If you are moving to the United States or returning to Canada after living there for a period of time on a work visa, the shipping of your car to or from the US can cause you a lot of problems and frustration if the proper process is not followed. In effect, you are shipping a car internationally.

Professional moving companies like Premiere Van Lines have the expertise needed to guide you through the steps and documentation required. That being said, it is important for you to understand that there are some procedures that you as the owner of the vehicle must take care of yourself. We will identify those specific items in this article.

Shipping a Car to the United States

The first step you should take is to find out if your car meets US safety and emission standards. People are often surprised to find that an automobile purchased in Canada is different in some respects from the same make and model that is available for sale in the United States. The National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA), which is a division of the US Department of Transportation, is the body that dictates those standards. The only way to find out for certain is to contact the manufacturer of your car (not your dealer) and ask for a letter of compliance.

Go to www.nhtsa.gov/cars/rules/import and in the Vehicle Importation Guidelines section for vehicles from Canada you will find a list of automobile manufacturers and their respective contact information.

Special Note- the manufacturer will only accept this request from you as the owner. Your moving company cannot do this step for you!

 When you send your request for a compliance letter, be sure to include:

  • Year, make and model of vehicle
  • Vehicle Identification number (VIN)
  • Where your vehicle was purchased
  • Your contact information
  • When you will be moving to the United States
  • What your status will be upon entry – you may be asked for a copy of your work visa or letter of offer from your US employer

Quite a number of manufacturers now charge a fee for preparing these compliance letters. If the letter you receive back states that your vehicle conforms to all FMVSS standards except for labeling for controls, you will be able to import your car. 

If the car does not meet US standards, your only option is to use a Registered Importer to make the necessary modifications. A list of approved importers are included on the same site as the list of manufacturers. Unfortunately, these modifications can be so costly that it makes more sense to sell your vehicle before you leave the country.

Returning a Previously US Registered Car to the United States

Your moving company representative will assist you in completing the necessary documents, including a:

  • 3299 Declaration of Free Entry for Unaccompanied Household Goods
  • HS7 Declaration Importation of Motor Vehicles Form
  • EPA-3520-1 Declaration Importation of Motor Vehicles

In addition to the above documentation, you will have to provide your moving company with the original ownership and proof of insurance in order to transport your car to the United States. Always make a set of these documents for yourself, as you will need them to register your car in the US.

Special Note

Most people do not understand that having a moving company or an auto transportation company ship your car to the United States does not mean that the vehicle is fully imported. US Customs and Border Protection requires a physical inspection of the vehicle to ensure that the VIN number on the paperwork matches the one on the vehicle. Unfortunately, they no longer have time to do this procedure at the border. This means that before you can register your vehicle and get a license plate for it in your new state, you must first report to a local US customs office. You do not have to return to the border point. When you go to US customs, take all of the paperwork with you. Also make sure that when the mover delivers your car to destination, they return your original automobile registration certificate to you.

Other Situations

If you are driving your own vehicle to the United States, then you can do this step yourself at the border crossing, but make sure you have all of the necessary paperwork with you!

If you a returning US resident with a car that you brought into Canada, you can bypass the letter from the manufacturer step. However, in its place you must provide a copy of your former US title of registration plus the additional documents noted above.

Shipping a Car from the United States to Canada

The most critical part of shipping a car from the United States to Canada, including returning a car back into the country, is notifying US Customs and Border Protection service of the impending exportation. This notification must go to the border crossing where the vehicle will exit the United States. Premiere Van Lines can take care of this for you as long as you provide them with the original Title of Registration for the vehicle.

Coming in to Canada, the owner of the car (and/or household goods) must personally report to Canada Customs to legally import their possessions. Like the US, cars must meet Canadian standards and your vehicle will be entered into the “Registered Imported Vehicle” program when you report to customs. You will have 45 days to bring your vehicle up to standards, at which point you can register and get a licence plate in your province. The most common modifications relate to things like your speedometer and daytime running lights.


As you can see, shipping a car to or from the United States takes some advance planning. Professional movers like Premiere Van Lines can help make the process go smoothly.

To get an estimate for your upcoming move, get in touch with the Premiere Van Lines branch closest to you today. Call us toll-free at 1-877-671-6683, or request a quote online.