Importing a Motorcycle Camper or Cargo Trailer into Canada

Photo by Brian Wilson
Photo by Brian Wilson

You’ve spotted the perfect motorcycle camper or cargo trailer and you’d like to add it to your garage. But it’s in the U.S. and you’re in the beautiful Great White North. So what do you need to do to get it across the border? And what will it cost?

Let’s break it down. To get a camper or trailer from the factory to you, you’ll pay:

  • Crating and shipping costs
  • Customs brokerage fee
  • Provincial taxes
  • A trailer import fee

Shipping Costs

Considering the vast expanse that is the Great White North, shipping expenses can vary a lot. One obvious factor is distance, but a more important factor is manufacturer volume.

Here’s a recent example. I recently shipped a Time Out camper to Edmonton, Alberta for $350 USD. That’s not a bad rate when you consider the distances involved. However, a recent quote for shipping a Mini Mate camper to the same destination came in at $776 USD, more than double.

This happens because Time Out is a larger manufacturer and ships a higher volume of units. As a result, they’re able to negotiate higher discounts on shipping rates.

Alternative: If it makes sense, you can arrange to pick up your trailer or camper at a U.S. freight terminal, assemble it and tow it home, or have it loaded on your truck/trailer. If it would cost you several hundred dollars in missed time at work and travel expenses, it might just pay to have it brought to you.

Customs Broker

Before your trailer can be shipped, you’ll need to appoint a customs broker. You’ll create an account with the broker and sign a limited power of attorney form that will allow them to collect the applicable tax amount from you and pay it on your behalf. They’ll follow your shipment through the customs clearance process and notify me and you if there are any issues.

As part of my job, I prepare three pieces of documentation for the customs broker. One is a commercial invoice, which reflects the full and accurate sale price of the trailer. The second is a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) certificate of origin, a document that is similar in purpose to the certificate of origin provided by the manufacturer. The NAFTA document certifies that the trailer or camper was manufactured in a NAFTA country (Mexico, the U.S. and Canada). The third document is a scanned and signed copy of the certificate of origin from the manufacturer, a document you could consider to be a camper’s birth certificate.

A customs broker will charge about $100 USD for their services. I like using Borderbee.com. They specialize in helping private citizens import vehicles (a camper or trailer is considered a vehicle). They’re helpful and reasonably priced.

Alternative: If you have your trailer shipped to a U.S. terminal or commercial address and bring it across yourself, you are the customs broker. You’ll pay the taxes, complete the paperwork, and bring the trailer across yourself. Not complicated, many people have done it. You’ll need just a regular bill of sale (or commercial invoice), and the manufacturer’s certificate of origin. You won’t need a NAFTA document.

Provincial Taxes

This one’s pretty simple. You’ll pay your standard sales tax on the value of any trailer or camper that you import or bring into the country. Most provincial rates run between 10 to 15%, although Alberta checks in at a thrifty 5%. How’s that eh? That must explain why I ship a lot of units to Alberta.

Alternative: Hah. An alternative to not paying The Man? Get serious.

Trailer Import Fee

This one surprises some people because it sometimes comes a month or two after they’ve had their camper. I’ve also found this fee to be inconsistently enforced over the years. In the last few, it seems to be more uniformly applied. Probably because of upgraded computer systems that make it easier to track these things. Damn computers.

Anyway, once you’ve brought your trailer into the country, you’ll need to take it to an inspection station to make sure it’s legal to tow. All the campers and trailers I sell are legal to use in Canada. As a token of your appreciation for that rubber-stamp inspection, you’ll pay around $200 CDN.

Alternative: None.

If you have questions about the import process, exact shipping costs, or any other questions about motorcycle campers or trailers, feel free to contact me.

Best Motorcycle Trip Winners: 2014 10 Best Readers’ Choice Travel Awards

Cabot-Trail-----lightphoto-iStock_54_990x660Best Motorcycle Trip Winners: 2014 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Awards.

This was a fun thing to do. Last year, I was invited to nominate 25 of my favorite roads to be considered for a Top 10 poll at USA Today. My contributions were combined with two other riders/writers and the roads that received the most nominations between us were put on a list for readers to choose from.

A bunch of my nominations made the top 10 list including the Cabot Trail, Beartooth Pass, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Cherohala Skyway, the Twisted Sisters, the PCH and US 101.

The Essential Guide to Motorcycle Travel, 2nd Edition: Planning, Outfitting, and Accessorizing

The Essential Guide to Motorcycle Travel, 2nd Edition: Planning, Outfitting, and Accessorizing: Dale Coyner: 9781884313424: Amazon.com: Books.

“Adventure” in motorcycle travel can be a double-edged sword. You want to enjoy unexpected pleasures and great roads, but leave behind things like fatigue, discomfort and danger (most of it, anyway). I wrote this title in 2007 to include everything I could think of to help riders enjoy more of the good side of adventure in their travels. The title was updated in 2014 to reflect advances in motorcycles and touring technology.

And finally, after 20 years of publishing, I got my picture on the cover of a book! That’s me riding my Honda ST-1300.

 

Harley CAN-BUS Trailer Wiring

Oh boy. If water cooling weren’t enough on new Harley models, now they’ve gone and added another BMW-like feature. CAN-BUS wiring. (Can an electrically adjustable windshield and integrated caviar cooler be far behind?)

In any case, the introduction of CAN-BUS wiring to the 2014 Harley touring bike line-up has created a lot of concern and questions.

Relax.

You can still wire up your Harley for a trailer. And it won’t blow up your bike, it won’t trigger fault codes, it won’t transmit data behind your back to executives in Milwaukee who have an itchy finger on the “Delete Warranty” button.

Now, there is a twist. As I’ve written about before on this blog, and probably will again, there are two basic types of wiring setups for trailers, four wire systems and five wire systems. These refer to the number of wires used for your signal circuits and nothing else. A four wire system has one set of lights that function as both brake lights and turn signals. A five wire system has brake lights that operate separately from the turns.

For decades, motorcycles have been set up as five wire systems. Your brake light is a separate circuit from your turn signals. And so, the majority of motorcycle trailers made here in the US have been five wire systems.

Here’s the twist. In 2014, Harley eliminated the separate turn signals on the rear fender of MOST (not all…more on that), of MOST of their touring bike line-up. In the process of doing that, they combined the turn signals and brakes, making most 2014-to-present Harleys a FOUR wire system.

If you’ve purchased one of those little import trailers, you’re in good shape, because most of those trailers have a “flat four” plug and are four wire systems. Install a Harley plug-and-play wiring kit and it will, by default, mimic your bike’s four-wire system and drive your trailer lights without any problem.

Now, what if you have, or are planning to purchase a trailer that has separate brake lights and turn signals? In your case, what you need is a “four to five” converter — pretty much the opposite of what every auto parts store sells. You need to split out the brake light from the turn signals.

Luckily, the  wiring kits I sell have an extra CAN-BUS module option that does just this. It installs along with the other plug-and-play components and converts the Harley four wire system into a five wire system for your trailer. No muss, no fuss.

Now, I mentioned that most 2014+ Harleys have gone to this new setup. But there’s an exception. Any CVO model touring bike that has a set of separate turn signals down around the brake light are still set up as five wire systems. That means, when you want to connect to a five wire trailer, you need to do nothing other than buy the standard wiring kit. It will work, by default, with your five wire trailer. To connect to a four wire trailer, you’ll need a five to four converter, just like all the previous Harley models.

I realize that’s all a lot of information and some of it may be confusing. So don’t hesitate to ask for help to get the right kit for your bike. In the end, the thing that’s most important to know is that despite everything you may hear or read about the difficulty of adding a trailer to a CAN-BUS system, there’s really nothing to it. You just need the right kit.