Saturday, August 24, 2013

Importing a Vessel Into Canada From The United States

 A few years back, we purchased our current boat in the US and brought it home to Canada. Before we actually went ahead with the purchase (when we were still internet shopping for our dream boat), we did some preliminary research as to what we might need to do to make things go smoothly with the 'import' process. Good thing, because there is a lot to learn.

  Getting the boat into Canada was actually very simple. The correct term is 'Importing A Vessel Into Canada'. But please, don't take my word for it - you REALLY should call Canada Customs to get their story. But don't be surprised to get more than one interpretation of what is required - we got three different ones. If you are considering having your boat trucked into the country, the firm you use should be able to handle the border crossing directly, if they are a licensed broker. Check with any potential companies to see what services they offer. The only part you would be handling in that scenario is any Custom Brokerage fees, and the HST on the boat. If you have a trucking firm in mind already, check with them to see how they approach that issue.

 Our boat was purchased in Harrison Township, Michigan, which is located on Lake St. Clair, just north of Detroit. Our journey home took us through Lake St. Clair, up the St. Clair River to Sarnia, Ontario (where we 'Imported' the vessel). Onward from there, we traveled north on Lake Huron, through Georgian Bay and down the Trent Severn Waterway to our home port.

Heading up the St Clair River (Canada to the right, US to the left)
 Whatever way the boat comes into the country, it is subject to Canada Custom's scrutiny. As we entered by water, we were obliged by law to report the boat being in Canada upon making landfall. At Sarnia, I gave Canada Custom's a phone call as soon as the boat was secured, letting them know that both my wife and I had re-entered the country as well as the fact that I wanted to import the vessel (we were given a 9 digit number when clearing our passports. More on that later. . . ). To do the necessary paperwork, they told me to report to the border crossing, which was the Bluewater Bridge crossing from Sarnia to Port Huron, Michigan.

 Most times, a Custom's officer would come to the boat, do a quick look around and perform the paperwork there, but apparently they were too busy that night to spare anyone and that's why we had to walk over to them . .

 All I had to show the Custom's folks was the bill of sale, the 'Deletion From Documentation' from the previous owner and pay the HST on the sales price. As it was, the only thing question by the woman in charge was how I got the boat so cheap! Quick note; have available any web listings, emails or whatever else to back up the purchase price. We bought the boat through a local yacht broker, so that made things look better & more 'legit' to the Customs folks.

 One other thing to make note of is how much you are going to have to pay at Custom's. Under the terms of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), any boats built in either Canada, the US or Mexico during the past number of years is only subject to the HST (in Ontario), and free from duties.

A cautious captain keeps a close eye on all systems on his new ship.
  Now, here's where a HUGE, double caveat comes into play. One should make sure that the boat they are bringing into the country was, indeed built in North America. We know of a boater who was unexpectedly hit at the border with a big duty because that particular model was built in England. Even though it was an 'American' company (Viking Yachts), that particular model came from England (Princess Yachts). Oh ya, and the 13% sales tax on top of it all. The other kicker is that Custom's won't take a cheque for amounts greater than $200, so make sure your Visa card is in good standing. Again, if you are simply having your boat trucked back, a custom's agent should be able to give you the rundown on all of your obligations.

Approaching the Bluewater Bridge @ Sarnia, Ontario.
  One final note on the sales tax. The boat will be assessed the tax amount on the day it crosses the border - not the day you bought it. What I mean by that is that from the time we took possession of our boat (paid for it) and the time it entered Canada about three weeks later, the Canadian dollar actually rose against the US buck, so we ended up having to pay less HST than I had initially anticipated. Plus, since we were out of the country for a few days getting the boat, I could claim the exemption entitled to me for the time out of the country and apply it to the boat purchase price! After all, we didn't bring any cheap booze back with us ;-) All in all, that part worked out way better than I even thought it could!

 Ok, back to the part about 'Deletion From Documentation' I mentioned.  Here we go  -  boats in the United States can be considered a second home, complete with a mortgage and all the financial repercussions that go along with that. So, many boats are 'Documented' with the U.S. Coast Guard, as an official status as to who owns - or is 'Titled' to - the boat, including creditors that may appear on the Title. Think of it like a Deed to your home. Same idea.

 How does one do that, you ask? Simple. Pay someone to do it for you. I found a firm online that takes care of all that stuff for a very reasonable fee of only $250. Do a Google search for those services to find an appropriate representative. And don't worry where they are physically located - our guy was in California and it all worked out fine. Thank you InterWeb :-)

 Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!!!The only reason we were able to get the boat that we did was because of the dramatic savings (40% less!) over buying a similar model here in Canada. Yes, it was initially stressful, with all the running around and setting things up to make it actually happen - compounded by the fact that we had to drive a boat home, through mostly foreign waters, that was brand new to us and a complete change from what we had been driving previously.

 One final note about driving a US registered boat into Canada. If you don't have a chance to get your Ontario numbers for the boat right away, be prepared to be boarded by Canada Customs officers at any Ontario port you may visit. We were approached both at Kincardine (our first stop after leaving Sarnia) and then again at Parry Sound.  They (Customs) travel around to all ports of entry to make sure everything is copacetic with both Canadians AND Americans visiting these ports, checking mostly to see if they have cleared their passports. This is where that 9 digit number comes in to play, as they WILL ask you for it.

 All that said, it was an adventure to remember for the rest of our lives and immense inspiration to one day soon travel further and farther! I'd say that if you had an opportunity to do the same - and save a few bucks - then go for it. Well worth the running around, by far.

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