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).  This is similar for Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

It seems most snowbird advisors do not understand how US federal law differs with respect to Canadian importation of a car, as compared to state laws regarding registration, licensing, lien transfers, and the difference between private car insurance contracts from state to state, let alone the Canadian/USA car insurance treaties . Sound confusing – it is but if you make a mistake you can have your car seized, or find yourself with no car insurance coverage when you most need it. When you drive your Canadian car over the border, you are basically importing it.  Since It is for “personal use”, you are 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.

First – Canadians do not have any special priviledge to leave their car in the United States for more then one year. If a Canadian car stays in the US for more then a year, the owner runs afoul of the US/Canadian car treaty. The “US car police” can seize your car and sell it at auction or send it to be destroyed.

SecondIf your Canadian car is in the US for more then six month – your Canadian car insurance policy becomes null and void.  In my opinion, this is a far more serious consequence then having your vehicle seized. If you vitiate the terms of your Canadian car insurance policy and you are involved in a car accident, your insurer can deny you coverage. This means you become personally responsible for all of the financial losses, damages, personal injury claims, lawyers bills etc. 

Third – rarely you can get a temporary individualized State car insurance policy.  You need to call around, but you need to adhere to the concept “temporary”.  It will have a very short finite term and small amount of coverage.  

Which leads to the last point and the simple conclusion.

Fourth – If you want to keep your Canadian car in the US, you need to formally import it. It will then become a US registered vehicle.

For those of you who are crazy enough and still want to import your car there are additional considerations: 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 substantial fees, duties, and taxes that must be paid as part of the process;  and, interestingly, some cars over 25 years of age can be imported as antiques or classics.

Fifth – Once your Canadian car has become a US car, you need to register and licence it in the state you reside in.  Each state has different registration requirements with some expecting it to be done in as little as 5 days of formally entering the country.  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. (Unless you own your car outright, the chance of a Canadian lending institution agreeing to this is zero – it is almost impossible for them to seize the car for non-payment or enforcing their contractual rights once the car is out of the country); 

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 is a very brief blog on a very hot topic. Hopefully this provides you with a glimpse as to what you need to consider.  Check out the blog “Snowbirds buying a US car”.

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

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