Importing a vehicle into Canada

by Richard Atwell
(c) Copyright 2006-2011


Importing a vehicle from another country? Here's some advice from people like me who have gone through the process. While the 68-79 Baywindow Bus is of primary interest as usual, I've included other details if you are considering a Vanagon or newer vehicle.

Each country has its own unique headaches. I don't recommend you try to import a vehicle into Canada less than 15 years old unless it's from USA and you can clear it with the RIV program first.

Note the 15 year rule is currently under review with a possible extension to 25 years. Not a problem for baywindow owners but a headache for others.

DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind that rules and procedures change so only use this information as a helpful guide. It's up to you to research the specific details that pertain to importing your vehicle.

From USA to BC, Canada:

1. Road Legal:

BC residents can obtain a Binder of Insurance from ICBC and a Temporary Operating Permit for the purposes of transporting an imported vehicle back home. If you have an expired driver's licence or relinquished it when you were licensed in another jurisdiction you will not be able to obtain a binder. In this case, you will have to obtain US based insurance and determine in writing that your policy will cover this type of trip.

Travel Checklist:

  1. Insurance
  2. Temporary Operating Permit

If not a BC resident, to cover all of your driving needs from the time you arrive at the border until you acquire BC insurance and registation, you will need sufficient temporary insurance. Whether this is 10 days or 30 days, get enough so you aren't stopped on the road later without it because the penalties become expensive mistakes.

You will also need a temporary permit to drive the vehicle through the US state(s) you bought the vehicle. Most states will let you use another states permit for the purpose of vehicle transport.

2. Export:

Before you cross the Border into Canada you are expected to arrive with your vehicle at US Customs (CBP) from the US side of the border. While the US authorities will want to know of the export (regardless if you previously imported the vehicle) the Canadian authorities do not care about US Customs clearance. I do not know the future ramifications of not notifying US CBP (see Border Hassles at the end of this article) so better safe than sorry.

US Border Checklist:

  1. Passport
  2. Bill of Sale (VIN, year, model and make, dated and signed)
  3. US State Title Certificate showing previous owner has signed over ownership to you (proving any liens have been cleared)
  4. Fax the title and applicable US forms to the Border office you will be crossing at.

Document you'll receive: US Vehicle Export Permit stamped by US Customs and Border Protection.

Obtaining a US Vehicle Export Permit requires 72 hours advance notice. If you arrive at the border without making prior arrangements they may simply turn you away. This is why you need to fax them in advance with the location, date and approximate time you plan to cross. Where are you going to stay and where is the vehicle going to be stored if you don't fax ahead? Sounds like a good time for a short camping trip, doesn't it?

3. Import:

Not all services are available at the Peace Arch crossing all day long. You can go to 176th St. Trucking Crossing and the Sumas Crossing which both offer 24 hour services. You can also import a vehicle in Victoria if you come over via the Coho Ferry. Note: there are no customs services in Sydney via the Anacortes Ferry.

After dealing with US Customs, you will get into the line to cross the border into Canada.

Canadian Border Checklist:

  1. Passport
  2. Bill of Sale
  3. US State Title Certificate

Document you'll receive: Transport Canada Vehicle Import "Form 1" (white and gold copies to you, canary to CBSA, pink to RIV) filled in and stamped by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) as well as a Casual Goods Accounting Document which states the vehicle value and GST paid.

Both will be granted after you pay any applicable RIV fees and 6% GST on the value of vehicle.

If the vehicle was not made in the NAFTA zone (US/Canada/Mexico) you will also have to pay a 6% duty no matter the vehicle age. If you have air conditioning expect to pay an extra $100 excise tax but don't bring this up if they don't because they don't always inspect the vehicles.

There are two kinds of inspections: provincial and federal and you may have to do either or both depending on your situation:


There are two kinds of vehicle inspections: provincial and federal and you may have to do either or both depending on your situation:

4. Provincial Inspection:

Before you can register and insure you must visit a licensed inspection shop and pass an out of province (OOP) private vehicle inspection. This applies (unfairly) even if the car was originally Canadian or was previously registered in BC! Anytime it leaves BC and it is registered outside BC, you get screwed by the tax man.

BC has taken it upon themselves to enact the strictest vehicle inspection guidelines of any province to date. The loosely worded "standard" is so strict, that if you have a broken interior light, you fail and have 14 days to correct the problem and be re-inspected.

But guess what? If you buy a used car from a dealer in BC, they don't have to pay for or perform any kind of inspection so safety isn't the issue here.

Inspection takes about 1 hour which includes a road test. You essentially pay for 1 hr. labor so the price will vary from shop to shop and may include ancillary fees they normally charge other customers.

Provincial Inspection Checklist:

  1. US State Title Certificate

Document you'll receive: MC3199 Provincial Certificate of Inspection (green and yellow copies) and MV3090 sticker.

Before you go for your inspection and to save yourself the hassle of multiple visits, review the Private Vehicle Inspection Report form MV3199 (If you don't have a component on the list they simply write N/A):

inspection form

It may take several attempts to pass and whether or not you have to pay for your re-test varies from shop to shop so ask this in advance. You can fix items yourself but no doubt they will ofter to replace items for you and charge you parts and labor to bring your vehicle up to code. This is the whole point of the inspection: to generate revenue for the shops and bring your vehicle to a higher standard than other vehicles in BC that have never left the province.

I hate to worry people simply by being thorough but ask anyone who has been through the process and they will tell you that it's aggravating. I'm all for safe vehicles on the road but the way the inspection criteria is worded is flawed.

Expect items such as windshields with a 1 in. crack, leaking mufflers to require replacement before you can pass. All lighting must work, horn, wipers etc. This is typical safety stuff but the standard is so loosely worded virtually anything can fail you. For example:

All I can say is get the best vehicle you can, fix it up before the test and good luck. BC gives you 90 days to get a license and 30 days to register a vehicle. They can't tell when you arrived until you got your license so for those moving to BC, take advantage of the time unless your old insurance runs out beforehand.

If the chassis rust is substantial you may never pass: something to seriously consider BEFORE buying a vehicle from a rust capital of the world (or even if you are only coming from another part of Canada like Alberta).

5. Federal Inspection:

If the vehicle has to go through the RIV program, you will also need the Transport Canada "Form 2" which you get in the mail via the RIV program. When Customs processes your RIV fee you will receive a letter in the mail from RIV asking you to obtain a recall clearance letter.

Federal Inspection Checklist:

  1. Recall clearance letter
  2. Transport Canada Vehicle Import "Form 2"

Document you'll receive: filled in "Form 2".

Transport Canada maintains a database of vehicle recalls but it only covers Canadian vehicles even if they are identical to US models.

Contact the US vehicle manufacturer to obtain the recall clearance letter and fax it to RIV. When they receive the letter you will receive Form 2 in the mail which you take to Canadian Tire at which time they will inspect your vehicle, fill in the form and fax it to RIV. After that, RIV will mail you a Canadian certification sticker to attach to your vehicle.

I recommend you request the recall clearance letter a week in advance of crossing the border. If you do it after you obtain your RIV letter you may find that by the time you receive it and finally receive your Form 2 in the mail, you are beyond the 45-day time interval you are allowed to operate a vehicle with OOP plates. Not only that but your OOP insurance (if you moved to BC) may no longer be valid.

Some Canadian Tire shops will tell you that you have to get them to do the Provincial Inspection also in order to get the Form 2 filled in but it's a scam to generate revenue so watch out. If the vehicle is less than 15 years old you are advised by RIV to get a federal inspection done at Canadian Tire (already paid for through your RIV fee) who will also do the provincial inspection. You are however, able to go to any provincial inspector and have it done (but they will charge you for it), then you go to Canadian Tire and they rubber stamp the inspection and do the federal (basically record taking for the sticker you will receive).

RIV is run by Livingston Intl. and their phone system doesn't work well. It will hang up on you or make you wait 15 minutes before hanging up and try your patience to its limit. Hopefully you will never have to call them for clarification.

6. Registration & Insurance:

In BC, bring your vehicle when you visit the ICBC agent: they will want to verify the VIN for license and registation.

ICBC Checklist:

  1. BC Driver's license
  2. Bill of Sale
  3. US State Title Certificate (surrender to ICBC)
  4. US license plates (surrender to ICBC)
  5. Transport Canada Vehicle Import "Form 1" (white copy)
  6. Transport Canada Vehicle Import "Form 2" (pink)
  7. Casual Goods Accounting Documents that shows you've paid fees/duty/taxes.
  8. MV3199 Private Vehicle Inspection Report showing a pass (green copy).

Document you'll receive: Owner's Certificate of Insurance and Vehicle License and plates (no plates if you are just paid for storage). You will also receive a transfer of title/tax form and if you moved up to BC with your US vehicle a tax exemption form.

The autoplan agent will fill in several forms that they produce and keep.

You will have to pay PST on the sale price at the time of registration. If you received a GST exemption at the border (you moved to Canada) you will not have to pay the PST but there is a 6 month limit on this 2nd exemption so keep that in mind!

When Autoplan takes your title and license plates, ask for a Notice of Surrender which you may need to provide to your old insurance company to obtain and refunds as well as proof to the state you no longer need to pay your registration and plate renewal fees.

You are now done with all these hassles. Put some red tape under your wheels and celebrate your victory over it!


USA links:



Useful numbers:


10/28/06 - Created
10/31/06 - Added USA to Canada steps
08/10/07 - Updated dead government links
12/11/07 - Moved USA info to separate article
09/08/11 - Fixed broken photos, added translate button, updated footer
07/15/19 - Google update: new adsense code, removed defunt translate button