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  • Importing DOT Non-compliant Canadian vehicles into the United States with a Registered Importer

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    This process is for people who wish to import their vehicle from Canada and are unable to obtain a letter of conformity from the manufacturer for your Canadian vehicle and said vehicle does not have EPA and/or FMVSS stickers. If your manufacturer has confirmed that your vehicle is not compliant with certain FMVSS then you may also use this process.


    If you have a vehicle over 25 years in age, or have a vehicle that does have a letter of conformity confirming compliance with FMVSS and/or FMVSS/EPA stickers, this process will not apply to you. You will need to follow different (and easier) procedures.


    There are three Federal agencies that have their own requirements which must be satisfied in order to import your vehicle. The agencies are Customs and Border Protection, Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation. Each of these agencies has their own form to document compliance, CBP form 7501, EPA form 3520-1, and DOT form HS-7.


    Beware, this process is not for the faint of heart. The instructions written here were based on an import of a motorcycle model that was also sold in the US market. The further your vehicle deviates from a similar model sold in the US, the greater challenge, expense and reduced chances of success you will experience. Generally, the older the vehicle, the easier it is to import as it was subject to fewer regulations and standards at the time of manufacture. You must also engage with a registered importer and have them make any required modifications to bring your vehicle into US compliance.


    Brief Overview of Procedure:


    1. Find a Registered Importer
    2. Engage RI and prepare import paperwork
    3. Confirm EPA compliance
    4. Present vehicle for inspection at the land border
    5. Take vehicle to RI hold lot. RI to assess, make modifications and provide compliance to DOT
    6. DOT releases vehicle to owner. Owner registers vehicle with their state

    Step 1: Finding a Registered Importer

    The first challenge is to find a RI who will work with your type of vehicle and also work with the general public. Many RI’s work only with the used dealer trade. A list of active RI’s can be found at the NHTSA https://www.nhtsa.gov/importing-vehicle/registered-importers . To find an ideal RI that will assist you with your import, you will want to find one that is physically close to you and works with your type of vehicle. You should be sure to check the mailing address and business interests number in the table that work well for your situation. The business interests numbers are as follows:


    1. Modify vehicles imported from Canada
    2. Modify vehicles imported from other countries
    3. Modify passenger cars
    4. Modify multipurpose passenger vehicles (e.g., vans, SUVs)
    5. Modify light-duty trucks
    6. Modify medium and heavy-duty trucks
    7. Modify trailers
    8. Modify buses
    9. Modify motorcycles
    10. Petition NHTSA for an import eligibility determination
    11. Modify low-speed vehicles


    E.g. For a situation of importing a motorcycle from Canada, you’d look for business interests 1 and 9. You may need to reach out to a lot of RI’s before you’ll get a response from one that may be willing to import your vehicle. An RI is not obliged to assist you with importing your vehicle and it up to their discretion whether they will take on the job. You may need to reach out to one out of state, or on the other side of the country. Depending on your strength of desire to import the vehicle, this may or may not be a feasible option for you. If you cannot find a RI willing to facilitate the import, you are out of luck and cannot import the vehicle. 

    Step 2: Engaging with the RI

    Once you have found a RI that is willing to facilitate the import, you will need to provide them details such as the VIN, make/model and manufacturing year of your vehicle. The costs involved can vary substantially and cars will likely be a lot more expensive than a motorcycle as the latter is subject to far fewer FMVSS. Expect to pay a minimum of $1,000.


    Once you have agreed to engage their services, they’ll invoice you for the initial costs of processing the border paperwork, applicable duties paid to CBP on your behalf and the overall FMVSS assessment.

    The RI will then provide you a package of documents which you will need to fill out so that the RI can create an eManifest with CBP and prepare your vehicle for import. These documents are aimed at the dealership trade, so there will be a lot of sections on the forms that don’t apply to you. It is not possible to offer specific guidance on these forms as they’ll vary between RI’s. If you are having difficulty with those forms, reach out to your RI.

    A note of caution:

    Despite one’s reasonable presumption that a RI is an expert in the actual import process, it is not a good presumption to take. My RI had made several mistakes and was lacking knowledge along the process which had incurred significant cost and delay. Most notably:


    1. The RI presumed my vehicle was already permanently imported when it was not, and that I couldn’t have imported it without them preparing the paperwork first. They directed me to take the vehicle 100 miles south to their lot before later coming back and said it had to be run north to the border due to the original temporary import. During the week the bike was at the lot, the front tire had blown and I had to hire U-Hauls to move it around. This one mistake put me $600 down. It’s not possible to have the import done at the CBP office at a local airport, it must be physically brought through the border according to the RI.
    2. The RI incorrectly believed that the vehicle can be registered with a copy of CBP form 7501. The DoL in WA requires the original 7501. You should presume your DMV will also require the original. Under no circumstances should the 7501 be lost, I don’t know what to do if it is lost. I would envisage an awkward conversation with CBP to get a replacement.
    3. The RI is meant to affix a FMVSS sticker, the one they affixed to my bike fell off and I have asked for a replacement. This is important because if you ever have to export the vehicle back to Canada and later back to the US, the sticker will save you going through the RI process a second time.
    4. It is a good idea to visit the CBP commercial imports office before bringing the vehicle through to get confirmation from them that the documents are in order. The RI was unaware that we needed their written authorization to bring the vehicle through as commercial on their behalf, and we found out directly from CBP ahead of time by visiting their imports office. Thanks to repeated visits to the office, the process of actually bringing the bike through was very smooth. You can visit the CBP imports office by approaching the port of entry from the US side, and look for signs directing to ‘US Government Office’, ‘CBP visitors’, ‘imports/exports’ or something to that effect. You will need to speak with the CBP officers that work in commercial imports as personal imports CBP officers will be unfamiliar with these processes.

    Step 3: EPA Compliance

    Some RI’s will insist on there being an EPA VECI sticker or having a letter from the manufacturer confirming EPA compliance. I had neither, so I had to find out other ways of demonstrating compliance. It is important to note, RI’s can only bring vehicles into DOT FMVSS compliance, they cannot bring vehicles into EPA emissions compliance. The only people that can bring vehicles into EPA compliance are ICI’s (Independent Commercial Importers), they’re hideously expensive, few and far between and tend to only work with specific models of vehicles (think supercars).


    If you have an emissions sticker referencing EPA compliance, then the 3520-1 should have Code B checked.


    If you are without a letter from your manufacturer and/or without an EPA sticker, then all is not lost. You will need to consult your Canadian vehicle emissions (VECI) sticker. The sticker will have an Engine Family number…this is effectively a model number for your engine. You can use the engine family number to obtain the certificate of compliance for emissions from the EPA and CARB.


    For the EPA certificate you need to write to complianceinfo@epa.gov with the following information from your Canadian VECI sticker:

    ·       Manufacturer

    ·       Engine Family

    ·       Evaporative Family

    ·       Engine Displacement

    ·       Model


    A representative from the EPA should then provide you with the certificate or confirm that no such certificate exists. If there is no certificate, then your vehicle is not EPA compliant, and you should consider selling it in Canada as importing it will vary between extremely costly to genuinely impossible.


    The CARB certificate should be publicly available at their site at ww2.arb.ca.gov – the best way to find it is either by googling your engine family number, or entering your engine family number into the search bar on the CARB site. If there is no CARB certificate for your vehicle, you may be able to import it, but many states may prohibit its registration depending on their laws regarding CARB compliance. Check your state’s requirements regarding CARB compliance. Your state’s DMV should have information on their website regarding CARB if they require it.


    Finally, your RI can consult the NHTSA database of importable vehicles. If they can confirm your model of vehicle was sold in the US and/or you have the emissions certificates your RI can file EPA form 3520-1 with code EE or FF.


    It is advisable to have printouts of the EPA and CARB certificates and the NHTSA database entry in case you are challenged by CBP regarding the vehicle’s emissions compliance. CBP will likely not want to see them, but it is a good idea to have these to hand.


    A note about EPA Exemption Code M: EPA code M looks to be a carte blanche way for new LPR’s moving from Canada to bring their vehicles into the US without issue regarding emissions. Unfortunately, it only applies to personal imports. Due to the nature of RI imports being commercial, you cannot use the code M exemption. Given that there isn’t such an exemption on the DOT forms, and it’d be very odd to have a vehicle with a FMVSS sticker and no EPA sticker, the exemption is functionally impossible to use. You will need to determine if your vehicle is EPA compliant. 

    Step 4: Customs

    IMPORTANT: If the vehicle was temporarily imported when you immigrated, you must take the vehicle out of the country and bring it through the US port of entry again with the documents prepared by the RI. If you are not in possession of a stamped CBP Form 7501 and your vehicle is in the US, your vehicle is temporarily imported. Do not take the vehicle to the RI’s hold lot until you are in possession of a stamped CBP form 7501.


    Before hitting the border, you RI should at the very least provided you the following completed forms if you are taking the vehicle through customs yourself:


    • CBP Form 7501
    • DOT Form HS-7 – Box 3 checked, this denotes use of the RI process
    • EPA Form 3520-1 – Code EE or FF checked if no EPA sticker present. Code B if sticker present
    • Written and signed authorization to import on the RI’s behalf with defined validity period
    • Manifest Sheet
    • Copy of DOT Bond which your RI has posted with DOT
    • Canadian registration. May not be required but good to have


    Once you are in possession of complete paperwork, you will need to present your vehicle for inspection. If you are in the US, proceed into Canada and turn around. Re. Covid, you can advise CBSA that you are flagpoling your vehicle and have no intention of entering Canada. No ArriveCan or Covid test is required for this. If you are in Canada, proceed onwards to US Customs.


    Because you are importing as commercial on behalf of your RI, you will need to take the vehicle down the commercial lanes at the port of entry. Advise CBP that you are importing the vehicle and taking it to a RI’s DOT Hold lot. Present the eManifest, 7501, HS-7, 3250 and the bond contract. You will be directed to secondary.


    You’ll have to pay a customs entry fee of around $16, and CBP may inspect the vehicle. Customs duties may have been paid in advance by your RI and paid on the original invoice, or you may need to pay duties in person. CBP will advise what you need to do.


    If all goes well, you may have two stamps on your CBP 7501 form. One may be “Per DOT form HS-7 this vehicle is non-conforming at time of import” the other should say “RELEASED” with a date and port of entry name. DO NOT LEAVE the port without having the 7501 stamped with “RELEASED”. Correcting that later is a massive headache according to the RI. If it is not stamped insist with CBP that you need the red released stamp.


    If you’ve now left port with your stamped 7501, congratulations! Officially, your vehicle is now under a DOT hold and bond. That is that your RI has posted a bond of 150% of the dutiable value of your vehicle and they now have 120 days to bring the vehicle into compliance with FMVSS, otherwise they must export the vehicle or have it destroyed. Should they fail to do this, then the bond will be forfeit so naturally the RI will not delay in this step of the process, nor should you!

    Step 5: DOT Hold and Compliance

    It is important to note that while you have at this point permanently imported your vehicle, in the eyes of the US Government, that import is conditional. You are required at this point to take your vehicle to the RI’s hold lot. Do not under any circumstances try to circumvent this process, you’ll have both an angry RI to deal with who lost their bond of thousands of dollars, not to mention the US Government which can levy extreme penalties and destroy your vehicle if the process is not completed correctly.


    Upon dropping your vehicle at the RI’s lot along with all import paperwork (7501, Canadian registration etc), you can put your feet up and relax. Much of this part is on the RI to complete. Essentially what happens during this process is as follows:


    1. The RI will assess your vehicle against applicable FMVSS in force at time of manufacture.
    2. The RI will identify required modifications to the vehicle, such as a speedometer conversion and should advise/bill you as such.
    3. The RI will carry out the required modifications, if any.
    4. They will then complete a Statement of Conformity. This is a summary sheet with all FMVSS and whether the vehicle in its original state complied or required modification was done for each FMVSS item.
    5. They then will prepare a compliance package which includes the statement of conformity and evidence that the modifications were made. They will then send off that package to the NHTSA/DOT. If your RI attests that your vehicle is now compliant with applicable FMVSS, they should permanently affix a sticker confirming this to your vehicle’s frame/door jamb.
    6. This then starts a 30 day clock. NHTSA during this time may check and confirm compliance, or effectively do it on the nod, and note that the vehicle could be subject to inspection later. After 30 days the vehicle is automatically released to the owner, providing that the NHTSA did not have any objections.
    7. Your RI should then advise you of next steps. Barring any calamity, your RI should confirm that your vehicle is releasable and will provide you back your original 7501, bond release letter from the NHTSA, and copy of the statement of conformity, along with all other import documents.

    Step 6: Registering with the State DMV

    Once you have obtained your vehicle back from the RI and are now in possession of the original stamped 7501, bond release letter and other applicable documents, you are now free to register your vehicle with your state’s DMV.


    As mentioned earlier in this document, requirements vary between states, and many registration offices are unfamiliar with the process to register foreign vehicles. You will need to consult your state’s DMV to confirm registration requirements, and further procedures if needed. At a bare minimum your state will need the following to register and plate your vehicle.


    • Canadian registration
    • Original Stamped CBP 7501 form
    • Statement of Conformity
    • Bond Release letter


    They may also require the following

    • Completed and signed EPA form 3520-1
    • Completed and signed DOT form HS-7


    Your state may take possession of your Canadian registration. One can assume that they notify the provincial licensing authority that the vehicle is exported from Canada. If your registration is contains your vehicle insurance information as is the case with BC, you will need to separate off the registration stub and provide it to your state’s DMV.


    If you still have your Canadian insurance policy, you will need to cancel it and return your plate if applicable to your previous province of residence if applicable.


    If your state accepts your registration application and you have paid the applicable fees, you should now be in possession of a state registration, plate and title. Congratulations! You have imported your vehicle and are now free to drive it, provided you have an American insurance policy in effect for your vehicle. If you don’t have US vehicle insurance, now would be a good time to get it.



    Frequently Asked Questions:

    I have a custom muffler, will this be a problem for import requirements?

    Yes! You must return your muffler to a stock state. My RI referenced an individual being fined thousands of dollars for attempting to import a vehicle with a custom muffler.

    Can I import the vehicle as a personal import with this process?

    It may be possible but unlikely. My RI advised that the compliance process with the DOT has to be done in their name. The DOT forms do indicate that it is possible for the owner to take the vehicle through as themselves using the RI process. Your RI may be willing to do this, but I cannot find any evidence of this being the case that someone has actually done that.

    Why does the Code M exemption exist?

    It’s a bit of a bizarre case of something being created with no functional way to use it. The intent was to allow Canadian citizens and Canadian Permanent Residents who were moving to the US on a permanent basis to import their vehicles without having to worry about the complexity of EPA compliance. Having spoken to the EPA they did confirm that the exemption still exists, though I haven’t been able to find any part of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) or in the Clean Air Act that backs it up from a legal standpoint.


    Technically if you were doing the import as yourself rather than the RI you could theoretically use it. But, if you were importing the vehicle as yourself, your vehicle is probably already compliant, and you don’t need Code M and would be using Code B instead.

    I could not find a single case of someone being able to utilize the Code M exemption. Numerous calls to CBP gave me zero confirmation that the code could be used, nor were they aware of its existence. The code cannot be used for commercial imports.

    Why do I need a letter of authorization from the RI to process the import?

    When you are importing commercially, from a legal standpoint you are not acting in your own capacity but that as an agent of your RI. This means that your RI will be on the hook for any violations or fines that occur. Naturally, CBP need to know that the RI understands that they’re on the hook for that and the person doing the physical import is authorized to act on their behalf.

    My vehicle is from outside of Canada, can I use this process?

    Generally No. A variety of relaxed DOT/EPA requirements specifically apply to Canadian vehicles which this process relies upon. Additionally, the closer a Canadian vehicle is in similarity to that of a US model the greater chance of success. Vehicles that were never sold in the US or Canadian market will likely be substantially outside of EPA /DOT compliance which makes import next to impossible. However, if your vehicle is over 25 years old, then it is exempted from both DOT/EPA requirements and can be very easily imported. So, if you’ve got a 26 year old Nissan Skyline in Japan, import it to your heart’s content!

    Who can I contact for further questions?

    You can contact the author Kai G. Llewellyn at https://www.visajourney.com/profile/370544-kai-g-llewellyn/ or the Canada Regional Sub-Forum for assistance

    Glossary of Terms

    Bond – Money that is posted with the US DOT to guarantee that the vehicle will either be brought into compliance with applicable FMVSS, exported or destroyed. If the terms of import are not followed, the bond is forfeit. The bond posted is 150% of the dutiable value of the vehicle. The bond is usually posted by the RI and the owner is not required to furnish this money themselves.


    CARB – California Air Resource Board – Additional emissions requirements that were created by the State of California which a number of other states have unilaterally adopted. A vehicle claiming ’50 states compliant’ will be CARB compliant. The EPA has no jurisdiction nor enforcement over CARB requirements, it’s down to the states to refuse to register noncompliant vehicles dependent on their own laws.


    CBP Form 7501 – Probably the most important form of all, as this documents the vehicle’s lawful import into the US.  All state DMV’s are required to obtain the original copy of this form to register ANY foreign vehicle.


    CMVSS – Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Comprises all safety standards that vehicles are required to comply with for sale in the Canadian Market. They follow US FMVSS for the most part with some exceptions. Such as regarding TPMS which is optional in Canada, and daylight running lights which are mandatory in Canada but not the US.


    DOT – US Department of Transportation. Not to be confused with state DOT’s.


    DOT Form HS-7 – The DOT form that declares whether a vehicle is FMVSS compliant, or if not, the form documents requirements or exemptions for lawful import.


    EPA Form 3250 – The EPA form which declares whether a vehicle is EPA compliant, or if not, the form documents requirements or exemptions for lawful import.


    FMVSS – Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Comprises all safety and theft prevention standards that vehicles are required to comply with for sale in the US market. Vehicles are required to comply with the applicable FMVSS at time of manufacture, not at time of import.


    ICI – Independent Commercial Importer – A private company authorized by EPA to perform emissions modifications and attest to EPA emissions compliance.


    NHTSA – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which is an agency under the US DOT.


    RI – Registered Importer – A private company authorized by DOT to perform modifications on non-compliant vehicles and to attest to FMVSS compliance.


    Statement of Conformity – A document completed by the RI to indicate which FMVSS the vehicle was compliant at time of manufacture, which FMVSS required modifications to the vehicle and which FMVSS don’t apply.


    TPMS – Tire Pressure Monitoring System – A system required in the US market to alert the driver that their tires have low pressure.


    VECI – Vehicle Emissions Control Information – A sticker that is affixed by the manufacturer which details regulatory compliance information for the engine. Canadian VECIs may or may not include EPA compliance.


    VIN – Vehicle Identification Number – A globally unique ID that is specific to your vehicle and can identify it without the consideration of registration papers and the like. Each country has its own format that the VIN takes. VINs are required to be clearly displayed as required by FMVSS/CMVSS.

    Further Reading

    1. CBP, Form 7501 – Entry Summary: https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2021-Sep/CBP%20Form%207501.pdf
    2. EPA, Form 3520-1 – Importation of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Engines Subject to Federal Air Pollution Regulations: https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2021-02/documents/form3520-1-2021-01-secured-enabled.pdf
    3. CBP, Importing a Motor Vehicle: https://www.cbp.gov/trade/basic-import-export/importing-car
    4. CBP, Importing a non-US Version / non conforming vehicle or car into the US: https://help.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-289?language=en_US
    5. CBP, Registering a foreign registered vehicle, car or motorcycle in the United States with Department of Motor Vehicles: https://help.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-425?language=en_US
    6. CBP, Requirements for Importing a Personal Vehicle / Vehicle Parts: https://help.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-218?language=en_US
    7. EPA, Importing Vehicles and Engines into the United States: https://www.epa.gov/importing-vehicles-and-engines
    8. EPA, Procedures for Importing Vehicles and Engines into the United States – Manual: https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi?Dockey=P10081IS.pdf
    9. Barasch, Larry, BMW Motorcycle Owners of America – Importing A Canadian Montauk into the USA: https://www.bmwmoa.org/news/339329/Importing-a-Canadian-Montauk-into-the-USA.htm
    10. NHTSA, Active Registered Importers: https://www.nhtsa.gov/importing-vehicle/registered-importers
    11. NHTSA, Importing a Vehicle: https://www.nhtsa.gov/importing-vehicle
    12. NHTSA, Form HS-7 – Importation of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Equipment Subject to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety, Bumper and Theft Prevention Standards: https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/documents/hs7_111920_v3_secured.pdf


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    NOTE: The above information does not address the specific requirements for any given case and is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.

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