I'm going to be working in Canada for a short (36 month) contract. This means that, at least according to the following resources, I should be able to keep my US license, registration, and insurance:

http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/newcomers/after-transportation-driving.asp https://www.riv.ca/RIVExemptions.aspx

So, that seems fine, but I'm not actually going to maintain my address in the US during this 36 month period. I'm going to be in Canada full time. Hence, I think I'll be breaking all sorts of state laws by keeping these three things at a former address.

I have a loan on the car, so I also can't import it unless I refinance it in Canada. (I could get a cosigner, but with the weakness of the CAD right now, I might take a huge hit if it recovers over the 36 months I'm living there.) This car has been a good investment and I'm not looking to sell it, do I have other options? Can I keep all of my documentation as US legally?

  • 3
    I think the practical is as concerning as the strictly legal here. You might add answers to the following. Are you a US citizen? Will there be someone at the address to receive and open or forward your mail? Will you keep a bank account to pay the US bills? Have you read your insurance policy terms to make sure they won't stiff you if you have an accident in Canada? What, if anything, does your state DMV ask for to prove your address? My guess is this isn't practical if you won't get the mail sent to the US address, but might be okay (and maybe legal as well) if you will.
    – Dennis
    Jun 2, 2016 at 16:22
  • I would use my parents' address. They haven't moved in 30 years and they certainly won't be moving in the next 100. I will be keeping my US bank account, but was intending to have the mailing address changed over to my Canadian address. Insurance is also okay with it, so long as they are kept informed. The DMV asks for some mail as proof of address, but tends to be pretty lax as to what actually counts. Jun 3, 2016 at 19:06
  • Did you ask the bank that holds the loan if you can export the car? The simple act of having a loan on the car in no way affects whether you can export it; it's whether the bank allows it. My bank allowed it and provided me specific documentation showing that, which was submitted to CBP (in the US) to export the car. The import process (through CBSA at the point of entry, who basically filled out the RIV form for me) did not even require that documentation.
    – tubedogg
    Aug 27, 2016 at 3:51

1 Answer 1


It would clearly be cleaner if you fully moved everything to Canada (and I wouldn't be too confident that the Canadian dollar is as low as it can go) but I think you'll be okay if you do it your way. I actually think your greyest legal areas will be in Canada, rather than the US.

You don't necessarily lose your state of residence when you move out of the US for a period. For example, you retain the right to vote when you leave but voting requires state registration so you'll remain a resident of the state you left for that purpose. Some expats, in fact, have the opposite problem, that they no longer want to be considered a resident of the state they left so they don't have to file resident state tax returns but the state will use their voter registration, drivers license, address in the state and whatever else they have there to argue that they continue to be residents even while not present (California, New Mexico, South Carolina and Virginia are famously bad for this). While the laws about residence vary by state, for a drivers license you will generally be perfectly fine if you just assert that you remain a resident of the state in your absence, if you'll receive mail they send to the in-state address you give them and, to be completely anal about it, if you retain whatever they would ask for if you applied for a new license there (if they want a bill or statement with the address, maybe leaving a bank account or credit card there might do it). In fact, you might want to contact the DMV to see if they have a way to register the fact you'll be away for a while so they'll know you will be voting absentee and that you won't be available for jury duty.

For the car the issue is even more straight forward, since you don't even have to be a resident of a state to have a car registered there and the registration in the state is more of a benefit for the state than it is for you. You may have to take the car back to the state if it needs an inspection when you renew the registration, and you'll need to make very sure your insurance will cover you if you spend extended periods away. Beyond this, no one there has much reason to object if the car isn't present in the state all that often.

It is in Canada where the issues get fuzzier. The second link you cite does indeed allow you to temporarily import the car for 3 years without registering it in Canada, but that is federal law while driver's licence and vehicle registration requirements are governed by provincial law. The exact laws may vary by province; I'll stick to Ontario since it is the only province I'm familiar with.

Ontario law says you must get an Ontario driver's licence within 60 days of taking up Ontario residence but you cannot do this since, while they would take your US license in exchange for the Ontario one, you would no longer have the US license and there are restrictions on what an Ontario-licensed driver can do with a US-registered vehicle in Ontario; you would mostly be restricted to using it to do the things you would need to get done to re-register it in Ontario. Your position, then, needs to be that you are just temporarily resident (i.e. visiting) in the province while you are there, so as a visitor you can continue to drive your US car with your US license. The fact that the border officer allowed you to temporarily import the vehicle for your stay without RIV registration (it would be good if they gave you a paper indicating this, though I'm not sure they will), requiring you to keep the US license to continue driving the car, should be offered as evidence that your stay is temporary and your continued use of the US license is proper.

The difficulty with this position is the cognitive dissonance caused by the fact that you almost certainly will be calling yourself a resident of the province for other purposes, in particular for income tax and for provincial health insurance (I'm positive you'll need the latter; even if your employer offers health benefits they will only cover what the provincial health insurance doesn't cover). A Canadian resident moving between provinces would normally change their driver's licence and vehicle registration at about the same time that they changed their health insurance. Fortunately the exact definition of "resident" tends to vary from benefit to benefit (or obligation to obligation), so I don't believe they can necessarily use the former as evidence that you should be considered a resident for driver's licence purposes as well. In practice you should be okay.

The key take-away from the link above, however, is that you should get an IDP to go along with your US license, since one is required if you are going to be driving as a visitor, in Ontario at least, for more than 3 months. This requirement is nonsensical, in that being in the country for more than 3 months doesn't increase their need for a translation of your license that no one will need to look at in any case, but I think is their way of "encouraging" you to get a local license instead. If you aren't going to be getting the local licence you'll need to be scrupulous about keeping the IDP current (I think they generally only have 1 year of validity) to avoid any risk of being "encouraged" with a charge of driving without a licence. If you do this they shouldn't be able to find much to complain about.

  • This was all incredibly helpful and projections I've been looking at since I've asked this actually make the option of repurchasing the car in Canada look favorable anyway. I will be in Ontario, so your knowledge was as useful as I could have hoped for. Jun 5, 2016 at 12:37
  • As a minor aside on voting: expatriates should be able to vote for Federal office using their last USA address, even if they could not possibly be classified as resident for tax purposes. You may wish to be sure you use the Federal ballot for overseas residents, and not apply for an ordinary absentee ballot with local offices contested, which might suggest you were still a resident (for tax purposes). Jun 11, 2016 at 2:38
  • I believe for purposes of needing to register the car and getting an Ontario license that Ontario would take the view that three years is not a "visit". I know for a fact that CBSA and immigration will not, and Ontario would likely look to them for guidance on that. The fact that Ontario references being a visitor for more than three months is likely due to the fact that visitors can stay for up to six months (or longer if given permission by CIC, but that permission would be predicated on something that would likely correctly reclassify one as a temporary resident, which is what Michael is).
    – tubedogg
    Aug 27, 2016 at 4:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.