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Beware the rules for international road trips

I'm travelling to Canada in 2013. My plan is to buy a car in the United States for a road trip up to Canada, then working and travelling for the winter, six to seven months, then driving back down to America and Central America. Would I need to re-register my car and insurance in Canada? Or could I simply keep the car with U.S. plates and insurance? – Billy in Melbourne, Australia

Whether you're visiting Canada by car for a week, or the maximum allowable period of six months less a day, you can hang on to your U.S. plates and insurance – provided your insurer approves.

Re-registering your vehicle is not typically required. However, if you plan to work or remain in one province for more than 90 days, it gets more complex.

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According to a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) spokesperson, "A temporary resident who is temporarily importing a vehicle into Canada is required to present themselves to the CBSA with the required documentation and declare all goods. In the case of an individual coming to Canada to work, they require a valid work permit. Personal goods such as a vehicle are considered part of his/her baggage as these are being imported temporarily and will leave the country with the temporary resident."

Should the border services officer have any questions about the vehicle (and in particular, whether you'll be removing it from Canada at the end of your stay), a security deposit may be collected. This will be refunded after you've left the country and demonstrated that the car went with you.

Each province has regulations governing the licensing of motor vehicles, which you'll have to abide.

"If they will be visiting Ontario for more than three months, they'll need an International Driver's Permit (IDP) from their own country, or they may have to apply for an Ontario driver's licence, depending on their length of stay. They should also ensure that their automobile insurance coverage is sufficient, and that they carry the original or a true copy of the vehicle registration or Certificate of Title for the vehicle," says Ontario Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Bob Nichols.

Visitors residing in Ontario for less than six consecutive months in a calendar year do not need to apply for an Ontario driver's licence.

In Australia, as in many countries, International Driving Permits are issued through state and territory motoring clubs. If you think you're going to need one while abroad, an IDP should be obtained before leaving your home country.

As for the plan to hit Central America after your Canadian sojourn, there are some things to keep in mind.

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"Almost every country in Central America makes you sign a written undertaking, and that's simply a document which says they know that you have your vehicle in their country. They usually give you 90 days to exit and there's a small fee attached, maybe $2-$6, depending on which country you're in," says Suzanne Danis, an international documentation specialist at the Canadian Automobile Association.

Remember to research the auto insurance rules wherever you're headed. "When you arrive in Mexico, they're going to ask you for a major credit card, and they'll put about $250 (U.S.) on your card. You have to buy Mexican vehicle insurance, you have no choice. When you leave Mexico, that $250 will be credited back to you," says Danis.

Before leaving the United States, check with your insurance provider to make sure out-of-country travel is permitted, and ensure you have at least the minimum $200,000 liability coverage required in Canada. You may also want to research Canadian winters; you'll notice a difference between December here and Down Under.


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About the Author

Joanne Will is based in Toronto. She has been a regular contributor to The Globe and Mail since 2009. In 2014, she was a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. More


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