Import a car from the United States: beware of hidden fees

Submitted by Maryam Sadek
on 02/03/18

American cars from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are feeding the imagination. “Muscle cars” or “pony cars”, American classic cars are very popular in Europe. The Ford Mustang, the Pontiac Firebird, the Cadillac Coupé de Ville, the Lincoln Premiere Hardtop Coupé, they all have something in common: they have a lot of power and they make you dream. You can admire and buy a classic American car from a car mechanic specializing in American cars. You cannot find what you are looking for? In this case, you can also import yourself a car from the United States. While it is relatively easy for a European to buy a vehicle in a member country of the Union, it is not the same with other states in the world. Yet each year, several hundred cars land in European ports, mainly from the United States, the largest market on the planet. The investment in vintage cars is one of the perspectives of evolution of the market of the import. Indeed, customers are increasingly looking to invest in high value-added vintage vehicles, which have real resale value because they are constantly gaining value, and have an immediate gain. Before starting the import procedure, it is important to realize that this procedure can drag on for a few months. After negotiations with the seller, the car must be transported to your country. This shipping can last from 10 to 30 days. This period depends on the US port from which you will ship your car (East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast). Once your car arrives in Europe, you must complete the customs formalities and you must pay for the transport of the car from the European port to your house. This transport can also take two weeks.

Aside from the purchase price, you should also consider the additional costs that come with importing a US vehicle. If you want to travel to America first in your “muscle car”, you have to pay a “Sales Tax”. This tax depends on the state but is never more than 9% of the purchase price. After transportation, you can claim this sales tax. If you ship your car immediately after purchase, you do not pay this tax.


But beware, if the price of the vehicle or its originality can motivate you enough to try the adventure, expect still to live the big thrill! To avoid unpleasant surprises, it is better to inquire before proceeding to the compulsive purchase of the beautiful American car of your dreams.

from internet search to final registration, the process is sometimes long and fraught with difficulties. That’s why some companies have specialized in this type of import and juggle quite easily with the paperwork and the goodwill of customs. Without going into the details, I will just specify that the first step is to declare the said vehicle at your country’s customs office or a member country. It will be necessary to produce certain documents to the customs officers as well as the purchase invoices, the commercial documents, those of the vehicle and the request of registration. But before getting its license plate, it is necessary that the vehicle is put in conformity with the European regulation.
Of course, in addition to being a famous way of the cross for the neophyte, the import is quite expensive. Transport from port to port costs between 700 and 1500 euros, the big ladle. But of course, you have to add the ferry fees to the port of origin and from the port of arrival. It may be necessary to pay for a location in the European port pending the regularization of the papers. Papers that are also very expensive. For a recent car, the customs will charge 10% of the price of the car as import duty but also 21% of VAT on all costs (value of the car, import duty, transport costs and possible additional costs)! Fortunately, VAT is reduced and there is no import duty on ancestral cars. Phew! By cons, do not forget the 317 euros fee for the application for compliance with the technical control.


You can also use an international transport company to ship your car. Large transport companies often have offices at the US coast and can transport the car to the US port and from the European port to your home. The price also includes water transport and declaration. Your car must be registered three days in advance at the American port and at this time, the documents of the vehicle (“Title” and the invoice of purchase) must be delivered with the customs. Make a copy of these documents as they are also needed in your country. In America, the Shipper’s Export Declaration (SED) is established.

In the end, an affair that seems enticing on paper, or on the canvas, can quickly turn into a fiasco for who has not planned a little woolen stocking during an extra-European import. A wool stocking at least equivalent to 35% of the price of the vehicle, or even more in some cases! We strongly advise beginners not to buy only based on photos: the photos never show more than 10% of defects and the seller does not always play the transparency sometimes “forgetting” some non-rewarding angles of his vehicle. The main pitfall of an import is therefore usually distance. Depending on the target vehicle and the distance, you will choose to make the transaction by going to see it beforehand. Or not … If you do not move, it will require a third party to perform the vehicle expertise before making a decision. Moreover, never buy an imported vehicle that does not have a registration card in the name of its seller. It is up to him to make the probate and there is little chance that he agrees to do them once your money in your pocket … This will end at best in court if your sour finance remains solvent and reachable.  I also advise you to conclude a transport insurance. An “All Risk” insurance protects your car completely. Information on such insurance can be obtained from transport companies and importers.

Submitted by Maryam Sadek
on 02/03/18

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