of the CBSA, other government agencies, and your provincial government.
Step 5: Complete your AES Filing with U.S. Customs
When you are importing a vehicle from the U.S., regardless of whether the car will be driven back into the country or shipped by rail or truck, you will be required to file an AES filing before you can import it into Canada. Here are some things to keep in mind about AES Filings:
- You will have to complete an Automated Export System (AES) filing at least 72 hours before exporting your vehicle
- The vehicle must be in the U.S. when the filing is made and can’t be in transit
- Documents required for an AES Filing include proof of ownership, purchase invoice, bill of lading, and insurance information
Step 6: Prepare your import documentation
Next, it’s time to prepare your documentation and submit them to CBSA. The documents you’ll require to import a vehicle into Canada are:
- Bill of Sale
- Original Certificate of Title
- Last copy of registration (for used vehicles)
- USMCA/CUSMA Certificate of Origin (if applicable)
- Letter of Gifting with Letter of Appraisal (if applicable)
- Form 1 – Submitted to RIV
- Form 2 – Received in the mail and required for inspection purposes
- Salvage Certificate (if applicable)
If you’re importing your vehicle from the United States, you must also submit Recall Clearance documents. These are issued by the car manufacturer and confirm there are no outstanding recalls on the vehicle and the correction of any defects that may make it unsafe for its driver, passengers, and the public. The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) will only release your vehicle’s inspection form after confirming that there are no outstanding recalls.
We recommend that you file your documentation a few days before you plan to import the vehicle into Canada. This will allow the agent who reviews your documentation enough time to contact you if they need more information or if there are any issues with your paperwork.
Step 7: Get ready for an inspection
Transport Canada requires an inspection of imported vehicles to ensure compliance with Canadian safety and emissions standards. Whether they’re new or used, built in North America or elsewhere, all vehicles must pass the inspection before they can be registered and driven on Canadian roads.
The inspection can be done through an authorized RIV inspection center at the border when the vehicle enters Canada. If your vehicle fails the inspection, it must be exported again or sent to an approved Canadian facility for modifications and re-inspection. Under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, certain vehicles must undergo additional inspections or tests before being registered in Canada.
Step 8: Pay the required duties and taxes
Some taxes and duties will need to be paid on your imported vehicle, in addition to registration fees and insurance. You’ll also be required to pay GST and HST (depending on your province of entry) for the full amount listed on the bill of sale.
The value of your vehicle is used to determine the import taxes and duties that you must pay. This value includes the cost of the vehicle, plus the cost of shipping and any duties or taxes already paid on it. Moreover, the type and amount of duty and taxes you’ll pay depends on whether your vehicle is new or used and where it was made.
It’s important to note that if you’re importing a car that has been purchased with no warranty, then the value would be lower than if you were importing a brand-new car that came with a warranty.
Once you’ve imported your vehicle into Canada, you must register it and obtain a license plate within 45 days.
There are countless reasons you might want to import a vehicle into Canada. You may want to purchase a car or truck that’s not available for sale in Canada. Or you may want to import a used car because of its better resale value. Whatever your reason, the process of importing a vehicle from another country can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t need to be. At Breeze Customs, our sister customs brokerage, we will make your vehicle importation process as fast and easy. Book a meeting with your very own Breeze Customs Concierge to get started today.