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Importing a Car to Canada

Here's an excellent post from Hecuter on how he went about importing a BMW to Canada from the USA. With the slumping American dollar this process could save you 10% from buying in Canada.

For all those interested in bringing your dream car into the Great White North, this is for you. I'm still in the process, but I'm nearing the final steps, so I thought I'd share what I learned here with everyone else. What follows is a walkthrough on all the steps you need to take to get your baby back home.

Numbers You'll Need:

Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV)
Phone: 1-888-848-8240
Fax: 416-626-0366
Mon-Fri 7:00am - 12:00am EST
Sat-Sun 7:00am - 5:00pm EST

Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA)
Phone: 1-800-461-9999
Outside Canada: (506) 636-5064

Transport Canada
Phone: 1-800-333-0371
Outside Canada: (613) 998-8616/2524
Fax: (613) 998-4831

Lynden Border Crossing (The one I chose to go through, Choose the one closest to you)
Phone: (360) 354-2183
Fax: (360) 354-2706

BMW Canada
Phone: 1-800-567-2691
Fax: 905-428-5410
8:30am - 8:00pm EST

Assuming you've found the car you like, have gotten someone in the area to check it out, and, if you're super organized, gotten a local mechanic to inspect it, you're ready to begin the import process. This actually took a lot longer than I expected, and it's full of red-tape and fees.

What to Do Before You Do Anything:

Make sure the car is legally allowed into Canada. Several cars, for various reasons, are banned flat out. Don't make the mistake of buying a car not able to cross the border. There's a list of acceptable vehicles here:

The 15 Year Rule:

If the car is more than 15 years old, determined from the month and year of the build date (found on a sticker on the d. side door paneling), it is exempt from all RIV regulations. 6 months more on my car and I wouldn't have to deal with any of this, but it's important to note, because it makes importing older cars a lot easier. (See post later in thread for more details)

For the sake of convenience, let's assume you love the car, everything checks out, and you’re ready to buy it. I took the path of flying down, then driving it back up, so I'll go from there.

Documents Needed:

You'll need your seller to provide you with the following documents to keep on hand:

1. The Vehicle Title (You can do with just a faxed copy before the actual transfer of title takes place)

2. A Bill of purchase. Just a piece of paper stating “I, Seller, am selling this Vehicle to X for $XXX on the date of X. The VIN # is XXX”. Have both parties sign the bottom with printed names underneath.

3. A copy of the registration. More on this later.

Once you have these documents, you'll need to fax them to whatever border crossing you're passing through a full 72 hours in advance. The clock starts the next morning after you fax them, and they don't count Saturdays and Sundays. So assuming you send them in Monday, the clock starts Tuesday and the earliest you can pass through that crossing is Friday. Also note that At some locations, NO IMPORTING IS ALLOWED ON THE WEEKENDS! This almost ruined my trip, so keep that in mind.

After you fax the documents in, get your plane ticket/transportation/travel papers in order. If you're planning on going on a one way flight, or driving down, make sure you're holding on to that list of documents, as they'll want proof when they question you. If you're shipping it through an auto transporter, now is the time to book it.

An aside on Auto Transporters:
Many of the companies I called wouldn't actually cross the border themselves, so you may end up having it shipped to the edge of the country, and having to go down and do the final crossing yourself. Also, you may find it's more cost-efficient if you do the driving. I went from SoCal to Washington, and I received quotes averaging about $1200 USD. My plane ticket was $300 last minute, and gas was only about $100. It was a 3 day trip, so accommodations didn't add up to much either. You also get the thrill of learning about your car over a cross-country trip.

If you chose to drive it back up yourself, you're going to need insurance. Go into your local insurance broker and ask for a "Binder of Insurance". This covers you so long as you go from your origin to your destination via the most direct route. There's some wiggle room, but once you get closer to home you can't blast around the canyons the rest of the day. You'll need to provide the VIN and plate # of the car when you're getting insured. This BoI isn't enough on it's own though. It's only valid if it's riding on a registered vehicle with plates. So if the seller has registration on the car, you'll be driving on his or her plates and registration until you reach your destination. When you meet with the seller, you'll need to get him to sign a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form at the DMV. This means that if you crash, it's not going on the seller's insurance.

If the car has no registration or plates, you'll need to go to the nearest DMV and get some. Registration is easy - it comes in the form of a One Trip Permit which lets you leave the country without having to go through emissions testing or any of the other hoops, and it's much cheaper than full registration. You can apply for temporary plates in the same way. Seeing as this is the DMV, be prepared for a long wait. It's best to set half a day to this.

All the insurance agencies I talked to covered their asses saying I had to call all the DoTs for states I was traveling through to make sure the insurance was valid. After a million infuriating automated messaging systems and left messages, the short answer is yes, it's valid.

So you've got the car, faxed the border documents, gotten your insurance, and now you're ready to cross the border.

At the US Border:

Step into the office and produce the original title, bill of sale, and registration. They'll inspect the car and check the VIN, then stamp your registration, and you're off to home turf.

At the Canadian Border:

Produce the same documents again, along with your Driver's license, and they'll hand you Form 1. This is really important, so don't lose it. They'll charge you $195 for giving you this form, 7% of the car's value for GST, and 6% for duty. You'll pay provincial sales tax when you get insurance (6% in BC). To give you an idea of perspective, I paid $6600 USD for my car, and at the border, paid $972. All these funds are non-refundable. Once you cross the border, you now have 45 days to get it inspected and registered, otherwise it's sent back to whence it came. And you're out all those border fees. So don't do this. It's unlikely though, because they give you an automatic 10 day extension, and if you call a week or two before deadline, you can get more time. So if you haven't gotten it inspected in 2 months, get off your ass you lazy bastard.

Once You've Gotten It Back Home:

Now you have to bring in into a Canadian Tire to get it officially inspected. There are two inspections you need to go through - An Out of Province inspection (OOP), and a Federal Out-Of-Country Inspection. You get the form for the OOPI at your local insurance brokers, or if in doubt, your provincial insurance agency should have it. Both deal with the general safety of your car; The OOCI checks to make sure the car is road-legal throughout Canada, and the OOPI checks your vehicle against provincial regulations. You can tow your car to the shop, but you can also get special 1 - 3 day temporary operating permits designed especially for this case. They average around $30 - $80 a day depending on the level of coverage and the value of your car. I wouldn't trust Canadian Tire to empty my ashtray, but unfortunately they've got the government contract. There's also a few local shops that should be licensed to do it, call the RIV to find one in your area. Some, not all, of the thing's they'll look for:

Metric Speedometer, DOT approved Windshield, Windows, Light bulbs (Take out those Angel Eyes!), child safety restraint harnesses, working seat belts, Catalytic converter present, high mounted stop light, neutral switch, acceptable window tint (35% in BC), and daytime running lights. They'll make sure the car is in good working order and nothing could be danger on the road. If you have any motor swaps or large conversions like I did, they will need a receipt for the work done. Anything they categorize as a "Major Modification" needs to be accompanied by a receipt showing the shop who did the job and the parts that were installed. So if you're looking at buying an S52 swapped car, make sure you get the paperwork too!

**As far as the daytime running lights go, you can buy a kit at BMW for $307, but Canadian Tire sells one for $27 that does the same thing. In this case the extra money for OEM parts isn't justified. All the DRL do is turn on the headlights when you switch the ignition.**

If you pass the inspection, they'll stamp your Form 1 and in about a week a new "Canadian Certified" sticker will be mailed to you to stick on your car.

Then you'll need to get a "Recall Clearance Letter" from BMW Canada. This is letter basically saying the car you have is free from all outstanding recalls in Canada. It MUST have the following: Manufacturer's Logo, official letterhead, the signature of the official with his name and position, and the VIN #. Every other car company does this for free, but, seeing as it's a bimmer, BMW now charges $500 for it. Nothing you can do about it either.

The Last Step:

You've jumped through all the hoops, now comes the final stretch. Bring all your papers to your provincial insurance broker to get your new registration, plates, and insurance. You'll also be paying your provincial sales tax now. Shove the important documents in your sagging glovebox, keep the rest in a file back home, and you're good to go.


Anonymous said…
Thanks Frantic Scratch.
Your advice was quite right however I did run into one huge problem... seems my insurance Co did not want to issue any insurance until I got the DMV Trip Permit, and the DMV was not willng to issue the permit until I had documented insurance. In the end, I got the Insurance co to send a "liability card" to protect me from liability but not from damage or theft of my car! Very frustrating being in the DMV negotiating with both parties. Not sure what to do in the future, but the dmv wanted very specific documentation including my mane and address, the ins co and broker, the details of the car vin model make... on company letterhead ( my email confirmation was not enough). beware. This was a vintage 1964 vehicle with no proir registration. This was NY to Ontario, but imagine it is the same elsewhere. Good news, on vintage vehicles I only paid duty and no charge for the Form 1. Will pay PST I'm sure for Ontario registration. m

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