How to import a car to the United States

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Americans have it all. That’s what everyone says. And quite often this is truly the case. Yet, there comes a time in every American’s life when the exact thing they want is not within the borders of our country. And very often, this exact thing is a car. The next BMW model that is not yet available in the USA. Or the only classic Mercedes Benz from 1966 left in the world. What to do then? Read on to find out how to import a car to the United States.

Compliance with the U.S. standards

Your first and utmost priority is to make sure the vehicle you want to import is compliant with regulations and U.S. standards. If the particular vehicle you want to import is a model sold in the United States as well, it most likely complies with the standards. This is so because the model was exported for sale in the U.S. Still, don’t be fooled by what dealers would tell you and do your own research. Especially if you have bought your vehicle from an eBay seller somewhere across the world.

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection rules, all imported motor vehicles are subject to three main standards:

  • Safety standards under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, revised under the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988;
  • Bumper standards under the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972, which became effective in 1978;
  • Air pollution control standards under the Clean Air Act of 1968, as amended in 1977, and 1990.

 

Safety standards 

Importers of motor vehicles must file an HS-7 Declaration form at the time a vehicle is imported to identify the basis for its entry into the United States. The age of the vehicle is the first most important thing to look at when choosing your vehicle. Generally, a motor vehicle less than 25 years old must comply with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) to be imported on a permanent basis. Vehicles (other than motorcycles) manufactured to comply with the FMVSS will have a certification label affixed by the original manufacturer in the area of the driver-side door.

Important to remember: the 25 year period starts from the date of vehicle’s manufacture.

Vehicles entering the United States that do not conform with U.S. safety standards must be brought into compliance, exported, or destroyed.

 

Emission Standards 

EPA has a detailed automotive fact manual which describes emission requirements for imported vehicles. In case your vehicle does not comply with EPA standards, you can import it in two circumstances: by certification or exemption. The first option is to get your nonconforming vehicle modified, tested and certified by an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI). The second way is to check if you qualify for an EPA exemption, but this will only allow for a temporary importation. This is usually done if you need the vehicle for the purpose of testing, alteration, or some sort of a race. In either case, you need to get a pre-approval before you import the vehicle.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements are continuously subject to change. Always check for the latest version of documentation and instructions you read and make sure you contact the agencies before buying a vehicle abroad.

 

Preparation checklist on importing a car 

At a port of entry, you will need to file an entry with the U.S. Customs and Border and Protection. You will receive a CBP Form 7501 from an officer which will serve as a certification of the importing process. You need to be prepared before filing in order to avoid rejection. Before you get to CBP:

  • Ensure you have valid proof of ownership: an original certificate of title or a certified copy of the original.
  • Complete EPA form 3520-1 and DOT form HS-7.
  • Obtain a manufacturer’s letter/certificate stating that the vehicle conforms to EPA and DOT standards. Vehicle parts must also conform to U.S. Standards, depending on the part being imported.

Note: If the vehicle has stickers on the engine (EPA) and inside the drivers-side door (DOT) stating that the vehicle was manufactured to U.S. standards, you will not need a letter from the manufacturer. Ask about it at least 2-3 weeks before importing. Some vehicles are listed by make, model, and year on the DOT and EPA websites as conforming. If your vehicle is one of them, that would also negate the need for a letter from the manufacturer.

 

Cost of importing a vehicle 

The costs of importing a car vary depending on which country you are importing your vehicle from as well as how you choose to bring your car from overseas. You have a couple of options on the type of transport you select. You may choose to ship it with the roll-on/roll-off method. It is one of the most inexpensive shipping methods but also the riskiest: the car may suffer damage during loading and unloading and it will be exposed to a harsh marine environment for weeks before it reaches its final destination. Another option is container shipping. It is a costlier but definitely more secure option, especially for a non-running vehicle, for example – a classic.

Charges to ship a vehicle may range from $3,500 to $5,500 from Europe to the East Coast and from $4,500-6,000 from Japan to the West Coast. When choosing the auto transport company that will help you in importing your vehicle, always compare the prices on the market. Never opt for the lowest price because this often comes with surprises. You don’t want to choose the priciest option either. You should be prepared to pay extra for modifications on bringing the vehicle to U.S. standards, so don’t spend all your money on the transportation.

To get accurate information on shipping policies and prices, contact the Corsia Logistics team. We will always give you a manually calculated price specifically designed for your needs.

In the next few paragraphs, we will highlight some specifics and further things you need to pay attention to when importing from specific regions.

 

Importing a car from Canada 

When importing a vehicle from Canada, make sure you refer to your specific situation. There are rule differences for temporary stays, Canadians moving permanently to the U.S., returning military personnel, employees working abroad, and other types of importers.

Many Canadian vehicles have emission control systems that are identical to those on equivalent vehicles certified in the United States. However, sometimes these Canadian vehicles may not have an emissions compliance label which identifies that they are conforming to EPA requirements. This is why you need to be able to find the label and if not, you can use a letter of compliance from the vehicle manufacturer’s U.S. representative.

You need to have all of the documentation for the vehicle with you when you cross the U.S. border. If you have purchased the car from Canada, make sure you keep these:

  • Bill of sale with the VIN# showing you and/or a spouse as owner of the vehicle, as well as the vehicle title.
  • Temporary license plate/ insurance card from the Canadian Province where you bought the vehicle. You need it even if you extended your U.S. insurance to cover it.

Most vehicles made in Canada or the U.S. are not subject to duties. For foreign-made vehicles you will likely pay the following:  for autos – 2.5% duty fee, trucks – 25%, motorcycles – No Charge or 2.4%.

When transporting your vehicle by land, we recommend choosing enclosed auto transport to secure your vehicle’s safety. Depending on your origin and final destination, your car might be traveling for hundreds and even thousands of miles. Enclosed trailers offer complete protection from the elements on the roads, which make it the safest method to transport a car.

 

Importing a car from Europe 

Europe is still one of the hottest places when it comes to classic cars. So we won’t be surprised if the vehicle you want to import is in a small town in Germany or in Eastern Europe. The real vintage gems are hidden there.

And more often than not they are at quite a reasonable price for an average American. If you find a classic car that in your opinion is way underpriced, don’t be suspicious. The economic situation in some European countries is to your advantage. It defines a lower market price which is why so many European classics are getting imported to the USA. Read our guide to importing a classic car if this is your case.

You are somewhat lucky when it comes to documentation. This is what you don’t need to do when importing a classic car from Europe:

  • Comply with EPA requirements for imports if your classic car is 21 years old or older.
  • Comply with DOT’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards if your vehicle is 25 years old or older.

What you should be prepared for, however, is a longer period of transportation. There’s an ocean and another whole continent that have to be crossed after all.

The case of the Zhiguli

Not long ago Corsia Logistics transported a  Lada Zhiguli from Eastern Europe. This was quite a pleasant voyage. The entire process of shipping a car from Europe to the States seems quite difficult and bothersome at first. At Corsia, we always try to give you exact estimations of time in order to relieve you from the tension of waiting with no information.

In the case of the Lada, we managed to find a carrier to take it from Bulgaria to Germany in a few days’ time. That trip took about 3 days. At the port there, the car was checked by authorities, where all documentation had to be inspected – registration, bill of lading, bill of sale, and other expected papers. As mentioned earlier, no personal items must be left in the car. The Lada took about 3 weeks to get transported from the port of Bremerhaven to the one in Baltimore with no scratches or damages.

 

Moving to the U.S.? 

If you are an immigrant moving to the U.S.A. and want to transport your own vehicle with you, you can do that following the guidelines above. Also, make sure you remove all personal belongings from your car. Vehicles are subject to various federal agencies requirements, increasing the possibility of entry delay or refusal of entry. If your household and personal belongings are packed in the vehicle, they would also be delayed or refused entry. Pay attention when preparing your car and don’t neglect the details.

If you are driving your vehicle across the border, however, U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not have a problem with your household or personal effects being in the vehicle. Just be sure to declare your belongings in advance in the specific form required for this at the border.

 

Vehicle Imported – Check 

Congrats! If you followed our tips, you should already be enjoying the company of your car in the USA.

As soon as you import your vehicle, make sure you get it insured immediately. Take all of your documentation including the Customs paperwork and head to the State DoT to register the vehicle. You will then pay state taxes and fees for the license plates. In some states, you might need to get a smog emission test. It will take a few weeks to get your new plates and tags for the vehicle.

Make sure you tell us what the experience of importation was like. What took you most time, what you should have paid more attention to? We would be happy to hear your story. We learn and grow through your experiences, which help us prepare even better for your next model coming from abroad!

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About the Author:

Dilyana Dobrinova is a nature & travel enthusiast. With a heart for books, scarves and vintage. Dilyana feels most inspired with a cup of tea in her hand and mellow jazz in the background. She holds an M.A. in International Marketing Management from the Berlin School of Economics and Law in Germany, and two B.As. in Journalism & Mass Communication and Business Administration.
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