I am British, living in Canada. I have been approved for a long-term visa to the US, moving early 2018. Moving should hopefully see me drive to my new home with my life in the back of the car. However, I seem to be having difficulty finding the relevant information in plain English.

What I think I know

I have an Ontario license and can legally drive/purchase purchase a car.

If I purchase a car I can get up to two temporary plates which enable to me to drive the car without insurance(?), license plates and safety certificates for up to 10 days whilst I sort them out.

The US CBP website states there is no drama with moving my personal effects across the border in the car and that "touring" is OK.

Motorists from Canada and Mexico are permitted to tour in the U.S. without U.S. license plates or U.S. driver's permits, under agreements between the United States and these countries.

What I am having difficulty determining

I went to Service Ontario and the very helpful lady suggested I just buy the car and travel down there on the temporary license plate, registering it when I arrive in the new state.

This sounds great, time and cost effective compared to making the car fully legit only to have to do it all over again a couple of weeks later. Further, everything involved in this move has required going to relatively extreme lengths to please the US so it doesn't feel like it would be that simple when faced with the happy, smiling faces at the border.

Is it true that this can be done? If this isn't the case am I likely to be refused entry at that time?

  • Why not just rent a car in Canada and then buy one in the US?
    – JonathanReez
    Dec 2, 2017 at 23:23
  • That's a fair question. The cost of a one-way rental is crazy, too much for a man on my pay to do it and not have the car in hand at the end of it all. Dec 2, 2017 at 23:32
  • I mean, you can drive there, then drive back to return it.
    – JonathanReez
    Dec 2, 2017 at 23:36
  • 5
    I don't know about Canadian law, but you'd absolutely need insurance to drive in the US, even temporarily. Dec 3, 2017 at 1:35
  • 2
    It is unfortunate that there is a bounty. IMO, this is better suited to Expatriates as this is about a long term move.
    – CGCampbell
    Dec 14, 2017 at 15:27

3 Answers 3


You can do this... but I don't think you want to.

You absolutely cannot drive in Canada without automobile insurance, so that means you're going to have to get all your documents in order to apply for Canadian automobile insurance. Since presumably you have no insurance coverage now, you are going to have a real devil of a time finding an insurer that is prepared to put in an hour or two of underwriting effort to write a policy that you are going to cancel less than a month later. Note also that there will be minimum retained premiums on such policies, meaning that what you pay for a short period of time will be disproportionately large.

The other complication is that once you get to the US, you're going to have to import that Canadian car, and that's complicated unless you buy an older vehicle. It'll have a speedometer in km/h and an odometer in km, which means it will be more difficult to sell when you're done with it (unless you re-export it back to Canada) and you will get less money for it. It will also likely have to pass a safety inspection in your new US state, whereas a vehicle bought locally there may not, or may be subject to a less stringent inspection. You're also going to have to buy US insurance on it, and now you're going to have to provide evidence not only of your UK history but also your Canadian history, including the policy you bought in Canada just a month ago. It's going to be a lot of work.

Also, it is up to the state(s) through which you will be passing if they will accept your temporary Ontario registration. They probably will, but if you get stopped by the police, it could be extra hassle providing evidence that you have a valid registration. Unlike in Ontario, the police in the US will not be at all familiar with temporary Ontario registrations. The vast majority of US police officers will never have seen one.

My advice: if you're crossing at a border crossing that is near cities on both sides of the border, rent a vehicle in Canada, cross the border with it, rent another vehicle on the US side, transfer your belongings, and then drive the Canadian vehicle back to Canada to a nearby rental office, and get a ride back across the border. Alternatively, many rental companies will do one-way rentals across the border, but it may be at an extra fee. If you're lucky, the rental agency will have US vehicles they want to get back in the US. If you're hiring a truck (e.g. U-Haul), crossing the border should be zero problem as I find many of the Canadian U-Haul vehicles have US registrations already.

Late edit: Additional point: unless you have the vehicle registered for sufficiently long in Ontario, you are going to have to pay Ontario HST (harmonized sales tax) on it when you register it, and then pay tax in the US state in which you settle (assuming things work similarly there to here). Where I live (Saskatchewan) you need to have had a vehicle registered for 30 days minimum in your prior state/province in order to not have to pay Saskatchewan sales tax when you import it here.


If this isn't the case am I likely to be refused entry at that time?

I believe you and/or your car are likely to be refused entry if you haven't done your homework ahead of time. The "touring" exemption in the CBP page you linked to really only applies to people who are bringing their cars into the USA temporarily, i.e., tourists. I suspect (but am not 100% sure) that there would be no problem crossing the border in a car with temporary Canadian plates if you were only visiting the USA for a brief period.

However, you are moving to the USA and taking up residence there. This means that CBP is likely to view you as "importing" your new vehicle, and so it must comply with US federal safety & pollution standards, and you must pay any customs duties owing. This page gives a good summary of the process, but basically, at the border you will need to:

  • Provide a certification that the car meets US federal safety standards. Some cars sold in Canada are officially certified to meet US federal safety standards as well, but some are only certified to meet Canadian safety standards. It is sometimes possible to get a letter from the car's manufacturer to prove that a car meets US standards, but the link above says that not all manufacturers will provide such a letter. Before you actually buy your car, you would want to check this.

  • Provide a certification that the car meets US federal emissions standards. Again, many cars sold in Canada will not have such a certification automatically, so you may need to get a letter from the manufacturer here as well.

  • Pay a 2.5% duty on the car (though most cars manufactured in NAFTA countries are duty-free). If a one-way rental is cost-prohibitive for you, then you might want to make sure that you will not be liable for this duty either.

In addition:

  • Many states require you to have some kind of insurance to operate a vehicle on their roads, even if you're not a resident there. You will need to have insurance before you enter the US.

  • Many US states (most notably California) require additional emissions tests beyond the US federal standards. This could lead to expensive repairs/modifications to your car to get it registered in your state of residence.

  • When registering a newly-bought car in most US states, you must prove that you paid the sales tax on it to the state you're registering it in, or pay it at the time of registration. Obviously, an Ontario auto dealer will not pay sales tax to a US state. If you were not a resident of the state at the time of purchase, you're probably not liable for the sales tax, but I would make quite sure of this before moving down to the US.

All in all, I can't do better than quote the last paragraph of the linked page:

If all of the above sounds like a lot of running around (and it is!) then you might want to consider purchasing a new or used vehicle in the U.S. instead to avoid some of steps and potential issues outlined above.

  • I'm not sure how it works in the US, but in Canada, generally, you can import vehicles from province to province or from out of the country tax-free if you are relocating to Canada or to another province, but there is a minimum period of time you have to register the vehicle for in the prior jurisdiction in order to qualify for tax-exempt status. Dec 14, 2017 at 16:01

as per the lady in Ontario said to you, you should probably buy/purchase a car such that you can drive it before 10 days going to US. You can take the receipt of purchase of car along with you while travelling. You can drive through the border and if any US people stops you, you can simply show them your Legal car and inform them you will be stamping plate from US itself. Also show them the address where you're shifting to, adding more to your honesty. I don't think they will ask further questions upon this matter once they are convinced.

  • Except the vehicle also has to pass US inspection. The vehicle will be confiscated and the OP will have to pay fees Mar 11, 2018 at 4:06

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