4 Steps to Importing a Car from Canada to the US
Living in the United States practically requires owning a car. For most people, the easiest option when moving to the US will be to simply buy a car on arrival. However, if you’re relocating from Canada, the close proximity to your new home might tempt you to import the car you already own. While you will have some hoops to jump through, for many people, the process should be fairly quick and painless.
Note that while this article is meant to be a helpful overview, laws can change at any time. You should always confirm these steps with the relevant agencies like US Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) and the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Step One: Meet Compliance Standards Set By EPA & DOT
You will need to present the following forms when going through US customs:
Additionally, you will need to comply with regulations set by these regulatory bodies.
Department of Transportation Requirements
All cars less than 25 years old must meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) set by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Check the inside of your car door or under the hood for a FMVSS sticker. If you find one of these stickers, you’re in luck – your car already complies! However, many Candian vehicles are only going to be certified to meet Canadian motor vehicle safety standards. In order to import a car without the FMVSS certification, you will need to contact the original manufacturer of your car (not the dealer!) to request a FMVSS certificate.
Important! Not all manufacturers will be willing to send you an FMVSS certificate. Before beginning the import process, be sure to contact your manufacturer. Visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website for a list of manufacturer contact information. If your manufacturer doesn’t supply the certificate, you can still import your car, but you must use a registered importer, so most people will find the hassle and cost not worth it.
Environmental Protection Agency Regulations
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has its own set of standards for cars allowed to operate in the US, and you must prove your car complies with these as well. Look for a sticker under the hood of your car that says something like, “Vehicle Emission Control Information” as well as the name of the regulatory body. If it does not say EPA, you will once again need to request a letter from the original manufacturer stating the car meets the same standards as those set by the EPA. If your manufacturer won’t send the letter, the process gets quite complicated, so it's usually not worth the hassle.
Step Two: Contact your local U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office
Most CPB offices have a dedicated phone number for those importing a car. This is the best place to confirm required documentation, hours of operation, and other regulations. In addition to forms DOT H-7 and EPA form 3520-1, you will likely need your car’s Canadian bill of sale and registration.
Step Three: Getting Car Insurance
You will also need auto insurance in order to drive your vehicle, so it’s important to secure a policy before crossing the border. Requirements will vary, but you may need to supply the vehicle registration, bill of sale, and either a valid Canadian driving license or an International Driving Permit.
Step Four: Register Your Car
You will need to register your Canadian vehicle with your state’s department of motor vehicles before you can legally drive it. Each state has its own own regulations for registering a foreign vehicle, so make sure to check what documentation you need to bring with you before you enter the US. You will almost certainly need the vehicle’s bill of sale, proof of foreign registration, and the US customs forms.