Moving to the US: Importing a Canadian Vehicle

A big difference between the last time I moved to the US and this time is that this time, I've got a lot more stuff. One of those things is a recent-vintage Nissan. Faced with the prospect of selling my car and buying a new one, I chose instead to import the one I know and love. Here is my story. But be forewarned, it is not for the faint of heart.

To import a vehicle to the US from Canada, you need to undertake a series of quests. These are detailed on the NHTSA website under the heading Vehicle Importation Guidelines (Canadian). As of May 2011, you need the following items in increasing order of difficulty:
  1. [easy] The following information about your car:
    1. VIN
    2. Make/Model/Year
    3. Month/Year of manufacture
    4. Registration & ownership information
  2. [easy] EPA Form 3520-1. You will likely be importing your vehicle under code EE: identical in all material respects to a US certified version.
  3. [easy] NHTSA Form HS-7. You will most likely be importing your vehicle under box 2B, for vehicles that complied with Canadian CMVSA regulations at their time of manufacture and where the manufacturer attests that, with a few exceptions, it meets US regulations; see final item.
  4. [medium] A letter on the manufacturer's letterhead from the Canadian distributor, stating that there are no open recalls or service campaigns on the vehicle. I'm not sure if this is required, but Nissan Canada thought it would be.
  5. [hard] A letter from the vehicle’s original manufacturer, on the manufacturer’s letterhead identifying the vehicle by vehicle identification number (VIN) and stating that the vehicle conforms to all applicable FMVSS "except for the labeling requirements of Standards Nos. 101 Controls and Displays and 110 Tire Selection and Rims or 120 Tire Selection and Rims for Motor Vehicles other than Passenger Cars, and/or the specifications of Standard No. 108 Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment, relating to daytime running lamps."
Items 1-3 are left as an exercise to the reader. I will focus here on items 4 and 5 to save you the 14 hours of accumulated hold time and multiple phone calls. Prepare yourself friend, for here begins a journey of hurt and frustration, but you will prevail.

Let's start with item 4. I gave Nissan Canada a ring at 1-800-387-0122 and managed to make it through the phone navigation system to a human operator. I told them I was importing a Canadian Nissan into the States and needed a Letter of Compliance. After a bit of digging, they stated that such letters are only provided by Nissan North America, but they would instead mail out two other letters on Nissan letterhead:
  1. A letter stating the VIN and that the vehicle has no pending recalls or service campaigns on it.
  2. In place of a Certificate of Origin (which Nissan Canada does not provide), a letter stating the VIN and that the vehicle was manufactured for sale in the Canadian market and complied with all safety and emission regulations at the time of manufacture.
We're almost there, but your next and final mission is also the most challenging: the Letter of Compliance. Call Nissan North America Consumer Affairs Department at 1-800-647-7261. Navigate through the phone system to an operator - get their name and extension. They may ask for your VIN only to find it's not in their system. Canadian VINs are not in their system. Some operators thought they were, others were sure they weren't. They're not. Many operators tried and failed to find it. Ask them to open a file, give them the vehicle information and your info and get the file number. Use this number whenever you call.

Here are the five steps to success:
  1. Tell the operator that you're importing a Canadian Nissan vehicle to the US and that you need a Letter of Compliance stating the VIN and that the vehicle was built to conform to Canadian and United States EPA emissions standards and all US Federal motor vehicle standards except for daytime running light brightness. There is a very good chance they've never heard of this. Get them to talk to their supervisor, and their supervisor. Anyone. Someone will know.
  2. They will tell you that the vehicle needs to have its daytime running lights disabled before they will issue the letter of compliance. All the government rules seem to specifically exclude the daytime running lights, and the letter they issue even states that the vehicle doesn't meet that standard, but for whatever reason they want a copy of a work statement showing the work was done. Remember to get the operator's name and extension and the fax number for the work statement before you hang up.
  3. Get the daytime running lights disabled. It's a setting change in the on-board computer; your local dealer will do this in under 30 mins for $50 or so. 
  4. Fax your the work statement and put your name, return fax number and a request for the Letter of Compliance on the cover sheet. Phone Nissan North America Consumer Affairs back. The phone navigation system will give you hope that you can input an extension directly, only to find it only accepts 5-digit extensions but your rep has a 6-digit extension. You'll end up back in the queue. Ask whoever you get to put you through to your previous rep, by extension. When you get through, say that you sent the fax and request the letter. Ask them to phone you back when they've faxed it.
  5. You'll get the fax eventually - check the information! On my letter, the year, model and VIN were all incorrect, though they got my name right. If it's incorrect, try again.
You now have everything you need to import your Nissan to the States. Good luck my friends, I don't envy you, but know that I am with you and that victory will someday be yours too.


TGinOK said...

Holy smokes! What a pile of bureaucratic red-tape!
You're a brave soul. ...not an experience I intend to have, but I'm glad to know of the steps I might take should the occasion arise.

Zara Razvi said...

Nissan NA is not giving me a new letter, when you sent them work done, did they give you a new letter ?

Zara Razvi said...

*sorry, i meant when I sent them a letter of work

Chris Bracken said...

Yes; it took multiple attempts and many calls but once I sent them a copy of the receipt showing that the daytime running lights had been disabled, they issued me a letter of compliance. Unexplainably, it was for someone else's car, but eventually they issued me one for mine.

domingo de lira said...

Can you post a example of the letter ?, i just received the mine , but im not sure if is the correct. Thanks in advance!.

Juliana said...

Hi, thanks so much for sharing this! I'm thinking about taking my sister's car to the States. But, we have a time crunch. Can you tell me how long your ordeal took? Also, can you tell me anything about paying duty? My sister is going to gift the car to me. Did you pay duty on the amount you paid or on the value? Thanks again for the information that you've posted, it's *very* helpful!

ABTravel said...

We have a 2006 Nissan Xtrail and the some sources says it cannot be imported. Would the above routine apply to the Xtrail? When you run the VIN in the US at the dealership it only comes up with Nissan, no model no name.

Chris Bracken said...

@ABTravel: I had the same thing when I first arrived. There was no record of the VIN in the Nissan USA database. Once all the paperwork was done with Nissan, the nearest dealership in the US was able to get the vehicle registered in the US.

Chris Bracken said...

Juliana@: Overall it was probably a few weeks of back-and-forth with Nissan to get everything sorted. If you've owned the car for six months or more and are importing it as your personal vehicle (not to sell) then there's no duty, at least there wasn't in my case.

Chris Bracken said...

Domingo@: Sorry I no longer have a copy of the letter handy; it's also got a lot of personal information in it, so I wouldn't be comfortable sharing a copy. If you've received a copy and the information looks correct, it probably is correct.

Cuffys DSLR Adventure and knitting said...

Chris, I just read through your blog and even though you wrote it in 2011 it's really accurate! I was laughing as I read along with your experience because my experience was almost identical. I was told that the daytime running lights need to be modified but the Nissan Customer rep didn't say how. It seems weird that they want to disable the lights. Also, the Nissan rep didn't say that I have to prove work complete before the letter will be written. Thanks for sharing your Nissan journey. I'm guessing everything worked out since it is 5 years later.

Serial Dater said...
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mark sehgal said...
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SavvyK said...

Found this blog extremely helpful and wanted to quickly share my experience in case it can help others. In Jan 2017 I imported a 2014 Nissan Murano from BC Canada to Charleston, South Carolina. Was able to get a letter of compliance from Nissan North America 1-800-647-7261 by email the same day as the request was made. No problem finding the VIN#. The DMV wanted this letter stamped by Border Protection but they no longer do this and supplied me with a copy of bulletin/memo (CSMS #16-000399) to take with my compliance letter back to the DMV. I believe the forms mentioned in this blog are no longer required. Also, I originally made the mistake of not having my VIN# on the Declaration form 3299 when the vehicle crossed the border so the DMV would not accept it. Border Protection issued a new Entry Summary form and that worked. I was in and out of Border Protection in 10mins but made 3 trips to the DMV. No sligt agianst the DMV...you just need to have yur paperwork in order...and hopefully this helps others to be prepared!

Lily said...

Hi SavvyK, I'm moving from canada to the US too. I had a couple of questions to ask you. I own a 2006 Nissan Altima. So in the compliance letter you requested did you have the letter they emailed you on a Nissan letter head or it was just a word document filled by a Consumer Relations representative. I requested one and they said the compliance letter with the nissan letter head can only be mailed to your mailing address. It would be very helpful if you can help me with this.

Tim Boychuk said...

I called Nissan USA on Thursday, April 20. They said a letter would take two weeks to arrive. It arrived Monday. They did not email and said that CBP wanted to see a physical letter, not a .pdf arriving via email.

Will try to import my car on Wednesday. Wish me luck.