Shipping a Canadian registered vehicle to Florida/ Arizona/ California as a Snowbird

The winters in Canada are cold and sometimes brutal. Hundreds and thousands of Canadians look south when the weather starts to cool and head down to the warmer areas in the USA. Southern Florida and the Arizona/ California deserts are the main beneficiaries. The USA is a car dependent country and everyone needs a vehicle to get around. Rental cars are extremely expensive and at peak season, are hard to find. Many snowbirds either drive their own personal vehicles down to the USA or have them shipped down.

The rules related to shipping your vehicle down to the USA are slightly different to the rules associated with driving your vehicle to the USA. In this blog, we are going to discuss the rules and regulations associated with shipping your vehicle down to the USA as a snowbird.
US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP)

This is the federal agency that has the final decision on whether you and your vehicle can enter the USA as a snowbird. In fact, the attending officer has, at the time the truck with your vehicle loaded arrives at the border, full discretion to either allow the vehicle to cross into the USA or return the vehicle to Canada. USCBP requirements vary depending on the port of entry. For example, USCBP Blaine, WA and Sweetgrass, MT will not allow your vehicle to be shipped into the USA as a snowbird until you have flown into the USA. USCBP Port Huron and Buffalo will allow the vehicle to enter the USA if an air ticket can be produced showing your imminent arrival. USCBP will also look for documentation that shows your ties to Canada. (We will discuss this further later in the blog). Lastly, USCBP will check the vehicles to ensure no illegal items or undeclared items are being shipped into the USA.

Can I pack anything in my vehicle

The shortest answer is you can but a limited amount. The US DOT, does not allow your vehicle to be used as a shipping container. The more you pack your, the heavier the vehicle becomes, which makes the trailer carrying your vehicle heavier and can result in overweight fines for the trucking company and an increased diesel burn. Hence most companies limit you to 2 suitcases of clothing and a set of golf clubs. Heavy vehicles also sit lower on their suspensions and may scrape the under carriage when transitioning between the road and the trailer’s ramps.

If you are going to put items in your vehicle, place them in the trunk area only and well out of site. The trucks stop at Flying J’s enroute which are public areas and there should not be any easy temptations for criminals. Do not put food, alcohol or medicine in the vehicle. You can buy food and alcohol in the USA. Take whatever medication is needed on the plane with you. Lastly, ensure you make a detailed list of the items left in the vehicle and email the list to the trucking company and leave a copy on the passenger seat for the driver.

What documentation is required?

Firstly, you need to own the vehicle you are shipping to the USA. If the vehicle has a lien, you need to get written permission from the lienholder to temporarily take the vehicle to the USA. If the vehicle is owned by someone else, you will also need their written permission to ship the vehicle to the USA. You will need to provide documentation to the shipping company that shows your “closer connection” to Canada. USCBP wants to ensure that you will return back to Canada after your vacation and not remain in the USA. Typical documents required are bank statements (to show you have sufficient funds), mortgage documents, title deeds, utility bills, property tax statements, pay stubs, long term leases, return air tickets, etc. The shipping company will need a copy of your passport and flight details so they can prepare a form 3299 for USCBP.

How long does the shipping take?

The frequency of the schedule and transit times vary dependent on the locations and shipping distances. Typically, Ontario to Florida runs at 5-8 days transit. Vancouver to Palm Springs or Arizona runs at 8-12 days transit. Keep in mind that the service is door to door so the drivers have to gather up all the vehicles for shipping, head out, comply with mandatory down time, and deliver all the vehicles for shipping. Also, don’t forget that trucks and trailers are mechanical beasts and can breakdown unexpectedly and in remote locations.

What if I am not present to hand over the vehicle to the carrier in Canada or I am not present to receive the vehicle in the USA?

The carriers will do their best to meet your schedule but they also need to meet 8 other customer’s schedules. You can nominate a 3rd party to hand the vehicle over on your behalf, maybe an unlucky relative who gets to stay in the cold. The same on delivery, if you are not available you can have some else receive the vehicle for you.

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