Should Canada Snowbirds buy a US vehicle? Most Canada Snowbirds prefer to drive their car back and forth during migration season. Some though have two cars and decide to leave one of them at their US residence. Canadians who do the latter, can run afoul of US federal law. The US prohibits any foreigner leaving a car not registered in the US for longer then a year. If found out, the car can be impounded and destroyed.


Another serious problem is Canadian car insurers only provide coverage for a car outside of the said country for a maximum of six months.  Make sure you check with your insurer, because some will only allow coverage for much less.

As an alternative option, some Canada Snowbirds opt to purchase a US vehicle. Think of it. Why go through the hassle of driving your car back and forth? Why not just fly down, enjoy the trip and have your ride waiting for you. Its a great idea, but like all ideas it needs to be properly researched.  For example Canada does not allow you to bring your US car into Canada without having to go through all of the machinations of importing it or obtaining a temporary import licence.

In 2020, Snowbirds’ got a big break. This problem of bringing a US car into the country wasn’t just a snowbird issue but also for Professional athletes. Canadian born NHL hockey players and other professional US athletes who called Canada home had the same challenge. They had experienced problems when attempting to drive their US cars over the border. Sometimes entry was denied, delayed, or in severe instances the US car was seized and impounded until a sizeable penalty was paid.

So what happened? As of Feb. 5th, 2020, Canada instituted an easier and common sense approach to allow Canadians (and US professional athletes playing in Canada)  “temporary licences/permit” to bring their US car into the country. The idea of a “Temporary Permit” was attributed to the NBA, NHL, and MLB players associations representations to the Canadian government. The car importation law – albeit slightly, inhibited Canadian franchises in competing with US franchises when trying to sign players. As for snowbirds – yahoo! As long as you are not trying to leave it or sell it in Canada – the answer is go for it.

As a good example, one of my snowbird friends recently bought a US car at the Barrett Jackson auto show in West Palm Beach. He registered the car in Florida, added Florida plates, purchased Florida car insurance and obtained a Temporary Import Permit from Transport Canada. He then “temporarily imports” his U.S. plated vehicle into Canada.  The permit is for one year. He advised his insurer in Florida he was driving the car into Canada. 

Remember it is important the application to Transport Canada is applied for and obtained well prior to arriving at the US/Canadian border.  It takes at least six weeks from start to finish to get your permit but it is well worth it.

From a practical viewpoint: “Temporary importation” of a US car is a significant middle of the road approach and exceptionally hassle free. When you get to the border all you need to do is show the approved permit/licence and make a few declarations:


      • Your US car will remain in Canada for less then a year;

      • you have proof of insurance; and,

      • It will be used in Canada solely for your personal use.

    Here is the Transport Canada Link to help you!

    Have fun and drive safely.  If a problem happens – don’t hesitate.  Contact the snowbird helpline.


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