Importing a Vintage Car Into the US

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Importing a Vintage Car Into the US
Importing a Vintage Car Into the US

Import a Vintage Car Into the US

This guide was created with the assumption you live close or plan to go to the seaport yourself when importing a vintage car into the US. If this is not the case, you can hire an auto transport company to file an entry, have your automobile released and bring it to your home directly.

The U.S. Automobile Import Procedure

When importing a vintage car into the US, you must file an entry. This is a process through which you let the United States Government know when, what, how and where your item/s will enter the country. Just getting past the border is not considered as entering until the necessary documents are prepared, completed and approved by the CBP.

If the vintage automobile’s cost, without insurance and carrier fees, is less than $2500, you can file an informal entry. If the vehicle is more expensive, you must file a formal entry which is more complicated.

Laws you need to Know of When Importing a Vintage Car Into the US

Because of Mercedes-Benz’ lobbying, Congress gave laws asking the DOT and EPA to restrict the importation of automobiles built outside of the United States, unless they meet environmental and safety U.S. standards. Unless your automobile conforms to these requirements, it may be seized upon entry regardless of its other qualities.

Vintage vehicles older than 25 years receive an exemption. If it was built more than 25 years ago, importing a vintage car into the US can be done legally without conforming to DOT standards. If the vehicle is older than 21 years old, it can bypass EPA standards as well.

For some automobiles, you may not find its manufacturing month and / or year in its papers or in the form of a sticker. If this is the case, there are various online resources you can use to decode the VIN and help you discover the approximate month range in which it was probably built.

In this case, customs would be forced to prove, based on facts or observations that your vehicle was not built on the date when your vehicle should be seized. They may detain your automobile for inspection, but to actually take ownership and seize it, Customs must charge you with a criminal or administrative violation. To avoid this, be as transparent as you can.


When importing a vintage car into the US, you should be aware of certain important terms:

  1. Importer: This is the entity that files your vehicle’s entry through customs. He pays the duty tax and files the appropriate documentation.
  2. Consignee: The entity / person who will receive and own the vehicle.
  3. Importation Date: The day when your vehicle will enter the United States’ territorial borders / when the ship carrying it arrives at the U.S. port.
  4. Entry Date: When the importer files the documentation required by Customs and applies for your vehicle’s entry.
  5. Export Date: The day your vintage car was exported from its original country.
  6. Duty taxes: They are customs taxes you must pay to bring any commodity into the United States. For vehicles imported for the goal of transporting goods, the duty tax is 25%, while for passenger automobiles, it is 2.5%.
  7. Port of Entry: The port at which your vintage car will arrive in the U.S.
  8. HTS Code: It is also known as the harmonized tariff code. Duty taxes for each item are determined using these codes. You can search the HTS code for your vehicle at The subheading for passenger vehicles begins at 8703 while the one for trucks and other vehicle designed for shipping goods begins at 8704.
  9. Customs Ruling: If a certain item’s HTS classification is questioned, a ruling explaining the applicable HTS may be published by Customs. Click here for an example.
  10. Customs Bonds: These are bonds created to make sure Customs receives its fee payments. There are DOT, entry and ISF bonds. When making an informal entry, buying such bonds is not necessary.
  11. Filing of Importer Security: This is a new requirement for importing a vintage car into the US created in 2009, asking formal sea entries to give carrier and cargo information to the CBP in advance. For an informal entry, you need ISF fillings, but not an ISF bond.
  12. HMF (Harbor maintenance fee):” Some ports require you to pay this fee which is .125% of your vehicle’s value. Ports that ask for this fee are listed here.
  13. MDF (merchandise processing fee): Must be paid for all imports. It is 0.3464% of the cargo’s value for formal entries, the maximum you may have to pay being $485. It is $2 for informal entries if the release or entry is not arranged by CBP staff and is automated instead; $6 if the release or entry is manual, and $9 if the release or entry is arranged by CBP personnel, regardless if it’s manual or automated.

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Informal Entry for Importing a Vintage Car Valued $2500 or Less

When importing a vintage car into the US, if your shipment is assessed as costing less than $2500, you do not need a formal entry and can just go with an informal one. This is the simplest entry type and does not necessitate a bond or an importer number. CBP believes those choosing an informal entry don’t normally know much about the process of importing, so you can just visit the port’s Customs office where your vehicle is arriving and ask for help on how to do it. The following guide will also inform you of the necessary steps.

1.      Get in Touch with an Automobile Exporter

They will export your automobile, or in the event you haven’t picked one yet, offer you a large inventory of cars to choose from. You will receive quotes in the form of FOB or CIF. If you pick CIF, the exporting company will pay and arrange for shipping your automobile to the port. On the other hand, a FOB quote includes just the transporting costs of the automobile to the outbound port, and it depends on the customer to prepare insurance and shipping.

If you’re importing a single vintage car into the US, the most used method is RoRo (roll on roll off). Your automobile will be driven on and off the vessel which will help you avoid paying for unloading the cargo and renting unnecessary port equipment. This way, you can also avoid fees in cases when Customs selects random containers for X-ray.

Remember: When importing a vintage car into the US, ensure it is properly cleaned using steam, so it is free of unwanted pests prior to the export. If it fails the USDA inspection, you will have to return it or pay more fees to clean and house it.

Normally, when registering an automobile at a licensing department, they will ask for an automobile title. In Japan and other countries, the automobile title is given to the government to receive export approval. This comes as an export certificate. The exporter will give you the original certificate for exportation and perhaps even an English copy. Ensure the translation has a seal or stamp confirming it is accurate to avoid DOL issues when you register your vehicle.

2.      Paying the Vehicle’s Price

Most often, when importing a vintage vehicle into the US, payment is done using a bank transfer. Do not work with exporters who ask for payments using MoneyGram and WesternUnion. They are often scammers. If you went CIF, after the payment arrives at the exporter, they will send you and original BOL (bill of landing) through airmail from the transport line along with an insurance certificate and a commercial invoice.

You will receive arrival dates from the exporter. Ensure the arrival date of your choosing is 25 years or more after the automobile’s manufacture date if you wish to file for EPA and DOT exemptions.

Afterwards, the shipping line will contact and give you a notice of freight / arrival invoice with information, such as the item being shipped, the arrival dates, as well as details on how to send the collect charge payment.

The collect charge consists of the port charges to the transport line.

3.      Complete the Appropriate Forms

Complete the 7501 CBP form, the HS-7 short form for the department of transportation, and the 3520 EPA form. Prepare them all for the next step in the process of importing a vintage car into the US. You have 15 days to take back their transport before it is delivered to the General Order Warehouse where charges for storage quickly add up.

Before this, get in touch with the Border and Customs Protection Office in the inbound port, and hand over the completed paperwork including a commercial invoice and BOL copy.

The duty can be paid with a check or with cash. If you choose to pay with a check, remember to bring your driver’s license with you. The office will stamp 2 CBP and BOL copies from 7501 and confirm your automobile within the system.

4.      Discharging your Automobile

If the auto transport company does not have a terminal near the port, the port itself will take on the role of agent for your automobile’s discharge. Your freight / arrival invoice from the transport line will name the place your automobile will arrive at. Investigate the facility through Google, and talk to the import specialist.

A specialist in importing a vintage car into the US can inform you of the cargo’s status and whether customs has placed a hold on it. If no hold has been placed, and the transport line has informed them the collect charge you owe has been paid and the BOL in its original form has been sent, they will release your automobile.

Hand them a stamped set of the 6501 form and BOL. Release papers will be printed and guide you to the pickup. If it is a secure access area, you will have to either get a TWIC credentialed escort to guide you to your automobile, or if you own a CAC card from the U.S. military or a PIV card from the United States Federal Government, you may get past with no escort. For a nominal fee, normally $50, you may be able to obtain an escort list from the port’s website.

Enter the gate and find a supervisor for your import to hand him the discharge paper. He’ll guide you to your automobile.

Go to your Licensing Department office and hand them the 7501 stamped form, the commercial invoice and the export certificate. When importing a vintage car into the US, its value (without the freight) as resulted from the invoice, will help to figure out state required taxes. Texas and states with similar policies want the automobile to go through an emissions and safety inspection. If the vehicle’s emissions and safety original equipment are in perfect order, the automobile will pass.

Informal Entry for Importing a Vintage Car Into the US That’s Valued $2500 or more

  1. Entry Number for Customs: An identifier for your U.S. importation. The initial 3 digits are composed of the filer code belonging to the importer.
  2. CBP Code: A code made of 3 digits given to entities conducting business with Customs.

Formal and informal entries are filed similarly, with a few important differences:

  • An entry number must be given by the 7501 CBP form.
  • You require a CBP filer code to receive an entry number.
  • After the ship arrives at the port, you have 24 hours to file an ISF for informal entries and an ISF 10+2. The ISF’s reported BOL must match the shipping carrier’s bill of landing number.
  • To cover duty, penalties and fees, you must buy an entry bond of 3 times the value of the vehicle.
  • You must buy an ISF bond.
  • You’ll face a larger merchandise processing fee.

If you don’t possess a filer code when importing a vintage car into the US, you will have to apply for one to obtain an entry number. You can also visit the port’s CBP office to receive a 7501 CBP form with an entry number assigned by the CBP.

Joe WebsterWritten By:Joe WebsterConnect with Joe Webster on facebookConnect with Joe Webster on linkedin

Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing. 

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood. 

With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.

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