Importing a vehicle From Europe

by Richard Atwell
(c) Copyright 2007-2011


Importing a vehicle from Europe? Here's some advice from people like me you have gone through the process.

DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind that rules and procedures change so only use this information as a helpful guide. It's up to you to research the specific details that pertain to importing your vehicle to ensure that your vehicle is not confiscated by customs and forced to return to origin (or worse, destroyed) at your expense.

Overseas to Canada:

roll-on roll-off ship

1. Export:

Items that must be provided by the seller to the shipping agent:

Items that must be provided by YOU to the shipping agent:

Items Customs will ask you to produce:

Note: once you supply the name of a broker you cannot change you mind later and pick up the vehicle yourself!

2. Import:

Vehicles younger than 15 years old are restricted unless they are imported from USA and all the details are explained at the RIV website.

If the vehicle is older like our 68-79 baywindow buses, first see the following websites for the latest guidelines to help you with the importing process:

For the specific border procedures see my USA/Canada importing article.

Once the vehicle reaches Canada you will either need to personally deal with customs or hire/pay a broker to do the work for you. If you don't live near the Port of Entry you may still consider a trip in person to clear the vehicle yourself.

3. Getting it home:

You can transport vehicles by combination of road/rail. Every time you have to load from one mode of transport to another it is going incur handling costs.

A lot of people plan to fly out and drive their vehicles home even if they've only bought the vehicle in a neighboring state of province. More often than not a breakdown occurs on the way home.

Consider that even if the foreign seller guarantees you that the vehicle is drivable you really don't know until you see it first hand. Battery, tires, fuel leaks, engine seizure; anything can go wrong and this is why most vehicles are trailed from the port to home.

Overseas to USA:

The same basic steps apply as for Canadian vehicles plus any local hassles of landing the vehicle at the port of inspection. The imported vehicle will be subject to import duties on the sale price:

If you are wondering why the duty on trucks is so high, just search google for "chicken tax". This duty has been in place for decades and it is why VW stopped importing German manufactured pickups into USA in 1971.

The majority of 72-up baywindow single and doublecabs were probably brought in USA by military personal.

If you want to bring a SC or DC into the USA, you are going to need a sales invoice that you can afford to pay the tax on. If you spent your whole budget on the purchase and shipping expenses you aren't going to be happy with the customs bill for 25%.


USA concerns:

Vehicle Cleanliness:

Before the vehicle can be cleared it must pass inspection by Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Canada or the US Department of Agriculture if it landed in USA.

Don't transport any food/seeds/plants obviously but what they are looking for is dirt and plant matter from other countries (e.g. foot and mouth disease and so on). Any dirt on the vehicle will be removed at your cost by these agencies who will charge you their removal rates to incinerate the dirt afterwards. This can be expensive and you are not allowed to clean the vehicle yourself. The only chance for that was before you shipped it.

Any vehicle you plan to import should have a thoroughly clean undercarriage, no dirt on the tires, inside the vehicle, dirty floor mats etc. before it leaves the origin. Remember, they have inspectors who are trained to find problems.

Due to the high cleaning costs by CFIA you may want to bring the vehicle in USA if you live near the border. The local companies the US CBP contract with charge flat fees as little as $200 a vehicle.

Licensing Gotchas:

If you are buying the vehicle from a European country and bill of sale is not in English, your provincial DMV may demand that you provide a translation and affidavit that the bill of sale proves that you are now the legal owner before they will transfer the title to you.

A color photocopier is a good way to retain the old title for your records.

Port of Tacoma:

A safe way to ship your vehicle from overseas is by using a RoRo ship like those used by Wallenius Wilhelmsen. This is essentially a large car ferry used to transport vehicles vs. a container ship. WW docks at several ports in North America but they do not go to Vancouver, BC. The closest port is Tacoma which is less than a 3 hour drive from the US/Canada border.

Keep in mind that containers can be broken into and your RoRo vehicle isn't 100% safe in the storage lot so the earlier you can pickup your vehicle the better.

Before you can pickup a vehicle you will have to pay WW for your shipment. They will invoice you for the local port fees via mail with an arrival notice and they ask you to pay by money order or certified check before the ship arrives. Ships can be delayed by a day or two so check with WW before you plan your trip to the port if you don't live nearby.

Call WW at (253) 952-2591 to find out the status of your payment. They can tell you if the accounts receivable dept. at the NJ office has received and processed your payment. You can also pay them in Federal Way but it means another drive in traffic.

To pick up a vehicle at Port of Tacoma you will need to have your paperwork ready and visit these locations in this order:

1 2 3 4
Location US Customs and Border Protection
2202 Port of Tacoma Rd.
Tacoma, WA 98421
(253) 593-6336
Guard Post
End of Port of Tacoma Rd.
Port of Tacoma Office
1 Sitcum Plaza
Tacoma, WA 98421
(253) 383-9429
(253) 572-3436 (fax)
Hours: 8am-noon, 1-5pm
2207 E 11th St.
Tacoma, WA 98421
(Next to Port office)
  • Passport
  • Permanent Address
  • Bill of Lading
  • Bill of Sale
  • Title
Passport and Entry Manifest Entry Manifest Record of Delivery
Receive Entry Manifest Permission to Enter Record of Delivery Pink copy and Vehicle

You now have in your possession:

Port Map:

map of Port of Tacoma

Port Photos:

port office port entrance warehouse
Port of Tacoma Office Entrance Warehouse (left) and vehicle lot

Shipping Costs:

Costs vary greatly from origin to destination and the fuel surcharges make it impossible to guess the totals without getting quotes from the shipping companies.

To get a quote for RoRo you will need to give them the weight in kg, LxWxH in meters. The last time I shipped was September 2007 and these were the costs:

Origin->Tacoma Ocean Freight ($1920)

$68 USD/cu.m.(based on L 4.2m x W 1.9m x H 2.4m and weight 1500kg)
38% bunker charge
$105 USD receiving

UK Terminal Handling Charges - $81
UK Customs - $61
UK Shipping Note - $51
Bill of Lading - $51
US Manifest - $61
Panama Canal surcharge - $81
Bank charges - $24

Total $2,330 (pre-paid)

+ $55.41 USD local port fees
+ $200 steam cleaning

My other option was Origin->Halifax for $1771 but SeaRail wanted $1300 to transport the vehicle to Vancouver and that was only to the port! I would also have required a broker in Halifax.

Getting to the Border:

To get the vehicle from Tacoma to the border you will need a Vehicle Trip Permit. Visit Washing Department of Licensing for a list of offices. 3-days is the minimum at it costs $25 (often $30 if you go to an authorized agent instead of the DOL). While the police around the port are used to see foreign license plates on the road you don't really want to get stopped by them and once you leave the area you are more likely to be pulled over.

You do not need to provide any information to the DOL to obtain the permit other than your name and address. They've made the process super easy and even let you fill in the card that goes on your windshield that indicates which 3 consecutive days you want to operate the vehicle on WA state roads.

See my other article, Importing for more about Registation and Insurance.

Moving to Canada:

Here's something interesting that I learned:

If you've been living outside of Canada for more than 1 year you can bring in any number of vehicles for PERSONAL USE duty free and tax free but only once during your lifetime. If you are thinking about a new car purchase, now is the time to save on that GST especially since the $CDN is par with USA (Sept '07).

Any vehicles you purchased in USA are eligible. Any vehicles imported from elsewhere through USA are eligible. Any vehicle you previously bought in Canada, brought down to USA are also eligible as long as you can prove prior ownership and registration in Canada. Like the USA market vehicles you are restricted from selling the vehicles for 1 year. If you do, will have have to pay the taxes you avoided during import. This is what Canada Customs will state at time of import.

However because these Canadian market vehicles could have been sold when there were in Canada at any time you owned them and since you have already paid all taxes on the initial purchase you should clear any vehicle sales with ICBC beforehand to avoid any paperwork hassles during the first year. Unfortunately the rules are poorly worded to consider this situation.

Import while Moving:

Thinking about picking up a vehicle in USA and taking it to Canada during a move? It's possible but you have to be aware of a few problems that can arise:

If you gave the shipping company a US address, US Customs will either charge you the vehicle import duty (25% if it's a truck) or require the vehicle travel in bond to the border. You must show proof of residence in Canada (a moving manifest, bill with Canadian address, etc) to the agent before he can release the vehicle to you.

This is the best time to avoid all taxes and duties and fees on an imported baywindow. If you know a friend who is moving and you are willing to keep the vehicle in his name for one year, he can sell you the vehicle for $1 one year later.



08/16/07 - Created
10/05/07 - Added some maps, photos and cross border info.
09/08/11 - Fixed broken photos, added translate button, updated footer
07/15/19 - Google update: new adsense code, removed defunt translate button