How to Import a Classic Car from Canada into the USA

If you are wondering how difficult it is to import a car from Canada into the USA, here is a succinct article outlining the process:

Rule # 1: You must purchase the car in Canada, not the USA.

If you think it’s going to be easier to cross the border and do paperwork after the fact, think again. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection guidelines make it clear that you need to present all your documentation at the border upon entry. That means the bill of sale and any ownership documents need to be sorted (presumably with payment) before driving or towing the car stateside. Penalties for non-compliance with import laws can include vehicle seizure at the border.

Rule # 2: The car must be at least 25 years old – based on the vehicle manufacture date.

Rule # 3: If you plan to drive the car make sure you have proof of insurance, a valid license plate or temporary permit, and the means to secure said plate/permit in a visible manner.

Of course, to get into Canada in the first place you’ll need to bring your Passport with you and enough funds (through credit card or US cash) to pay any charges along the way.  And remember if you buying the car with cash, when you arrive at the Canadian border you must tell the Customs official if you are carrying more than $10,000 CAN (indivually or per family if travelling as a family).

Now, the following things aren’t rules, but we strongly suggest you adhere to these suggestions if you want a hassle free experience:

A) Allow additional time for payment to get to the seller if doing a wire transfer, or be prepared to carry cash.

If sending money by wire transfer remember sending funds to Canada is like sending to any other international country. There may not be a big time zone delay but it could take up 3–5 business days for the funds to show up in seller’s account.

B) Call the local U.S. customs and border protection office before you go.

There is a dedicated phone line for those who are importing a motor vehicle – 716-843-8348 – and the recorded message contains helpful info including which bridges to use, hours of operation, required paperwork, etc.

Figure out where and when you are going to cross the border and get there well before they are scheduled to close. Lines in the US can sometimes take several hours, and you don’t want to pull up to the crossing window after-hours only to be turned around and told to come back another day.

C) Have all your forms completed to the best of your knowledge prior to crossing the border.  You will need to complete these US government forms:

Print both the HS-7 and 3520-1 forms on letter-size paper.   Although it’s not necessary to have the DOT and EPA forms filled out before you arrive, doing so will speed up the process.

In addition to the forms, you will need;

  •  copy of your driver’s license, passport and U.S. birth certificate
  • Documents proving vehicle ownership;  A bill of sale, plus the title signed over in your name.
  • If you are using a transport company – A letter to the carrier explaining that they have the permission to ship your car across the border.
Also, make 2 copies of each doc, including the Canadian registration and Bill of Sale, as the officer may want to keep those docs with the paperwork being processed.

When you get to the US border, you will be directed to a parking area where you will have to leave the car and go inside the Customs building to provide the officer at the desk with paperwork (Canadian registration for the car, Bill of Sale, CPB Form 3299, DOT form HS-7, EPA form 3520).

Be sure to get the DOT and EPA forms that are handed over to you stamped before you leave the Customs office. You will need both these forms stamped to register the car in your state.

Once the paperwork is cleared you will have to pay the Duty owed.  Duty is calculated at 3% on the first $1,000 of the purchase price, then 2.5% on the remaining amount.  Make sure you get a receipt for the amount of Duty you paid, and now you should be OK to enter the USA.

Registering your vehicle in your state:

When you take your forms to the Motor Vehicle Bureau to register the car and get license plates, you will most likely need a Safety Inspection Certificate that you need to obtain from an authorized facility within the state. In states like California, you may also be subject to emissions testing. It’s a good idea to check if that is required before you buy the car, as some vehicles may be difficult if not impossible to pass local clean air tests.

There you have it. Let’s recap on the paperwork needed to get a 25 year + car across the border from Canada to the USA:

1) Canadian title/registration
2) Bill of sale
3) DOT form HS-7
4) EPA form 3520
5) Cash or credit card to pay import duty
6) Temporary U.S. transit permit or valid license plate, if you plan to drive the car across the border.

Now, have fun searching for your dream car in Canada!

5 comments

  1. I’d just point out a couple variables based on my experience of the few times I’ve imported from Canada into Michigan. You need to declare at point of entry.. Having said this, if the owner were to drive it into Canada to meet you there is nothing that says that the port of entry can’t be somewhere like a international airport. I once bought a Chevy Corsica of all things from a friend of mine while he was visiting and we completed the transaction at MBS Airport in Freeland, MI. The import documents reflect this as the port of entry.

    Also, Michigan (and perhaps other states) allow you 72 hours to drive a vehicle you have purchased the most direct route home without a license plate. I once imported a 2CV from Ontario and drove it right from the ferry in Marine City, MI directly home with no license plate at all. I even got pulled over and was sent on my way when I showed my documents and explained that I was heading home on this sunny Sunday afternoon.

    Having said all this, there is a large array of vintage vehicles that can be found in Ontario and sometimes with the exchange rates they can be good deals.

  2. When I had sold my of the two 1988 CX25 TRI Break with a sloppy 5 speed , the buyer was visiting his aunt in Toronto, but he had lived in Long Island U.S.A , plus had met me a number of times at the rendezvous , he saw my CX25 TRI and drove it around, bought it instantly , paid me the sum and I wrote him a bill of sale, only that car wasn’t yet 25 years old, this was in the spring/summer of 2005 when I had sold it, only I remember that I had to take it to the Buffalo Airport, where I had met the buyer, he drove it on a set of his own plates, temporary or how , I am not sure, he may even have had the car transferred to his name, though it has been over 12 years to remember the full details now.
    He still have the car.

  3. When I had sold my one of the two 1988 CX25 TRI Break with a sloppy 5 speed , the buyer was visiting his aunt in Toronto, but he had lived in Long Island U.S.A , plus had met me a number of times at the rendezvous , he saw my CX25 TRI and drove it around, bought it instantly , paid me the sum and I wrote him a bill of sale, only that car wasn’t yet 25 years old, this was in the spring/summer of 2005 when I had sold it, only I remember that I had to take it to the Buffalo Airport, where I had met the buyer, he drove it on a set of his own plates, temporary or how , I am not sure, he may even have had the car transferred to his name, though it has been over 12 years to remember the full details now.
    He still have the car.

    1. You have to factor in ocean shipment, adding marine insurance, probably having a broker handle the import docs for you (of which you will most likely need many copies of the Title and Bill of Sale). And you need to ensure the vehicle is thoroughly cleaned at the port in the UK from where the vehicle is shipped. We featured an article on importing a car from Europe to Canada in the Spring 2013 issue of Citroenvie. Much of what is stated in that article would apply in a USA import from the UK. You can find it here: https://citroenvie.com/citroenvie-magazine/

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