Importing our Canada-purchased vehicles from Canada down to the United States was one of the most tedious and complicated parts of our relocation. The process was complicated simply from having to figure out what documentation from the Canadian side needed to be obtained, what US forms needed to be completed, all the way to identifying the correct sequence of vehicle import and insurance steps in the States.
Because a portion of the documentation requires your insurance or vehicle manufacturer to prepare and send, I recommend starting this process at least 1 month in advance to account for turnaround times and potential delays in mail delivery of the documentation.
Things to obtain and/or complete while in Canada:
1) From your vehicle manufacturer:
- schedule a routine service/maintenance check (e.g. oil change), and advise your dealership service centre of your pending move
- your dealership service centre should also verify if your vehicle has any outstanding recalls that need to be serviced
- ensure your vehicle does not have any outstanding recalls to be fixed
- request your vehicle manufacturer (Canadian HQ location, e.g. Honda Canada) to send a confirmation letter stating there are no outstanding recalls on your car – needed for US vehicle check for import/registration process
- request your vehicle manufacturer (US HQ location, e.g. Honda USA) to send a confirmation letter stating your car complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), and with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards for the state you will be relocating to (e.g. California) – needed to complete the necessary EPA form
- update your mailing address with your vehicle manufacturer (Canadian HQ location) to continue obtaining recall/warranty notices
- If you are short on time, your vehicle manufacturer may be able to fax the confirmation letters to you – but the originals are best 🙂
- if your vehicle is still under manufacturer’s warranty, then you’ll need to coordinate with both the Canadian and US divisions to possibly transfer your warranty from Canada to US. Our vehicles were already past their warranty period, so we don’t have experience on warranty transfers to share.
- Vehicle importing is relatively common; manufacturer websites usually have a summary on this topic under their FAQs.
2) From your Canadian provincial motor vehicle registry and/or insurance agent:
- ensure you have at least 1 year of your Canadian provincial driver’s license left before it expires, you will be using it until you get your US state driver’s license
- keep your Canadian provincial car insurance until you secure car insurance locally in the US
- original and copy of your Canadian provincial car insurance
- get your driver’s history abstract (i.e. accident and claims history, etc.)
- get your vehicle history abstract (i.e. vehicle registration status, accident and claims history, etc.)
3) From your personal records:
- original and copy of your vehicle purchase order/agreement
- know the approximate current black book value of your vehicle (needed for U.S. Customs import process and California DMV vehicle registration)
4) Paperwork and other tasks to complete:
- complete the US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Importation of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Equipment Subject to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety, Bumper and Theft Prevention Standards Declaration Form” (form HS-7)
- complete US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Importation of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Engines Subject to Federal Air Pollution Regulations Declaration Form” (EPA form 3520-1)
- Whether you are driving your car across the border or getting it shipped by movers, it is important to get your vehicle detailed shortly before your drive down or hand-off of your vehicle to the movers. The exterior, undercarriage and interior should be cleaned.
At the Canadian-US border:
5) What to expect from the US Customs & Border Protection office:
- Bring all of the documentation and paperwork obtained/prepared from #1, #2 and #3, in addition to your immigration paperwork, for the US Customs & Border agent to review.
- If you are driving your vehicle down, the US Customs & Border agent will provide you with a “Department of Homeland Security: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Entry Summary” (CBP form 7501). This manifest must include your vehicle make, model, year, VIN and your vehicle’s approximate current market value. It is essential that all of the information is correct. Watch out for typos 🙂
- If you are getting your vehicle shipped with the movers from Canada to the US, then request this information from the movers when you arrive in the States.
- The “U.S. Customs and Border Protection Entry Summary” document is needed to register your vehicle in the US.
Things to do when you’ve landed in the US:
6) At your nearest state DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles):
- schedule appointment at your nearest state DMV to write driver’s written exam **
- schedule appointment at your nearest state DMV to do behind-the-wheel exam **
- suggest getting a quick car wash and tidying the interior before your behind-the-wheel exam, your DMV examiner will appreciate it 😉
- schedule appointment with an auto smog test company to get a smog test vehicle inspection completed and report submitted to the DMV (ensure the auto smog test company is equipped to test front-wheel, rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, depending on your vehicle)
- complete state DMV “Application for Title or Registration” form (REG 343)
- schedule appointment with state DMV for vehicle check (part of vehicle import/registration process)
- make a trip to the car wash, tidy interior, and wipe the driver and passenger door manufacturer labels clean of dirt to help quicken the vehicle check as you’ll need to pop the hood for a brief engine inspection, open the trunk to verify safety measures (e.g. spare tire), test your lights and have the door labels reviewed
- Bring all of the documentation and paperwork obtained/prepared from #1, #2, #3, #4, your DMV driver’s license and Canadian passport, and your completed “Application for Title or Registration” form to your DMV vehicle check appointment. You may need to bring your marriage certificate if you are helping your husband/wife import their vehicle to show your relationship.
- When your vehicle is checked for import-compatibility, your “Application for Title or Registration” form will be referenced, and the DMV agent will provide you with a “Verification of Vehicle” form. The “Verification of Vehicle” form is very similar to the “Application for Title or Registration” form – the former essentially details whether the DMV agent’s vehicle check observations are in line with what you are declaring about the properties and current status of your vehicle.
- If your vehicle passes the check, you’ll be able to fully import and register your vehicle at the same time. The import and registration process will reference all of the paperwork mentioned. Finally, vehicle registration fees will depend on your vehicle make/model/year – bring US cash or pay by debit. At this point, your vehicle is temporarily imported/registered and you will receive your new state license plates. Your temporary vehicle registration will be detailed on a DMV printed “Suspense Customer Copy” paper with the suspense reason of ‘foreign vehicle registration’, your paid registration fee, registered owner name and mailing address, and vehicle details.
- All of your paperwork will be sent to the nearest DMV audit centre (for us, it was sent to Sacremento) for review. If any paperwork is missing, you will be contacted by mail to provide any missing articles. Otherwise, you should expect a vehicle title/registration card (pink coloured) sent by mail within 4-6 weeks, fully confirming the import and registration of your vehicle in the state.
7) Now that your vehicle is imported and you have a state driver’s license, it’s time to shop for local car insurance.
8) Remember to cancel your Canadian car insurance when your local US car insurance is activated, and send your Canadian license plates by mail back to your provincial motor vehicle registry.
– – – – – –
** With a lot of information already covered on the vehicle import process in this post, I will be writing separate posts about the vehicle import references, and DMV written and behind-the-wheel exam instead. Hopefully I haven’t lost you in the seemingly endless import process, but you’ve instead found the above content to be a useful guideline/checklist.
Please keep in mind that this information is from 2012, so vehicle import rules and procedures may have changed since. Feel free to leave a comment to share any updates or tips on your vehicle import experience 🙂
Good luck with importing your car!