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Can I Import a Car from Mexico to the USA?

Published by Tamar Hela.

Can I Import a Car from Mexico to the USA?

Ever wondered if it’s possible to import a car from Mexico to the United States? It’s definitely possible, however, international shipping regulations apply. Despite the proximity of the US to Mexico, seemingly separated only by a fence, there are still nuances to shipping a car between the borders of the two countries.

It's not just about international transit, but it's also about satisfying both the US and Mexico's standards. Shipping a car from Mexico to the US requires finding a common middle ground between Mexican sellers and US buyers.

In this article, we’ll guide you on how to import a car from Mexico. Learn what you need to prepare to ensure a smooth import and car shipping process.


Importing a Vehicle from Mexico to the USA

The import process begins at the US Customs and Border Protection. This agency oversees the entry of all foreign vehicles into the US. The vehicle owner must prepare for customs clearance, as well as meet federal emissions standards. Then, there are safety regulations to observe.

A set of necessary documentation is crucial for a successful import. These documents are:

  • Bill of Lading
  • Bill of Sale
  • Proof of title or ownership
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Personal ID of the shipper
  • The vehicle's intended destination in the US
  • EPA Form 3520-1 for emission requirements
  • DOT Form HS-7
  • Vehicle manufacturer's letter stating the vehicle's compliance to the US safety and emissions standards

And in case the car doesn't conform to US standards, a DOT-registered importer (RI) may need to make modifications on the vehicle. After all documents are provided and cleared, an import duty will apply.

Import duties and taxes

When bringing a car from Mexico to the US, vehicle owners must be prepared to pay import duty.

The current rates haven’t changed much in the past few years. The rates are as follows:

  • 2.5% for cars
  • 25% for trucks
  • 2.4% for motorcycles

Duty rates can still change, so you should check the latest information with US CBP.

Besides import duties, taxes and other fees may be levied. For example, customs clearance fee and sales tax may apply in certain locations, depending on where the car comes into the US.

If your car doesn't meet the US fuel economy standards, your car may get taxed. It's called the "gas guzzler tax." It applies to certain passenger cars, but not to trucks or SUVs. You can find a list of cars that will be imposed by this tax on the EPA website.

For a smooth import process, have all the necessary payment forms ready. If you fail to comply with these duties or taxes, you may get fined. Or worse, it can get your vehicle seized.

Exemptions from import duties and taxes

On the other hand, exemptions or reductions in import duty might apply under certain circumstances. For example, if an American-made car went to Mexico and then returned, it may be exempt from duty.

Other exemptions from duties and taxes may also apply to the following:

  1. US military personnel or government workers coming back to the US after an extended stay won't need to pay duties for their vehicles. But the rules are the vehicle must be purchased internationally and the owner must have it before coming back to the US.
  2. Non-US residents can bring a vehicle with them without paying duties when entering the country. The vehicle also doesn't need to conform to US standards immediately. But it will be exported outside the US after one year if it doesn't get updated according to the applicable standards.
  3. Citizens who work out of the country can drive their motor vehicles duty-free in the US. But they must have a status as a nonresident. They must also bring the vehicle with them when they leave.
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Preparations for Importing a Car from Mexico to the US

Before you go ahead with the import process, there are some preparations to make. Some of them are:

  1. Clear your cars from personal belongings. Your car importer or shipping company likely won't be responsible for theft, loss, or damage during transit. In fact, an auto shipping company may not accept your vehicle if it contains any personal items inside.
  2. Clean your car thoroughly before shipping. The cleaning must include the car's undercarriage. The US Department of Agriculture requires no foreign soil to enter the US border. This is because dirt or soil on the car may bring invasive pests or substances.
  3. Ensure your car has 22.5 miles per gallon of combined fuel economy. If any shorter than that mark, the IRS may assess your vehicle for the gas guzzler tax.
  4. Ensure exact conformation to US standards for safety and emissions. Otherwise, you may have to ship your car using an independent commercial importer (ICI) or registered importer (RI) for modifications. The cost of their service can be very high.
  5. Avoid using imported vehicles for illegal activities. This surely goes without saying: don't use the vehicles for any illegal activities. Transporting illegal narcotics or smuggling other substances can result in the car and the items being confiscated. Then, you may serve time in federal prison.

Engaging with Mexican Authorities

As part of the preparation for your vehicle import, you may have to deal with the Mexican government or authorities. The country may have its own export requirements, so do check with local authorities in Mexico to ensure everything is legal for export.

For example, your vehicle may need to be deregistered in Mexico before it can be legally imported to the US. Or you should find out whether you must return your car's original Mexican documents or settle any taxes or fees.

Consult with the Mexican authorities or a customs agent to fully understand what exact steps are required. Doing so can only help you process your import more smoothly.


The Shipping Cost of Importing a Car from Mexico to the US

The shipping cost when importing a car from Mexico is not really cheap. It can go up to $2,000. But you can still get a lower shipping rate, based on several factors. So don't let the cost intimidate you. The following factors will apply:

  • Distance: Naturally, distance matters. The farther your car goes from Mexico to the final US destination, the more it's going to cost. For example, if the car is being shipped to Tijuana, Mexico to Los Angeles, it's going to be less expensive than shipping the car from the same origin to Boston or New York.
  • Speed: If you want the car to arrive quickly from Mexico, you can use expedited shipping. A good shipping company certainly can facilitate this shipping method, but the cost will of course be much higher.
  • Shipping method: Cars are commonly shipped from Mexico to the US by ground or by sea. Ground shipping is definitely more affordable, especially if you want to save time and money. But sea shipping can also be an option, although it will cost twice or five times more expensive.

It's really not recommended to ship a car from Mexico to the US using sea shipment. The only times you may consider sea shipment for cars from Mexico to the US are as follows:

  • Are you importing cars by bulk or have more than two cars to import
  • The car is inoperable and can't handle long-distance towing
  • You're importing classic cars or cars of extremely high value and require extra security

Import Implications for Vehicle Owners

Importing a car from Mexico carries various implications for vehicle owners. The firt is to comply with US standards for safety, emissions, and bumper design. If the vehicle doesn't meet these standards, modifications may be required. This means additional costs.

Vehicle owners must also be responsible for keeping a comprehensive paper trail. It's not just vehicle registration and purchase contracts, but also any documents related to the import process. Doing this will substantiate your legal claim on the vehicle.

If you plan on reselling the imported vehicle, you must be aware that any alterations made will affect its resale value. The lack of a US certification label will also influence it, along with its marketability.

Vehicle owners must also reckon with ongoing compliance. You must keep up with periodic testing and certification required to maintain the vehicle's road legality in the US. Without these certifications, you may get a penalty and the car gets impounded.



As you’ve learned in this post, you can certainly import a car from Mexico to the US. All you need to do is to ensure the vehicle meets US safety, emissions, and fuel standards. Prepare all necessary documents and the vehicles before you start the import process. You may want to contact a customs agent to ensure your import process goes smoothly.

A1 Auto Transport is ready to help you import your car from Mexico to the US. In fact, A1 Auto Transport has expertise in international car shipping for when you want to import a car from anywhere in the world to the US. Get a free quote today and let us handle all your car shipping needs.

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Tamar Hela is one of our featured writers at A-1 Auto Transport, researching everything from AI auto shipments out of China to what paperwork is required to move long distance. We can safely say she's become well versed in all things shipping and logistics while making the information easy to digest and understandable. 

Tamar has been a copywriter for over 16 years and was trained in the 7-Figure Copywriting Accelerator course through American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI). She's also an incredibly seasoned copyeditor, having previously been the Chief Editor and Publishing Director for Cosby Media Productions, based in Atlanta, Georgia. 

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