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Importing a Canadian Vehicle to the U.S.

What needs to be done to import my vehicle to the US?

Before you can register your car in your state, most state DMV's require you to import your vehicle properly at the federal level. The US federal government requires that your car must meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). The US federal treasury also takes a federal duty/tax based on the value of your vehicle.

What are the FMVSS standards for a BMW 5 series car to enter the US?

FMVSS standards are basically grouped into two categories. US DOT and US EPA standards must be met according to the standards set at the year of manufacture of your car. BMW e34 and e39 5 series Canadian BMW's are already 99% compliant with these laws. However, both cars require that a speedometer graduated in m.p.h. is installed. Canadian BMW's have speedometers graduated in km/h only, like the e39 cluster pictured below.


Any outstanding recalls must be completed before the car is exported. Recall campaigns are completed at a BMW dealer in Canada free of charge.

A letter from BMW Canada is procured on your behalf at no charge to indicate that your car complies with these US FMVSS standards.

What is the cost of a BMW m.p.h. speedometer?


A BMW e39 speedometer gauge cannot be replaced by itself; the entire instrument cluster must be swapped out for one graduated in American units at a cost of about US$850. The American cluster will display m.p.h. and km/h (formerly km/h only), odometer miles (formerly km), m.p.g. (formerly L/100 km), empty, half, full gas tank (formerly graduated to 90L capacity), and English words warnings (formerly warning pictograms). We use only a Canadian BMW dealer to complete this task properly. A sample e39 cluster is pictured above.

A BMW e34 speedometer can be installed in about an hour and a half for a cost of about US$400. The whole cluster does not need to be changed. Unfortunately there is no easy way to change an e34 odometer programmed in kilometers to miles and vice versa. The original distance traveled remains in the units of measure that was originally programmed for the car, regardless of which speedometer is installed. Below is pictured an installed m.p.h. speedometer and a removed km/h speedometer in an e34 cluster


It is interesting to note that some US states prohibit the changing of speedometers without resetting the distance traveled on the new display to 000000 miles. A sticker in the glove box must be installed which reads "True Mileage Unknown" (TMU). This would likely reduce the value of your car upon resale. There are no laws of this nature in Ontario, Canada, so it would be best to have the work done in Canada.

What is different about Canadian 5 Series BMW's?

There are only a few minor differences between Canadian and US 5 series cars. Canadian cars have had day time running lights since 1991. Some people enjoy the added little bit of safety that this feature gives drivers, others have the systems removed. Canadian owner's manuals are written in both English and French. Some options were made for the Canadian market that did not find their way into the US, most notably the limited edition 1995 M540i and the 286 hp e36 M3 Euro spec.


How long does it take to make my Canadian BMW FMVSS compliant?

A letter of compliance can be obtained within a couple of days. New speedometers can be installed and programmed at a Canadian BMW dealer within a week.


What is the federal US Treasury duty rate on importing BMW's?

BMW's are charged at a duty rate of about 2.5% of the stated value of the car. More precisely, the first $1000 US is taxed at 4%, while the remaining balance is taxed at 2.5%. So, a BMW costing $30,000 US would be charged a $765 US duty fee to import.


How can I pay the import duty?

Most border crossings accept cash, personal cheque, VISA and MC for payments of duty.


Can WILLZ.CA pay the duty on my behalf?

Yes, we can pay the duty our client. However, because we are Canadians, we cannot simply pay the charges ourselves at the border. We must hire a customs broker to complete this task. Only American nationals can import their own cars and pay their own duty. Customs brokers charge $400 per transaction and an effective duty rate of 2.71% on Canadian BMW's imported. Because of the added paperwork involved in using a customs broker, the process is delayed by about a week to clear importation.


What other fees are there associated with importing a vehicles from the US to Canada?

There is a $1000 minimum cross-border transportation fee for all vehicles sourced in the US, delivered to Toronto. The pick-up area extends from Chicago to Boston to northern Virginia. As of Dec 2009, vehicles imported from California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida are subject to a transportation fee up to a maximum of $2000. Rates vary by region. Shipping can be arranged for destinations other than Toronto.


How long will it take me to pay the duty at the border myself?

It has been our experience that the process takes only about 15 minutes. When you are ready to import your BMW to the US, simply drive to the border and let the border official know that you wish to import the vehicle that you are driving into the US. The official will ask you to pull over and see another official in the importation office. The second official will ask you for you bill of sale, Ontario registration papers, and your letter of compliance from BMW Canada. The official may inspect the VIN of the car and may inspect the m.p.h. speedometer in your car. The official will then calculate the rate of duty based on the information that you present . He will then ask you to pay the duty. Once the duty is paid he will hand you a federal import Form 7501. Make sure the Form is stamped by the official before you leave. This Form is used to show your local DMV and Canadian officials that you properly imported the vehicle into the USA. You can now title your car in your own state of residence.


Do I have to pay Canadian sales taxes on my purchase?

No, normally purchases in Canada are taxed at the Harmonised Sales Tax rate of 13%. Vehicles which are exported from Canada are exempt from HST. US purchases will be exempt from HST. However, to obtain this exemption, export papers from the US Federal customs office (Form 7501) must be forwarded to WILLZ.CA subsequent to exportation.

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