It’s been about a year since I imported my Land Rover Defender 90 into British Columbia, Canada. I thought I’d write to share the experience: some information and the process I went through.
The time had come for a new off road and overlanding vehicle and the Defender 90 seemed like the perfect vehicle for me for a variety of reasons. As I’m originally from the United Kingdom, almost every farm has one or more, often in blue or green, towing an Ifor Williams trailer or a piece of farm equipment, more often than not with a silver open canopy containing at the very least a couple of sheep dogs. I’d grown up around these vehicles and they are apart of my heritage. I’d also spent lots of time in them through various avenues of work and am hugely passionate about the Land Rover brand. I love the brand’s history and am reasonably versed in their capabilities, quirks and any potential issues that may arise.
Finding a solid and reliable vehicle from overseas is an exceptional challenge. After hours on the phone, the internet, chatting to friends and following leads, I found exactly what I wanted via a lovely couple and their company, Bespoke Off Road, in beautiful Oxfordshire, UK. They had the perfect vehicle in their shop ready and waiting for me. After some negotiations we agreed on a price but the toughest thing to swallow was that I was agreeing to something sight unseen. I needed a way of verifying that it was indeed a legitimate deal and a good buy.
This is where my UK roots came into play once again – my younger brother, David, who lives about 2 hours away from Oxfordshire was an enormous help. With some brotherly bribery, I persuaded him to go and check it out in person. He got the long list of my questions answered and took many videos and pictures – extremely valuable information and I was super impressed at how great a job he did especially since he isn’t a mechanic by trade. His efforts helped seal the deal and without his help, this dream of mine probably wouldn’t have become a reality. Once the deal was done, Anna at Bespoke Off Road arranged to have it delivered to the Port Of Southampton for shipping.
The process wasn’t nearly as complicated as I thought it was going to be. It was fairly straight forward after some research. Even smarter on my part, however, was using the advice given by Anna at Bespoke Off Road as they were experts at exporting vehicles from the United Kingdom to the US & Canada. They suggested using a company called Fast Lane Forwarding. A few emails later and I was set up with a all the information I required and a booking.
There are a couple of options for shipping a vehicle from overseas, each in increasing price:
Roll on, Roll off vehicle ship.
Shared 40ft sea container.
Dedicated 20ft sea container.
There weren’t any options for sharing a container and I did not want to use a roll on, roll off option due to the risk of vehicle damage etc., which left the dedicated 20ft sea container option. Fast Lane Forwarding were exceptional and I got a discounted rate as a Bespoke Off Road customer. This was great news as every penny counts with this costly process. The shipping logistics was very straightforward, from making the initial booking, to payment, to organizing all the necessary shipping documents. The most vital of the documents is the Bill Of Landing which is essential to ensure a smooth, drama free transit. This is prepared by the shipper and is then issued to the receiving agent only once the vessel carrying the vehicle has sailed. It contains detailed information on the load (license plate number, VIN, make, model etc), origins, destination, shipper, client, vessel, SUDU & SEAL numbers and so on. All this information is required at the destination for legal entry through Canada Customs. (More on this later…)
Being somewhat of a geek, I downloaded the iOS app Vessel Finder to track the container vessel on its journey across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal and up the west coast of the US & Canada on the Pacific Ocean.
The container was loaded in Southampton, UK onto the Hapag Lloyd vessel, the Glasgow Express, for its nearly six week journey to Canada.
It was fun watching it make its progress throughout its travels, watching it stop at a few major ports and even catching it pass through the Gatún Locks in the Panama Canal via webcam.
Canada Customs & Importation
Typically this is where many issues can arise. The paperwork, logistics and legalities can be hugely complicated. I had, however, decided to try and mitigate that as much as possible by using a customs and importation handling agent which was money well spent. Here is an outline of the stages in the process:
Container arrives at destination port.
Container is unloaded. (Applicable fees apply)
Container is taken to a customs clearance zone. (Applicable fees apply)
Container is stored until customs inspection. (Applicable fees apply)
Container is inspected by the CBSA. (Applicable fees apply)
Vehicle can be sent for de-soiling if CBSA requires. (Applicable fees apply)
Container shipped to customs bonded warehouse. (Applicable fees apply)
Storage and de-stuffing of container. (Applicable fees apply)
Release of contents to customer.
Where things can fall apart is if the documentation isn’t arranged properly before and during the transit of the shipment. Costs can very quickly spiral into hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in storage, extra handling, more in depth container inspections, delay in releasing the shipment and so on. Using an agent ensured that the process was completed within a couple of days upon arrival into Canada. This was a huge savings of time and money. I used an incredibly helpful company called Livingstone International. They guided me through the entire process, made sure I had all the correct paperwork, information and had pre-paid all the fees for customs, GST, shipping & handling.
An amusing yet pain in the butt situation was at the bonded warehouse. All the paperwork was done, the vehicle was released to me and I had the temporary importation ICBC vehicle insurance – all ready to drive away and start many more adventures to come. However, the container de-stuffing company decided to use one of their warehouses that had no vehicle ramp, meaning that once it was unloaded into the warehouse from the container, there was no way to drive it away as there was no exit door or ramp – unless I really wanted to test out the suspension with the 5 foot drop. After a couple of hours waiting for a flat bed recovery truck, we were on our way to the next phase of the importation process.
Inspection, Registration & Insurance
The final process of the importation was registering the vehicle in British Columbia so that it could be insured and legally driven on the road.
This was straight forward, although probably the most expensive part of the process, but I knew in advance that this would probably be the case.
From where I picked it up at the warehouse, I drove it across Vancouver on a temporary ICBC import insurance policy that essentially allows you to drive the vehicle from the customs port of entry, directly to the inspection facility. I had chosen to use Don and his guys at Rovalution. Don is an incredibly passionate Land Rover fan and owns the best shop in western Canada which specializes in old Land Rovers, especially Defender’s. I knew taking it there for its inspection it would get a thorough evaluation that I could trust. I was a little nervous as it is an older vehicle and I knew Rovalution’s eagle eyes would find things I didn’t really want to hear, but in reality it was a great experience. At the end of the inspection I knew the exact state of the vehicle and was pleasantly surprised as there wasn’t as much work to be done as I was originally anticipating:
New front break callipers.
DOT rated windscreen.
Third rear break light.
Battery hold down bar.
Tie rod ends.
New pedal shoes.
Once the work was done and the inspection was passed, I could then head to ICBC to register, pay the PST on the importation value and then insure it. Again since I had all the paperwork in order including all the purchase receipts, B3, Form 1 Importation Form, Customs Declaration, Bill Of Lading, CBSA inspection report, mechanical inspection report and so on, it was very straight forward.
As soon as it was insured, it was filled with gas and then driven up the Sea To Sky Highway for the very first time to it’s new home. Such a fun sunny day on a beautiful highway, cruising along in my new Land Rover. A pretty exciting day after about four months of hard work and preparation.
What Bespoke Off Road had found was a 1996 Land Rover Defender 90. However, this is where it gets interesting. This particular vehicle was never sold to the public as it was made through Land Rover’s special military ordering department after being commissioned by the Italian Carabinieri
This Defender 90 was one of only a few hundred ever built and has a rare 2.0 MPI T16 DOHC 16v engine configuration that was produced only for the Italian Carabinieri. They needed a small petrol engine to service their force vehicle requirements. Under Italian laws, these smaller vehicles avoided major taxation that exists on bigger engine sizes in their region. More importantly, the severe lack of diesel in that region meant that it would have been logistically foolhardy to use diesel engined Land Rover Defenders. All of their existing fleet vehicles are petrol.
Why did I choose this vehicle? Well, to be honest, finding a good Land Rover Defender 90 that is old enough to bring to Canada (it has to be older than 15 years old to meet import requirements if manufactured outside of North America if it does not meet other criteria). Almost everything found these days is either exceptionally expensive (usually very inflated, due to the fact that Land Rover has ceased to make the Defender in it’s current & historic configuration), or it has high mileage and is highly corroded. I knew that this vehicle had come from the dry lands of southern Italy and would be in very good shape. I would rather a solid vehicle with an odd ball engine than a rusted hulk with a tiredand thrashed diesel engine.
Once it landed in Canada and I saw it, I knew I had made the right choice. Sure the little 2.0 MPI petrol engine has less torque than the classic diesel 300tdi, but in all honesty, it moved along very nicely on the highway, cruising at 90km/h happily. It did struggle on the longer steep hills and off road a little bit, but this added character and is where my off road driving skills kicked in and I loved the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment. It more than easily has coped with trails like Whipsaw with ease – that’s how amazing these stock vehicles are.