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I can take my car across the border into Canada and keep my licence, right?

January 1, 2011

You’ve probably been asked this question at least once from one of your cross-border transferees. The short answers are:
1) yes the car can be imported if it clears customs and meets Canadian regulations; and 2) no, the licence can only be kept for a maximum period of time before it must be exchanged.

Moving Vehicles

As explained by Shelley Buffet of the Mackie group, moving vehicles from the U.S., as part of a personal move to Canada, requires preplanning and proper documentation.

All self-propelled vehicles permanently leaving the US must undergo a 72 Hour Theft and Prevention Check that is performed by US Customs. The vehicle is presented to U.S. Customs at the time of export by the carrier, or by the relocating employee if driven across.

The documentation that must accompany the vehicle includes the original title and a cover letter explaining the situation for the move, i.e. Vehicle(s) are being exported from the USA permanently, as I am relocating to Canada for employment
A clear copy of the title (front and back) & cover letter must be faxed to the U.S. Customs border crossing a minimum of 72 hours in advance, for the theft and prevention check to be completed.

It is easier to export a vehicle from the US if the vehicle title is clean, i.e. no liens. Vehicles with a lien require the following:

1) A letter from the lien holder providing authorization for the vehicle to leave the USA.
2) A copy of the original vehicle title from the lien holder.
3) The lien holder’s letter and the Original Copy of the Vehicle Title notarized.
4) Original notarized documents must accompany the carrier/driver at time of export to present to US Customs.

Requirements prior to importing a vehicle(s) into Canada: For Vehicles less than 15 years of age from the manufacturing date, the employee should contact the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) at 888-848-8240 or to check its admissibility. RIV provides all requirements prior to and during the vehicle importation process.

Prior to importing any vehicle, the original vehicle manufacturer, or authorized dealer of the vehicle, must be contacted to obtain a recall clearance letter, which is required for it to pass federal inspection.

Requirements of Canada Customs for clearing the vehicle: The employee must ensure that they have a valid passport, work visa or proof that he/she is a returning citizen, original vehicle title and bill of sale, or written appraisal for the vehicle(s). He/she must also provide a separate list of any goods that may have been packed into the vehicle(s).

The employee may be subject to pay duty and taxes on the vehicle(s). Canada Customs is responsible for assessing and collecting this if applicable. For general information, contact Canada Customs at 800-461-9999 in Canada, or 506-636-5064 if outside Canada, to determine these costs. You may also choose to visit the Canada Customs website:

Newer vehicles should be verified for Green Levy Tax (an excise tax for fuel inefficient vehicles), before attempting entry. Please check website to verify:

Exchanging a Driver’s Licence

Many people mistakenly believe that if they can bring their car across the border, then they are exempt from exchanging their driver’s licence. This is not the case. If they remain in Canada for more than a given period of time (see chart) is required by law to obtain a Provincial Driver’s Licence.

The exchange process itself for most Americans moving to Canada is straightforward. Provided that the individual can prove he or she has been driving for at least two years, and has a clean and current driving history (for instance no suspensions in the last two years), there is an immediate exchange of the driver’s licence. The individual needs to bring his or her driver’s licence, driving record, Canadian Work Permit and proof of Canadian address and he or she will be issued a full local licence. Important: Americans need to understand that they will have to hand in their US driving license in order to get a provincial driving license. They must forego the US driving license.

If, however, an individual does not have two years of current driving history and/or does not have a clean driving record, Canadian Provinces will NOT exchange the licence immediately. In these instances, it is best to leave the car at home!

Failure to exchange the driver’s licence before the time limit has expired has repercussions. While there is no “penalty” that is easy to define, a fine may be levied and ticket given for driving without a licence and valid insurance; it depends on the way the police officer interprets the offence. Most importantly is the insurance ramification, as the U.S. insurance will not be valid in Canada. If there is an accident, the employee would have to assume all liability and may even face jail time.

Grace period before a licence must be exchanged
British Columbia 90 days
Alberta 90 days
Saskatchewan 90 days
Manitoba 90 days
Ontario 60 days
Quebec 6 months
New Brunswick 10 days
Nova Scotia 90 days
Prince Edward Island 120 days
Newfoundland 90 days
Northwest Territories 120 days
Nunavut 90 days
Yukon Territories 120 days


Posted on January 1, 2011 in Newsletter

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