Importing vehicles in containers to Canada

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If you’re considering importing vehicles in containers to Canada, you’ve made a wise choice. The Canadian market offers a vast range of vehicles from the United States and other countries worldwide. In 2020, Canada imported cars valued atCAD$ 21.8 billion. However, navigating the process can be challenging without a proper guide. Here, we provide a comprehensive walkthrough to help you understand the ins and outs of importing vehicles in containers to Canada.

Table of Contents

Can I Import a Vehicle from a Country Other Than the United States?

The majority of vehicles in Canada are imported from the United States. However, it’s not uncommon to import vehicles from other countries. If the vehicle was not originally meant for the U.S. market, it might not meet the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Act requirements, making it ineligible for import.

Certain exceptions allow for vehicles from a few non-U.S. countries to be imported, primarily for personal use. However, these vehicles may require modifications and incur additional duties, taxes, or fees before they can be released from Canada Customs and registered.

What Makes a Vehicle Inadmissible to Canada?

Certain vehicles cannot be imported into Canada as per the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV). A vehicle is consideredinadmissible if it does not meet the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) or cannot be modified to comply.

Broadly, vehicles that have not been certified to meet Canadian safety standards cannot be imported. Vehicles over 15 years old can be imported without meeting these standards, but they must pass a visual inspection at the border. Additionally, vehicles involved in an insurance write-off accident or declared “salvage” in the United States are ineligible for import.

Regulated vs. Non-Regulated Vehicles

Vehicles are divided into two categories: regulated and non-regulated.

Regulated vehicles are those manufactured within the last 15 years. They include all light-duty trucks, such as vans, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans, and must meet Transport Canada’s Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS). Theprescribed (or regulated) classes of vehicles under the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations include:

  • Passenger cars (including limousines and hearses)
  • Multi-purpose passenger vehicles (including vans, sport utility vehicles, motorhomes)
  • Trucks (including chassis cabs and service trucks)
  • Buses (including school buses)
  • Low-speed vehicles
  • Motorcycles, open, enclosed, motor tricycles, and limited speed motorcycles
  • Restricted-use vehicles (all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, utility-terrain vehicles commonly known as “side by side”, dune buggies and other similar off-road vehicles)
  • Trailers, including utility, cargo, with mounted equipment, horse, boat, travel trailer, car dolly, etc.
  • Trailer converter dollies
  • Snowmobiles
  • Three-wheeled vehicles

Non-regulated vehicles are not regulated for importation by theMotor Vehicle Safety Act. They include:

  • Vehicles 15 years old or older (except buses) according to their manufacture date
  • Buses manufactured before January 1, 1971
  • Vehicles brought in temporarily by visitors, foreign students, or foreign workers
  • Vehicles designed strictly for off-road use, such as farm tractors and construction equipment
  • Utility terrain vehicles (UTVs), commonly referred to as side-by-side’s, manufactured prior to February 4, 2021 (those manufactured on or after that date are now regulated)
  • Competition vehicles designed only for closed course competitions, with the necessary labels or paperwork
  • Off-road restricted-use vehicles (dirt bikes, ATVs, and side-by-sides) of any age unable to exceed a speed of 32 km/h (or 20 mph)
  • Conventional pedal bicycles with a motor assist (electric or gas) of any age unable to exceed a speed of 32 km/h (or 20 mph)

What If an American Car Doesn’t Comply with Canadian Regulations?

In case a desired American vehicle doesn’t comply with Canadian regulations, there are a few alternatives. You can search for a similar model that complies, or you could apply for a National Safety Mark (NSM). The NSM is essentially an exemption from Canadian safety regulations, and it may be granted by Transport Canada if there’s no Canadian equivalent of the vehicle you want to import. In this case, you would be required to modify the vehicle to meet Canadian standards.

The 8 Step Process to Importing a Vehicle into Canada

Importing vehicles into Canada involves an 8-step process.

Step 1: Check if Your Vehicle is Eligible for Importation

The first step is to determine your vehicle’s eligibility for importation. The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) website provides anadmissibility checklist to determine if your car is eligible for import into Canada. It also provides a list of vehicles that cannot be imported or are subject to additional safety requirements.

Step 2: Obtain an AES/ITN

For vehicles imported from the United States, you need an Automated Export System (AES) Internal Transaction Number (ITN). This number, issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), confirms that your vehicle’s shipment has been reported to the U.S. government as an export.

Step 3: Ensure Your Vehicle Complies with All Safety Requirements

Your vehicle must comply with Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) and all applicable U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). If your vehicle doesn’t pass the inspection at the border, it must be taken to an approved shop in the United States for modification before re-entering Canada.

Step 4: Meet All Other Government Agency Requirements

Imported vehicles must meet other Canadian emission and safety standards set forth and regulated by other government agencies such asEnvironment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC),Health Canada, theCanadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), andGlobal Affairs Canada.

Also, check with your provincial or territorial government to see if it requires any additional modifications so that the vehicle can be registered and insured in that jurisdiction.

Step 5: Complete Your AES Filing with U.S. Customs

When importing a vehicle from the U.S., you will be required to file an AES filing before you can import it into Canada. AES Filings must be completed at least 72 hours before exporting your vehicle, and the vehicle must be in the U.S. when the filing is made.

Step 6: Prepare Your Import Documentation

Next, prepare your documentation and submit them to CBSA. The required documents to import a vehicle into Canada include Bill of Sale, Original Certificate of Title, Last copy of registration (for used vehicles), USMCA/CUSMA Certificate of Origin (if applicable), Letter of Gifting with Letter of Appraisal (if applicable), Form 1 – Submitted to RIV, Form 2 – Received in the mail and required for inspection purposes, Salvage Certificate (if applicable).

Step 7: Get Ready for an Inspection

Transport Canada requires an inspection of imported vehicles to ensure compliance with Canadian safety and emissions standards. The inspection can be done through anauthorized RIV inspection center at the border when the vehicle enters Canada.

Step 8: Pay the Required Duties and Taxes

You’ll need to pay some taxes and duties on your imported vehicle, in addition to registration fees and insurance. The type and amount of duty and taxes you’ll pay depends on whether your vehicle is new or used and where it was made.


Importing vehicles in containers to Canada can be a complex process, but it can be made straightforward with the right guidance. At Cargoux Shipping Inc, we can make your vehicle importation process efficient and hassle-free. To start your vehicle import journey, book a meeting with our team today.

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