Much has been debated in various forums about the issue of a Canadian with residency in Mexico wanting to return to visit Canada with their Mexican plated vehicle. As always, opinions vary and facts are elusive, and too many people with poor reading comprehension muddy the waters by steering the discussion down unrelated paths.
This whole discussion hinges on the difference between a resident or non-resident Canadian and how that is determined.
It is most important to distinguish between the two types of residency — tax residency and physical residency in Canada. It’s entirely possible and quite common that you can be a tax resident of Canada and yet live full time in Mexico with resident status there. Even though you may still be a “tax resident” of Canada and filing income tax there every year, for the purpose of customs and border crossings they care only about where you primarily live. If you have legal residency and ordinarily make your home in Mexico you are considered a non-resident of Canada for the purpose of border crossings, even though you may or may not be a tax resident (ie: you did not file for non-residency status with CRA). This has nothing to do with your residency status with CRA for tax filings.
So how does this relate to vehicles? There are really only two possible outcomes. If you are considered a resident of Canada by CBSA guidelines, you are NOT allowed to bring your foreign plated vehicle in. This mirrors the policy in Mexico for citizens and permanent residents. However, if you are considered to be a non-resident of Canada, you MAY bring your Mexican plated vehicle as a visitor.
In an email response to my query about vehicles, CBSA has cited two references to me that expand on this. Memorandum D2-6-1 and Memorandum D2-1-1. These memorandums clearly state that as a non-resident of Canada (ie: you ordinarily live somewhere else) you may bring your personal goods AND conveyance (vehicle) duty free and they may remain in the country for up to 12 months or until you leave, whichever comes first.
Obviously your vehicle would have to carry valid insurance, but you are not ‘importing’ it and so any and all references to such procedures are inapplicable. All the talk you hear about safety standards, inspection guidelines, year of vehicle, etc., do not apply here. You and your vehicle are considered visitors during your stay in Canada. Do not confuse the issue (or the officials) with talk of importing, either temporarily or permanently, as it is simply not relevant. According to CBSA guidelines quoted above, you are free to drive your Mexican plated vehicle back to visit Canada for up to 12 months without restriction.