Import a Car into the United States

The task of importing a car into the United States can be a large task. There are a lot of different steps that have to be completed to get a car into the United States, and trying to do it on your own can be a task that is almost impossible on your own. Okay, maybe it isn’t impossible, but it will take a lot longer, and the potential to forget necessary paperwork exists if you do not seek the help of a professional auto transport company.

Autos of different ages are under different scrutiny when being brought across the United States border. United States Customs and Border Control will be looking for different types of information for different vehicles. Ship Vehicles understands these different requirements that Customs looks for and can help you with your vehicle import, no matter the age.

Imports Under 25 Years Old

The first step when importing a car that is under 25 years old is to see if it is compliant with United States standards. The NHTSA offers a list of vehicles that are non compliant but eligible for importation into the United States. If your vehicle appears on this list, you can move forward with the necessary paperwork needed for the importation.

What if my car is not on the NHTSA eligible import list?

If your car is noncompliant with the standards for import into the United States and does not appear on the NHTSA’s eligible list, you will need to have modifications. These modifications must be made to your vehicle by a Registered Importer licensed by the NHTSA to adjust your vehicle to comply. Shipping arrangements should cease until the DOT approves your vehicle.

If your car does not end up on the NHTSA’s list of eligible imports, you will need to modify your vehicle so that it conforms. Never fear, there are options available to help you accomplish this. There are two different types of businesses that can make your import dreams come true.

  • Registered Importer (RI)
    • A Registered Importer is licensed by the NHTSA and can help adjust your vehicle so that it becomes compliant with the United States standards. The RI can also file the petition to the NHTSA for eligibility.
    • Don’t expect this to be a quick process, though. The RI process and petition can take up to seven months for processing. Storing a vehicle in a bonded warehouse can become expensive, so do not start the shipping process until you have received confirmation from the DOT of approval.
  • Independent Commercial Importer (ICI)
    • An Independent Commercial Importer is an importer who is in possession of a Certificate of Conformities from the EPA. This certificate allows them to assist in maintaining and importing vehicles into the United States. They are an independent entity and in no way affiliated or endorsed by the EPA.
    • The ICI can provide you with an estimate of the expenses that will be required to get your vehicle compliant with the standards required by the United States for importation. You will need to make sure the ICI works with your particular make and model of the vehicle and double-check prices on your own.

Imports Over 25 Years Old

If you are trying to import a vehicle that is over 25 years old, or it has been 25 years from the manufacture date, importation just got a little bit easier. These types of vehicles are considered antiques. Importation of these vehicles will become a lot easier because:

  • Vehicles that are over 21 years old are exempt from the EPA compliance guidelines
  • Vehicles that are over 25 years old are exempt from the DOT compliance guidelines

Exceptions to Exemption

Vehicles that were manufactured before the year that the EPA regulations for the class of vehicle took effect might not qualify for the exemption. These vehicle classes and dates include:

  • Motorcycles: 1978
  • Light-Duty Motor Vehicles: 1968
  • Nonroad Engines: 1996
  • Heavy-Duty On-Highway Engines: 1970
  • Recreational Vehicles (ATVs, Dirt Bikes, Snowmobiles, Etc.): 2006
  • Vehicles that are over 21 years old, but have a new engine replacement in them may not qualify. They can be imported if they have an EPA certified engine with emission control systems.

What paperwork is required for importing my vehicle?

The process of importing a vehicle into the United States required paperwork to be filled out before it can enter. These documents include the bill of lading, bill of sale, registration, title, EPA Form 3520-1, DOT Form HS-7, and any other documents requested by the United States Customs and Border Agency for the vehicle.

Each of the documents required for importation is vital to bringing your vehicle into the United States. Ship Vehicles has handled these documents countless times due to our 30 years in the auto transport industry. Hiring an experienced auto transport company that can keep your documents in order can make the importation experience run smoothly.

The Bill of Lading

The Bill of Lading is the most important document in the importation process. The Bill of Lading is the document that provides proof that the shipment exists. You could consider it the piece of paper that identifies the owner of the cargo being imported. This document also acts as a Contract of Carriage, Title to the goods, and a receipt of the goods.

The holder of the Bill of Lading is the one who has the authority and legal rights to claim the cargo or arrange for its transfer of ownership. Multiple Bill of Lading documents can exist within one transport. It is vital to limit the number of documents produced to avoid fraudulent activities.

The Bill of Sale

When you purchase a vehicle, you will be given a bill of sale. This document shows the transfer of ownership for the vehicle, as well as the amount you paid for it. The bill of sale is required for the importation of the vehicle so that duties and fees can be assessed fairly based on amounts listed on the bill of sale.

Foreign Registration or Original Title

Along with the Bill of Lading and the bill of sale, you should make sure you have the registration for the vehicle or the original title. These are two other documents that show your ownership of the vehicle.

If the title has a lien on it from a bank, you will also need the authorization from that institution to take it across international borders. The documentation can be easily acquired by calling or visiting the institution with the lien on it. You cannot take the vehicle across international borders without it.

For those vehicles that are straight from a manufacturer and brand new, they may not have a title available at the time of importing it into the United States. For those vehicles, the newly manufactured vehicle should be issued a Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (SO). This documentation can suffice with Customs.

EPA Form 3520-1

The EPA Form 3520-1 has to be filled out before going across customs into the United States. A form must accompany any vehicle being imported into the United States, but one per shipment can be filled out as long as the required documentation for each vehicle is attached.

If the form is fraudulently filled out, the perpetrator could be fined $320,000 or imprisoned for up to five years or both. Anyone improperly importing a vehicle can also face a fine of $44,539 per vehicle.

DOT Form HS-7

The Department of Transportation requires the vehicle to be imported to have a DOT Form HS-7. This form should accompany the EPA Form 3520-1 as a part of the checklist to make sure all of the required information about the vehicle is attached. The form makes sure that the vehicle being imported is up to par with all of the safety standards that the United States requires.

Duties and Fees

Some duties and fees will be required when importing a vehicle into the United States. The following percentages are based on the amount you paid for the vehicle. General duty percentages are:

  • Cars: 2.5%
  • Trucks: 25%
  • Motorcycles are free, or they are charged a duty of 2.4% depending on the cylinder size

You can avoid the duty if your vehicle was originally built in the United States. An additional way of avoiding the duties is if you are re-importing a vehicle that was previously registered in the United States. You will need to provide proof of this to Customs in order to use this exemption from the duties.

What are the regulations in place by the USDA on my import?

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) requires that the undercarriage of any vehicle entering the United States from foreign soil be free of debris and dirt. Vehicles may be denied admission into the United States until it is cleaned.

The USDA requires that all vehicles entering the United States from foreign soil have a steam cleaned undercarriage that is free of dirt or debris. The clean undercarriage ensures that there are no insects or foreign soil brought in through the import. The vehicle could be exported back if it is not cleaned thoroughly. If a professional auto transport company is transporting the car, the vehicle can be cleaned before being loaded on to the trailer.

Importing Under the Show & Display Law

For some vehicles that are imported into the United States, they may be done for the rarity of the vehicle. These vehicles are considered under the show and display law, which follows its own specific set of directives. These directives include:

  • The production of the vehicle didn’t surpass 500 models
  • The vehicle has never been offered for sale in the United States
  • The vehicle is no longer in production
  • It cannot be a kit car or a replica

After getting the vehicle into the United States, other laws are required to be followed with these unique vehicles.

  • You are required to seek out permission from the NHTSA to sell the vehicle
  • You cannot drive the vehicle more than 2,500 miles per year

If you are unsure if the vehicle you are trying to import falls under this, you will need to reach out to the NHTSA for clarification.

Hiring a Professional Auto Transport Company

When looking for the right professional auto transport company to help get your vehicle imported into the United States, make sure you are checking their credentials and licensing. The carrier that you are choosing for your vehicle should have their Department of Transportation number and their Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration number available when asked for it.

The companies that you quote should be able to offer you these quotes in writing, or email for some. Ship Vehicles offers quotes via email as an effort to sustain a green office environment. Your quotes should include all the information on the costs that will be required for the importation.

What happens with the paperwork?

Your chosen professional auto transport company should take care of all the paperwork for you. They should keep your paperwork straight and filled out in accordance with the vehicle you are importing into the United States. They will also check the compliance of the vehicle.

Professional auto transport companies know what it takes to get your vehicle imported into the United States. They make sure that they are handling all of the necessary paperwork for you so that you are not faced with the uncertainty or the frustration of filling it out.

Once you have imported the vehicle, you will be told how many days, based on state, you have to get the vehicle registered and plated in the new state of origin. For some of the transfer processes, you will be required to bring your paperwork that was cleared through the United States Customs.

Ship Vehicles offers full-service import services with our expert automotive transport specialists. We ensure that all regulations, including DOT, EPA, and USDA, are accounted for and pass on every level. Call our experienced staff today to receive a quote for importing your vehicle into the United States.