A few years back, we purchased our current boat (Sea Ray 400 Sedan Bridge) in the U.S. and brought it home to Canada. I wanted to share what we learned, as there is some confusing information online and I’m hoping this will make it clearer for anyone wanting to do the same thing.
Getting The Right Story
Getting the boat into Canada was actually very simple, once we knew exactly what had to be done. 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.
Michigan to Ontario by Water
Our boat was purchased at MacRay Harbor in Harrison Township, Michigan. It is located on Lake St. Clair just north of Detroit. Our journey home took us through Lake St. Clair and north on 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.
Whatever way the boat comes into the country, whether by land or sea, 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. Arriving at Sarnia Bay Marina, I gave Canada Customs 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, but more on that later. . .
In most instances, a Customs officer would come to the boat, take a look around and perform the required paperwork there. In our case, however, on the night we arrived, they were too busy at the border crossing to send anyone, so we had to walk over to them to facilitate everything.The Bluewater Bridge border crossing between Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan is usually quite busy, so it’s no wonder that they couldn’t spare anyone.
Bill of Sale
All I had to show the Customs folks was the bill of sale and the ‘Deletion From Documentation’ from the previous owner, then pay the HST on the sales price. As it was, the only thing questioned by the woman in charge was how I got the boat so cheap! Quick note; have available any web listings, emails or whatever else you can supply to back up the purchase price – which I did. 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 to Canada Customs. Under the terms of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), any boats built in either Canada, the United States or Mexico during the past number of years is only subject to the HST (in Ontario), and free from duties.
Buyer Beware of Duties
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 fee because his particular model was built in England. Even though his newly bought vessel was an ‘American’ company (Viking Yachts), that particular model came from England (Princess Yachts), so there was a 9% duty to be paid. 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.
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 was about three weeks later. During that time, the Canadian dollar actually rose against the U.S. 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 to get 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!
Deletion From Documentation
Ok, back to the part about ‘Deletion From Documentation’ I mentioned. 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. This would also include any creditors that may appear on the Title. Think of it like a Deed to your home. Same idea.
How then does one perform this ‘Deletion’ process 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 we consider buying a boat in the U.S. again? In a heartbeat!!! The only reason we were able to be able to buy the boat that we did was because of the dramatic savings – 40% less in our case – 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. That was compounded by the fact that we had to drive home, through mostly foreign waters, on a boat that was brand new to us. Not only that, but it was a complete change from the type and style of boat what we had been driving previously.
One final note about driving a U.S. registered boat into Canada; if you don’t have a chance to get your Ontario (in our case) registration 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 on Lake Huron (our first stop after leaving Sarnia) and then again at Parry Sound on Georgian Bay. There are Customs officers that 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 I alluded to earlier comes in to play. When you get it, best bet is to write it down and have it at the ready, 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.