How to Import a Classic Car Guide

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In a perfect universe, all your biggest dreams and desires would always come true. And although we don’t get to live in a perfect world, we are still free to pursue our biggest goals and help our dreams become reality. What if your life long dream is to own and drive a classic car? You’ve been scouting around for that perfect vintage ride for a while now.  But what if your search takes you across the border, or even farther – across the ocean? Don’t get discouraged! Get ready for a vintage-car-importing quest.

Is it possible? What do I need to do and what are the best countries to import classic vehicles from? What are the requirements? How much does it cost?

These are just some of the questions that may be popping up in your mind right at this moment, or maybe you have been pondering upon this topic for some time now. Relax! Nothing is impossible, they say. And although I could argue about the validity of the latter statement, I can say with confidence: yes, it is possible to import a classic car without anyone’s help. You just need to do your homework, research a lot, get as much information and advice as you can. Also important: be patient and don’t make any rash decisions!

So let the quest begin! Here, I will share information on how to import a classic car and offer a few helpful tips to make this new journey as easy as possible for you.

What is considered a classic car?

As a big classic cars fan, I like to think about classic cars around the world –  I imagine a car covered in dust in an unkempt garage waiting to be driven, as an orphan longing for a loving home. In reality, this is not always the case. Most vintage cars you’ll find are well maintained by their current owners or dealerships.

So, how old should a car be to be considered classic? It depends, as rules vary from country to country. In the US for example, depending on a state, the car needs to be between 20 and 25 years old, while in other countries such as Sweden, Brazil, or Singapore, a vehicle must be 30-35 years old to be considered a classic. To read more here is a great post we published some time ago.

What are the best countries to import a classic vehicle from?

There are two factors you want to keep in mind before you target your search toward a particular country. First, choose a region that is characterized by a dry and warm climate; countries bordering the Mediterranean are a perfect choice for this matter. If you want to import your classic vehicle from, a non-European country, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa are among the best places you can pick.

Second, mind the exchange rate and consider taking the advantage of importing a vintage car from countries that are currently going through the economic crisis such as Spain, Greece, Cyprus, and other economically unstable countries mainly located in Southern Europe.

If you find a classic car that in your opinion is way underpriced, don’t be overly suspicious. In most cases, what you find is not a scam. Just browse through news and read about the economic situation of the region where you have located a classic car. Hopefully, that will give you a piece of mind and help you understand why a car that looks underpriced to you is a fair business for a seller. But of course, you have to stay vigilant and pay attention as car buying scams are always a real danger, no matter the country.

What are the requirements for importing a classic car for personal use?

According to the US Customs and Border Protection, if the classic car you are looking to import is at least 21 years old, then you won’t need to follow any Environmental Protection Agency compliance requirements.  The importer needs to file an EPA form with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon entry, as well as comply with the Department of Transportation (DOT) pollution and safety requirements. For more information and to download the forms go to this site.

In case the vehicle you want to transport is less than 21 years old, then you might want to read the following rules according to the US Customs and Border Protection:
  • If the vehicle is not old enough to be exempt from DOT requirements, the importer will have to provide proof that the car conforms to DOT safety regulations. Options include a letter from the original manufacturer or a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door indicating that the car was manufactured to U.S. standards.
  • If the importer is unable to prove that a car conforms to DOT requirements, it will have to be imported through a Registered Importer (RI). Classic or antique vehicles are subject to a 2.5% duty rate, which is based on its worth at the time of import. Canadian-made vehicles are generally duty-free, provided the importer has a valid proof of its origin.

It can get a bit tricky

You need to comply not only with the federal laws but also with the rules and regulations of your own state. Yet another thing for you to double check. That is why it may be a good idea to hire a shipping agent – someone who is familiar with the intricacies of importing a vintage vehicle. There’s a lot of paperwork involved in the process; therefore, as I had mentioned earlier, you need to be patient. Nevertheless, importing a classic car is not as nearly impossible as it may seem. Many people without any prior experience have been able to import their prized possession themselves. So why can’t you? Here is a great read by Kevin Hackett who imported a 1976 Triumph TR6 from Spain to Dubai all by himself.

Importing a classic gets a bit easier if your dream car is 21- 25 years or older, which allows you to avoid certain paperwork hassle. Besides, wouldn’t you agree that the earlier the car was manufactured, the more character and style it brings along with stories of the good old days?


How much does it cost to import a classic car?

The costs vary depending on which country you are importing your vintage vehicle from as well as how you choose to bring your car from overseas. You may choose to ship it with the roll on/roll off method, which 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. Moreover, in order to be able to pick this way of shipping, you need to make sure the car you are importing is in running condition. Otherwise, you have to move on to the next option: container shipping. It is a costlier but definitely more secure option for a non-running vehicle.

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. There is also a $500 entry fee plus a 2.5% United States duty tax. In most cases, modification costs to bring one vehicle up to U.S. standards average around $15,000.


What about insurance and registration?

You are almost there. You’ve done all the research. Gathered all the necessary information. Prepared and submitted all required documents. You have prepared your car for shipping and loading. Once your prized possession clears the border, there will be nothing that can stop you. You’ve been waiting so anxiously for this moment!

The shipping company will transport your car to a warehouse where you will be able to pick it up yourself or hire a shipping company to deliver it to your home. Once you receive your car you will need to comply with insurance and registration requirements of your state.


Anything else?

Yes. Pat yourself on the back! You’ve made it! So enjoy your victory, wake up that vintage engine, take your classic for a ride, show it off!

Still having doubts about whether to invest in a classic car? Here is a post that gives you different reasons why investing in a classic car is totally worth it. Also, check out these ten most desired classic cars. Who knows what one of them may inspire you to do next!

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About the Author:

Juxhina Malaj - a wanderluster and bibliophile who loves photography, nature, documentary films, re-watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and drinking green tea.

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