Importing A Classic Car From Canada To USA (25 Tips)

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One way to get a cheaper car is by importing a classic from Canada to the USA. But this is a complex process and requires some knowledge first.

Importing a classic car from Canada to the USA can be complicated. The most important tips to consider to ensure the process goes smoothly include setting a budget, getting an inspection, purchasing the car in Canada, confirming the vehicle year, and contacting US Customs and Border Protection.

One of the first things that need to be done to import a car from Canada determines whether it’s eligible for importation. This includes knowing the ins and outs of the border and customs laws, and we explain all of this below along with key tips to avoid any additional fees or legal problems.

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Importing A Classic Car From Canada To USA (25 Tips)

When it comes to classic cars, everyone has a preference. While some may prefer the earlier years of muscle cars and others the later years as time passed and safety became a concern.

Either way, there are plenty of incredible classic cars to choose from. And whether you’re looking to invest in one or just have something fun to drive on the weekends, bringing a classic car across the border is not an impossible task.

With that said, importing a classic car from Canada into the United States can be tricky and take some time to plan out.

The regulations around importing a car from another country are strict, especially if that car isn’t modern enough to meet current safety standards or old enough to qualify for importation as a collector’s item.

We have listed 25 tips to consider to avoid any legal issues, save money, and get the car from Canada to the USA faster and in the most efficient manner possible.

1. Set A Strict Budget

Importing a classic car from Canada to the USA can get expensive quickly, especially when calculating the costs for the new car. This is why we are so adamant about setting a strict budget right away.

This allows the person importing a car to determine what they can afford.

For example, a logistics partner will be expensive but simplifies the process and with a budget, it can be determined how feasible hiring outside help would be.

2. Get The Vehicle Inspected

Right away when getting a new vehicle, it should be inspected to identify anything wrong with the car. This includes potential problems under the hood for personal peace of mind.

It’s not required under law to get a car this old inspected, especially to just cross the border and import it into the United States.

We only recommend this to readers because it’s best to catch any issues with the car early before attempting a long drive into the United States.

3. Purchase The Car In Canada

The car must be purchased in Canada to import from Canada to the United States. But not all cars qualify because of the strict laws for road-worthy cars in this country.

It’s a popular practice to go to older auctions in Canada to find cheaper cars worth importing that can’t be found in the United States.

4. Check The Manufacture Date

Not all vehicles are eligible for importation. Vehicles must be at least 25 years old to be eligible under the law for importing into the United States.

This is due to the EPA compliance laws and DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Importing a vehicle from another country can take a considerable amount of time, so it’s recommended to start the process as early as possible.

5. Contact US Customs And Border Protection

Once your car is in the shipping process, we recommend contacting the US Customs and border protection office.

The number to call is 716-843-8348. When calling, an automated message will provide important information including the hours of operation.

It’s best to confirm the time with the office to show up before the office closes. When driving across the border, the law states the driver must contact the port of entry at least 96 hours in advance.

6. Hire A Logistics Partner

Hiring a logistics partner is a more expensive importing method but it’s the best way to avoid any mistakes that could lead to denial at the border or additional fines.

Logistic partners act as brokers and they will handle all paperwork and direct contact with customs to get the car over the border legally.

7. Learn About The Required Paperwork

The proper paperwork needs to be filled out before the classic car crosses the border. This includes the following forms.

  • CPB Form 3299
  • DOT Form HS-7
  • EPA Form 3520-1

The best thing to do is to have all three forms complete before arriving at the border to meet the car there. This is true for both driving the car across the border and shipping it.

8. Get The Vehicle Cleaned Thoroughly

Another tip is to always get the car thoroughly cleaned before trying to import it. Some classic cars can be in much worse shape than others, and a clean car gets through the border easier than a dirty one.

This is the right thing to do to avoid any issues with customs. The customs inspection officers tend to ask more questions when a car is a mess inside.

9. Compare The Benefits Of Driving Vs. Shipping

There are two ways to get a classic car imported across the border. It can be driven or shipped, depending on many factors like vehicle condition, paperwork, and budget.

We always recommend shipping with a certified broker because they can handle much of the nitty-gritty details for a small fee. When driving the car across the border, all paperwork must be filled out, and calls to customs must be made.

10. Check The Local State Laws

Always check the local state laws for classic cars to deem what else needs to be done. Some states require additional paperwork to register a classic car or to allow these types of cars regular road access.

11. See If The Car Qualifies For The Show and Display Rule

The Show and Display rule allows people to import a specific car from Canada into the USA based on some rules. There must be fewer than 500 models made and the car is only allowed to drive 2,500 miles per year.

This is not the preferred way to import a car for most people. However, it’s a way to import a car that would otherwise not be allowed.

12. Research The Vehicle’s History

Don’t forget to research the history of the vehicle too. This is extremely important and must be done before trying to import a car from Canada to the USA.

This is done to confirm there are no liens, tax issues, open recalls, vehicle damages, or accidents worth knowing about.

13. Obtain A Temporary License Plate & Insurance Card

When bringing a classic car into the USA, a temporary license plate and insurance card can be obtained in Canada. This works well enough to allow the car to be driven over the border until it gets home for permanent registration.

14. Pay Goods And Services Tax (GST)

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) must be paid by anybody importing a car purchased in Canada to the United States. Failing to pay this fee will result in hefty fines and the car could be held in customs at the border.

15. Remember International Wire Transfers Take Longer

Bring cash to buy the car or wait 3-5 days for the transfer. Transferring money for a car sale takes longer because it’s an international purchase.

Either plan ahead based on this delay or bring cash to purchase the classic car to drive it off the lot immediately.

16. Get The Vehicle Insured

The vehicle must also be insured once it gets into the United States. However, this isn’t required to import the vehicle but it should be done right away after getting it home and registered.

17. Take The Smog Emission Test

A smog emission test can be considered for many cars to ensure no issues are present with the classic car. This evaluates how much output of toxic chemicals or pollutants occurs from a vehicle.

Depending on the state, this also may be required and there are currently 13 states requiring a smog emission test for classic cars.

18. Bring Cash For The Import Duty Fees

Don’t forget about the importance of a passport and enhanced driver’s license to enter Canada and return to the United States when driving.

Also, bring cash to pay the import duty fees because there are quite a few that get charged for car owners importing a vehicle into the United States.

This includes a 2.5% fee for all classic cars. The fee significantly increases to 25% for any truck, but classic cars are much more practical.

19. Check Out The Substantially Similar Clause

Another way to get a vehicle approved for importation from Canada to the USA is with the Substantially Similar Clause. Customs officers can deem a car similar enough to an existing American model for it to cross the border.

20. Don’t Forget The Bill of Sale

The bill of sale is needed when importing a classic car into the USA from Canada. This should include the year of the vehicle, the price paid, and VIN if possible.

21. Wait For Written Approval From Customs

Customs should be called and alerted about the import of a classic car 96 hours in advance. Once this is done, paperwork can be filed and customs will process everything needed before the arrival.

This allows enough time for customs and border protection to approve the import so that when the car arrives the rest of the paperwork can be submitted and approved.

22. Get Your Passport & Forms Stamped

Don’t forget to get the passport stamped on the way across the border. The forms also must be stamped to approve the DOT and EPA forms.

23. Make Required Vehicle Upgrades

One thing many people forget about when importing a car is the different parts used in foreign-made cars. This includes things like the speedometer, headlights, engine, and much more.

For example, a speedometer that reads kilometers cannot legally drive in the United States. This must be converted to miles before this car can be approved for the road.

We recommend doing this before importing the car if possible. It makes it much easier at the border when the officers ask questions.

24. Learn About The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS)

These standards are not used to check any cars older than 25 years old because of the various loopholes we’ve discussed. But to bring in newer cars, inspections based on these strict standards are required.

25. Calculate The Gas Guzzler Tax

The Gas Guzzler tax is a fee imposed on the sale of an imported classic car if it doesn't meet specific EPA standards. This fee isn’t imposed for any car with an expected fuel economy of 22.5 MPG.

Importing A Car From Canada To USA: The Process

After finding the ideal classic car in Canada, we recommend speaking with a reputable US Customs broker about the required paperwork.

After doing this, finding a shipping company and broker will be the most efficient way to get the car across the border. The expected price for this is $500 to $2,500.

After finding a shipping company, the broker will issue some paperwork that only the vehicle owner can fill out. The paperwork can be sent back to the broker and they will handle all contact with customs and the border.

Once this is complete, the broker handles all of the heavy lifting to get the car to the requested location as quickly and easily as possible.