- Importing a Vehicle into the United States
- Organizations that Play a Vital Role in Vehicle Importation into the U.S
- U.S Customs and Border Protection
- U.S EPA
- U.S Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- Importing a Car Purchased in Canada to the United States
- Importing a Classic Car to the United States
- Prohibited Countries
- Who Can Arrange Vehicle Shipments?
- Preparing a Motor Vehicle for Import
- Cleaning the Vehicle Exterior
- Cleaning the Vehicle Interior
- Paperwork Necessary for Import
- Duty Rates for U.S Entry
- Is There Way to Import a Vehicle Duty-Free?
- Valuable Resources
- US Customs
- Environmental Protection Agency
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- Popular Origins
Importing a Vehicle into the United States
Importing a vehicle into the United States can be a daunting process and it must be handled the right way from start to finish if you want to have your car accepted when it’s time to cross the U.S. border. Vehicles that are imported must comply with regulations set by numerous organizations as well as the safety standards set by the Motor Vehicle Safety act of 1966 as well as the Clean Air Act of 1968 and other standards to ensure that all vehicles entering the country are safe, reliable and up to par with those manufactured within the United States.
Organizations that Play a Vital Role in Vehicle Importation into the U.S.
Contacting an international car shipper to bring your car into the United States is necessary, but there are other organizations that motor vehicle owners can contact in the United States to get valuable information on regulations for emissions and air pollution control, safety standards and bumper standards that must be adhered to to import a motor vehicle into the country. These organizations play a vital role in having a motor vehicle imported into the United States.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) not only helps secure our borders to ensure that dangerous people are not able to easily cross into the United States, but they also monitor motor vehicle imports by setting regulations that all vehicle owners must comply with to import. Vehicles that do not meet U.S. safety standards are required to comply or they must be exported to the country of origin or destroyed. CBP has a pamphlet available for returning U.S. citizens and international visitors who wish to import a motor vehicle. The pamphlet, “Know Before You Go” can be obtained by visiting a local CBP in the U.S. or American embassies or consulates internationally or by sending a written request to:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
P.O. Box 7407
Washington, D.C. 20044
When you hear about the EPA, you most likely think about air pollution and things that happen with power sources such as coal, electricity or even solar power. The EPA has regulations for motor vehicle imports that must be met as well, and if you want to bring a car into the United States, your car must conform to all vehicle air pollution emissions.
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 car, truck 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)
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460A-1 Auto Transport Ships Worldwide.
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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 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
Importing a Car Purchased in Canada to the United States
Many Americans have ventured to Canada to purchase a car, and in doing do, they have found the need to have the car brought back to their home in the United States. It would be nice to be able to simply drive the car back over the U.S./Canada border without the need to worry about import laws and regulations. After all, Canada is so close to the U.S. Due to government regulations, a vehicle owner must comply with import laws when bringing a car from Canada to the United States.
First, you will need to show proof that the vehicle meets all emissions and U.S. safety standards before it will be allowed entry. This means the owner must 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 from the manufacturer.
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.
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 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 sea water 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.
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:
- North Korea
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.
For more information, you can contact the department at the following address:
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 vehicle 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 that 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 that 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 that 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.
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.
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.
- The Quick Overview of Vehicle Imports Requirements offers information on EPA requirements for imported vehicles.
- Imports of Vehicles, Engines and Equipment. This link offers insight to various documents and contact information needed when importing a vehicle.
- For the import of Canadian vehicles: Canadian Vehicles Approved for Import.
- Detailed import information from the EPA: The Automotive Imports Facts Manual
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.
- The Netherlands
- Saudi Arabia
- Western Europe
- A-1 Guide to importing vehicles into the USA
Frequently Asked Questions
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act created standards for road and vehicle safety. In 1988, it was expanded with the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act. This expansion set regulations for imported vehicles. When your vehicle is being imported, Customs agents will inspect it to make sure that it is compliant.
Yes, this legislation affects imports because it is aimed at setting fuel economy standards. All cars in the U.S., including your import, must meet these minimum requirements. If it does not, then you may have to pay additional fees.
When most people hear “Environmental Protection Agency,” they think about air pollution caused by factories and other industrial hazards. However, the EPA also sets stringent emissions standards for vehicles manufactured and imported into the U.S.
Vehicles must meet these requirements or be modified before being brought into the United States with just a few exceptions.
If your vehicle does not meet the EPA’s emission requirements, then it must be modified. When you partner with an independent commercial importer, like the ones that A-1 Auto Transport partners with, the ICP will ensure that those modifications are completed.
Unfortunately, some vehicles cannot be modified. If you attempt to import a vehicle that cannot be modified, Customs will require you to export it back. Alternatively, you can authorize them to dispose of it instead of paying for the export.
The “Gas Guzzler” tax is a fee that is applied to cars with a combined fuel economy rating of less than 22.5 MPG. The fee is charged for vehicles made in the U.S. and imports.
When the law was enacted, SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks were far less popular than they are today. As a result, these vehicles are not subject to the gas guzzler tax no matter how low their fuel economy was.
The gas guzzler tax works on a tiered system. The lower the fuel economy of your car, the higher the tax will be. For example, let’s say that your import is rated between 20.5 and 21.5 combined MPG. In this case, the gas guzzler tax would be $1,300.
Cars with an extremely low combined MPG rating are subject to a more substantial gas guzzler tax. If your import is under 12.5 MPG, then the fee is $7,700. This is the maximum amount that you can be charged under the Energy Tax Act.
Not exactly. While you can drive the vehicle from Canada to the United States, you must still comply with certain import regulations.
Before returning to the U.S., you will need the following documents:
- Bill of sale displaying the VIN number
- Proof of ownership
- Temporary license plate
- Canadian insurance card
You will also need a letter from the manufacturer that proves that the vehicle meets U.S. emissions and safety standards.
Since this letter may take a few weeks to obtain, we recommend requesting it in advance. If you meet the above requirements and drive the car across the border, then you will not pay any tariffs.
In addition to the actual shipping costs, you will have to pay import fees on your vehicle. The United States currently charges two types of fees when importing vehicles. These include:
Also known as tariffs, duties are the import taxes that you must pay when you bring your vehicle to the United States. Tariffs are imposed on almost all goods being brought into the country, including your car. The duties are applied whether you are a dealer that is importing multiple vehicles or a private owner that is only bringing one car into the country.
Currently, the duty on cars is 2.5% and the tax on motorcycles is 2.4% of the price of the vehicle. However, there are quite a few exemptions for motorcycles. Trucks are substantially more expensive to import because they have a tariff rate of 25%.
Gas Guzzler Fee
If the car that you are importing has an average combined MPG of less than 22.5, then it will be subject to a gas guzzler tax. This fee does not apply to trucks, SUVs, or minivans. Like the import tariffs, these fees are paid per vehicle that is imported.
There are a variety of factors that will impact the cost of importing your vehicle to the United States. These include:
Country of Origin
When we’re arranging your import, A-1 Auto Transport will calculate the total distance that the vehicle is being shipped. The further away it will be from the country of origin, the more expensive the transportation services will likely be.
Purchase Price of Vehicle
U.S. import tariffs are based on the purchase price of the vehicle. For example, let’s say that you bought a car for $20,000 and want to import it. The car would be subject to a 2.5% tariff. This means that your import tax will be $500.
Cars are also subject to a gas guzzler tax. If your import gets less than 22.5 combined MPG, then you will be charged an additional fee. If the MPG of your import is 22.5 or higher, then you will not have to pay the gas guzzler tax.
Age of Vehicle
Vehicles that are 25 years old or older do not have to comply with U.S. vehicle regulations. This means that you will not have to pay for any modifications. The 25-year rule can reduce your overall import costs.
If your vehicle does not meet U.S. emissions regulations and it is less than 25 years old, then it will have to be modified before import. A-1 Auto Transport can facilitate this with our partner carriers, but it will increase the overall cost of your import services.
There are many possible reasons why someone would want to import a vehicle to the United States. The three most common are that they want to:
Relocate to the U.S.
Whether you are a U.S. citizen that has been living overseas or you are coming to the country for the first time, you may want to bring your car with you.
Thanks to A-1 Auto Transport, importing your vehicle when you make your move to the USA is simple and efficient. We offer a seamless import process so that you do not have to purchase a new vehicle when you arrive.
While most vehicles are available domestically, some cars can be purchased cheaper overseas, even after you account for import and shipping fees. Savvy car buyers may choose to order vehicles from a foreign country like Japan and utilize A-1 Auto Transport to facilitate the import process.
Acquire a Rare or Unique Vehicle
One of the most popular reasons for importing vehicles is to acquire a rare car that cannot be purchased domestically. Exotic brands like Porsche, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari are a few examples of vehicles that are sometimes easier to purchase overseas and import to the U.S.
If you are looking for the absolute cheapest way to import your vehicle to the United States, then we recommend RoRo Transport. Despite its affordability, this method is used to import thousands of vehicles every year without issue. However, it does not offer as much protection as container shipping.
If you are importing a rare or classic car, then you may want to consider the container method.
RoRo or roll-on/roll-off transport involves driving your vehicle onto the ocean vessel at the export location. The vehicle will be secured to the deck of the ship. When it arrives, staff will drive the vehicle off of the ship and turn it over to you.
RoRo is affordable, but your vehicle will be exposed to the elements during shipping. This includes ocean water and any inclement weather that the ocean vessel encounters. For this reason, RoRo transport may not be the best choice for high-end vehicles.
As the name implies, this method involves securing your car into a steel shipping container. While container shipping is the most secure method for importing your vehicle, it is a bit more costly. This is because container shipping takes up more space on the transport vessel and creates additional work for the carrier.
The 25-year rule allows you to import vehicles that were manufactured at least 25 years ago without having to adhere to U.S. vehicle regulations. This means that you do not have to pay for any modifications to the car, which can drastically reduce the cost of importing the vehicle.
The most secure method for importing your car is container shipping. This option protects it from ocean water and the elements. Generally, we recommend container shipping when you’ll be importing rare, classic, or exotic cars.
A-1 Auto Transport can facilitate car imports from virtually anywhere, with just a few exceptions. There are certain countries that cannot be involved with the import process. These include:
- North Korea
If the vehicle was manufactured in or originated from any of the above nations, then it cannot be imported into the U.S.
If you want the import process to go smoothly, we recommend that you:
Clean the Interior
Cleaning out the interior of your car makes it easier for inspectors to do their job. In addition, it will be nice to have a clean vehicle waiting for you once it clears Customs.
Clean the Exterior
You should also thoroughly clean the exterior of your car. Once you have removed any dirt and debris, take detailed photographs of the car. This is an important step so that you can check for any damage when your car arrives in the United States.
Gather Necessary Paperwork
Make sure that you have all paperwork with you when you drop your car off at the export facility. This includes proof of ownership and the bill of lading. If you are bringing the vehicle from Canada, you will also need insurance.
Remove All Property from the Vehicle
You cannot store property in the trunk or passenger compartment of your vehicle. Doing so is illegal and can make the carrier subject to fines. These costs will ultimately be passed back onto you, so we suggest removing any personal items from the car.
The high tariff on trucks was implemented in the 1960s when several European nations imposed a tax on American chickens. The 25% truck tax has remained in place due to lobbying from the “Big Three” truck manufacturers.
Ford, Dodge, and GM benefit from the import tariff because they are able to keep prices higher than foreign truck makers. Unfortunately, this makes it more costly for you to import a truck to the United States.
A-1 Auto Transport offers several discount opportunities. These include discounts for:
- Seasonal discounts
However, our cost-saving options only apply to the shipping fees of our carriers. You will still have to pay the import tariff and the gas guzzler tax (if applicable).
There are a few exemptions that may allow you to import your car without paying tariffs. You may be eligible if you are:
A Member of the Armed Forces
Military personnel and government employees that are returning to the U.S. after an extended overseas assignment are allowed to bring a vehicle with them.
The vehicle must have been purchased internationally before the owner departs to the United States. In other words, the person cannot return to the U.S. and then purchase a vehicle for import without paying duties.
Generally, the duty assignment must last 140 days or more. Navy personnel are eligible after 120 days or more of extended duty.
If you are a non-resident that is entering the U.S., you can bring a vehicle with you without paying duties.
The vehicle must be exported within 12 months if it does not conform to safety and emissions requirements. When using this exemption, you are prohibited from selling the vehicle for one year. Duties must be paid before you can sell the vehicle.
No, you cannot transport additional property or spare parts in your car while it is being imported. This practice is both dangerous and illegal. In addition, it will add weight to your car, which will increase the shipping costs.
Yes, there are numerous vehicles that cannot be imported to the United States under any circumstances. The following cars are not allowed to enter a U.S. port of entry:
- TVR Tuscan: No airbags or anti-lock brakes
- Volkswagen Beetle Ultimate Edition: Lacks safety features
- Jaguar XJ22OS: Considered too fast and dangerous
- Lamborghini Strosek Diablo: Side mirrors and headlights are too small
- Morgan LeMans: Lacks most requires safety features
- Lotus Elite Series 1: No roof or windows
- Nissan Skyline: V-Spec and Gt-T from 1989-2001
- Rover Mini Cooper: 1995 version lacks required safety features
The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) makes the final decision on which vehicles are allowed in the U.S. The cars above are deemed too risky and cannot be brought into the country.
The “Show and Display” rule allows for the import of select European cars that were previously prohibited in the U.S. These cars are exempt from NHTSA’s stringent safety regulations and do not require replacement parts when being imported. However, they must pass EPA emissions rules.
The catch to this rule is that it only applies to incredibly expensive and unique imports. The vehicles cannot be available in the U.S., cannot be replicas and cannot currently be in production.
When inspecting your import, the customs agents will be looking for a variety of safety features, such as:
- Anti-lock brakes
- Windshield wipers and washing system
- Electric brake systems
- Lamps and reflectors
- Anti-theft devices
- Seat belts
- Door locks
- Side impact protection
- Flame-resistant interior
- Fuel components
These are just some of the features required by NHTSA and the EPA. If your vehicle is not compliant, then it cannot be imported into the U.S. unless it qualifies for one of the exceptions outlined above.
Yes, A-1 Auto Transport works with highly qualified carriers that have extensive knowledge of the import process. Our partners have imported thousands of vehicles and can provide you with a safe and efficient import process.