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How Much Does it Cost to Register a Foreign Car in the US?

Published by Tamar Hela.

What's in this article?
  1. The Foreign Vehicle Import Process
  2. Additional Things To Know
  3. What Are Gray Market Vehicles?
  4. What if You Didn't Import Your Foreign Car Yourself?
  5. The 25-Year Rule
  6. How Much Does Registering a Foreign Car in the United States Cost?
  7. Where to Find Help
How Much Does it Cost to Register a Foreign Car in the US?

If you're reading this, you've probably found your dream car, and it's currently in a foreign country. You may be wondering how much your registration fees will be.

But before you start brainstorming about custom license plates for your new import vehicle, you'll have to ensure the car is legally imported through the formal import process.

This involves several United States government organizations, like U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Motor Vehicles. It also involves a laundry list of regulations and documentation.

While that might initially seem like a big hassle, it doesn't have to be. Reputable, privately-owned transportation companies like A1 Auto Transport specialize in navigating the import process for you, including the transportation method and registration process of foreign vehicles.


The Foreign Vehicle Import Process

Understanding the import process and rules and laws is the first step toward a smooth and successful importation of foreign vehicles into the United States.

Here are some of the critical points to get familiar with before you start your vehicle importation process:

  • Before entering the United States, you must turn in the vehicle's import documentation, which includes the car's foreign registration, bill of sale, proof of insurance, and original bill of lading from the shipping company for cars under 25 years old.
  • Road vehicles under 25 must comply with Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation regulations. This ensures that the same Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and EPA emissions standards apply to imports as to cars built in the domestic market.
  • The transportation method must be chosen. Many vehicles are imported on cargo ships that use storage containers to ship goods, so the port of entry must also be selected for this shipping method. For container shipping, U.S. Customs provides an interactive port-of-entry map.
  • Imported cars must clear U.S. Customs. The entire contents of vehicles must be declared to avoid seizures. It's best to remove all personal belongings from any vehicles before importation.
  • All import and sometimes customs duties must be paid before any official documentation is provided.
  • Vehicles must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. You must show proof of ownership documents to show that you are the vehicle's registered owner. You also must obtain license plates, license plate stickers, and, in some cases, an emissions test certificate.
    For registration purposes, you are responsible as an importer to establish that the imported vehicle conforms to import rules and regulations.

Additional Things To Know

There are some additional aspects to vehicle importation in the United States that could play a part in your car-purchasing decision:

What Are Gray Market Vehicles?

Gray market vehicles enter the United States through channels other than the maker's official distribution system. These represent the majority of foreign vehicle imports that are not being sold new. Because these cars were initially intended for sale outside of the United States, they require additional documentation for registration compared to vehicles manufactured for sale in the U.S.

What if You Didn't Import Your Foreign Car Yourself?

Selling an imported vehicle that has not formally entered through U.S. Customs is illegal. If you bought or were given an imported car from someone in the United States and they didn't clear it with CBP before selling or giving it to you, it could be subject to seizure.

So be sure to ask for all import and acceptable proof of ownership documentation for your state before any ownership transfer.

The 25-Year Rule

The 25-year import rule prohibits importing vehicles under 25 years old that don't comply with American safety and emissions requirements. The Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988 became law in the winter of 1988, effectively banning any vehicles that were not new or over 25 years old from coming into the United States without a certificate of conformity.

This controversial law rationalized that vehicles over 25 could be considered classic or antique and were suddenly exempt from current safety and emission requirements.


How Much Does Registering a Foreign Car in the United States Cost?

Several factors go into the cost of registering a foreign car in the United States. First of all, the price will vary from state to state. Rhode Island probably won't have the same registration fees as South Dakota.

But because registration is part of the import process and it's illegal to sell a car that hasn't gone through the formal import process, the real question is the total cost of importing your foreign car into the United States.

For this reason, variables like vehicle weight, value, make, model type, model year, type of vehicle, and transportation method all play a significant role in determining the cost of import.

So, while there is no blanket answer to how much importing and registering a foreign car costs, it's easy to get an estimate.

Where to Find Help

Because the import and registration process is so complicated, it's important not to try to navigate it alone. Let the experts at A1 Auto Transport guide you and your new import vehicle's journey. Their experienced staff understands U.S. Customs and Border Protection laws and can assure the successful importation and registration of your car into the country.

They can estimate how much it will cost to travel from their origin country to their destination, including registration fees. Then, they'll review a business model and the legal requirements for the best way to ship the vehicle to you.

This includes the best mode of transport, the relevant documents needed from you, and organizing a time frame to receive your new vehicle securely.

A1 Auto Transport will also arrange to pack the vehicle, whether it means getting their team to the car's origin location or working with the seller's team, and they will deliver the car to you conveniently with door-to-door service. It all starts by visiting A1 Auto Transport to 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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CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus Drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd,
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
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