You’ve found the car of your dreams but one hurdle standing in your way – It’s on the other side of the world. Importing a vehicle can be a complicated, paperwork-filled and expensive process by which you will need to do substantial research before you begin. 

How much does it cost it to import a car? The average is between $2,500 and $10,000. This range covers a variety of factors separate from the purchase price of the car. These influential factors include make, model, year, laws in the country it’s coming from, and laws in the country it’s arriving to.

This comprehensive guide will give you the layout to begin researching based on your particular country, make, etc. and hopefully take some of the guessing work out of a complicated topic. It may seem intimidating at first, but this guide will help you understand if you’ve got what it takes to import your beloved dream-car to the right side of the world with you.   

Cost To Import A Car

The cost itself can be anywhere from $1,400-$5,000 for shipment, but what greatly affects these totals are things like the age of your car, cost of car, country, and if you hire a Customs Broker to help with paperwork or a CBP Broker to assist you with shipping. All of this I will break down thoroughly in this article, explaining each of these steps in detail.

The initial overview is that first, you’ll need to start with documentation. Getting your paperwork in order to import and understanding the laws based on if your car is under 25 years old or over 25 can change the process and costs substantially. 

Next, you’ll make prior arrangements, understand duty and taxes involved, hire a Customs Broker to assist you with the paperwork (which you will need), register the vehicle, and then you’re home free and ready to take on the open road! 

Documentation Required:

If you are importing a vehicle into the U.S., the basic documentation customs will require is:

  • Shipping Documentation including anything given to you in the process of purchase including Shipping Original Bill of Lading and Vehicle license documentation 
  • Your Passport/Visa (always have a backup copy in case they need to take one)
  • EPA Form 3520-1 (United States Environmental Protection Agency Website)
  • DOT Form HS-7 (PDF) 

Please note that this may differ for countries outside of the U.S.

If your vehicle is under 25 years old:

Then I’m sorry. There will be additional documentation and the process will be much more difficult and more expensive than if it was an older model. If under 25: 

  • The vehicle must conform to the U.S. Safety and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards. This means you’ll need to research if your car has been manufactured to comply with their rules.
  • If your vehicle is not up to code, you’ll need to contact the ICI – Independent Commercial Importer to take on any modifications to bring your chosen dream-car up to requirements. 
  • You’ll also need a completed EPA form – 3520-1 and possibly a 3520-21 so confirm which you require. This is a declaration of your imported car and engine. This describes the pollution standards to the CBP – U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 
  • Also confirm based on your country of importation if you require a Dot Conformance Bond or HS-7 Form

If your vehicle is Over 25 Years Old:

Congratulations! You’re car is old and considered an antique to the U.S government so it can slide by with much more quiet ease than the younger makes. 

The legal passage is allowed by customs (in the U.S. at least) without further restrictions. This also means that you don’t have to legally be bound to an inspection purchase which can be quite expensive, (more information on this below).  

Also worth noting for your older vehicles:

  • Vehicles are exempt from EPA compliance if they are older than 21.
  • Vehicles are exempt from DOT compliance if they are older than 25.
  • To declare your vehicle as being over 25 years old to U.S customs you will be required to complete a HS-7 form that can be found here.

Make Your Prior Arrangements:

It is your responsibility as the purchaser and importer to make prior arrangements with your shipping carrier. Many say it is best to have a connection here as it can be stressful sending money to shippers on the other side of the world. Process your arrangement through CBP. Once clears at the first port, you can arrange for a freight forwarder to move the package to a CBP port which will be easier for you. 

The safest and most accredited way to get this step done is by hiring a Commercial CBP Broker and expert to assist you in handling the entry. 

Be sure for this step that you already have your documentation filled out for CBP clearance and you have the Bill of Lading, Registration from your foreign distributor, EPA form and Dot form, plus any and all paperwork attached to this sale and ready to go before shipment. 

It is surprisingly easy to schedule an automotive shipment on a huge vessel. Many say this is the easy part and you can find reliable companies by reading reviews in a Google search. 

Paperwork: 

The biggest little thing you’ll have to worry about in this process is the paperwork. This is a step which does not get a lot of attention but is actually one of the most difficult in the importation process.

My recommendation would be to hire a Customs Broker to assist you with this complex and high quantity of paperwork that is not easily done by a ‘normal’ human with little understanding of government procedures. This can cost an extra $1,000-$2,000 more. So do keep this in mind with the whole of expenses in this process.

I assurance you, unless you are an expert at importation law, it is a necessary evil. 

Duty Fees for Importing Vehicles to the U.S.

Duty rates are based on the price you paid for the vehicle itself, at a current standard of:

Cars – 2.5% 

Trucks – 25%

Motorcycles – Free or 2.4% (based on cylinder size)

Here is an example of further port charges that may be involved with a container shipment: 

Chart from https://www.autoshippers.co.uk/shippingdocuments/USA_Car_Shipping_Guide.pdf

Registration:

This will be one of the last steps and is another little yet big part of the process you can work out with your Custom’s Broker during the paperwork process. You will need to present your Registration once your vehicle has been cleared by customs and passed the Emissions qualification, taxes paid, etc. 

At this point you will again need all of your paperwork handy as you will be required to present these along with your vehicle at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). 

These fees will simply depend on your state of residence and it’s best to contact them early in the process to know this detail. 

Exceptions To Keep in Mind:

  • Beware of foreign dealers that will say the car is up to code for these pollution emissions, when in fact most of them are not ready for compliance. Keep in mind if it’s not up to compliance, you could go through this entire process only to have the U.S. export or destroy your adored foreign car. 
  • These standards for Pollution Emissions are incredibly strict and often cars that are produced overseas, simply do not conform to the Clean Air Act of 1978. 
  • In California, older cars have stricter rules regarding their pollution emission. You may need to check it further if you live in California or are importing a car older than 1975.  

Possible Additional Costs:

  • International bank fees are worth checking and understand your domestic conversion rate. This applies to purchasing the car initially as well.
  • Ground Transportation for once you have the car and want to transport it. Decide if you need an open auto carrier and if your car is very expensive, you may want to protect it with a closed carrier.
  • Marine Insurance is something you may want to consider as a shipper. Just to protect yourself
  • Inspection Fees are random but certainly do happen. If your container is taken for inspection, then the kicker is that you will be the one responsible for inspection fees which range from $1,000-$2,000. If it doesn’t pass, it could be exported or destroyed.

In final, I’ll just reiterate the importance of doing your research on your specific case.

Every case is very conditional and is influenced by numerous factors. Because of this, you truly need to understand your personal circumstance based on the above criteria and act accordingly. 

Follow these steps and you’ll soon be blissfully united with the car of your dreams! 

Sources:

https://www.wcshipping.com/blog/5-costs-to-consider-when-you-buy-and-import-a-car-from-overseas

https://jalopnik.com/here-s-everything-you-need-to-know-about-shipping-a-car-1686580874

https://www.cbp.gov/trade/basic-import-export/importing-car

https://www.flexport.com/help/191-importing-vehicles-cars-automobiles-united-states

https://www.autoshippers.co.uk/usa_car_shipping_guide.htm