Join Autos’s Facebook group
Follow Autos on Twitter

By Haney Louka

The information contained in this feature is current at the time of publication. However, anyone looking to import a vehicle that was originally manufactured for distribution in the U.S. must consult the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) to get the most accurate and up-to-date information as requirements can change from time to time. The steps below are applicable to the 2007 Infiniti G35 Coupe imported by the author, and describe the process that needs to be followed to legally import such a vehicle into Canada from the U.S. You’ll need the vehicle identification number (VIN) for the specific vehicle you’re considering to complete many of these steps.

Make sure the make and model you’re planning to import is admissible to Canada.

Using the vehicle’s VIN, make sure that the title of the specific vehicle you’re planning to import is not “branded.” A title is branded if the vehicle has sustained damage significant enough to result in an insurance write-off. Unfortunately the RIV does not perform such a title search on behalf of importers; the onus will be on you to find out. Title histories can be obtained from companies such as CarProof, CarFax or AutoCheck; I used the American sites, AutoCheck and CarFax (the latter was available at no charge on the web site where the car was listed and had a more complete history for this particular vehicle). While both web sites caution users that they do not guarantee a complete history for every vehicle available, they do offer consumer protection in the event that the report shows a clean title when in fact it has been branded. Refer to the fine print on the respective web sites for more information.

Find out what modifications the specific vehicle model you’re considering will require in order to comply with Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS). More information on this can be found at

Obtain a recall clearance letter from the manufacturer. This ensures that the vehicle you’re looking at is not subject to any current recalls or service campaigns. In the case of my Infiniti, I contacted the company’s U.S. customer service line and gave them the VIN. After they sent me the clearance letter I e-mailed it to the RIV.

Review the RIV exemptions to determine if in fact the vehicle you’re planning to import is subject to the requirements of the RIV. Simply stated, though, if it’s newer than 15 years old and is being imported permanently into Canada, it must go through the RIV process.

Review the costs that will be involved in importing the car. And this one’s a biggie. Make sure to consider:

  • Currency exchange
  • Duty (if the vehicle is assembled outside of Canada/U.S./Mexico)
  • GST
  • PST
  • Air Conditioning excise tax
  • Shipping or transportation costs
  • RIV registration fee
  • Cost of modifications to comply with CMVSS
  • Provincial safety inspection and related repairs
  • Temporary insurance

Get a copy of the car’s title and e-mail it to the U.S. border crossing where you’ll be bringing it into Canada. They require this notification 72 hours before you plan to cross the border with the car. Note that the title does not need to be in your name; i.e., you don’t need to pay for the car in full before getting a copy of the title. They just require a current U.S. title for their purposes. Contact the border crossing you plan to use directly to confirm their specific documentation requirements. You’ll need to stop at the U.S. side of the border crossing for them to confirm matching VINs and stamp the title prior to entering Canada.

Have all of your paperwork in order when you arrive at the Canadian port of entry. The customs officer will do the following:

  • Check your documentation, including your bill of sale and title that has been stamped by U.S. Customs;
  • Provide you with the first of two Vehicle Import Forms that you will be required to complete at the border;
  • Verify your vehicle’s admissibility into Canada;
  • Charge you applicable GST and duty, as well as the $100 air conditioning excise tax.

Pay your RIV fee on the RIV website. To do this you will need the case number from your Vehicle Import Form 1 as well as some additional vehicle information. Once your RIV payment has been processed, you’ll receive an e-mail with a link to access your Vehicle Import Form 2 that outlines the modifications necessary to meet the CMVSS requirements.

While the RIV is specific about where you can get the final compliance inspection completed (in my area it’s mostly Canadian Tire locations), with some exceptions you can take the car anywhere to get the modifications done first. Individual vehicle manufacturers may, however, require the work to be done at one of their authorized service centres. You’ll need to get the changes done and pass the RIV inspection prior to registering your vehicle.

Get a provincial safety inspection completed if applicable.

While the items noted above may seem daunting, the RIV provides a useful checklist that prospective importers can go through to assist in meeting all of the requirements for importation.

Connect with