New Car Import DIY – Save Thousands

new car importImporting a car into Canada may seem to be a daunting task but it really isn’t too difficult.  This past summer I imported one of the 2011 Subaru Outbacks and the process was incredibly smooth.  In addition we saved over $9300! In this post I will detail how to new car import to Canada from the United States.

How to DIY New Car Import to Canada

Here is the process:

  1. Make sure the vehicle you are interested in is on the Registrar of Imported Vehicles admissibility list.  Some manufacturers do not allow their dealerships to sell new vehicles to Canadians.
  2. It is wise to determine if the manufacturer honours the warranty for your chosen vehicle once it has crossed the border into Canada.  Not all manufacturers are on that list, such as Subaru.  Some manufacturers have the owner pay for warranty expenses out of pocket and then apply for reimbursement.
  3. Find out if the vehicle you will purchase is subject to the high emissions excise tax.  NRCAN is a great place to look this up as these taxes can run $1000-$4000 on inefficient vehicles.
  4. Check the list of vehicles that have had safety recalls.
  5. If you are buying used it is worth investigating the vehicle’s history and background.   There are numerous online services that allow you to check the VIN number.  The peace of mind is worth $20-30.
  6. Find out if you will have to pay duty on the car.  Cars manufactured in North America are not subject to duty tax but those built outside North America are subject to duty under NAFTA.  Duty is often 6.1% of the value of the vehicle.  Even with duty, you can often still save thousands of dollars importing. Industry Canada can help you look up the vehicle you are buying.
  7. Arrange your currency exchange.
  8. Arrange payment, vehicle pickup or delivery. Delivery or the use of an Importer can make quite a dent in your savings, so carefully evaluate if you want to use these services.  Some dealerships accept payment on delivery if you pick the car up in person.  It is also wise to request a temporary licence that can be taped to your rear window.  Don’t leave without an outstanding recall letter (if the dealership will provide one).
  9. Fax in a copy of the vehicle title to the U.S. border crossing where you intend to cross.  This must be done 72 hours in advance of exporting the car.
  10. Arrange to get motor vehicle insurance for the car if you intend to drive it back to Canada.
  11. Plan your trip to the dealership where you intend to buy the car.  Enjoy the journey.
  12. Meet with the dealership.  Double check that the VIN on the bill of sale matches the one on the vehicle.  There is usually a sticker on the driver side door that has the VIN on it. Complete the financial transaction.
  13. Drive to your desired U.S. border crossing and identify yourself with your passport and licence.  The officers will check that the title, VIN and bill of sale.  They will then release the title to Canada Customs.
  14. Drive to Canada Customs and identify yourself with your passport and license.  Inform the officers you are importing your new car and fill out the Vehicle Import Form 1 (It will be provided).
  15. You also pay the 5% GST (QST in Quebec, GST portion of HST in Ontario and British Columbia).  Your rewards credit card should handle these payments as most Canadian Customs offices won’t take cash or cheque payment.
  16. Customs will release your Form 1.  Keep all your paperwork available in case you are pulled over, which is possible if a police officer sees a car with no plates.
  17. Drive home!
  18. You will now pay the $195+HST RIV fee, $100 A/C tax (if the car has A/C), duty (if so required) and possibly the aforementioned emissions tax.
  19. Within 10 days of submitting your Form 1 Canada Customs will mail you the Form 2 – Federal Inspection.
  20. You have 45 days from the day you submitted to get any required modifications done to your vehicle (common items include metric speedometer updates/display, daytime running lights, child tether anchorage) and have your vehicle inspected at Canadian Tire.
  21. At the inspection ensure you have all of the documentation you’ve accumulated.  The Forms 1 and 2, letter of recall, title, bill of sale are all required.
  22. The techs at Canadian Tire will conduct their inspection.  This will take 30-60 minutes.  The inspection is included in the RIV fee you paid at the border.
  23. If the vehicle passes inspection, skip ahead to 25.
  24. If the vehicle does not pass inspection, determine where you want the upgrades done and get the work completed withing 45 days.
  25. Take your paperwork to the provincial licencing office and register your car.  You will pay provincial tax at this point.  Use your rewards credit card here as well.

A number of steps to take, but to save 20-30% on your vehicle purchase, well worth it.  We will definitely DIY import a car to Canada again.

So are you shopping for a new car? Know what the dealer paid, get secret rebates and big discounts. It is wise to educate yourself about the pricing in Canada prior to looking to the south – you never know how much of a discount you will get by importing the vehicle until you really understand how Canada pricing works.

45 thoughts on “New Car Import DIY – Save Thousands

  1. Hi Guys, Welcome to Yakezie!

    I’m in the US and don’t read about the Canadian import process often, but I find the topic fascinating! In fact if you ever want to guest post on the topic, you’re more than welcome.

    It seems like a lot of hoops to jump through, but I’ve always been in favor of jumping through hoops if it can save you a lot of money!

  2. I’d love to run a brief explanation of why this is needed for Canadians and something like this checklist would be great. Why don’t you shoot me your email address and we can chat further about details?


    BTW- I think the two comments after mine are spam, you may want to install Askimet (spam filter).

    1. Thanks CNC. They did show up as spam but I wasn’t totally sure so I approved the content. I need to learn more about what is spam and what is not!

      Did you read the other posts I made about why we chose the Outback, our reasoning on importing, the journey we had to get the car and then the financial break-down?

      Check out those other posts to see what we’ve written to date and you can email me: sustainablepersonalfinance at g mail dot com or us the Contact page (might be a good test to ensure it works!)


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  5. This is a fantastic post! I’ve been planning to write about this topic myself as I’ve read about many people doing this very thing on RedFlagDeals for years. I’ve never actually done it myself, although I cross border shop for other things all the time.

    I will definitely refer to this post when I am crafting my own post on the matter and will probably link to it as well because you have first hand experience and put a great amount of detail into it. Great stuff!

    1. Thanks SavingMentor! Surprised I could “teach” you something about savings after perusing your site! (I commented earlier after your Internet post).

      I did do the homework, and the legwork – but for $9500+ it was an easy sell once I figured out it wasn’t THAT complicated, just entailed. Thanks for checking out our site.

      We’d be honoured for you to link back to our experience when you get to writing about this particular savings vehicle (excuse the pun!).

  6. Hi can you tell me what documents the dealer provided you? MSO/MCO , title, and recall clearance? And did you fax these yourself to us customs or did they do it for you?thanks!

    1. The dealer in our purchase gave us absolutely everything we required to complete our import. Additionally, they faxed the appropriate paper work to customs well in advance of our arrival (requirement 72 hours but I think ours were sent a week in advance).

      For the specific documents i’ll need to go through them at home to be certain but we were definitely provided with everything we needed – and MORE! (they gave us a map of the US Customs so we could figure out which building we needed to go to and which turns to take to get there!)

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  9. Thank you for posting these steps. Very helpful. Just completed today (importing into Ontario). FYI, a few things were different. The RIV fee was not paid at the border, but paid online at http://www.RIV.ca. Also was able to submit via email (can also be faxed) the Recall Clearance documentation that was received from dealer. Fee is $195 + HST = $220.35. Dealer arranged temporary license and submitted all paperwork to US border crossing.

      1. 2012 Subaru Outback

        As for dealership, email me directly.

        Just finished the RIV part. The RIV form is available online once payment is received and the documentation is checked. It is great that the process is now even more streamlined.

    1. Wish you had touched base with me then MOA! The savings were ridiculous on our ’11 Outback. And, buying used is possible in the States too. I allude to the struggle we had in not supporting our local economy, however, $9300 is far too much to pay above the U.S. price. That is why we write about SUSTAINABLE PF – not just one side of the topic or the other.

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  11. It sounds like quite a process but since you were saving so much money I’m sure it was worth it. There are programs to import cars from Europe to the United States but I don’t think the savings are that much.

    1. The process might have a lot of steps but none are overly complicated. I was worried it would be hard when I went to get our car but it was really quite simple. And well worth the savings!

      Europe to US/Canada there are BIG shipping costs – can’t really DIY 100%.

    2. Andy, it does sound like a lot of work, but let me reassure you, it is a simple process. I kept expecting some “gotcha” but it was smooth sailing (just imported a car in February). The dealership was knowledgeable of the process and prepared all the paperwork for Customs. Filling out the form at Canadian customs was a snap. The RIV process is simple (done all online). The inspection was 10 minutes at Canadian Tire. The only minor hiccup was getting plates when the person insisted that I needed a safety on the car. I politely advised otherwise and a call was made to get clarification, and it was quickly resolved. Voila! An awesome car at an awesome price.

      I *really* do not like going to a US dealer versus Canadian dealer, but the gouging in Canada is just insane, and there is no way to justify the difference. BTW, the customer service at the US dealership was simply amazing. Would I do it again? Absolutely!

      1. It certainly is an easy process. This how-to post might seem like a lot of steps but none of them are overly complicated. In the end, if you can take a weekday off of work to do the drive it is well worth buying south of the border. We prefer local shopping and businesses as well but the savings on such a major purchase are simply too hard to ignore.

  12. I know two people who have moved to Quebec from the USA in the past two years. They found the worst part of the process was dealing with the SAAQ (Quebec’s DMV) and went through absolute hell.
    In Quebec you must deal with the bureaucrats in person, and when it comes to importing no two people have the same idea about what is necessary. Often they demand forms that Customs Canada does not provide.
    One person convinced a Customs agent to come to the SAAQ office in an attempt to inform the bureaucratic dunderheads, but it didn’t work.

    Finally, on the SIXTH visit to the SAAQ, his pregnant wife collapsed in tears at being asked once again to provide some unheard of form, literally falling on the ground and wailing!

    Only then did they get their plates.

    1. That sounds awful Kevin. The registration process is part of the import process.

      My in-laws imported an Outback and brought it to Quebec (where they live). Mrs. SPF tells me they had issues doing so but did not know precisely what issues. It will not surprise me if it was SAAQ. I will ask them when they visit in a few weeks.

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  15. a good article but you can save people alot of headache and streamline this process much more…first one can check with customs to see if the vehicle they would like to bring back is allowed into the country as the vehicle MUST meet our crash test requirements ( something you cant upgrade later obviuosly ), you can talk to a customs officer at the airport and they will show you a binder with the vehicles allowed, second the secret to buying a vehiicle either privately or through a dealer is the inspection…do not hire private inspectors, and there are many that was the mistake I almost made until I learned to have the ” brand ” dealership do the inspection…so if it is a Toyota have a Toyota dealership do the inspection…DO NOT ACCEPT A VEHICLE without having had a inspection it is well worth the couple hunderd bucks…you cant go wrong with the dealership doing the inspection as they are going to want to find things wrong with the vehicle, this works very well with private sales…the inspection will be emailed to you and you can discuss the vehicle with the service manager over the phone…third the cost for you to go get the vehicle is costlier than hiring a mover when you take into consideration time off work, hotel bills, food, gasoline, waiting time, flight cost, transportation from the airport to the vehicle, time driving back and god forbid but if that vehicle has a breakdown on the side of some highway well you are in trouble trying to get it to a repair shop etc. sometimes its worth spending a couple extra bucks for peace of mind…plan on spending at least a week doing this arranging and travelling…a much better way is to hire a mover ( I used Mackie Movers to bring back a vehicle from SC, it was so simple ) they bring back vehicles every week. I paid $600US and there is no way you yourself could bring back a vehicle for less from anywhere in the US, they went and got the vehicle on Monday and delivered it to my driveway Tuesday, sign some paperwork and away they went…very professional…you can reach me at gac252525@yahoo.com if you have any further questions…

  16. I have successfully imported 2 vehicles from the U.S. on my own. I saved >$7,500 each time (all fees–hotels, return gas, and one-way flights inclusive), and recommend buying American as a good cost saving strategy.

    My 2008 purchase was a breeze. The second time in 2011, U.S. Customs Export Control detained me for 2 hours after running a criminal background check on the title and finding someone with the same name as mine. I sat in the Ogdensburg, NY CBP office staring at a picture of President Obama while 2 agents looked at my U.S. passport, my Nexus card, and my Canadian passport (I am a dual citizen), and a computer screen over and over. I was eventually released, and then proceeded to Canada where the Canada Customs agent charged me $2436 on my Visa instead of $2346. 30 minutes after turning around, I was back at the border and got it corrected.

    There are a lot of small nuances — Michigan’s out-of-state sales tax, New Mexico’s unwillingness to issue temporary plates under Canadian insurance, etc that present risks to the purchase, but if you do your homework, you can save big…or at least I did :-)

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  18. Hi. I have started to look into purchasing a vehicle in the US and have contacted a dealer in New Hampshire. They are telling me I have to have a “valid US address” to purchase the vehicle I am interested in (VW Jetta Sportwagon). Do you know what this might be about? Is it certain vehicles? I was also told by a Hyundai dealer in NH that I could only purchase a used model Santa Fe.

    1. Numerous manufacturers really limit the dealerships on whom they can sell to. Some won’t sell to Canadians at all – others just used. Some want a valid US address (try researching US companies that ship items to Canada – see if you can use their mailing address!).

      Basically the manufacturers are trying to prop up the silly Canadian prices and support the Canadian dealers by making it hard for us to buy in the U.S. Some however let us buy! You might want to think about those … e.g. Subaru Outback – way better than a VW after I did our research (reliability is big for us).

  19. Yes, I am finding out about “franchise agreements” etc… I’ve had two subarus in a row, and I think I need a change. And a diesel engine is looking more and more attractive. 900+ km on a tank vs 500-600 for fuel that is more or less the same price.

    Have considered having a friend in the US “buy” the new car and then sell it to me. Any thoughts/knowledge/experience about such a plan?

    1. Agreed – the diesel engines are attractive for fuel economy. And the engines seem to last forever (in car terms). From what I understand they are a lot “greener” these days as well – compared to say the 80s or 90s.

      When I was researching I was looking @ the SubaruOutback.org forums (I think that was the URL). Many folks were opining for a diesel OB in North America. Worth researching to see if we will see them in North America soon. VWs are pretty but they break. That is my synopsis. Lots of systems outside the sweet motor.

      I do believe you can transfer ownership. There are likely more steps in the process however. The mega thread on car imports @ RedFlagDeals.com (in the forums) has covered this but as it did not pertain to our situation I didn’t retain the advice. If you head there do use the search function – i’d suggest “gift” or “gifting”. Should get you a slew of posts about car ownership transferring between individuals. A whole lot of folks hoping to game the system too – by paying pennies on the dollar. I wouldn’t try to scam the system. The border guards aren’t stupid and they see a lot of cars come across into Canada. If you state a $25,000 car was gifted or transferred to you for a mere $15,000 you leave yourself wide open to get nailed. And who wants to be detained by U.S. Customs? Not me …

      1. I have heard mixed experiences with VWs. A friend has a diesel golf that he swears by. Never had a problem with it.

        Have you heard of dealerships in non-border states being more lenient about selling to Canadians?

        As for a friend buying, to avoid trouble, I imagine he’d have to have the cash to buy the car and then I’d have to buy it from him for the price he “bought” it. So this is seeming like a less and less likely scenario.

        With the $9300 you saved, I presume this was for the equivalent car with the same bells and whistles. A Hyundai Santa Fe I researched, I would save $8000 for the base model, but the base model in the US seems to have fewer features standard.

        1. Yes – same bells and whistles. I broke down the financials in part of 3 of out Outback purchase series. The CDN and US versions are not the same (much more customizable in the US) so I took out the cost of the moon roof and the GPS navigation which are standard in the OB Limited in Canada but are options in the US (we wanted neither).

  20. Yes, I am finding out about “franchise agreements” etc… I’ve had two subarus in a row, and I think I need a change. And a diesel engine is looking more and more attractive. 900+ km on a tank vs 500-600 for fuel that is more or less the same price.

  21. Hey, great write up. My snowbird parents have just called me and they have found the “perfect” used car. This is not the first time they’ve called me for this, but I can’t seem to talk them out of it this time. I’ve read your write-up many times, its fantastic, but I have one question. Between step 12 and 13 there is no mention of taxes. I can’t accept that you frugal folk would pay taxes twice. When you bought the Subaru, did you pay tax at the US dealer and apply for a refund, or did the dealer mark the bill of sale as export and not collect taxes? My parents want to buy the car and drive it up at the end of March with a temp tag. The price is right, but not if they have to pay taxes twice. Any help is appreciated.

  22. It sounds like quite a process but since you were saving so much money I m sure it was worth it.There are programs to import cars from Europe to the United States but I don’t think the savings are that much…..

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