Sunday, February 19, 2012

Moving to Australia Part II: Importing the Car

View Part I here and Part III here.


I’m not an idiot. I just need to get that out of the way because I’m not 100% sure that by the time you finish reading this you won’t think otherwise. I maintain that everything I did in trying to export my car was mostly correct, except for the part where I had to cross the border 5 times in order to make it happen.

Let me explain. When one exports a car, there is really only a single hard rule that affects this story: Once paperwork is received by the US border officials you can’t leave the country with the vehicle until you’re actually exporting it. Unfortunately, the people who can do the paperwork to export aren’t available after 3:30pm. You now have all of the pertinent background info for this story to make sense.

If you remember from Part I there was a bit of chaos associated with us getting up to Canada in the first place. Despite our best efforts we weren’t able to make it to the border in time to export the car, having missed our window by a mere 4.5 hours. That meant that we had to ditch our car in a McDonald’s parking lot in Lynden, then take the truck with our worldly belongings across on its own (Crossing 1). After the escapades of that night, the next day we had a simple plan. We’d borrow a car from Erika’s folks so we could finish loading the storage locker, then we’d go south so I could grab our car and import it while Erika went to Bellingham to get her driving record (required to get her BC license again). It all seemed so easy.

Strangely enough, loading the storage locker was the smoothest part. Miraculously nobody had taken our shit (which happens to us a lot) and we were able to upgrade to a 7’x10’ locker that fit everything perfectly. So off we go to the US! We hit the border at around 2:30pm (Crossing 2) and grabbed the car down in Lynden. After parting ways I drove to the border in Blaine. I was mildly concerned because I had forgotten the sheet of paper that explained the exact directions of where to go but I did remember something about “staying to the left”, so I felt I was pretty good on that front.

So after all of the hassles and delays, it’s finally time for me to export our car. A short drive gets me to the border and I am staying to the left when I see a sign that says “Government Offices”. Hey, that’s me! I drive over to the left, find the visitor parking, and head into the offices. It is now 3:05pm. I go inside and see a small window with a Vehicle Export sign over it. Up until now things are going perfectly. I walk up to the window… and it’s plastered in Bruins paraphernalia. There’s news clips, player profiles, you name it. I am in my Canucks hat, and have the distinct feeling that my mojo is shifting. After some light conversation where I establish that yes, I hate the Bruins, he takes my paperwork and goes into the dark recesses of borderland. He stamps my vehicle title, then after a moment he asks a strange question: “Where’s your car?”

ME: Uh, right outside?

GUARD: No, I mean where exactly?

ME: I put it in the visitor parking off to the left.

GUARD: We don’t go out there for inspections. You have to bring it around out front.

ME: Ok, how do I get there?

GUARD: Just take this slip of paper then give it to the guy blocking the gate out. Pull up to the sign that says “Return to Canada” and drive through.

ME: Ok.

So here’s what I do: I go back to my car, take the slip of paper, and give it to the guy blocking the gate out. He lets me through and I pull up to the sign that says “Return to Canada” and drive through. All of a sudden I find myself in no-man’s-land – I’m stuck with Canada to the north, USA to the south, the border to my left, and a dilapidated shack to my right. I have literally no options at this point. I can drive north into Canada and break the exportation regulations. I can pop the car into reverse and back up the highway into the US (which I’m pretty sure is illegal in some way). Or I can give up, abandon my car, and go back inside. I finally settle on backing up my car, then moving it forward, then backing it up again, then moving forward, then backing up again, then saying “to hell with it” and driving onwards into Canada (Crossing 3). I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing at this point, maybe I already did everything I needed to?

The Canadian border dude hears my story and asks if I got my title stamped. “Ok, then just take this yellow slip and pull into Lane 1”. Sounds great, I guess I did do everything I needed to in the US! Only problem is, as I’m pulling into Lane 1 I realize that the US guy never gave me the title back. Damn it! So I race inside because it is now 3:15pm and time is ticking away.

It is empty. And I mean that this border crossing is a dead, barren wasteland of staff. It’s the Mojave. Nobody comes out of any offices or talks to anyone. There are no voices, no people at the counters, and nobody in front of or behind me in line. The only thing I have for company is a single clock on the far wall that is ticking inexorably forward: 3:17pm… 3:18pm… 3:19pm. I stand there entranced as my hopes and dreams dribble away one second at a time. My phone buzzes: it’s a text from Erika. The DMV won’t give her the paperwork, she’ll need to drive to Olympia for it or do it by mail. Fantastic. Finally, at 3:25pm someone comes out of what I can only assume is a drug mule extraction room, and asks me what I need. I immediately tell them that Iamanidiotidon’tknowwhati’mdoingiamexportingacarandiwentthewrongwayandistillneedusapermissionbutigotturnedaroundandnowineedtogobacktotheusandohpleasegoddon’ttakemebacktotheroomyoujustcameoutof. He says to just go back to the US and take my yellow slip with me. Well that was easy.

So I tear back to the US… thank god there’s no lineup (quick tip: most of the people who take the truck crossing would lose an IQ contest to a muffin. There’s always an empty lane to the right while the other lanes have 3-7 cars in them. I have no idea what those other cars are doing). I roar up to the border and explain my story: Iamanidiotidon’tknowwhati’mdoingiamexportingacarandiwentthewrongwayandistillneedusapermissionbutigotturnedaroundandnowineedtogobacktotheusandohpleasegoddon’ttakemetothebackroomywherebadthingshappentogoodpeople.

His response: “Just take this slip of paper then give it to the guy blocking the gate out. Pull up to the sign that says “Return to Canada” and drive through”.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

ME: “That’s what I did! I just did that! I did what you said and I ended up in Canada! Give me some more freaking details!”

GUARD: “Well, just drive around to that dilapidated shack and get out. Then walk in and finish your paperwork”.

Seriously? So giving up, abandoning my car, and going back inside was actually the right decision. Ok then… did not see that one coming.

At any rate, I drive through (Crossing 4), park at the shack, and head inside. It is now 3:35pm, and although they’re supposed to have shut down they cut me a break. Apparently the dilapidated shack is the "Kiosk" and there's some sort of photography equipment there. Great, maybe instead of writing "Kiosk" on the shack you could write, oh, I don't know, "Car imports, stop your freaking car here"? At any rate, it was back to the Canadian border and finishing the paperwork there (Crossing 5). Loads of fun.

So my advice: Bring the freaking instructions when you import your car.

Up next is Part III: Off to Australia and First Impressions!

1 comment:

  1. Is this why your hands were shaking? Based on your experience as well as the experience of my friend who imported a motorcycle to BC last year, this whole process is set up as some sort of psychological test, to see who cracks. I'm glad you didn't have top go to the back room...