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Importing a U.S. Vehicle to Canada


What needs to be done to import a vehicle to Canada?

Before you can register a vehicle in your province of residence, the Canadian government requires you to import the vehicle properly at the federal level. Transport Canada (TC) requires that the vehicle meet Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS). Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) also takes a federal duty/tax based on the value of the vehicle.


What are the CMVSS standards for vehicles entering Canada?

Nearly all US spec. BMWs comply with most CMVSS standards. Most cars have speedometers graduated in km/h, have the requisite air bags, bumpers and side impact beams. Typically just a few minor things must be modified in US spec. BMW cars to meet CMVSS standards. Such items include day time running lights and child seat restraint clips. In a few cases, like the 1995 BMW M3 and all 850 CSi cars, the suspension systems need to be modified to meet headlight height requirements. In some rare cases vehicles do not meet CMVSS standards and cannot be imported for registry and cannot be modified to meet CMVSS standards. Some Audis, Porsches, VWs and quite a few Mercedes Benz cars fall into this category. Eligibility is checked by our Company with a periodically updated compliance list.

As of the November 2007 revision of importable cars into Canada from the USA, the 1995 BMW M3 and the 850 CSi have been removed from the list of eligible vehicles. BMW Canada advises that they no longer have a way of making these vehicles comply with Canadian codes and the vehicles are inadmissible. Thankfully we will soon be able to import BMW Euro e36 M3's with the multi-throttle 286 hp motor and the 4 wheel steering Euro 850 CSi without any interference from BMW Canada.

Added in May of 2008, the BMW Z4 coupe, non-M class, has been removed from the importability list to Canada.

Transport Canada recently instituted a directive that requires all 2008 model cars to be equipped with an approved immobilizer system. Although TC indicates that US cars can be modified to meet this standard, many manufacturers have told TC that their cars are unimportable to Canada. All 2008 model BMWs are importable to Canada from the US.

As of June 2008 the Canadian government has eased bumper requirements on US specification cars. Canada had traditionally stronger bumpers that were more resilient to low speed crashes than US bumpers, saving owners costly repairs in low speed bumps. On the other hand, the EU standard is now calling for softer bumpers which is viewed to cause less severe injuries to pedestrians than stiffer bumpers. Essentially the new law permits the importation of US spec. cars without any need to change bumpers to meet Canadian regulations. This new ruling has nearly no significance to a US spec. vehicle, because nearly all have the same bumpers. This allows a number of BMWs into Canada. Curiously the 1995 BMW M3 is still banned. The greatest impact this law has on US spec. cars is more for the Ferrari, Audi, Porsche and Mercedes Benz imports. Many previously inadmissible cars are now readily importable without modification and excessive cost. The previously banned S4, RS4, S6 and RS6 Audis are importable now. The typical MB compliance cost has gone down from about $7000 to $3500 since MB cannot sell you new stronger bumpers. However, they are still charging astronomical fees for Canadian spec. speedometers at Mercedes.

As of July 2008 BMW and Mercedes very quietly dropped requirements that made importers pay for and procure admissibility letters from these manufacturers at a cost of $350 per letter. Furthermore, the manufacturers have also indicated to the RIV that recall and final compliance letters do not need to come from the Canadian head office of these manufacturers at a cost of $500 per letter. It seems manufacturers have dropped their requirements and allow for federally regulated compliance inspectors to review the cars, as has always been the requirement in the past. This means that we can install km/h speedometers and day time running lights at whatever cost and supplier we so choose.


How do I get my US spec. vehicle to meet CMVSS standards?

When a US vehicle meets the eligibility list, it can be imported to Canada. Upon importation, the vehicle must enter the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) program. The cost for the program is a one time registration fee of CAD$207. The form is filled out and submitted with payment to the requisite agencies. In a few days a letter is sent to the importer indicating what aspects of the car must be modified to meet CMVSS. The importer must modify the car in compliance with the letter.  Within 45 days the modified vehicle must be taken to a federally approved and prescribed inspection facility.  An inspector reviews the document and inspects the modifications to determine if they meet CMVSS standards. Once the inspector is convinced the vehicle has been properly and fully modified, he will approve the form. The form can now be taken to the provincial Ministry of Transportation and provincial registry can commence. If the car fails the inspection, the car must be re-modified until it meets the standards or it must be re-exported or destroyed.


What taxes, duties and fees are applied to vehicles entering Canada?

Vehicles are charged at a duty rate of 6.1% of the stated value , plus 5% federal GST (as of January 1, 2008) and $100 excise tax if the vehicle has an air conditioner in it (regardless if it works or not). A federal excise tax called a 'green levy' is applied to fuel inefficient passenger cars (SUVs, vans, trucks excluded). This vehicle efficiency incentive is levied against cars that enter Canada after March 2007. The tax varies from $1000 to $4000 per vehicle based on average fuel consumption figures that exceed 13 L/100 km to over 16 L/100 km. The levy would apply to the following 2007 and newer vehicles. See the CRA page for more information. The RIV program charges $207 for each vehicle that enters the program. When a car is provincially registered, provincial sales tax is applied. In Ontario that rate is 8%. Note that some vehicles are built in the US and as such no duties are applied.

BMW Canada began charging $500 per vehicle for supplying recall clearance letters for imported vehicles coming from the USA, as of June 2007. Previously there was no charge for this service.

BMW Canada began charging an additional $350 per vehicle for supplying letters of admissibility for imported vehicles coming from the USA, as of November 26, 2007. This is over and above the cost of a recall clearance letter. Previously nearly all BMWs were admissible for import from the USA, and no such letters were ever required. BMW has also convinced Transport Canada and the Registrar of Imported Vehicles that day time running lights (DRLs) found on US spec. BMWs do not meet Canadian DRL requirements. As such BMW Canada has mandated that only a Canadian BMW dealer can reprogram US BMWs to meet Canadian specs. In most cases late model BMWs will also require the installation of a Canadian instrument cluster and in some cases will require an HVAC control unit (e60 5 series and e63 6 series) to meet these Canadian DRL requirements. Expect to pay your local BMW dealer ~$400 to program, ~$1400 for a cluster, and ~$1000 for an HVAC control unit.

As of July 9, 2008 the June 2, 2007 and November 26, 2007 costs and requirements of compliance by BMW have been dropped. DRL software changes can be programmed at a cost of about an hour's worth of labor using the GT1 computer at BMW. It looks like the $3000-$4000 import cash grab has been quietly repealed. How this may effect any warranty claim on an previously unregistered US car in BMW Canada's system is anybody's guess. Certainly one can expect at least some level of resistance.


Can WILLZ.CA pay the import charges and oversee the conversion on my behalf?

Yes, we can pay the duty on your behalf, transport your vehicle and look after the conversion and registration process in Ontario for a nominal fee plus disbursements. WILLZ.CA can prepare a vehicle and it's paperwork for export from the US into Canada at a cost of $500 US. This will require us to attend a Canada Border Service Agency office at the border with the vehicle at the time of import. Transportation charges are extra and are currently billed at $1per km travelled to and from the point of pick up. Prices are valid as of May 2008 when gasoline costs were $1.25 per litre. For example, a trip to pick up a vehicle in Detroit MI and delivery of  it to Toronto ON (800 km round trip) would cost about $800 CAD. Longer trips incur slightly lesser per km charges and can be discussed on an individual basis. A charge of $500 CAD is customary to look after a vehicle during it's conversion and testing process in Ontario.


What other requirements are there for importing a vehicle?

Before the CBSA will allow the import of a US vehicle, they will require an export permission notice from US Customs. The original title must be submitted to US customs for review about a week prior to export of the vehicle. US Customs checks to see if the vehicle has been registered as stolen or has any unpaid liens registered on title. Once they are sure it is not stolen nor has a lien on it, they will issue an export permission. US Customs charges a nominal fee for this service.


Can I import a privately Federalized US spec. vehicle  into Canada?

No. Vehicles which were originally sold in the European market, that were imported by private individuals and modified to meet US FMVSS and DOT standards and were subsequently Federalized, cannot be imported to Canada. Transport Canada blocks the importation of such cars.


See our broking frequently asked questions (FAQ) section for more information.

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