Import An RV Into Canada from The United States

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Have you ever wondered what's involved to import an RV from the U.S.A. into Canada?

NOTE: Even if you live in the USA and are considering buying an RV from a far-away state, this page could provide some helpful information.

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Randy and I know we'll be in the market for a "new-to-us" RV soon so we've been watching the prices on used motorhomes, both in Canada and across the border, for some time now. For the most part, a similar RV sells for far less money in the USA. The savings are even better in the last few years, since Canadian and US currency have been close to par.

Should we import an RV? Of course the bigger question is:

Are the savings worth the hassle?

I decided to do a bit of research to find out. Here are my key findings and conclusions:

  1. The savings are real. (Of course, as with every used vehicle purchase, there are precautions to take, especially if the deal is too good to be true... I'll get to that in a minute.) Even after paying all taxes and duties at the border we feel certain we would save quite a bit if we import an RV.

    The taxes and duty are not a mystery. You will be required to pay the GST at the border and the PST at your local provincial licensing office. The taxes are calculated on the Canadian dollar equivalent of the purchase price (or, if you got a real steal of a deal - on the deemed book value). This is the exact same procedure and the same as you would pay if you purchased the vehicle in Canada. The only additional charge to import an RV is an import fee of just over $200.00.

    As long as the RV was manufactured in The United States, Canada, or Mexico, no duty will apply when you import an RV.. (For other foreign vehicles you'll pay 6.1% duty.) All North American RVs are exempt from the green levy fee charged for "gas guzzler" vehicles but, if you have AC, the $100.00 air conditioning levy will apply.

    The downside: We also have to factor in the cost of traveling to inspect, purchase, and bring home the RV and there's always a chance of a wasted trip if, for any reason, it doesn't result in a purchase. For $179.00 you can diminish this possibility. See "Inspect the RV" below.

  2. You can get a better used vehicle. Purchasing a used vehicle from a dryer climate (less snow), like in the mid and southern states, generally guarantees far less corrosion. A case in point - our mechanic friend in Tucson hates to work on northern vehicles (like ours) because he's not used to dealing with rusted bolts.

    A caution: Just because it's being sold in Arizona, doesn't mean the RV has always wintered in the south. It's important to find out the ownership history.

  3. Transfer or Warranty. Not all manufacturers honor warranties across the border. The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) recommends contacting the manufacturer directly for written details of their warranty transfer policy. Find manufacturer contact information.

  4. The process to import an RV is not as scary as we thought. We discovered that, although there are a few hoops, hurdles, and paperwork, knowing what is required and being prepared with all the necessary information and documents, makes importing any vehicle from the U.S.A. seem quite doable by the average person.

    The downside: The hoops, hurdles, and paperwork.

How to import an RV

The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) website provides all the details and information you will need to import an RV or any vehicle from the U.S.A. into Canada. I found the website to be quite user-friendly, including interactive features such as a personalized import checklist, the ability to track your case, and a downloadable federal inspection form.

You should carefully read the entire website but a good place to start is with the Importer Checklist Tool , found under the Import A Vehicle tab. Even before you've located a vehicle to buy, you can input the make and model you hope to buy and determine whether this RV passes the admission guidelines to import an RV. You want this information before you begin your search for a used RV because: Not all vehicles are admissible for import.

There are also some exemptions....

  • Any vehicle over 15 years of age is exempt from the registration process but you must have proof of the date of manufacture when crossing the border.

  • Although travel trailers and fifth wheels are treated the same as a motorhome, truck campers (or slide-in campers, as Transport Canada calls them) can be brought over the border the same as any other merchandise.

As well as the RIV website, you may want to look at the provincial licensing requirement for your province of residence. In the case of Ontario, the MTO (Ministry of Transport Ontario) for information on how to get your vehicle licensed after it has passed the import requirements. When I spoke with them, they told me it is straightforward - just be sure to bring all the documentation you have from the border crossing with you; however, this page on the MTO web site indicates other special requirements may be required for registering a motorhome. Read it carefully. If the year make and model of the VIN does not match that assigned by the motorhome manufacturer, extra documentation may be required.

You're not just going to import an RV into Canada; you're also exporting it from the USA so you might also like to check out vehicle export information at US Customs and Border Services.

It can't be that simple - There must be a catch

Actually, there are a few other things I found out that you should be aware of.

While we're south of the border this winter, we thought, if we came across the right buy, we might replace our Class B motorhome with something slightly newer, while we're down there. We hoped to make a trade or sell our old RV, then just continue on our trip and proceed with the paperwork to import the RV when we come home.

WE FOUND OUT THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE (At least not unless we wait until the very end of the trip). Here's why:

  • As a Canadian, you cannot register a vehicle in any state unless you can prove that you are a resident of that state. Apparently this law varied in some states but was "tightened up" after 9/11.
  • You will need a temporary license plate -- a trip permit, to drive your "new" RV (available from the motor vehicle division office of the state where you make your purchase) and immediately return to your province of residence with the vehicle, pay the duties and, complete the registration to import the RV.

This permit will be good for any other states you have to cross on your trip home.

Temporary license plate or "trip permit"

In each state, the requirements are a little different as I found out when I called a couple of different offices.

In Arizona, for instance, to obtain a "trip permit" you will need $15.00, a valid driver's license, and a notarized title transfer. (Meaning you'll need a notary to witness the signature when the seller signs the title over to you.) Of course you'll need to be insured too, (can be arranged by a phone call to your Canadian insurance carrier) but you don't have to provide proof of insurance to get the "trip permit" which is valid for 90 days. Don't get excited about continuing on your trip for those 90 days though - because your insurance company won't cover you for that long. (Read on below)

In California, it's called a One Trip Permit, the seller's signature doesn't need to be notarized, the cost is $18.00 and you can tell them how many days you will need it for. By the way, according to MTO (Ministry of Transportation Ontario), the USA temporary permit is also valid in Ontario, until its expiry date so, given the choice, you may as well tack on a few days to buy yourself some time at this end for getting the safety inspection, emissions testing, etc. taken care of. (I'm not sure about the rules in other provinces.)

Once you know what state you're buying in, call the motor vehicle department for that state to see what will be required.

What if we had to replace our RV in the USA due to a breakdown or accident?

We checked with our insurance company on this. If we had to change our vehicle mid-trip due to any unforeseen circumstance, even if we somehow were able to register it (we'd need an American address as our residence), our RV insurance company Wayfarer Insurance - one of Canada's biggest and best - will only transfer coverage to the new RV for a few days - as long as necessary for an immediate return to our home province. As soon as we import the RV and the proper import and licensing has been completed, a full-coverage policy will be available.

You may be able to find an insurance company in the USA who would "bend the rules," but my contact at Wayfarer suggested we should be very wary of this. As we all know, buying insurance isn't the difficult part - it's usually when making a claim that difficulties arise.

So, I guess the best way to import an RV (other than a truck camper) to Canada from the USA is to buy it at the end of our trip or to make an explicit trip for this purpose.

Reaching an agreement

Presuming you have found a used RV you want to buy, before you jump in the car or hop a flight to go check on your "good deal" you'll have a bit of extra work to do

To lessen the chance of a wasted trip, you want to do as much work over the phone as possible. Start by asking all the right questions. Add any other questions that you can think of yourself. Don't be afraid of offending the seller. This is business and you want him to know you are smart and cautious.

If it all sounds good, discuss the price you're willing to pay - based on your inspection showing that the information he has given is true. If you reach an agreement, assure him you are serious enough to travel to see him right away.

Get his word to hold the RV (not sell to anyone else) during the day or two it will take you to get there. If he 's not willing, you should back out at this point. It could be a sign that he hasn't been completely truthful with you and knows that your inspection would result in the deal falling through. In the end, you can't make a firm offer without seeing the RV. All you can go on, at this point, is your gut feeling about the seller, based on your conversations.

Pre-arrange for payment and insurance

Determine what payment the seller will accept. The best method would be an electronic transfer of funds from your account to his at the time the sale is finalized. Find out from your bank if that will be possible, how to do it, and what the charges would be for this. Make sure you have the funds in your bank account within sufficient time (no holds on the funds) to make the transfer possible. If the seller insists on a money order, bank draft, or certified check instead, you'll have to arrange this in advance and bring the check (in the agreed amount) with you.

If the RV is located more than a half-day's drive away, before leaving home, search out a hotel room and a reputable mechanic close by to the seller's location. It's important that you find your own mechanic - not someone the seller recommends (maybe his friend.) When you find one, call and verify that he's not, co-incidentally, also the seller's mechanic. Get a quote for a mechanical inspection and set up an appointment.

Call your insurance company. Let them know your intentions to import an RV. Find out what you'll need to do and what information you'll need to provide (usually just a phone call) to be covered immediately in the event you make a purchase.



Inspect the RV

Consider hiring a vehicle inspection service such as Aim Mobile Inspections who will physically inspect the RV for you and send you their report. I have first-hand knowledge about this company (through my daughter's boyfriend who recently used them to inspect a car he imported) so I can highly recommend their services. They have experience with RVs too and will inspect, photograph, and document every detail and potential problem on any vehicle, anywhere in the continental USA.

Their RV inspection checklist includes mechanical as well as RV aspects and it looks quite thorough - I think, well worth the cost of $179.00. Of course, you'll pay for this service whether or not you proceed with the purchase, but it might be quite a bit cheaper than traveling to see the RV yourself. And, based on what problems are found in the inspection, you can often renegotiate the price of the RV and easily recoup the cost of the service.

Now, presuming you decide to proceed, you can book your flight or drive down to the seller's location. If you decide to drive, unless you're sure you can tow one of the vehicles, you'll need to bring another driver with you so you can bring both your new RV and your car home. If possible, bring along a friend with some mechanical knowledge and/or one who is familiar with RVs. Time your trip for "business days," not the weekend, because you'll need the local state motor vehicle office to be open before you can complete your purchase.

Even if you've used an inspection service, you'll want to inspect things with your own eyes. Follow a checklist that you have created in advance. A good example can be found at happyvagabonds.com.

Hopefully there will be no disappointments. If there are some, point out that these were not disclosed prior to your arrival. Perhaps you can still re-negotiate your deal. It's a good idea when you import an RV is to plan to stay in a hotel for at least one night, just in case this happens. You'll want to allow the seller the opportunity to sleep on it for a night. He might feel guilty that you made the trip here to find out that he forgot to tell you about a key issue or problem. YOU, however, should be prepared to return home empty handed, and not be swayed by the fact that you made a wasted trip.

Perform a title search

If all goes well, you are prepared to proceed with the deal. Before you hand over any money, you will need to verify that the seller is the registered owner and that there is not a lean against the vehicle (money owing). To do this, write down the make, model, serial number (or VIN), which is usually found inside the driver's door. It's important that you write it down yourself and bring it to the local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) office. Ask them to verify clear title. This may cost a couple of dollars. You'll need this proof of clear title at customs as well. Before you complete your deal you need to also check these serial numbers to make sure they match those on the title documents.

All clear? It's now time to set up your payment. If you brought a certified check and have had to re-negotiate a new price, be sure to get your "refund" in the form of a certified cheque, money order, or cash. At this point, the seller will sign over the title to you. If necessary, as it is in Arizona, have his signature notarized. IMPORTANT: You will need the ORIGINAL TITLE, not a copy, to register your vehicle in Canada.

On the assumption that you have now closed the deal, call your insurance company to enforce the policy, and take the needed documents to the nearest DMV office (you've already been there once to perform the title search), to pick up your trip permit.

State Sales Tax

In some states you will have to pay the sales tax, either at the dealership or at the DMV office, when you purchase your trip permit. Whether you will be charged the sales tax or not varies from one state to another. For instance, it appears there's no avoiding it in Florida, yet in New York, you will be exempt if you're going to import an RV to Canada. You could call a dealer or a DMV office of the state where you'll be making your purchase to confirm if state sales tax will apply and how much.

Recall Clearance

You will also need a recall clearance letter from the manufacturer. You'll have 45 days after you import an RV into Canada to supply this letter to RIV but it's recommended that you get your clearance documents early in the process. Contact the manufacturer with the vehicle serial number and and your request. Documents remain valid for 30 days prior to import and you can, if you wish, submit your recall information to RIV before you import the vehicle.

Bringing Your RV Home

If you've followed all these steps for importing an RV, plus gathered all the documents outlined by the RIV website, you should now be ready to fax or courier the required forms to the border crossing where you plan to enter Canada. (They require the paperwork at least 3 days before you cross the border.) Not all border crossings support the procedure for importing vehicles. Here is a list of entry points.

Using a customs broker

If you need to ship the RV instead of driving it home, you cannot do so without hiring a customs broker. Similarly, if all of this is just too much work, and you're willing to pay someone else to handle all the paperwork required to import an RV, you can hire a customs brokers who will do all the work for you.

Conclusion:
To answer the question, " Is it worth the hassle?

The more expensive the RV, the more you can save, and it may be well worth your while to import an RV.

As for Randy and I, our investment won't be that big, so we don't think we would attempt it if it entails traveling to go and inspect the RV. There's just too much chance that the trip would be in vain.

On the other hand, if we find the perfect used RV while we're already across the border on one of our trips, we're prepared to make the purchase and then store the RV if necessary, until we're ready to return to Canada. We would probably bring both RVs back. (Hey, I'd get to drive for once!) We could sell the old one without pressure and at a better price at home.

One final note at Randy's request ... Randy would like me to make it clear that I'm speaking from research knowledge and not from first-hand experience on this subject. (He's always looking out for me and a little afraid of what could happen if I led you astray :-)

While I compiled all this information for our own use, by sharing it, I hope to help anyone looking at a long-distance-purchase of a used RV.

I made many phone calls and exchanged emails with several offices including the Registrar of Imported Vehicles, Transport Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Transport, as well as the Departments of Motor Vehicles in Arizona and California to put all the pieces together. But we haven't (yet) actually gone through the steps to import an RV ourselves.

Have You Imported An RV to Canada?

If you have actually gone through the process of importing an RV and would like to correct any of the information on this page, add anything, or simply discuss the pros and cons based on your own experience, we would love it if you shared your knowledge.

Enter a title for your tip(s) here.

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

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