Importing a Car from Canada to the U.S. - Tax, Cost, How

Before you begin the process to import your car from Canada to the U.S.., use  this guide to assist you in understanding know to properly handle the process. Understand  Customs forms and requirements, EPA Standards, even registration.

All the imported vehicles are subjected to U.S. bumper standards, safety standards, and U.S. air pollution control standards. The vehicles manufactured aboard confirm those rules can be exported to the U.S. for the sale purposes. The vehicles that are not manufactured for U.S. customers might not meet all the rules and regulations. If any vehicle does not meet the safety standards, then the importing process will take some more steps.

If you want to know more about the rules and safety standards, you can visit the U.S Customs Service, U.S. EPA, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration websites. Besides, there might be some additional state rules that will include title, registration, and emissions. You need to go through all the details carefully to make sure the process will go smoothly for you.

Once you are ready you can go to our Canada Auto Transport page and get informed on how to make a reservation.

U.S. EPA Standards For Vehicles

Before planning to import your car from Canada to the U.S., you will have to go through EPA requirements as mentioned earlier. The requirement will cover the car air pollution emissions.

The emission testing requirements will be based on the complex laboratory testing process. The emissions will be measured when the vehicle will be driven on a chassis dynamometer in the laboratory. For testing, the vehicle will be driven on a decided and specific cycle that will represent a typical drive of 10.5 miles. It will take from fourteen to thirty-six hours. That will include all the processing such as decelerating, accelerating, starting, stopping, idling, fuel filling and sitting for a while parked. During the testing, they will measure the Carbon Monoxide, Hydrocarbons, Evaporative emissions, Nitrous Oxides, and particulate emissions. The emission testing will cost around for $1, 000 for high-duty vehicles.

After the testing, you will get an importation declaration form from the EPA that you need to submit to the U.S. Customs Service. This is applicable to many types of the vehicles for importing to the USA. The vehicles will include motorcycle engines, light-duty, motorcycles, kit cars (the EPA Kit Car Policy explains requirements for the import of replicas and Kit Cars) and light-duty vehicles. This form will not be required for the new vehicles or cars that will be imported by their manufacturers and they are covered by the EFA Certificate of conformity. You might need one form for the shipment.

A few vehicles do not require emission requirements. These are the old vehicles, unregulated fuel vehicles, racing vehicles, and  non-chassis-mounted engines.

For more information, visit Imports of Vehicles, Engines and Equipment which will have various documents and resources from the EPA. The Overview of Vehicle Imports Requirements is also helpful and goes into detail.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Requirements

Any vehicle that is not more than twenty-five years old need to adhere to the Department of Transportation safety standards. These vehicles must meet the safety rules and standards those are in effect during the manufacturing time of the vehicles. The passenger cars that are manufactured after September 1, 1973, will have to meet the bumper safety standards, for example.

For importing any vehicle from Canada, you need to file DOT-HS-7 form during the entry to ensure that your car conforms to the bumper and safety standards or not. Besides, the original manufacturer of the vehicle will have had to attach a label to your vehicle certifying that all the safety standards are met with the intention of selling purpose in the USA. If the vehicles do not have certification label given by the manufacturer, or you cannot provide documentation that these requirements are met, then these vehicles will be considered as the nonconforming vehicles under the DOT bond. It will be one and a half times of the the custom duty values of your vehicle. This will be an additional expenditure.

In the absence of both, the importer will have to sign a specific contract with the DOT Registered Importer for the modification of the vehicle to conform to the bumper and safety standards. You will need a copy of that DOT Registered Importer to attach to the DOT-HS-7 form. All these documents will be given to the Customs Service of the U.S. with a DOT bond during the time of port entry.

U.S. Custom Service

All the vehicles and cars imported to the U.S will have to go through the port entry and that will be cleared only by the U.S. Customs. To get the clearance of the Customs, you will need a few documents that will include foreign registration, a bill of sale, carrier’s or shipper’s original bill of lading, any other required document covering the vehicle. Besides, you will need a label in the English language given by the manufacturer to be affixed to the car or 3520-1, (or 3520-21 for off road vehicles and heavy duty motors) an EPA form with full information, saying that your car meets all the emission requirements of the U.S..

quick auto transport tipTip: Using a customs agent, will really be worth it. You won't have to worry about forms, rules, laws, etc.  If we import it for you, we will put you in contact with a customs agent so everything is in line when trying to transport the car across the border. 

The owner of the vehicle will have to do all the arrangements with the US Customs Service for shipping his vehicle. Once your shipper notifies you the arrival date of your vehicle, you should contact with US Customs Service to facilitate the shipping process. The shipments will be cleared first at the port of entry. You can also arrange to send your vehicle to a custom port. You can choose any of these two depending on your preference.

You can also do the arrangements to import your car with an Independent Commercial Importer. If you go with this option, the ICI will take all the responsibility for the import. It will do any EPA-required modification. It will be responsible to ensure that all the EPA requirements are met. But the problem with the ICI is that it does not import all the vehicles. Besides, the fee will be high.

Any foreign-made vehicle imported into the USA will be have to pay custom duties at the given rates. You will have to give these fees and will cost the same regardless of your vehicle’s condition and purpose of use.

Motorcycles- 3% or 3.4%.
Autos- 2.5 %
Trucks – 25%

Many of the Canadian vehicles are duty-free. Duty rates will be based on the payable and paid price.

For any returning U.S. resident, there will be some custom exemption. You might consider applying for $400 Customs exemption for you and your accompanying family members towards the value of your vehicle in the following conditions.

• If imported for the personal use.
• Accompanies you on the return.
• Purchasing during the trip.

You can apply for this exemption while returning from work, study, and travel. Once you apply for the exemption, the flat duty rate of ten percent will be applied towards the next $1, 000 of your vehicle’s value. The remaining cost will be charged according to the rule.

Even non-residents will be able to import a car duty-free for the personal uses. But for this, the vehicles need to be imported in combination with the owner’s arrival. If you import any nonconforming vehicle, you will have to export it within one year. Moreover, you will not be able to sell these vehicles in the USA. For the export, there will not be any exemption and extension requirement.

The conforming vehicles imported under the duty-free exemption will be have to pay duties if the owner sales the vehicle within one year of the exemption. You will have to pay the duty at any convenient Custom before completing the sale process.

Any U.S. citizen employed in a foreign country or returning on TDY will be able to import a foreign car duty-free if they enter for a short period without claiming the resident status. They can export the vehicle while leaving the country.

The civilian and military employees of the U.S. government returning after finishing the mission to any extended duty outside the territory of the USA will be allowed to include any conforming car among the household effects and duty-free personal. For this facility, the vehicle needs to be purchased abroad and should be in the possession of the owner before the departure. The extended duty period will be 140 days and more. The navy officers serving aboard a U.S. naval vessel or assisting the naval vessel from the departure from the U.S. to the return after an extended overseas deployment for 120 days and more will be permitted for the extended duty exemption.

Although we cover just about everything in regards to customs as far as Canada is concerned, you will find the U.S. Customs page on importing vehicles has a a lot of good detailed information for anyone from regular U.S. residents to military, to foreign nationals, for example.

Other Considerations

Here's a list of other items that will be on your agenda when getting you import a car from Canada to the U.S. These are important, so be sure not to overlook them.

Clean The Undercarriage

The undercarriage of all imported cars to the U.S. will be free from foreign soil, demanded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prevent the importation of the dangerous pests. Therefore, you will have to clean your vehicle before shipment.

Vehicle Contents

You should not use the vehicle as the container for your belongings. Your belongings will be susceptible to the theft while loading and unloading. Moreover, the carriers and shippers will not accept the vehicle with your personal belongings. All the contents will be declared to the customs on entry. Therefore, make sure that you are not packing your personal items in your car. Any unwanted content might be resulted in a fine or they can also seize or destroy them.


Some imported automobiles are subjected to fee known as the gas-guzzler tax. The amount of this tax will depend on the joint highway/urban fuel-economy rating decided by the EPA for the gas-guzzler purpose. It might vary from the ratings determined by the manufacturer. If there is no assigned gas-guzzler fuel-economy by the EPA for your automobile model, a rating will be determined independently. The tax will not be imposed on the automobiles if the vehicles have the combined/joint fuel-economy rating of minimum 22.5 miles per gallon.

What to do When it Arrives

• Get the vehicle insured as soon as possible if your vehicle is not insured.
• Register your vehicle immediately. You will need all the documents including the Customs paperwork. With the registration, you will pay the state taxes and the fee for the license plates.
• Some states might require a smog emission test on your vehicle before completing the vehicle registration.
• After a few weeks, you will receive the new plated and tags for your vehicle.

We hope this guide has demystified the process of importing your car from Canada over to the USA. If you would like to book auto shipping, call us today at 800-284-7177.

Carl has a decade of experience in the car shipping industry. He has worked in nearly every aspect of the transport business since 2014, taking charge of various roles in the company such as dispatching, sales, and customer service.

During those years, Carl amassed an invaluable amount of experience which has contributed to his writing of every article and and guide on NX since taking over content in 2015.