The author's newly imported London Taxi
The author’s newly imported London Taxi. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Murray Jackson

You’ve found the car of your dreams after years of searching. Unfortunately, your must-have Hudson Hornet is in Bucksnort, Tennessee. Or perhaps it’s a pampered Austin Princess that is currently residing in Old Sodbury, England.

Full speed ahead, you’re about to embark on your first do-it-yourself vehicle importation.

Importing a used car into Canada is a bit like skydiving – attempting it without proper education and preparation is unwise, to say the least. Recently, I imported a London taxi from, naturally, England (I’m a longtime fan of these versatile cars; this is the second one I’ve owned). Here are some highlights of what I learned about bringing in a personal vehicle from
outside Canada, whether it’s from the United States or overseas.


Getting It to Canada

Your first concern will likely be the means of getting your prized wheels to Canada. Used cars imported from the United States are often driven or trucked across the border. However, if your collector car must cross an ocean, your first worry will be the logistics of getting it here.

Cleaning
Specialized cleaning operation, required if imported vehicle
fails its CFIA “dirt test”. Click image to enlarge.

If you’ve bought from an overseas dealer who specializes in vehicle exports, shipping arrangements may be taken care of for you. If you’ve purchased a vehicle from a private individual, you can orchestrate the shipping arrangements yourself or engage the services of a freight forwarding company that specializes in the overseas movement of vehicles.

Car-shipping companies understand the import requirements of various countries. Their services include receipt and cleaning of the vehicle, packing into a container (if required), preparation of bills of lading and customs documents, haulage to the port of export and payment of ocean freight and port charges. These companies can even arrange carriage of your car from the Canadian port of entry to your location, if desired. You may wish to get price quotes from several freight forwarders.

Container containing London Taxi
First sight of imported London Taxi. Click image to enlarge.

The least expensive method of ocean shipment is called RoRo, meaning “roll on, roll off.” As you might expect from the name, your precious vehicle will be driven on and off a ship by dockworkers at the beginning and end of its voyage to Canada. Additional items, such as spare parts, should not be packed inside cars shipped in this manner. At the time of writing, the cost of RoRo shipment from England to Halifax (including the services of a freight forwarder) was about $2,000 plus marine insurance (two per cent of the value of the vehicle).

For greater security, at additional cost, your vehicle can cross the ocean in a shipping container. Most passenger cars will fit into a standard 20-foot container. Once your car is inside, the container will remain sealed until its arrival in Canada. Vehicles in containers may be shipped with spare parts, if desired, although the nature and value of these enclosures
should be specified on the import documents.

Currently, shipping your collector car from England to Montreal (including a freight forwarder’s fee) costs about $3,400 plus marine insurance.

Note that ocean-freight rates for RoRo and container shipments fluctuate. Incidentally, shipping two vehicles at once will result in savings, as the cost of shipping a 40-foot container is about 1.5 times the cost of shipping a 20-footer.


Be Prepared

Import rules vary depending on your vehicle’s age, its country of origin and the country from which you are importing it. You need a good understanding of the import regulations administered by the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA), Transport Canada and, for
shipments from overseas, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). At the provincial level, there are vehicle-licensing, emissions-testing and sales tax requirements to be considered.

Some countries, including the U.S., have requirements that you must meet before a vehicle can be exported. In England, for example, the vehicle’s vendor should visit the licensing authorities to exchange the car’s registration document for a Certificate of Permanent Export. As a precaution, check with the customs or vehicle-licensing authorities in the country from which the vehicle will be exported.


The Paper Trail

Your copy of the vehicle’s foreign registration document will establish its age and country of export. You should also have a bill of sale that clearly identifies the vehicle (year, make, model and vehicle identification number). The bill of sale should also contain the names and addresses of the vendor and purchaser and the price paid for the vehicle.

Your file folder will expand as you receive the documents generated by the companies involved in shipping your car to Canada. If you have a low tolerance for red tape, consider using the services of a customs broker. For a fee, the broker will relieve you of your paper burden and will prepare and present the forms required to obtain customs clearance for your car.


Vehicles Purchased in the U.S.A.

As a general rule, used cars that are at least 15 years old can be imported from the U.S.A. and are not subject to safety and emission equipment requirements. Age is not determined by model year; the month of importation must be at least 15 years after the month of manufacture of the vehicle.

If your vehicle is less than 15 years old and was manufactured for sale in the U.S., you must first determine whether it qualifies for importation. Transport Canada’s Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) program ensures that qualifying vehicles are modified, inspected and certified to meet Canadian safety standards.

Upon arrival at Customs, a qualifying vehicle will be entered into the RIV program. The registration fee is $197 in Quebec and $182 in other provinces. Within 45 days, the vehicle must be altered at your expense to meet Transport Canada requirements (it may need daytime running lights and metric labels for instruments, for example). You won’t be able to register and license the car in Canada until it is modified and inspected. The RIV Web site contains a list of eligible vehicles and detailed information about typical modification and inspection requirements.


Vehicles Purchased Overseas

Residents of Canada cannot normally import a car from overseas countries unless it is at least 15 years old. The relatively few exceptions to this rule can be found in CCRA publications.

Vehicles imported from overseas must be thoroughly cleaned before shipment to Canada in order to remove soil and plant material. The CFIA will inspect your vehicle, at your expense, to ensure that this requirement has been met. If your car fails the inspection, you will be responsible for the cost of a thorough cleaning and a second inspection.


Import Fees

Vehicles that are eligible for importation will be subject to import levies including customs duty and GST. Customs duty is generally based on the price paid for the vehicle and the percentage rate of duty varies depending on the vehicle’s country of origin. For example, a vehicle imported from the U.S. that was manufactured in the U.S. is duty-free. However, a British-built car imported from the U.S. is subject to a duty of 6.1 per cent, the same rate
applied to British vehicles imported directly from Britain.

If your collector car has air conditioning, working or not, you will pay an excise tax of $100. There are additional levies if your vehicle weighs more than 2,007 kilograms (4,425 pounds).

Finally, GST will be charged at the rate of seven per cent of the total of the purchase price plus the customs levies.


Provincial Requirements

When you have satisfied all the import requirements, a critical document called a Vehicle Import Form will be given to you by customs, your broker or the RIV program, depending on the circumstances of your importation. Without this piece of paper, you will get only a blank stare from your provincial licensing authorities.

Before heading off to your licensing bureau, you’ll need to satisfy the provincial requirements. In Ontario, for example, your car must pass a safety-standards inspection. You will also need a Drive Clean inspection certificate if the vehicle is more than three model years old and less than 20 years old.

In addition to the fees for registering your newly imported car, provincial authorities may collect sales tax on the price you paid for the vehicle. Don’t bother asking why provincial sales tax applies to a sales transaction that occurred outside Canada.


I Goofed!

If your prized collector car does not meet the eligibility requirements of the CCRA and Transport Canada, you will never see it sitting in your driveway. You will be required to export the car or destroy it under Customs supervision, at your expense. To make matters worse, you won’t get a refund of the import levies you paid. Could there be a better incentive for
consulting the authorities before trying to import a vehicle?


Need More Information?

The information presented here has been condensed for brevity and is subject to change. There are special rules for vehicles imported in certain circumstances, for example by former residents returning to live in Canada.


Before You Buy

First passengers - Graduation
London Taxi passengers, the author’s daughter Cathy (second from left) with friends (L to R) Alix, Chelsea and Abigail. A London Taxi will hold five passengers! Click image to enlarge.

Before you buy a vehicle outside Canada, consult the regulatory bodies mentioned below for information applicable to your particular situation. Failure to do so may lead to a world of woe.

  • For customs information about importing vehicles into Canada, contact the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency’s automated information service free of charge at 1-800-461-9999. You can also find information on the CCRA’s Web site at www.ccra.gc.ca.

  • For Transport Canada information about importing vehicles that were manufactured for sale in the U.S., contact the Registrar of Imported Vehicles, 405 The West Mall, Toronto M9C 5K7; telephone: 1-888-848-8240; Web site: www.riv.ca . For other vehicles, contact Road Safety and Motor Vehicle Regulation Directorate, Transport Canada, 8th floor, Place de Ville, Tower C, 330 Sparks Street, Ottawa K1A 0N5; telephone: 1-800-333-0371; Web site: www.tc.gc.ca.
  • For information about Canadian Food Inspection Agency requirements, contact an Import Service Centre in Montreal (telephone 1-877-493-0468), Toronto (1-800-835-4486) or Vancouver (1-888-732-6222). The CFIA’s Web address is www.cfia-acia.agr.ca.

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