DID YOU MAKE A WRONG TURN BACK THERE?
Note that the story of our trip back to Calgary and home is covered in a collateral webpage.
Yeah, you knew there had to be one someplace.
This is a description of how we imported our motorhome. As such it's a history, it's mostly static and the events recanted in this story won't change. Unfortunately, government regulations have a habit of changing almost as often as you change your socks. In addition, government bureaucrats are remarkably inconsistent about the way that they read the regulations and enforce them. Often, this means you can get away with something. Sometimes it means you get taken to the cleaners.
We make no claim that you're going to be able to import an RV like we did by following these guidelines. If you decide that you want to try this, you do so at your own peril. We'd be interested in hearing your story of woe so we can pass the warning on to others, but we accept no responsibility for whether they work for you or not.
This is a history of how we carried it off, not a prediction of how you can or will. Caveat emptor!
These are the tabs in our primary notebook. Yours will almost surely be different. Use this only as a guide.
Don't be self-conscious about your labels. They're there to help organize YOUR data so YOU can lay your hands on it with a minimum of trouble. Should someone else not approve, that's their problem!
MAKIN' A LIST, CHECKIN' IT TWICE...
In your notebook, under each tab where it would be relevant make a checklist of what has to be done. Use your favourite word processor so you can edit it easily as required. Try never to actually delete an entry. As you complete it, merely mark it in some fashion like appending a row of dots and the completion date at the end. But, don't be afraid to rearrange the items to match reality or insert new items as needed. Run through these lists at least every other day to make sure that you haven't missed something important. Being a nit-picker is important here. You can be a slob another time!
Be prepared for the following series of questions (or something very much like it) when crossing into Canada.
All of this and much more is discussed in our "CUSTOMS" webpage. BE SURE TO READ THAT PAGE BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO CROSS THE BORDER IN EITHER DIRECTION.
WHICH BORDER CROSSING?
The border crossings between the USA and Canada are not all alike. There are huge monsters like the one between Detroit and Windsor, then there are the little ones like Del Bonita, Alberta. There are relative advantages and disadvantages to choosing a major or a minor border crossing.
This is an itemization of what you should do before even seriously considering bringing an RV across the border into Canada.
Use a 2" or a 3", 3-ring binder. While you're at it, pick up several packages of tabbed dividers for it. Choose the kind with transparent plastic label holders so you can change the labels easily whenever required. You're going to want a total of at least 20 or 24 dividers. Save yourself a lot of grief and buy a 3-hole punch, too.
From this time forward, when you speak with any government official about anything with any relevance to this project, a synopsis of the conversation goes in here. That synopsis should contain the date, the official's name, their phone number or location and a description of what was asked by you and what their response was.
From this time forward, every webpage that you download and print off, including this one, is filed someplace in your notebook. This will include (but isn't limited to) ads describing various RVs for sale on the Internet, manufacturers' specifications for those models that interest you, government documents, webpages describing peripheral matters such as dog kennels, RV insurance, car rentals in the city where the RV is for sale, motel accommodations in the city where the RV is for sale, and any other issue that may be of concern to you in this project.
Every time you talk with a sales person you should collect a business card from them and file it here, probably under the dealership's name. Every brochure goes in here as well.
Do you have a camera? Take pictures. They go in your notebook someplace, too. If it's a digital camera, the graphics file should be filed on your computer's hard disk as well. (See below.)
If your notebook begins to get too full, start a second or even a third one. Move all the descriptions of all the RVs you've considered into the subsequent notebooks, reserving the first one for all the other documents you'll be collecting.
Be a packrat. Save everything. After the project is finished, after you're sitting in your new RV with its new plates here in Canada there will be plenty of time for throwing away the unneeded papers you've been collecting. Before that time, each one is precious and virtually irreplaceable. If you failed to keep it and you suddenly need it, you're up the proverbial creek without the proverbial paddle. Tough luck, bucko. YOU WERE WARNED!
Create a root directory (e.g., Recreational_Vehicles) and make subsidiary directories under it. It's exact layout will depend a lot on the way your mind works, but you should have at least one subdirectory to match each tab in your notebook. Every file that you download that has any relevance to this project should be stored here whether you printed off a hard copy or not. If you need extra subdirectories (e.g., one for each RV that you look at), don't hesitate to create them. If you create a different subdirectory for each RV that you consider, you should probably create them as subdirectories under a more global subdirectory called something like "Gallery" or "Line_Up."
FIRST, READ THE DISCLAIMER IN THE SIDEBAR!
Now you're ready to begin in earnest.
Contact the Canadian Registrar of Imported Vehicles. Download and/or print off hard copies of any and all documents describing their requirements and prohibitions. Pay particular attention to those vehicles that they will simply not allow to be imported (e.g., Class B van conversions). Pay particular attention to those things and characteristics that are not allowed into Canada.
Contact the Canadian Border Services Agency (formerly Customs Canada) both at a local office (at an international airport or in a government building downtown) and on their website. Look for any information that may be available describing importing in general, importing vehicles in general and importing recreational vehicles specifically. Download or take home copies of anything that may seem peripherally relevant. Specifically, look for a copy of the pamphlet Importing a Motor Vehicle Into Canada or one that supersedes it. Need we remind you that it goes into your notebook after you read it?
Contact United States Customs about the regulations governing the exportation of motor vehicles. US Customs offices can be found at most major, international airports in Canada. Specifically, look for the pamphlet Importing/Exporting A Car (No. 520) or one that supercedes it. You may also download it in MS word format. This pamphlet describes the new rules for permanently exporting a car. Another webpage of particular interest is Exporting a Motor Vehicle. As of this writing, US Customs apparently considers an RV to merely be another kind of car! (Need we remind you that it also goes into your notebook after you read it?)
You can find out how we did this by visiting The Quest For Our Dream Retirement Home. Feel free to use your own system too. Keep in mind that you may very likely have to make some minor alterations on the RV in order to finalize it's importation, and figure these into the final cost of the unit. Such alterations will cost both time, effort and cash.
Before you pay anyone any money, look around the door (on towables) or around the driver's seat (self propelled) for the various stickers applied by the manufacturer. (In many class As these are concealed in a cabinet above the driver's seat.) As you cross the border the various Customs services will need to see these and you'll save time and flustration on both their and your parts if you can merely open a cabinet door and point. These are also required to pass the RIV inspection once you get the RV home.
If you have a digital camera (or even a film camera that will focus closely enough) it would be a good idea to photograph those labels and put copies in your notebook for future reference.
You can find out how we bought our motorhome by visiting Expedition To Texas and Big Deal Goin' Down!.
PAY PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO THE ISSUE OF CARRYING LARGE SUMS OF NEGOTIABLES INTO THE USA.
From the seller, you will have to get a NOTARIZED Bill of Sale. You will also have to get a signed, clear Title. In our case, we also needed a copy of Mr. Smith's Death Certificate because the motorhome was in both his and Mrs. Smith's name and we needed proof that she was currently the sole, surviving owner. Be alert for little snags such as this. If in doubt, get official documentation to prove your point. (And of course, it all goes into your notebook.)
You will require some sort of temporary registration or license plates to transport your new RV from the place you bought it to your home legally. Every state and province has some provision for issuing temporary registration/plates for transport of vehicles where permanent plates aren't practical. They all warn you that their plates are only good in their state or province and that the cops in others may prosecute you in spite of it. Realistically, they don't. As long as you've got something that looks official, the cops ignore you unless you're actually breaking some other law. Just don't be silly enough to test the system by fabricating your own permit/license. That can land you in jail! (Funny as it sounds, that's been tried!) If all else fails, take along a set of plates from another vehicle that's already registered to you and hope that you can sweet talk your way out of the problem with the documentation you carry about your motorhome purchase. Dog and pony shows really do work!
Also, pay attention to the limits and rules governing the use of such an "in transit" permit. The details are critical. For instance, when we got ours from Texas we had to itemize 5 major cities that we would be going through as a means of delimiting an itinerary, and the temporary permit expired in 15 days. If we were found significantly outside our itinerary or driving with the permit a month later we were burnt toast! Texas' permit cost us US $5. Other states and provinces gouge you for more or less, depending.
Alberta has an "in-transit" permit but it's only good for one use, only from point A to point B and costs $22.49. In theory you will have to pay for a new one every time you take the motorhome to a different inspection station. That can get pricey.
Our problem was that we didn't receive FORM 2 from the RIV until several weeks after we'd returned to Calgary. By that time the temporary permit had expired and we still hadn't been able to get any inspections or legitimate plates. Stan merely grabbed the plates off another of our vehicles and drove with them. The strategy was that he probably wouldn't be stopped as long as he had some Alberta plates on the motorhome unless he broke some other law. If he did, he would try his best to talk himself out of a ticket for false plates with a detailed explanation and evidence of the gamut we had to go through to get the vehicle imported, inspected and plated. The gist was that he was doing everything he could and didn't deserve a ticket, at least for that. He never got stopped, partly because he only drove it twice (to inspections), so it was a non-issue.
Current regulations require that you FAX copies of the notarized Bill of Sale and the signed, clear Title (and in our case, the Death Certificate) to the US Customs office at the border crossing where you plan to enter Canada AT LEAST 72 HOURS in advance of arriving at that border crossing. Your cover page should explain why you're sending them the FAX, it should stipulate when you plan to arrive there and it should advise them that you will be calling within the hour to make sure that the FAX arrived in a legible state. Then, true to your word, you should call them to confirm the FAX' arrival. (This is called CYA, or "covering your @$$!")
When exporting a vehicle, US Customs should not be a big obstacle. Merely arrive at least 72 hours after sending the FAX mentioned above, identify yourself and present the originals of the notarized Bill of Sale and the signed, clear Title. In that 72 hour grace period US Customs probably will have checked with the various authorities to confirm that the RV wasn't stolen and isn't on some "prohibited list" for security reasons. (You'd be surprised at some of the things that are!) When you arrive they will inspect your documents and your RV to verify year, make, model and serial numbers (And maybe to admire your new toy! These people are human too.), then issue an EXPORT CONTROL INSPECTION DOCUMENT that gives you permission to export the RV to Canada. It would be a good idea to ask for a spare photocopy for your notebook, although you'll almost surely be given an original as well. There is currently no charge for this service.
Canadian Customs isn't much more difficult to deal with, although the waiting line is often longer! (See the sidebar.) As you pass through Canadian Customs, when you get to the "Do you have anything to declare?" part, you must explain that you're importing the RV into Canada. The agent "on the line" will direct you to an appropriate parking area and you'll be directed to go into the building to deal with another agent.
At many border crossings, particularly the busier ones, you'll be required to "take a number" and wait your turn. Have a seat. Relax. This is going to be a piece of cake. When called, present yourself at the wicket ("window," another term inherited from mother England) with the Bill of Sale, Title and the US EXPORT CONTROL INSPECTION DOCUMENT. You will also be asked for some proof of insurance on the RV.
The Customs agent will ask for the paperwork, ask a series of questions, then finally go out to your RV to verify year, make, model and serial number. (And maybe to admire your new toy! These people are human too.) All the while they're doing this they are filling out a form entitled VEHICLE IMPORT - FORM 1.
You will then be required to pay 7% GST (Goods and Services Tax for the information of non-Canadians. A sort of federal sales tax.) on the value of the RV as stated on the Bill of Sale after it has been converted to Canadian dollars using the current exchange rate. Under the NAFTA agreement, RVs manufactured in the USA are not subject to import duty.
Before you leave home you would almost surely have known what the RV was to cost so you can predict rather closely what the GST will be, the only unknown value being fluctuations in the exchange rate. Carry a certified or cashiers cheque for as close to the projected amount as possible, plus a little extra pocket cash (or a debit or charge card) so you can make up any differences due to fluctuating exchange rates. We arranged for a cashiers cheque for CDN $8,000 as we left Canada and it worked well for us. The exchange rate had dropped somewhat as we brought our motorhome across the border so we received a small amount back from Customs Canada.
Be forewarned that you may not be able to use a debit or charge card for paying the whole amount (e.g., CDN $7,000 to CDN $10,000) because these normally have daily limits (usually $1,000) imposed as a security measure regardless of your credit rating or how much you're worth back home. That would effectively leave you standing at the border or catching a bus back home to get more money for the GST. Check with your bank. You may be able to get the ceiling lifted temporarily if necessary. Don't forget to reinstitute it after you get back. You don't want someone stealing your card and buying a Lambourghini at your expense!
You'll also be asked if you prefer to pay for the RIV inspection at this time or would prefer to pay when you actually get the inspection. The fee is CDN $182 either way. There seems to be no particular advantage or disadvantage to either. Do as you wish. This inspection will be dealt with in a subsequent webpage.
At the end of all this you'll be given two copies of a stamped and signed VEHICLE IMPORT - FORM 1. Another copy will be sent by Customs Canada to RIV for processing.
We have included a copy of our VEHICLE IMPORT - FORM 1 so you will know what one looks like. Be forewarned that this is a 50 Kb graphic and will require some time to load on a slow connection.
Congratulations, you're halfway there!
BUYUSA.GOV -- U.S. Commercial Service: An overview of bringing US goods into Canada set up by the US Government.
TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS TO CANADA by the U.S. Department of State.
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Copyright © 2004, Stanley A. Schultz and Marguerite J. Schultz.
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This page was initially created on 2004-March-16.
The last revision occurred on 2005-December-19.