Tips, Tricks & Things You Should Know 

How to import a motorcycle from the USA into Canada

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Now that you have a grasp on the basics of importing a bike, let’s debunk a few common misconceptions and explore some ways to save a few dollars and headaches.

Numerous Canadian dealers told me that importing a bike from the US voids its warranty; it’s a scare tactic and a blatant lie. Contacting Honda Canada to ask about this was of little help. The women I spoke with seemed somewhat hostile after the “import” word was dropped. A phone call to American Honda shed a good deal of light on the topic; they provided the following:

  • A US purchased bike is still covered by it full 3 year warranty, even if exported to Canada. The warranty is valid at any US Honda Dealer, not just the one where the bike was purchased. A Canadian Honda dealer will not do warranty work but they will do whatever work you’re willing to pay for.
  • It may be difficult to convince a Canadian Honda dealer that they must do Recall work on any Honda bike, even if it was purchased in the US. There is a little known trade agreement between American Honda and Honda Canada that requires dealers in either country to do Recall work. If you try to use this, be prepared for a fight – it likely won’t be a smooth acceptance.
  • A 4-year extended warranty from a Canadian Honda dealer costs a bit over $1400 (+tx) compared to one from a US dealer at $613 (CDN$) with no tax owed.

For me, living only 28 blocks north of the US border, using a US warranty is not a big issue.

Trade Lingo
There are a number of terms you should be aware:

“MSRP” is the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price – that’s the price the manufacturer and dealer would like to sell the bike for in a perfect world. But, it’s not a perfect world. Nobody should pay the MSRP.

“Invoice” is the initial cost of the bike to the dealership and the dealers try to make you believe that’s their true cost, but it’s not. Invoice pricing is simply a ploy of the car and bike market to help separate you from as much cash as possible.

 “Holdback” is sort of like a rebate that the dealer gets back after the sale is completed – if they have played by the manufacturer’s rules. This is an important factor as it can means mega dollars difference in what you pay for your bike.

“PDI” or pre-delivery and inspection. This and fees for similar services are supposed to reimburse the dealer for assembling the bike and giving it a thorough inspection. Try buying the bike in its crate and aren’t you already paying for a new bike, properly assembled? IMHO, this is a bogus fee. When dealing on my last new bike, one dealer wanted $650 for the PDI and anther wanted only $250 for exactly the same thing. This time around I dealt only on the full out-the-door price with everything included and that’s what I did my price comparison on.

“Documentation Fee” is a new scheme started by car dealers and now being adopted by some motorcycle dealers. The concept is, they have to process a bunch of paperwork and they want you to pay separately for that. Again, another bogus fee designed for no other purpose that to increase the dealer’s profit margin.

Honda Rules
American Honda has a few clauses in their dealer contracts to curb exports, though I’ve also been told they are primarily in place to curb exports to Europe.

“Live & In-person” This rule requires customers to present themselves live and in-person at the dealership at some point during the sales transaction. This is something they are very sticky on and a Honda Dealer could run into serious problems if its ignored. It should also be noted that this clause is interpreted differently in some areas. Some dealers require you to be there (at the dealer location) at any time during the transaction, even before any offers are made or papers signed. Other dealers insist you be there to take delivery of the bike.

It should be noted that the California dealers I spoke with insisted on me being present to take delivery. In California, this presents an added problem with state sales tax. Their tax law requires you to pay an 8.25% sales tax if you take delivery in California. Together, the Honda rule and CA sales tax form a classic catch-22.

One option for me would have been to buy from a dealer I could visit while on a business trip in the US. As it turned out, my airfare cost was only a little over $300 to fly down and take delivery or just under $600 for a return flight. It’s just another cost to calculate into your decision process.

“Holdback & US Address” If the mailing address on your bill of sale is not from the US, Honda will not pay the dealer a rebate called a “holdback”. The sale can still happen if it’s not a US mailing address, but then has less wiggle room in their price; increasing your cost by a little over $1,000.

As one dealer explained to me, he didn’t care if the address was my aunt Mable’s address or a post office box, just so long as he could use it on the sales invoice. In my case, I do have a US address through a commercial post office box service and that service the purpose well. I did have a few concerns with that address being on the sales invoice but as it turns out, it was not questioned or commented on by anyone throughout the whole import process.

Since I was picking up my bike in Oklahoma and riding it 2,900 miles home, I wanted a few accessories put on before it took delivery.

As part of my purchase negotiation I received an assurance that the dealer would match web pricing for my accessories and their install cost. I then put together a list of the items I wanted installed and asked for a quote, separated into supply and install. I compared their quote to the best web prices I could find and install pricing from some web sellers who also provided install services. I then used these prices to negotiate what I think was a very reasonable accessory package. The convenience of having my CB installed and the comfort provided by my driver’s backrest were dollars well and wisely spent.

Duty Fee Exemption
If you’re riding home like I did, you may be away long enough to qualify for the $700 duty exemption. I had my dealer invoice my accessories separately from the bike’s bill of sale. This made it possible for me to use my duty free exemption to reduce my cost at the border.

Currency Exchange Rates
many people think the current exchange rates are carved in stone – they’re not. If you are converting $10,000 or more virtually any financial institute will give you a better rate, if you ask. If you don’t ask, they are happy to take in the extra profit. Also check out currency exchange brokers; they’ll often offer a better rate than the banks.

Payment Method
Virtually all US retailers are reluctant to take a cashier’s cheque (certified cheque) from a foreign bank. Check with your dealer as to how they want payment made. In my case, my dealer preferred to have the funds wired and that’s what I did. You could do this from a Canadian bank but the time required for the process to complete varies and the local bank has no control over that process once the wire is sent. I wired my funds from a US bank one week prior to my scheduled pick-up date and then confirm its receipt with the dealer a few days later.

Tax on Canadian Value
GST and PST will be calculated on the Canadian dollar value of the bike as converted by the Customs official at the border, on the day it crosses. This is typically less than what you’ll have to pay your bank to purchase US dollars.

Recall Documents
This is a messy and confusing topic fraught with misunderstandings.

Following the directions on the RIV site, I had my authorized Honda dealer prepare a recall letter exactly as stated, with all the required information. When I got to Cdn. Tire for my import inspection I was told that the dealer letter was not sufficient. During the ensuing phone call to RIV, a lady their informed me that I also needed a print-out from Honda, even though this was listed no where in their published requirements. I was told this information could be accessed through American Honda’s website.

Homeward I went to get on the web and of course the information was not where she said it would be – another phone call to RIV. This time I got a very helpful Dennis, the supervisor. He apologized and told me there was considerable confusion on what’s required and said my dealer letter was sufficient. But, to avoid possible added delays, he walked me through finding the info on Honda’s website.

  • Go to American Honda’s Owner Link website.
  • If you don’t already have an account set up, do so know and then sign-in.
  • After you’ve filled in the information and VIN number, your Owner Link web page should show a picture of your Gold Wing and the lower right box should have a “My Gold Wing” link. Click it.
  • The next page should show your bike and VIN at the top. Print this out. You only need to print the first page, which will be page 1 on your Recall Documents.
  • In the left margin you’ll find a “Recalls” link – click it.
  • The new page with the Recalls title is page 2 of your Recall Documents – print it.

That’s it. I was now armed with enough recall documents for even the most anal person in the import processing chain. Canadian Tire was then able to complete their inspection, after I showed them where to find the VIN.

Vehicle Inspection
Don’t laugh too hard, but yes, Canadian Tire does most of the import inspections on cars and motorcycles. All they do is check the VIN and date of manufacture and your paperwork. They fill-out and stamp your Vehicle Inspection form (form 2) and fax a copy of the inspection form and recall documents to RIV. There are no additional fees to pay here and you’ll walk away with the inspection stamp – the last piece required to insure and plate your bike.

Check with your nearest Cdn. Tire before taking your bike down there. The one nearest me will only do inspections from 9:00 AM until 3:00 PM, Monday – Friday. I guess the other staff aren’t qualified to ask, “Where’s the VIN on one of these? If it’s underneath, we’ll have to wait for a free hoist.”

Speedometer & Odometer
The need to change speedo heads is another myth to be debunked. All Gold Wings have had both miles and kilometers on their speedo for many years. That is sufficient and was not even checked. On bikes without kilometers, even a kilometer decal on the speedo is sufficient and the odometer can read in anything, even Swahili.

If you’re going to ride your bike home, you’ll need appropriate insurance coverage. A “Binder of Insurance” can be provided by any insurance agent. My insurance agent (Debi Mason of B & W Insurance Agencies (19825 Fraser Hwy, Langley, BC, 604-530-9993) fixed me up with my coverage at a reasonable cost, making sure I was well covered for liability, collision, fire, theft and all the rest. Thanks Debi!