So you’ve found a car you like from the US and want to import it to Canada? Should you do it? is it worth it? what do you do?
I recently purchased a car from the US and decided to do a writeup so I can share my experience with others in hopes you will have a smooth and pleasant importing experience as I did.
Im sure you’ve heard of the usual excuses “it’s big hassle” and “it’s a daunting task” let me tell you first hand that it isnt as bad as it sounds or may seem. This was my first time and It certainly didn’t deter me from wanting to do this again.
I’ll go through everything from finding a vehicle all the way to putting BC plates on your “new” vehicle.
Before I begin though I must put up a disclaimer
I am in no way responsible for anything that happens on your journey to export a vehicle, I am merely providing you with a summary of my experience with bringing a vehicle from the US to Canada. I encourage everyone to do their own research, contact the right people to confirm and figure things out on their own regarding this process. I hold no responsibility with your dealings during/before or after your experience.
1. Finding the right vehicle.
Im going to guess that by coming across my writeup you’ve already come across a vehicle you have your mind set on. If not, good luck!
Even when you have narrowed down your choice to a specific model it still takes time to find the RIGHT vehicle. I put a bit of emphasis on “right” because you want to find the best condition car that is both cosmetically and mechanically sound for the right price. Throughout my buying experience I have noticed that a vehicle that is well kept generally is priced higher than the rest. As the saying goes “you get what you pay for” but just don’t be a sucker! Sure there will be some who throw their cars for sale with a high price hoping that someone bites, those people are fishin’. You can easily filter these people out by calling them or emailing to see how they respond. If they are enthusiast they will know their car inside and out and wont be afraid to chat you up. These type of people hold a very strong bond and pride to their cars and generally know the market value so therefore, at best their pricing will only be fair. I would recommend buying from an enthusiast if you can over just some random Joe. You wouldn’t date or marry someone without at least knowing them for a short period of time right? same with a car! how you can find out is during your first conversation with the seller ask if they are part of any forums or part of any clubs. They will most likely tell you if they have nothing to hide. If you’re also really into a specific vehicle you are likely to be a member of a club even before you buy the car. So what you do is casually ask for their nickname on the club ie” hey im on there too, whats your name?” boom! you have just done the best thing you can do in-terms of digging up details about the buyer and the car. How ? well, come on, we live in a digital world ruled by the internet. use it towards your advantage. Go on the forum and search that name you have just accuired and filter through all the vehicle related stuff, if the car had any problems it’s very likely the person went on the site as his/her first instinctive action. Yes, you are stalking the vehicle you are about to purchase, its not that wrong. Also, by reading the forum post by the owner you get an idea of who this person is, this is also important because is he the person who tries to cut corners when doing repairs? does this person use quality parts or buys the cheapest ones? the owner will really reflect how the car was treated too. Keep that in mind. Go on, stalk away!
2. Preparations and pickup
I’m not going to get into negotiations because..well i’m probably not the best. Just make sure you are paying a price you can afford and what it’s worth to you.
Now, lets move on to planning your trip! I looked as far as Arizona to find my car. If you’re from Vancouver like me don’t let a bit of distance separate you from the car of your dreams. Set out a max distance you are willing to travel to pickup your vehicle. Or you could always ship a vehicle. Personally, I like to see the vehicle before saying yes. Some people aren’t as picky and trust photos and inspections which is also fine. its whatever you’re most comfortable with!
First things first go to WWW.RIV.CA and check to make sure the vehicle you are interested in is in the admissible list on RIV’s website. If its not admissible you’re SOL.
The second most important thing is you’ll need to make sure the seller has is the title of ownership. I can’t stress enough how important this is, without one you wont be able to get very far.
what if the vehicle has a lien and the owner doesn’t have the title in hand? No problem, read on and I will tell you all about it.
The title is important because you will need it to export the vehicle, US customs is very specific and wont accept an affidavit or other hand written agreements in lieu of the title. you also want the title to verify the VIN matches the VIN plates on the vehicle (VIN is a Vehicle Identification Number it should be a 16 digit number that tells you everything about vehicle. There should be 2 VIN plates on a vehicle 1 on the top of the dash and one on the inside of the driver side door) Ask your seller to take photos of the VIN plates and get a photocopy/scan of the title so you know the car is registered correctly.
Your next step is to get a vehicle inspection done, you can ask your seller to drive a car to a reputable dealer or service center. I prefer to go with the seller at the time of purchase so you can see under the car and ask questions when the tech goes over the car. A pre-purchase inspection or PPI usually runs you about $100-120 dollars. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind knowing you did your due diligence. It also wouldn’t hurt to do a compression test if you’re buying a car that you think could have been driven hard ie: a sports car.
Another good thing about an inspection is if anything is found that is passable to you but adds depreciation to the car you can re-negotiate the price. At this point the seller should be pretty committed and wont likely back out for another few hundred dollars off the selling price
Before you pack your bags, you better pack some papers. By papers I mean print out a checklist from RIV.ca, print out any directions for locations you need to visit. Print out the ad for your vehicle, print out any emails you may have had with the seller regarding price. You might be asked to provide these during the import process. You don’t have to but if you have nothing to hide, it will only make your time easier in the customs office.
next you’ll need to fax a copy of the title (doesnt matter if its not under your name) to the US customs you will also need to submit a export worksheet along with your title which you can get by emailing email@example.com They require that any self propelled vehicle being imported give 72 hours notice prior to export or they will turn you right around, and you’ll be stuck finding a storage facility. If for any reason you need a storage garage near the border may I suggest you go to http://peacearch-storage.com/ I dealt with them and Cathy was just wonderful to deal with. They have good rates and their facility is very clean and secure
Now, if the vehicle has a lien you might say to yourself you’re hooped! at-least that’s what I said to myself when I had to give up on a potential buy. I did a bit of research after that experience and found out you can actually obtain what is called a quick title from a department of transportation auditors office. This is an over the counter title which means its INSTANT! You just need to provide the following documents
1) an affidavit in lieu of title from the bank/credit union
2) a release of interest from the seller
3) a bill of sale
4) an odometer disclosure
all of the paperwork can be obtained at the DMV office at the time of the sale.
keep in mind the auditors office is only open Mon-Fri 8:30am – 3:00pm
so plan ahead for that if you need it. It will also cost you roughly $15.00
If you do need to fly out, first find a good friend, partner, spouse or sibling and ask them to go on a trip with you. If they ask where, just say “dont worry about it, somewhere fun!” The first airline I would check out is http://www.allegiantair.com they have dirt cheap flights out to a lot of major states in the US. You can fly to many of those destinations for under $100 one way. You just drive out to the airport in Bellingham and park your car there. They charge something like 10 dollars a day for parking.
Now make a trip out of it and have some fun!
3. Crossing the US and Canadian border
When driving your car back, you cant just go straight to the Canadian border. You will first need to make a visit to the US customs office and stop by the vehicle export Kiosk. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE GIVEN 72HR notice!! which means if you submitted Monday your earliest export day would be Thursday. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm your export date, they are good and usually respond quickly from my experience.
They will then stamp your title! very important you get this stamp!
Now you’re all clear on the US side! congratulations!
Drive on over to the Canadian Border, this is where all your printed documents about price and the ad come in handy. Depending on who you get and their mood they may or may not hassle you. I’ve heard of bad experiences where people were fined for lying about the price. I myself had a pretty smooth experience. They will fill out a form 1 which is the import paper work. Once you get that, you will be required to pay 6.1% duties if your vehicle is manufactured outside of Canada or the United States. Then a 5% gst has to be paid on top. The 5% tax is after they add the 6.1% on your purchase price. so ie: if your car is $10,000 they will tax you 5% on $10,610 not $10,000. There will also be a $100 AC tax if your car has air conditioning.
Once you have paid for your fees and taxes you will need to pay the RIV import fee of roughly $218.00. You can either pay this at their office or pay it online at http://www.riv.ca
once that has been paid you will need to call the manufacturer of the car to obtain a recall clearance letter. This is to ensure your vehicle has no outstanding safety recalls. You can do this prior to your purchase even. its up to you. Subaru was really good and they work very quickly, they emailed mine to me almost instantly. Im not sure about other manufacturers, I heard BMW actually charges you $500 for the recall letter! in that case you could try to contact a dealer with the VIN and ask them to check for any recalls and have them print something for you…it might work
Once you have the recall letter you will need to submit that to RIV the email for that submission is email@example.com
they will usually process your letter within a day. Once they have approved of that you can then bring your vehicle to get your provincial and federal inspection. There are only two shops in Vancouver who can do this.
1) Unity A-1 Auto
2) Canadian Tire locations
They will charge you roughly $80.00 for the inspection and $5.00 per tire for a environmental recycling fee.
You’re almost there!
Once you pass the inspection, the shop will award you with a certificate of compliance decal. You do not have to stick this decal on your windshield. I repeat you do NOT have to display this. You can put this in your glove box with your insurance papers.
The last and final step is to visit a ICBC insurance agent and pay the remainder of the tax of 7%. Make sure they only charge you 7%. The place I went to almost made me pay the full 12%. I’m not going to get into the details of my experience there but lets just say I wont be going back to them! anyway, pay your 7% get your plates and release a sigh of huge relief! your adventures are over! You car is now a Canadian!
So in closing, be prepared about the costs, make sure you have a plan to get the title if the car if its not fully paid out, give 72 hour notice to the US border, get your recall letter and enjoy your mini adventure!