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Can I Take My Canadian Car to the US to Stay?

Canadian cars going through US border

If you're moving to the United States from Canada, it's natural to want to bring your vehicle with you. Fortunately, in most cases, you can take your car with you to stay. There are a few things you must do before the move, however.

Seven Steps to Move Your Car to the United States

There are several important considerations to moving with your car. You'll need to take your car through customs, ensure it meets appropriate environmental and safety standards, and take care of registering and insuring the vehicle in the United States.

1. Ensure Your Car Meets Environmental Standards

Before your move, you'll need to make a few preparations. One of the most important is ensuring that your vehicle meets the environmental standards in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Air Act requires that all imported vehicles meet current US standards for air pollution. Before you cross the border, you'll need to fill out EPA Form 3520-1 and prove that your vehicle meets the standards.

There are a few ways you can make sure your vehicle meets these standards:

  • Check if your car or truck is identical to the version of that vehicle manufactured for sale in the United States. This only applies to vehicles manufactured before 2001. The EPA maintains a complete list of USA-identical vehicles. If your car is on the list, it meets the standards.
  • Look on your vehicle for a vehicle emissions label. This will be located under the hood of the car or truck. Does the label state that the vehicle meets the emissions standards of the US EPA? If it does, you are all set.
  • If your car doesn't have the label and isn't on the list of identical vehicles, you'll need to get a statement from the US representative of the original manufacturer proving that the vehicle meets the appropriate standards. This statement must be in writing and include the car's vehicle identification number (VIN).

It's important to note that the EPA regulations only apply to vehicles that are 21 years old or newer at the time of entry into the United States. If your car is older than 21 years and has not been modified from its original state, your Canadian registration will satisfy the EPA requirements. You may also be exempt if your car is modified for use by a disabled person.

2. Make Sure Your Car Meets US Safety Standards

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also has specific requirements for imported vehicles, and you'll need to prove that your Canadian car meets US safety standards if it is less than 25 years old at the time of entry into the United States. According to the NHTSA's Vehicle Import Guidelines for Canada, you will need the following items to import your car:

  • The car must have a label from the original manufacturer certifying that it meets the federal motor vehicle safety standards of the US. You can find this label inside the driver's side door.
  • You must also have a letter from the original manufacturer stating that the vehicle complies with these standards. The letter should be on official letterhead and reference the vehicle's VIN.
  • A filled-out US Department of Transportation HS 7 Declaration Form

No matter what age your vehicle is, it cannot carry a salvage title.

3. Establish Ownership

You'll also need to prove that you own the car you'll be bringing into the US. This proof of ownership can be the original title for the vehicle, a certified copy of the title, an original bill or lading, foreign registration, or a bill of sale.

In addition, you'll need to prove your ownership of any parts you've added to the vehicle since you purchased it. You can do this by presenting your receipt.

4. Clean the Car's Undercarriage

According to US Customs and Border Protection, you'll also need to make sure your vehicle's undercarriage is clean before you pass through Customs. The US Department of Agriculture requires that all imported vehicles be free of foreign soil. Stop by a car wash immediately before Customs. If you are shipping your car, have the undercarriage cleaned before shipment.

5. Go Through Customs

After you've assembled the EPA and NHTSA forms and proof of ownership, it's time to go through Customs. You'll need Customs and Border Protection Form 7501. You can fill this form out ahead of time to save time at the border, or a Customs officer can help you with the form if you have all of your other paperwork in order.

Be sure to request a copy of your approved form for your records. This will be necessary for registering your car.

6. Pay Duty on Your Car if Necessary

US Customs and Border Protection affirms that you do not have to pay duty or import tax on your vehicle if you can prove you've owned it for one year or more. If you've owned your car for less than one year, you'll need to pay a 2.5% tax on the purchase price or Kelley Blue Book value of your vehicle. You must accurately report this Canadian car value on your Customs form.

7. Register Your Vehicle in the United States

When you reach your new home, you must register your vehicle in your state. According to US Customs and Border Protection, you will need your approved Customs and Border Protection Form 7501 in order to complete the registration process.

Expect to pay a registration fee to the state. The amount will vary, depending on the vehicle and the state's regulations. You'll receive your new license plates at this time as well. Once your car is registered and you have your license plates, you are done with the import process.

Always consult the Department of Motor Vehicles in the state to which you're moving. They will give you specific requirements for registering the vehicle.

Cars You Can't Take

There are a few situations that may prevent you from bringing your car into the US to stay:

  • The car doesn't meet the EPA regulations for emissions.
  • The car wasn't manufactured according to US NHTSA standards.
  • Your car doesn't have a clear title showing that you are the owner and the vehicle isn't a salvage car.

Important Considerations About Importing a Canadian Car

It's important to be aware of a few things during the import process:

  • The dashboard speedometer will have the kilometers per hour in larger font than the miles per hour, but US roadways list speed limits in miles per hour. This won't get in the way of importing your car, but it's very important to remember when driving.
  • Selling your car later may be complicated, due to the speedometer and odometer labeling. However, you are legally able to sell your car in the United States.
  • If you're shipping your car to the United States, don't load it with your possessions. According to US Customs and Border Protection, this puts your household items at risk for breakage during inspection and may slow down or stop the import process for your car.
  • If you're driving your car across the border, you can carry your household items. However, you will need to declare them at Customs.

Organization Is Key

In many cases, it's absolutely possible to bring your Canadian car to the US to stay. However, organization is key. Have your paperwork in order before you cross the border and know what to expect at Customs. Soon, you and your car will be starting a new life in your new home.

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Can I Take My Canadian Car to the US to Stay?