Moving to BC with a car
June 28, 2012 10:52 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are moving to British Columbia on temporary work permits, from the US, and we'll be bringing in a car. However, we want to drive up through Alberta (Burgess Shale tourism!) on our way to Vancouver, and I'm concerned that this may cause major headaches with regard to insurance, registration, licenses, etc. Please help us avoid border crossing nightmares!

I understand that as BC residents we'll need coverage through ICBC, but I'm not sure how to find out what will happen to us at the Alberta border -- will we get some kind of temporary insurance voucher that will cover us for all of Canada, or just until we reach the BC border? Will they turn us around and tell us to enter directly into BC?

We will also be entering BC to move into our apartment without the car (but with armfuls of pets), about a month prior to this. Presumably at that time we will officially enter on our temporary work permits -- will this affect our ability to bring the car in via Alberta? Any snags about licensing or registration that we need to be aware of? Will they charge us an import duty, and is that federally mandated, or does it vary by province?

Thank you!
posted by inkfish to Travel & Transportation around British Columbia (6 answers total)
Your current license will cover you until you get a BC license, I think you have 3 months to do so. No worries and no one will care where you cross the border. Welcome to my city!
posted by Cosine at 11:09 AM on June 28, 2012

I can't think of any reason that this would be an issue. However, depending on where you are coming from, it might not take any longer to travel through BC on the way (entering at Kingsgate, for example). You have 30 days to switch your registration and insurance, 90 for your driver's license. You are fine with your US insurance ad registration for that period.

Be aware of the fees and taxes. If you aren't planning to permanently import the car to Canada, it might make more sense to get a different car in Canada (or consider Vancouver's carshare program). You are looking at $300 to bring it across the border (assuming it has A/C), plus the cost of an import inspection once you arrive (which is roughly $100, I believe), plus a provincial inspection (another $75 or so) plus HST on the value (you pay 5% GST at the border, 7% for the remainder of the HST when you register it in BC), plus potential duty if the car was not made in Canada or the USA.

Have you looked at the pet import rules?
posted by ssg at 11:55 AM on June 28, 2012

I have done this (well, I entered in BC, but AFAIK it won't make any difference, with perhaps a small caveat I detail below). SSG is correct about the duties / fees if you one day become a permanent resident, but they don't apply to you if you only remain temporarily.

IANAL and I am not responsible for your use of this information should the laws have changed in the 2 years since I went through this rigmarole.

1) If you have been driving for longer than 2 years in the US you will not need a road / written test to get a BC license, just a vision test and the fee (around $50).

2) You need to get a card from your US insurance that shows you have coverage in Canada, typically at no cost. You will be covered throughout Canada. You may need to show Customs this at the border, but they didn't ask for ours. US-based insurance companies will not cover Canadian residents, and you are required to purchase insurance from ICBC upon establishing residence (there is a grace period).

3) Before you leave the US, if possible, get your current driving history / claims record from your insurance company. ICBC is horrendously expensive unless you get the discounts they offer for multiple years of not having claims. Unfortunately, some (read: GEICO) US insurance companies are clueless about this. Exacerbating this, ICBC will not take records that are not in the specific format they require. You need a record of all at fault claims against your insurance. If you have no at-fault claims, a letter indicating this is sufficient. The letter must include your full name and policy number (and I believe the VIN of all the vehicles insured under that policy). If you have time, it would be well worth it to get this sorted out in advance, including contacting an ICBC agent to get the proper format and see if what you have is acceptable. (If you're moving to Vancouver, I could recommend the very helpful brokers we use via memail).

3) (The important part) Purchasing insurance from ICBC is a pain in your (and my) situation. Temporary residents with cars is not something that the insurance brokers and border agents deal with often. We had to endure over several long months many consultations with ICBC agents and take 3 trips back to the border to be grilled by suspicious border officers while trying to convince them to give us what ICBC wanted in order to get everything sorted out. Hopefully my experience will make it easier for you. As a temporary resident, you will not be permanently importing your car. The car is exempt from import duty as long as you remain a resident with temporary status (i.e., it isn't, should you become a permanent resident). As a condition of this exemption you are forbidden from selling or in any other way disposing of the car in Canada. You do, however, need the Federal Form 1, which is the vehicle import form. There is a section on the Form 1 that the border agent needs to fill out indicating that the car is exempt from RIV (the federal automobile importing regulating authority). The border agents will likely be skeptical that you need a Form 1 as a temporary resident and may not want to give you one -- this was our experience twice. This may be made even more difficult by entering in Alberta, where they have many private automobile insurance companies, doubtless all with their own policies. You should be able to convince the agent to issue you one if you explain that as a temporary worker in BC you are required to purchase insurance from ICBC and that they (ICBC) require a Form 1 stating that the car is legally in Canada, and that as a temporary worker your car is exempt from duty and RIV. You will need a Canadian address to give for this form. Your vehicle must also comply with Canadian safety standards; American-built vehicles built in the last 15 years should have no problem with this, and have a sticker on the driver's side door indicating compliance. There are two places the border agent must stamp the Form 1, at top and in the exemption section.

ICBC will also need a "Casual Goods and Accounting Document" issued by the border showing the value of the car (in Canadian Dollars) and the duty you paid on it at import ($0.00). Make sure you have your current vehicle registration and title, in case the border agents ask for it. ICBC will need them as well.

5) Once you have your car in Canada, with a double-stamped Form 1 showing the vehicle exempt from RIV, and a Casual Goods Accounting Document showing the amount of import duty / taxes ($0.00), you need a BC provincial inspection (I had it done at Canadian Tire; I think it was around $60). If your car is a 2005 or older model, you will also need AirCare ($45). Then, take your Form 1, your Casual Goods Accounting Document, your passed Provincial Inspection and AirCare forms, your registration and title, your BC driver's license, and go to ICBC to get your insurance.

Hopefully this information will save you some time and headache.
posted by junco at 1:02 PM on June 28, 2012

Oh, and just to expand upon dealing with the CBSA officials:

In my experience of doing this, asking for an exempt Form 1 and zero-duty schedule of goods seemed (both times!) to be some kind of signal to the agent that I was perhaps up to something questionable -- apparently it's just not a situation that often comes up. This makes an already stressful situation even more tense. I got grilled several times over with the standard questions they ask repeatedly to try to get you to trip up: What's your purpose in Canada, how long are you staying, where are you living, where are you employed, do you plan on leaving when your permit expires. If they give you this routine, realize it's normal and stay calm. It's important to be emphatically clear that you do not intend to overstay your permit, and that you have arrangements and the intention to leave the country after it expires.
posted by junco at 1:28 PM on June 28, 2012

"After it expires" should be "before or when" it expires, obviously.
posted by junco at 1:32 PM on June 28, 2012

Ps: On an unrelated-to-insurance note, make sure you book a guided tour of the Burgess Shale -- not sure if these things sell out or what, but I understand that the best spot requires a bit of a big hike and you are not allowed to go there unguided.
posted by lulu68 at 7:30 AM on June 30, 2012

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