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ask joanne

We are Canadian, and own a property in Canada and another in Florida. We have a car in Canada. Can we buy a car in Florida, leave U.S. plates on it, and bring it to Canada when we are here in the summer (six months in the United States, six months in Canada)? Is there a limit on the number of months it can be in Canada? Must it be insured in the United States, or can it be added to my Canadian policy? We have Canadian driver's licences. Do we need U.S. driver's licences to drive it in Florida? Or can we simply get an 'international' driver's licence? – Louise

If your main residence is in Canada, bringing a U.S.-registered vehicle north of the 49th – even temporarily – is not without red tape.

Firstly, for customs purposes, every person arriving in Canada has a residential status that determines the tariff treatment given to any goods being imported. According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canadian residents who spend only a few months outside of Canada are still considered residents of Canada.

Canadian residents must declare all goods acquired outside of the country, including any vehicles purchased outside of Canada. When it comes to the importation of vehicles and their admissibility, CBSA administers regulations on behalf of Transport Canada.

Certain conditions must be met for the temporary importation of a non-Canadian vehicle by a Canadian resident: only for the purpose of transporting the resident's household or personal effects into or out of Canada, or for personal transportation as a result of an emergency or unforeseen contingency. In either case, the vehicle cannot be used within Canada for leisure, personal or commercial use.

Apart from the circumstances noted above, a Canadian resident who wishes to bring a U.S.-registered vehicle into Canada, even with the intention of returning it to the United States later that year, will have to import the vehicle. Full duty and taxes payable on the value of the vehicle will be assessed. To determine admissibility, the vehicle must enter the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) program administered by Transport Canada.

As for insurance, a vehicle must be insured where it's ownership is registered. If it's registered in Florida, that's where it must be insured. If the vehicle is registered in Ontario, again, it must be insured in Ontario.

While travelling in the United States, Canadian-issued auto insurance is typically valid for up to six months. Make sure, however, that your policy includes the maximum liability coverage.

"That's often where the major costs are going to be – if you do damage to other people or businesses, buildings or cars, that sort of thing," says Dave Minor, a vice-president at TD Insurance. "So you want to make sure you have lots of liability. Other than that, you're pretty well covered across the border with your domestic policy."

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles allows visitors to drive with their Canadian licence.

According to the Canadian Automobile Association, the issuing body for International Driving Permits (IDPs) in Canada, an IDP is not required in the United States by those with a valid Canadian driver's licence. The only exception is in the state of Georgia, which requires all licences to be in English. Those holding a Quebec licence and planning to spend time in Georgia may want to consider an IDP, which is essentially a certified English transcription of the licence.

Whether you decide to purchase a vehicle in the United States may come down to where you'll be spending most of your time.

"One thing to think about is if you have most of your insurance in Canada – so maybe for your other car in Canada, home, boat, motorcycle, RV, whatever, and it's all with one company and bundled together and therefore you get a discount, then maybe it makes sense to have this car registered in Canada and get the discount on it versus a standalone policy down in Florida per se," says Minor.

When considering whether to import a U.S. vehicle to Canada, the CBSA suggests contacting the RIV program ( to ensure it is admissible for importation or can be modified to meet Canadian standards.

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