Can I leave my Canadian car at my US residence (all year)?

Can I leave my Canadian car at my US residence all year?

As a Canadian Snowbird my wife and I love the convenience of having our cars with us at our Florida residence.  With two dogs and luggage, driving is the simplest way to head south.  Since we usually stay for five to six months, we often talk about “leaving one of our cars in Florida” as opposed to bringing them both back.

This is a common topic amongst our Canadian Snowbird friends.  When the migration starts in November, the two main highways heading south to the Carolinas and to Florida – are filled with various northern states and Canadian license plates.  Florida’s population alone swells by 15 percent over the winter months (as do the number of car accidents).    

What Snowbirds need to remember is the US and it’s individual states, have very stringent motor vehicle laws.  In addition you need to consider the difference between Canadian and US car insurance such as liability limits, Personal Insurance Protection, and of course the cost of policies.

First – Canadians have no special privileges or rights allowing them to keep their car in the United States for more then six months.  If the Canadian car stays in the US for longer then the required time, the owner runs afoul of US and state laws.  In addition the Canadian car insurance policy can be found to be null and void.  

When you drive your Canadian car over the border, you are basically importing it.  It is for “personal use”. You are therefore exempt from filling out forms, making declarations, etc., and/or paying duties and taxes.  As a visitor to the US (who is allowed to stay for 180 days) it is expected your car will return with you when you go home.  Your Canadian car insurer assumes the same thing.  

Unfortunately, if you keep your Canadian car in the US for longer then allowed, the “US car police” can seize it and send it to be squished.   In my opinion a far more serious consequence is vitiating the terms of your Canadian car insurance policy.  “Out of country” coverage is a specific protection afforded to you.  If you breach the conditions you can find yourself without car insurance and if involved in an accident personally exposed to financial damages. 

Second – if you want to keep your Canadian car in the US, there is only one legal way that I know of. You need to formally import it so it can become registered as a US vehicle.

For those of you who want to do it the easiest way – hire a USA customs broker.  There are a myriad of things that need to be to done to ensure your car meets all of the US certification standards and requirements. Don’t forget there are also applicable duties, and taxes. 

Third – Once your Canadian car has become a US car, you need to register it in the state you reside.  

Each state has different registration requirements with some expecting it to be done in as little as 5 days.  

In general you will need to provide: 

A) copies of your importing documentation and certifications;

B) if the car is financed evidence the lending company approves the change of venue; 

C) proof of ownership; and, 

D) proof of purchase of State car insurance*.  

*Please note that once your Canadian car becomes a US car, you are no longer eligible for Canadian car insurance. (More about that later). 

This very brief blog on a very hot topic. Hopefully this provides you with a glimpse as to what you need to consider.  The next blog will be about Snowbirds buying a US car? Is it the easiest way to make sure you have wheels while away?

Suggestions or comments are always welcome.  Have fun and stay safe!

canadian car in US