Importing a classic bike from Canada to the US (my experience)


Dyslexics of the World - Untie!
Yesterday I came across the border with my freshly-purchased '66 Norton in tow. I figured I would describe the details of what I went through for you guys in case it might help anyone in the future.

The specifics -
1966 Norton Atlas purchased from a resident of Windsor, ON for $3000.00
This bike was originally imported to the US new, then went to Canada in 2007 via Niagara Falls (this is important later).

Crossing into Canada -
I crossed at a smaller port (Sombra, ON, via the Bluewater Ferry from Port City, MI). Before I crossed I checked with the US Border Patrol about the possibility of importing a vehicle via the ferry. They told me they did not do vehicle importation at that port and I would have to cross at either Sarnia or Detroit/Windsor. It's good that I checked. Most large ports can handle it, but if you're unsure, ask ahead of time or make a phone call. I would've been pissed to drive back up there only to find out they couldn't handle the paperwork.

When crossing I was asked the purpose of my visit. When I told them I was going to purchase a classic motorcycle they asked me 1) Where had I heard about the motorcycle - Kijiji, Craigslist, eBay, etc. I told them the truth, it was in the possession of the uncle of a friend. 2) How much will the purchase be for. I told them $3000 USD. They ask this to try to determine if you are crossing the border with a large amount of cash. I'm not sure of the limit, maybe $10k, but over a certain amount needs to be declared. 3) Is anything I'm crossing with going to stay in Canada, do I have any fruits or veggies, weapons, other standard border questions.

I did not have to get out of my truck. They looked at my plate and the plate on the trailer (and I'm assuming they looked over everything in the bed of my truck. They did not inspect the inside of my vehicle, although the border agent did look inside through the window.

Travelling in Canada -
Canada has very similar road signs and traffic signals to the US versions. The speed limit signs are smaller and almost look like road markers until you get used to them. Speed limits are obviously in KPH instead of MPH so make sure to pay attention to your speedometer and if you're travelling with a GPS, make sure to stop and switch the units over to KPH. Canadian police as well as US police are very alert for foreign plates near borders and will be watching you closely. I crossed at a less-traveled port of entry so they weren't everywhere but the speed limits were very slow for a while (30kph) so PAY ATTENTION.

Additionally, Canada has strict laws against texting while driving (duh) and hands-free devices ONLY while driving. Need to make a call? Pull over.

Road conditions mimicked the conditions of most Michigan roads - some good, some bad. Mostly they were good until I got into Windsor proper. You'll discover that most Canadians have as much regard for speed limits as Americans do. Don't make yourself a target and get caught up flying around. Just sayin'. :)

The purchase -
As I have said, I told the BP I was purchasing the bike for $3000 USD. This isn't entirely correct, as I'm really trading labor for the bike and the nephew of the owner (who I'm giving the labor to) is paying his uncle for it. But the reality is money changed hands. The owner had the title, I typed up a bill of sale for each of us to have a copy of, and he signed the title over to me. He also handed me extra paperwork indicating that the bike was imported to Canada from the US several years ago, along with a copy of the previous bill of sale. I loaded it up and was on my way.

Crossing back into the US -
Since I was already in Windsor and didn't have the ability to cross at a more relaxing location I chose to take the Detroit/Windsor tunnel back into the US. It appears to be the less-busy of the 2, at least for going back into the US, as the tunnel has very limited commercial vehicle capacity (12' max height). The toll was $4.50 US/Can, paid either by coin or CC. No booth operators, all automated. Be ready for this if you cross here.

After traversing the tunnel I ended up at the customs plaza. There were only 1-2 cars at each booth, so I went to the one with the easiest turn-through because of the trailer. After waiting a few minutes I was next and pulled up to the booth. They asked my residency, asked for my passport and then asked "What's the story with the scooter". ::) I immediately said "Classic vehicle importation, I just purchased this in Windsor". They asked how much I purchased it for, how much it was REALLY worth, then he gave me a slip of paper, closed his lane and told me to follow him. He directed me towards another officer who then directed me to the right, under a large overhang, which was the inspection/holding area. An officer showed me where to park, told me to leave all my doors unlocked (I also put the window down), keys on the dashboard, currency with me, all electronics left in the vehicle, and hood unlatched. He pointed me towards a door which brought me into the processing area.

The same officer I met at the booth was there waiting for me. They gave me CBP form 7501 to fill out, along with a template showing exactly how to fill it out. I had previously printed out and filled out EPA form 3520-1, filled it out and checked box E indicting the vehicle was 21+ years old, and DOT form HS-7 filled out with box 1 checked indicating the vehicle was more than 25 years old.

After being called up we started going through the paperwork. He asked the country of origin of the motorcycle (England), where it was coming from (Canada) and at that point I indicated it had been exported to Canada from the US at some point. This became important because if you re-import a vehicle that was here once it is NOT subject to import duty (2.4% in the case of motorcycles). We spent some time looking at the photocopied Canadian forms from that export, he searched some Norton websites for information on the VIN, he probably also looked up the approximate value of the bike but didn't indicate this to me.

The process of verifying that the bike had been in the US previously took about a 1/2 hour, which may be a lot of monkeying around to save me about $75, but in the end it was worth it. This also brings up another point - on the form 7501 they had me write in a code that ended up wrong. It was the code for importation of a vehicle, but since this was a re-importation they had me correct the form.

Eventually the decided that they believed me about the bike's history, it's value, and its intended use in the US. I did have to explain that even though I restore vehicles for a living this was for me, not for a customer. I also had a pleasant chat with him about our ideal British vehicles (mine is an Austin Healey 100/4, his was more of a Sunbeam Tiger) if we had the money. It was a pleasant chat.

All in all this process took a little less than an hour. Had we not messed with the re-importation paperwork it might have saved me some time at the cost of paying duty on the bike. When we were done I got 2 copies of form 7501 for myself and the Michigan Secretary of State, the rest of my paperwork back and an indication that I could leave. I went back to my truck, made sure my hood was closed, checked my straps and was on my way.

Things I would recommend and things I learned -
-Make sure to have as much paperwork filled out ahead of time as possible. The form 7501 is difficult to fill out ahead of time because it's not very intuitive. Use their template, but try to have the EPA and DOT stuff ready to go.
-Make sure you have as MUCH paperwork on the bike as you can. Again, I had a title, bill of sale and lots of previous paperwork to chart the bike's history. This makes their job easier and will mean you spend less time standing at a counter.
-Make sure you have cash or CC handy for the duty if you end up paying it. They DO check on a lot of stuff you wouldn't expect them to (like the true value of the bike) so if you're trying to sneak in something expensive by telling them you paid $500 for it, well... maybe you did but if it's really worth $5000 they'll hit you for duty on that. Be ready, be honest and be patient.
-Again, be patient. Be relaxed. The calmer you are, the calmer and more relaxed they are. It should go smoothly and it's partly your job to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.
-Make sure the bike is clean (no mud/dirt). Take it through a pay-and-spray if you need to, or ask the seller if you can borrow a garden hose. This is more important on cars where they want it steam-cleaned before it comes in, but any soil could bring in foreign contaminants that the Dept. of Agriculture frowns upon.

When leaving the customs plaza at the Detroit/Windsor tunnel processing facility there is a rather hard left turn through the exit gates, through the radiation detector (the 2nd or 3rd one you'll go through) and back into the exit lanes. You can see the length of my truck/trailer in my other thread and it barely fit. If you're bringing something bigger, you may want to use the Ambassador Bridge. Oh, and the radiation detectors work! There was an older gentleman coming through that they had to scan because he had just had a medical procedure with some radioactive dye injected and it picked him up as radioactive. Crazy.

I hope this helps someone here. If anyone has any questions, please let me know and I will answer them as best I can.


BOTM LOSER Proudly Deplorable
Total BS, the only thing you should have to provide IS proof of ownership, this is why the whole second signature (Notary) exists and the #/expiration can be verified very easily. Taxing you to move personal property IS a load of shit... and the asrsholes who made it so should be/of been hung.


"Invictus Maneo" - I remain unvanquished!
It's the same bringing a U.S. vehicle into Canada. Import duty and taxes. :)

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