Frequently Asked Questions - Importing vehicles purchased in the United States into Canada

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Does the Motor Vehicle Safety Act allow Canadians to import vehicles purchased in the United States into Canada? 

Yes, but only under certain conditions. Subsection 7(2) of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA) allows for vehicles purchased in the US that do not fully comply with all applicable Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) into Canada if the vehicle was originally manufactured to comply with all applicable US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and can be made to comply with Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS).

Note: Not all vehicles offered for sale in the U.S. meet these requirements.

Do all types of motor vehicles have to comply with the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Act at importation?

All types of regulated vehicles that Canadians import which are designed to be driven or drawn on public roads and those designed for off-road use such as off-road motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and snowmobiles must comply with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA).

Older vehicles are exempt from complying with the MVSA at importation if they were manufactured more than fifteen (15) years ago or meet the description of a bus manufactured before January 1, 1971. However, these vehicles must meet Canada Border Services Agency requirements for entry.

Why is a modified vehicle no longer considered admissible for importation?

Once modified (other than having general repairs or routine maintenance), the vehicle no longer maintains its original factory issued certification. This certification is required for importation into Canada. This also applies to Canadian certified vehicles modified in the United States and returning to Canada. For example:

  • a motorcycle converted into trike,
  • a cargo van converted into a camper,
  • adding a suspension lift kit to a vehicle,
  • adapting a vehicle for disabled access,
  • lengthening a vehicle or
  • re-fitting a vehicle with a different body kit.

Be careful when buying modified vehicles to import into Canada. Make sure the vehicle modifier or final stage manufacturer has established that it complies with Canadian standards. You cannot import the vehicle into Canada without this proof.

Other than age, are there other reasons a motor vehicle is exempt from having to comply with the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Act at importation?

Yes. Some vehicles are considered non-regulated either because of their design characteristics OR the temporary nature of their entry into Canada. Canada border officials assess these criteria when someone presents a vehicle at a point of entry into Canada. Note: It is very important that importers research the admissibility of a non-regulated vehicle before presenting it at a Canadian port of entry. This will greatly reduce the risk of it being denied entry.

Is there much difference between American and Canadian motor vehicle safety standards?

Although both countries' motor vehicle safety standards are closely aligned, Transport Canada has unique requirements in areas with proven safety benefits. For examples, daytime running lights, manual transmission clutch interlock, anti-theft immobilizer equipment etc.

How can I tell if a vehicle I bought in the United States complies, or can be made to comply with Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards?

As a convenience to both importers and manufacturers, Transport Canada provides a list on its Web site of vehicles deemed admissible for entry into the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) program when purchased in the United States. The list is compiled from information provided voluntarily by the vehicle manufacturers.

Vehicles are listed either in a compatible column (admissible to enter the RIV program), or incompatible column (inadmissible for entry into the RIV program). A special annotations column also provides potential importers with additional information related to establishing the vehicle's compliance with Canadian standards.

Note: A vehicle model being listed as compatible (or admissible to enter the RIV program) does not guarantee the vehicle's successful importation into Canada. For a complete overview of the importation process and obligations for importers of vehicles purchased exclusively in the United States, please visit the Registrar of Imported Vehicles Web site at www.riv.ca

Who updates the vehicle import compatibility list for vehicles purchased in the United States?

Manufacturers voluntarily provide compatibility information to Transport Canada, who then updates the list. For questions about the accuracy of the information, importers should begin by contacting the manufacturer.

Are damaged or salvage vehicles admissible for importation into Canada from the United States?

Salvage vehicles are vehicles that have been damaged beyond economical repair due to collision, natural disaster or any other event requiring costly repair as determined by a licensing authority or licensed insurance provider.

The Salvage Vehicle Program allows for the importation of regulated vehicles branded salvage when:

  • the damage was not flood-related; and
  • the vehicle is a CMVSS or FMVSS compliant vehicle less than 15 years old; or
  • the vehicle is a CMVSS or FMVSS compliant bus manufactured on or after Jan 1st, 1971.

Non-regulated vehicles, such as those older than 15 years, buses manufactured before January 1, 1971 and other types of non-regulated designs do not have to enter the Salvage Vehicle Program since they are exempt for having to comply with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA) and its regulations.

A “salvage” status on a vehicle's title may severely limit your ability to have the vehicle licensed and insured in Canada. Contact your local licensing authority to learn more.

Notes:

  1. Some manufacturers may not issue recall clearance documents for vehicles that were once declared salvaged denied.
  2. You cannot import the vehicle into Canada without a recall clearance.

May I voluntarily declare a vehicle purchased in the United States as parts only for the purpose of importation into Canada?

You may voluntarily declare a vehicle for “parts only” if it meets all admissibility requirements under normal conditions. Other conditions may apply to vehicles deemed inadmissible. If you want to import vehicles as “parts only”, contact Transport Canada at 1-800-333-0371 or by e-mail at mvs-sa@tc.gc.ca.

When a vehicle is declared for parts only, it receives a non-repairable status that cannot be changed. This means that the vehicle can never be licensed for the road in Canada. Transport Canada shares this information with every Provincial and Territorial licensing authority in Canada via the Interprovincial Records Exchange (IRE).

Who confirms that a vehicle was successfully modified to meet Canadian Standards?

The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV), under contract with Transport Canada. 

How does the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) monitor compliance?

An importer must confirm that the vehicle has no outstanding recalls and submit proof to the RIV before importation. The importer should also confirm that the vehicle is unmodified from its original assembly. Then, once in Canada, after paying the RIV fee, the RIV will tell the importer to present the vehicle for a final federal standards inspection. The importer must make any modifications needed to bring U.S. vehicles into compliance with Canadian requirements such as daytime running lamps, immobilizers, bilingual and metric labeling etc., before the final federal standards inspection.

Importers have 45 days to complete this process. Once the federal standards inspection is successfully completed, the importer will receive a new Canadian compliance label to affix to the vehicle.

Why can't Transport Canada provide recall information about vehicles purchased in the United States?

The recall information in Transport Canada's vehicle recalls database relates only to vehicles produced for the Canadian market and originally sold in Canada. This is why it is important to ensure in that there are no outstanding recalls on a vehicle before you buy it from a dealer the United States or import it into Canada. Importers can also contact the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) before importation to find out if recall clearance is available electronically.

Why is there a fee for the Registrar of Imported Vehicle (RIV) Program?

The RIV program does not receive funds from the government. The Registrar is funded through user fees charged to Canadian importers of vehicles bought in the United States. The fee pays for a series of tasks and services such as pre-purchase compliance verification, importation documentation, tracking and final notification to provincial vehicle registration authorities needed to get the vehicle licensed in Canada. The RIV also:

  • operates a 7 day a week help line (1-888-848-8240),
  • hosts an all inclusive Web site about importing vehicles bought in the United States and
  • maintains an inspection network of over 500 stations.

These tasks are not priced according to the category of the vehicle. Each category must be equally inspected to ensure that a vehicle is in compliance and that the vehicle was not modified out of compliance.

Does the Motor Vehicle Safety Act require the original manufacturer to make the modifications needed to make the vehicle compliant with Canadian standards?

No. The Motor Vehicle Safety Act requires the importer to ensure that the vehicle is modified to comply with Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS). It does not state who must do the work.

However, if the manufacturer determines that parts must be replaced and the work can only be done by a qualified, authorized dealer to ensure compliance, Transport Canada cannot challenge such a decision.

Does the Motor Vehicle Safety Act regulate vehicle warranties and/or the denial of sale to non-U.S. residents?

No. The Motor Vehicle Safety Act does not mandate or regulate manufacturer warranties nor any matters related to denying sales to non-U.S. residents. Some Canadian companies do not honour U.S. factory warranties in Canada while others may have instructed their U.S. dealers not to sell to Canadians. Such policies are company–specific. Contact the company directly for more information.

What can Transport Canada do about the price differential between vehicles sold in the United States and Canada?

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act does not regulate the pricing of vehicles by manufacturers. Pricing is company-specific. Contact the company directly for more information.

Why do some manufacturers charge a fee for information about a vehicle's admissibility or for recall clearance letters?

These are company specific policies for which Transport Canada has no authority to challenge. Contact the company directly for more information.

May I import individual motor vehicle parts from the United States into Canada?

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA) does not regulate shipments of individual parts, with the exception of tires, child car seats and booster seats . This means you may import a shipment of disassembled automotive parts if it does not amount to one or more vehicle(s). Canada Border Services Agency officers will detain any shipment when the parts content is unclear and/or may contain enough parts to meet the definition of vehicle under the MVSA.

Canadians wanting to import tires, child car seats or booster seats should contact Transport Canada at 1-800-333-0371 or by e-mail at mvs-sa@tc.gc.ca.

May I import tires purchased in the United States into Canada?

Tires are a regulated product in Canada and therefore so is their importation. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers will evaluate a shipment of tires to determine if they meet Transport Canada tire import regulations. If the shipment does not meet such requirements, the CSBA will deny its entry into Canada. Contact Transport Canada at 1-800-333-0371 or by e-mail at mvs-sa@tc.gc.ca to learn more.

How do I assess how much tax or duty I may have to pay at the Canadian border when I import a motor vehicle?

Canada Border Services Agency officers collect duties and taxes at importation. If your vehicle is eligible for importation into Canada, please contact the Canada Border Services Agency by dialing toll-free 1-800-461-9999 from within Canada or 1-506-636-5064 from outside Canada (long distance charges may apply), or visit www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca to learn more about duty and taxes.

What happens if my vehicle is deemed inadmissible for importation into Canada after failing the federal Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) inspection in Canada?

If a vehicle fails the RIV inspection, the import may first correct deficiencies and the vehicle will be re-inspected and additional fees apply.

Vehicles that are ultimately unable to pass the RIV federal inspection process must be exported back to the United States or destroyed under supervision of Canadian customs officials. If it is apparent that a vehicle will not be able to pass the RIV inspection process within 45 days from the date of import, advise the RIV immediately.

Note: Importing any vehicle that does not comply with the requirements of Canada's Motor Vehicle Safety Act is a punishable offence under the Criminal Code.

Once in Canada, how do I register or license a vehicle permanently imported from the United States?

Following a successful importation, provide the import documents obtained to your provincial or territorial licensing authority.

Note: Successfully importing a vehicle does not guarantee that you will be able to register and license it. For example, some provinces will not license right hand drive vehicles or certain salvage branded vehicles once repaired. Please contact your provincial or territorial licensing department to learn more about registering an imported vehicle.

Contact

  • 1-800-333-0371 (long distance, Canada)
  • 1-613-998-8616 (Ottawa region and from other countries)
  • Email
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