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Importing Your Car Into The USA

Published by Joe Webster.

What's in this article?
  1. A Comprehensive Guide to Importing Vehicles Tips, Regulations, and Cost Analysis
  2. Organizations that Play a Vital Role in Vehicle Importation in the U.S
  3. Understanding Legalities and Protecting Rights
  4. Addressing Liability and Accident Concerns
  5. Achieving Successful Importation Results
  6. U.S Customs and Border Protection
  7. U.S Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  8. Importing a Car Purchased in Canada to the United States
  9. Documentation
  10. Duties
  11. Importing a Classic Car to the United States
  12. Prohibited Countries
  13. Who Can Arrange Vehicle Shipments?
  14. Preparing a Motor Vehicle for Import
  15. Cleaning the Vehicle Exterior
  16. Cleaning the Vehicle Interior
  17. Paperwork Necessary for Import
  18. Duty Rates for U.S Entry
  19. Is There Way to Import a Vehicle Duty-Free?
  20. Relevant Statistics
  21. General Facts
  22. Valuable Resources
  23. US Customs
  24. Environmental Protection Agency
  25. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Importing Your Car Into The USA

A Comprehensive Guide to Importing Vehicles: Tips, Regulations, and Cost Analysis

Importing vehicles refers to bringing vehicles from one country into another for personal or commercial use. Different countries have various regulations and requirements when it comes to importing vehicles, including emission standards and safety regulations.

Importing a vehicle into the United States can be a challenging and complex process for importers. It's essential to handle it correctly from start to finish if you want your car to be accepted at the U.S. border. Imported vehicles must comply with regulations set by various organizations, including the safety standards set by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, the Clean Air Act of 1968, and other emissions and bumper standards. These regulations aim to ensure that all vehicles entering the country are safe, reliable, and up to par with those manufactured within the United States.

Importers must also be aware of eligibility requirements, approval rules, and restrictions related to importing a vehicle. The logistics of importing a vehicle can be complicated, and it's important to factor in costs associated with shipping, customs duties, and taxes.

It's also crucial to stay up-to-date with the latest legislation and rules related to vehicle importing. For example, some vehicles from Mexico may have different requirements than those from other countries.

To ensure a smooth process, importers should work with reputable import/export specialists who are familiar with the system and can guide them through the process. By following the necessary procedures and regulations, importers can successfully import a vehicle into the United States.

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Organizations that Play a Vital Role in Vehicle Importation in the U.S.

As an international importer, it is important to understand the various steps involved in importing vehicle(s) into the United States. In some cases, the import process may involve working with a team of individuals who specialize in the importation of certain types of vehicles and can provide valuable guidance on the process. In addition, there are various factors that must be considered when importing a vehicle, such as the type or model of the vehicle, its value, and its ability to meet U.S. safety and emissions standards.

To ensure a smooth import process, it is recommended that importers work with a business that specializes in importing vehicles into the United States. These types of services can provide assistance with every part of the import process, from identifying the best places to source vehicles to handling the paperwork and logistics of getting the vehicle(s) to its final destination.

Ultimately, the ability to successfully import a vehicle into the United States will depend on a number of factors, including the type of vehicle being imported, the regulations and requirements of the U.S. government, and the expertise of the individual or team handling the import process. By working with experienced professionals and taking the necessary steps to ensure compliance with all regulations and requirements, it is possible to successfully import a vehicle into the United States and enjoy it as your property.

Understanding Legalities and Protecting Rights

The process of importing a vehicle into the United States can be a complex and daunting task, fraught with legal intricacies that require careful navigation. Individuals and businesses looking to bring vehicles from overseas must be acutely aware of their rights and the various regulations that govern this process. Consulting with an attorney who specializes in import laws is crucial. These legal experts provide invaluable advice, ensuring that all actions are in compliance with U.S. laws and regulations. An attorney can clarify the role and responsibilities of an independent commercial importer, a key player in the importation process, who ensures that vehicles meet America's stringent safety and environmental standards. This initial consultation can prevent a multitude of issues down the line, safeguarding importers from potential legal entanglements.

Addressing Liability and Accident Concerns

Importing vehicles also involves understanding and mitigating liability, especially in the event of accidents. The United States has strict standards regarding vehicle safety, and failure to meet these can result in significant legal consequences. An attorney can advise on the necessary modifications and inspections required to ensure that an imported vehicle is compliant with U.S. standards. This is particularly crucial as any accidents involving non-compliant vehicles can lead to complicated legal disputes, potentially involving court proceedings. A judge may hold importers responsible for damages resulting from non-compliance, leading to hefty fines or worse. Therefore, it's imperative to have legal support to navigate these potential pitfalls, ensuring that the vehicle meets all required safety standards to avoid such liabilities.

Achieving Successful Importation Results

Finally, achieving successful results in vehicle importation in America hinges on a thorough understanding of the legal framework and having the right support system. An attorney can represent an importer's interests in court if any disputes or issues arise during the importation process. Their expertise can be pivotal in presenting the situation to a judge, ensuring that the importer's perspective is accurately and effectively communicated. Moreover, legal support can be instrumental in resolving any damages or compliance-related disputes, often leading to more favorable outcomes. In conclusion, while the process of vehicle importation in the U.S. can be complex, having the right legal advice and support can significantly ease the journey, ensuring compliance, minimizing liability, and ultimately leading to successful importation endeavors.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

For the purpose of ensuring the security of the United States, the President and Congress have taken action to create regulations that businesses must comply with in order to import goods into the country. These regulations include the requirement of a certification label on certain products, as well as the use of specific codes in order to track imports and ensure they are accounted for. These measures are put into effect in order to ensure the safety and security of the country. If you are a business owner and wish to import goods into the United States, it is important to familiarize yourself with the regulations and codes that are required in order to comply with the law. You can find more information on the CBP website and on their "Importing into the United States" page.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

P.O. Box 7407

Washington, D.C. 20044

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is commonly associated with regulating air pollution caused by power sources like coal, electricity or solar power. However, it should be pointed out that the EPA also imposes regulations on motor vehicle imports. If you plan on bringing a car into the United States, it must comply with all vehicle air pollution emissions standards set by the EPA. This means that you may need to make modifications to your car's engine or exhaust system to meet the EPA's emission standards. Additionally, the EPA considers the engine displacement of a vehicle when assessing its emissions, so it's important to be aware of this factor when considering importing an automobile into the US.

EPA Form 3520-1 Is required for most motor vehicle imports and this includes cars, trucks, motorcycles, kit cars, disassembled vehicles, off-road vehicles and light-duty cars, trucks and motorcycle engines. The form is not required on vehicles imported directly from their manufacturer if they are new vehicles and already have an EPA certificate of conformity along with an EPA emission control label. There are, however, some vehicles that are exempt from the emissions requirement, and those include:

  • Non-chassis mounted vehicles
  • Race cars and trucks
  • Motor vehicles manufactured prior to January 1, 1968
  • Unregulated fuel vehicles

For more information on the EPA and motor vehicle imports, you can visit the EPA website.

The EPA can be contacted by phone by calling: 734-214-4100

You can also contact the EPA directly by sending a written letter to the following address:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Ariel Rios Building, Manufacturer Operations Division (6405-J)

Investigation/Import Section

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20460

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U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), all motor vehicles imported into the United States are subject to federal safety, bumper and theft prevention standards, and all vehicles not originally manufactured in the United States must conform to all federal motor vehicle safety standards.

This requirement means that all vehicles that are newer than 25 years old are required to comply with the Department of Transportation (DOT) motor vehicle safety standards. Passenger cars that were manufactured after the year 1973 must comply with bumper safety standards and the manufacturer must have a label affixed to the vehicle guaranteeing that all standards have been met.

If a vehicle does not have the conformity sticker affixed by the manufacturer, the vehicle owner will be responsible to pay one and a half times the vehicles duty value on top of the normal Customs entry bond that must be paid at the time of import into the U.S.

To reach the DOT for further information, you can call: 202-366-5291.

You can find valuable motor vehicle import information on the NHTSA website.

You can also send a written letter for information on import requirements to:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

400 7th Street, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20590

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Importing a Car Purchased in Canada to the United States

If you are planning to import a car from Canada to the United States, it's important to know that the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) has changed the rules. The new agreement allows vehicles that are at least 30 years old to cross the border without worrying about emissions and safety standards.

However, if your car is newer than that, you will need to comply with import laws and regulations. You will need to contact the vehicle manufacturer at least 2-3 weeks ahead of the import date to obtain a letter of clearance showing the vehicle complies with all U.S. emission and safety standards. The VIN must be included in the letter.

Once you have the letter, you can take it to your local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to register the car and get plates. Keep in mind that if your car was manufactured between December 31, 1974, and December 31, 1975, it must meet bumper standards. If it was manufactured between December 31, 1969, and December 31, 1977, it must meet emissions standards.


You will need to make sure you have the following documentation:

  • Bill of Sale showing the VIN number
  • Proof of Ownership (The Bill of Sale should have the owners name)
  • Temporary License Plate
  • Canadian Insurance Card


If the vehicle gets 22.5 or less miles per gallon, you will need to pay a “Gas Guzzler” tax on top of other fees and taxes.

At Customs, you will need to pay duties and taxes to bring the vehicle into the United States. You can apply for exemption of duty fees if you meet the following requirements:

  • You must drive the vehicle into the United States
  • You must have bought the vehicle on the same trip to Canada
  • You must use the vehicle only for personal use

Once the vehicle has been cleared for import by Customs, you will need to immediately have it registered in the United States and obtain U.S. insurance of you have not already done so. You may also need a state inspection of emissions inspection depending on the state you reside in.

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Importing a Classic Car to the United States

Generally, cars that are considered classic or antique are exempt from emissions and safety standards that are required on newer vehicles. This means that if you find a great classic car while you’re visiting friends in Canada or Europe, two of the biggest countries for Americans to find classics, and you want to bring it to the United States with you, chances are that you won’t find a great deal of difficulty in doing so.

Ideally, importing a classic car is no different than importing any other car. You will need to arrange shipment with an international car shipper and pay them to transport the car overseas. Hiring the right company is going to be crucial in getting your new car into the United States safely and in cooperation with all U.S. import laws. When you have the right shipping agent, you’ll find fewer problems and a much smoother shipping experience.

There will be a couple of ways to get the classic car shipped overseas, and while each mode of transport is widely used, you will need to determine which is best for your car.

  • RORO - RORO transport is an economical way to ship a vehicle overseas. It entails driving the vehicle onto the ship, securing it in place and then travel across the ocean to the destination in the U.S. There are thousands of vehicles shipped by RORO daily throughout the world and it is a safe mode of transport. The car will, however, be exposed to seawater, and if you have a classic car, you may not want sea water to contact the car as it can cause rusting.
  • Container - Many classic car owners opt to use a shipping container when moving a classic overseas. The container is sealed and prevents sea water as well as people and other hazards from contacting the vehicle during shipment. Usually, the contents of a container are unknown to crew members and vehicles remain safe throughout the shipment.

When the car has reached Customs in the United States, you will need to pay the required duties and taxes and then will need to comply with your local laws on registration, license plates and insurance.

Prohibited Countries

Some vehicle imports will be prohibited if they involve the governments of specific countries, and those include motor vehicles from the following countries of origin:

  • Afghanistan
  • Iran
  • Cuba
  • Yugoslavia
  • Iraq
  • North Korea
  • Sudan
  • Libya
  • Serbia

These regulations are set by the U.S. Department of Treasury. To contact the U.S. Department of Treasury, you can call: 202-622-2500.

Be sure to visit the U.S. Department of Treasury website.

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Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control

U.S. Department of the Treasury, 2nd Floor Annex.

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20220

Who Can Arrange Vehicle Shipments?

As the owner of the motor vehicle, it will be up to you to make all arrangements to have your vehicle shipped. You can, of course, hire a reliable international car shipper to transport the vehicle internationally into the United States on your behalf. You must be made aware of the arrival date so you can arrange to have the vehicle processed through Customs and Border Protection.

Motor vehicles will need to be processed at the first entry port unless the owner has arranged to have a freight forwarder from overseas deliver the vehicle to a port with a CBP office that will be easier for you to get to for processing the import.

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Preparing a Motor Vehicle for Import

As a vehicle owner who wants to have their car, truck or other mode of transportation imported into the United States, you will need to take care of several things in advance to make sure the vehicle is ready for import.

Cleaning the Vehicle Exterior

All motor vehicles must be thoroughly cleaned prior to shipment from another country. This includes the undercarriage. While many believe this is to ensure dirt does not damage other vehicles on the shipment, it is due to safeguards being in place to prevent dangerous pests from entering the United States.

The Department of Agriculture requires that the undercarriage be fully cleaned to remove any soil from foreign countries. It’s a good idea to have the vehicle professionally cleaned and steam sprayed before it is shipped to help guarantee no trace of foreign soil is left behind that could cause the import to be delayed or denied.

Cleaning the Vehicle Interior

The exterior is an important factor in importing a vehicle, but equally important is the interior of the car. All personal content needs to be removed before the car is shipped. This is for the safety of the vehicle owner as well as the safety of shipping personnel and other motor vehicles on the shipment.

During shipment, your motor vehicle will be susceptible to thieves who may be present on the loading or unloading docks as well as many people who may be present while the vehicle is in transit to the U.S. It is best to have the car emptied of all personal content to deter potential break-ins that will damage the vehicle as well as cause a loss of valuables to the owner.

Most shippers will not load a motor vehicle if there are personal belongings inside. Vehicles found with narcotics inside will be seized and the owner may incur a penalty from CBP or law enforcement.

Paperwork Necessary for Import

You must have the following documentation to import your motor vehicle:

  • Bill of Lading
  • Bill of Sale
  • Registration from country of origin
  • Proof of ownership
  • EPA Form 3520-1 showing emissions compliance
  • DOT Form HS-7 showing safety compliance
  • Manufacturers label on engine showing emission requirements are met (In English)

Duty Rates for U.S. Entry

All motor vehicles entering the United States for import are subject to duty fees. Canadian motor vehicles are duty-free unless CBP states otherwise.

The rates are generally listed at the following percentages:

  • Automobiles: 2.5%
  • Large Trucks: 25%
  • Motorcycles: Possibility of no dutiable fees or will have duties up to 2.4%

U.S. residents who are returning to the United States from travel, study abroad or working abroad are eligible for CBP exemption and can receive a credit up to $800 that can be applied to duty fees if the import meets the following criteria:

  • The vehicle is imported only for personal use
  • The vehicle accompanies the owner on their return to the U.S.
  • The vehicle was purchased/acquired from the country the owner is returning to the U.S. from

Once the exemption is applied, a flat duty rate of only 3% will be applied for the following $1000 of motor vehicle value while the remainder will be dutiable at the normal duty rate.

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Is There Way to Import a Vehicle Duty-Free?

The short answer to this question is, yes, there is a way to import a vehicle duty-free. You must meet the requirements to do so and they include:

  • Military members, as well as U.S. government employees who return to the United States after extended duty, may bring a vehicle along if it conforms to the requirements with their duty-free personal and household goods with no additional duty fees. The stipulation requires that the vehicle was purchased internationally and it must be in the owner’s possession before departure to the United States. Navy personnel are eligible for 120 days or longer of extended duty exemption and others with extended duty of 140 days or more will be granted exemption as well.
  • S. citizens who have been employed abroad may import a foreign vehicle duty-free if they enter the United States for a visit, claim nonresident status and export the vehicle when they leave the country. This applies to government employees as well as civilians.
  • Non-residents can import a vehicle without paying duties if they bring it with them when they enter the United States. If the vehicle does not conform to the requirements for safety and emissions, the vehicle must be exported within a full year. The vehicle cannot be sold within the year. Vehicles that meet conformation may be sold within one year but duties must be paid at the nearest CBP office prior to the sale in the United States.

Relevant Statistics

  • Approximately 1.5 million vehicles are imported into the country each year.
  • More than 80% of imported vehicles meet the country's safety standards.
  • On average, it takes around 30 days for a vehicle to go through the importation process.
  • The importation of electric vehicles has increased by over 200% in the past five years.
  • Over 90% of imported luxury vehicles come from European countries.

General Facts

  • Importing vehicles refers to bringing vehicles from one country into another for personal or commercial use.
  • Different countries have various regulations and requirements when it comes to importing vehicles, including emission standards and safety regulations.
  • It is crucial to research and understand the import laws and duties of the destination country before importing a vehicle.
  • Importing vehicles may involve paperwork, such as customs documentation and proof of ownership.
  • Some countries may impose import taxes or fees on imported vehicles based on factors like the vehicle's value or age.

Valuable Resources:

U.S Customs

U.S. Customs offers excellent resource material for citizens and international visitors to the United States who need information on importing a vehicle. For information on Customs requirements and information on other agencies involved in the process, please see: Importing a Motor Vehicle.

Environmental Protection Agency

The following EPE links offer necessary news and other information pertaining to required documentation, air pollution testing and emissions testing necessary for import to the U.S.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Information for importing a vehicle from various countries including Canadian vehicle imports.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A list of the most asked questions from consumers on importing a motor vehicle to the United States.
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Joe Webster always knew the auto transport industry would be a great career option. And with decades of experience, Joe is now an established consultant for A1 Auto Transport.

Joe was born in Santa Cruz, California. During high school, Joe worked as a mechanic; a job continued to work part-time during his bachelor's degree.

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