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How Do I Import a Motorcycle?

Published by Tamar Hela.

How Do I Import a Motorcycle?

Importing a motorcycle from overseas can be an exciting way to obtain your dream machine or a rare collectible.

However, it also comes with challenges in ensuring the bike meets all applicable U.S. safety and environmental standards. The import process involves determining eligibility, obtaining necessary documentation, clearing customs, and handling transportation.

With careful planning and preparation, you can navigate the requirements to successfully bring your motorcycle across the border.

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Determining Eligibility and Compliance

Before beginning the import process, the first step is to verify the motorcycle meets Environmental ProtectionAgency (EPA) emissions standards as well as Department of Transportation (DOT) safety and anti theft regulations.

Motorcycles are subject to standards established under the Clean Air Act for emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and other pollutants.

They must also comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) for items like brakes, lights, mirrors, emissions controls, and theft prevention.

It's important to check compliance status well before importing, as modifications may be necessary to meet U.S. requirements. This is where obtaining the motorcycle manufacturer Letter of Compliance can help, as discussed later.

For motorcycles unable to meet standards even after modifications, the importer may apply to EPA and DOT for a nonconforming vehicle permit, which involves additional costs and restrictions. Working with a DOT-registered importer experienced in vehicle compliance can help navigate these processes.

Manufacturer's Letter of Compliance

For motorcycles that were originally distributed by the manufacturer for sale in the United States, the best way to demonstrate compliance is by acquiring a Manufacturer's Letter of Compliance.

This is an official letter from the original equipment manufacturer certifying the model and model year in question meets all applicable U.S. EPA and DOT standards based on its original sales configuration.

The letter provides authoritative proof to customs authorities that no modifications are needed. It greatly simplifies the import process compared to demonstrating compliance through testing. When working with an importer, they can assist in obtaining this vital document from the automaker.

Without it, the importer would need to submit the motorcycle for EPA and DOT testing, a longer and more costly process.

Importing Classic Motorcycles

Motorcycles over 25 years old may qualify for exemption from certain EPA emissions and DOT safety standards. This provides an easier import pathway for collectors seeking rare vintage and antique motorcycles.

To claim the exemption, the importer only needs to demonstrate the year of manufacture and that the motorcycle has not been altered in a manner that makes it unsafe.

The simplified proof of compliance makes classics an attractive option for those new to importing.

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Temporary motorcycle imports

It's also possible to import motorcycles temporarily as a tourist or for competition purposes without meeting all standards. Under DOT and EPA guidelines, motorcycles can generally enter under a temporary importation bond for a period of up to one year.

The owner would still need motor vehicle insurance and prove the bike can be exported or destroyed at the end of the declared period of entry. Temporary imports avoid the full modification and compliance process but have limitations on duration and use of the vehicle in the U.S.

Required Documentation

Successfully clearing a motorcycle through customs takes comprehensive preparation of required documentation.

Key items include a short form invoice or commercial invoice, power of attorney form, EPA 3520-1 form (if required), DOT HS-7 form (if required), proof of ownership like a title or registration, and photos of the VIN location. It's also advisable to obtain an appraisal for higher value collectible bikes.

The vehicle identification number (VIN) serves as the primary identifier verified by authorities. Proper ownership documents must match the VIN.

In some cases, a VIN inspection by a DOT-registered inspector may be necessary if ownership history is unclear. Gathering these compliance and importation records well in advance eliminates last-minute scrambling at the port.

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Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Entry

With paperwork sorted, the next milestone is notifying CBP of the pending import. This is done by filing an entry summary via the Automated Broker Interface or ABI.

A CBP-registered customs broker licensed to deal with vehicle imports would typically handle the electronic submission on the importer's behalf using the EPA 3520-1, short form invoice, and other material.

If modifications were needed to meet standards, the importer would submit evidence of changes along with applicable test results to CBP.

For non-conforming vehicles granted a one-time permit, the importer posts a surety bond with CBP. The bond assures any non-conformities are addressed properly.

Working openly with CBP throughout the process helps avoid delays and issues getting the imported motorcycle released for delivery.

Costs Involved

The overall cost of importing depends on the type and value of the motorcycle. Direct charges include broker fees, transportation, applicable duties and taxes, as well as compliance work if needed.

Motorcycles with a value over $2,500 are subject to a 2.5% customs duty. Harmonized Tariff Schedule codes must be researched to determine the proper rate structure. Vehicles more than 30 years old typically qualify for a reduced rate of 1% duty.

Importation necessitating EPA and DOT testing and modifications can run several thousand dollars extra versus a classic or compliant import. Temporary imports avoid duties but require special insurances. Collectible and rare bikes may incur appraisal fees of a few hundred dollars.

Budgeting carefully for all foreseeable costs upfront is recommended to avoid financial surprises once the process begins. Working with professionals ensures accurate filings and handling of any curveballs efficiently.

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Shipping Process

Importing requires physically transporting the motorcycle to the declared U.S. port of entry.

Options include shipping by road, sea, or air depending on the origin country and preference. Most overseas ground transport is by container shipping, taking several weeks.

Air shipments occur more rapidly within 7-10 days but at much higher rates. Either way, the importer contracts a licensed international freight forwarder to pack, book shipping with an ocean carrier or freight airline, and handle export/import logistics.

Before shipping, the motorcycle is carefully prepared for travel abroad. Wheels and mirrors are wrapped or removed, fluids are drained or sealed, and anti-corrosive coatings applied.

Extra packing materials surround and secure the machine inside the container or cargo hold. The forwarder then issues a bill of lading confirming shipment details to the recipient or customs broker.

Upon arrival at the port, the customs broker tracks the container through customs clearance procedures.

Customs Clearance and Delivery

When the transport vessel arrives at the designated U.S. port, CBP will inspect select cargo holds and containers for compliance.

This may include physically examining the imported motorcycle. The broker submits all outstanding entry documentation to CBP. If compliant, the agency will authorize delivery after duties and taxes are paid.

From here, the forwarder coordinates removing the bike from port facilities for transfer.

The importer has options at this stage based on their location relative to the arrival port. For nearby recipients, self-collection after customs release saves delivery fees.

But long distance transport requires selecting a bonded trucking company for final delivery. Careful unloading, set up, and inspection takes place before signing off. This milestone marks receipt of the imported motorcycle in the United States!

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Final Thoughts

While time-consuming and involving multiple processes and documents, importing a motorcycle you are passionate about is certainly achievable. The systematic approach covered allows navigating compliance, documentation, transportation, customs clearance, and final delivery for a number of countries.

Seeking support from experts experienced in import trade through every step streamlines the process significantly.

With thorough preparation matched by flexibility to address hiccups, your dream bike can successfully cross the border for many years of riding enjoyment in its new home.

Thinking of bringing your prized motorcycle to the US but overwhelmed by the import process?

Let A1 Auto Transport handle it for you. As a licensed customs broker and DOT-registered transporter, we have the expertise to handle all aspects of importing your motorcycle compliantly and efficiently.

We'll navigate emissions certification, ensure paperwork is complete, determine duties accurately, and arrange discounted container shipping.

Get a free quote.

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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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