How to Import a Car from Europe (or Elsewhere) to the US

March 7, 2012

Import a car efficiently, completing emissions testing, negotiating with dealers, arranging for shipping, and other aspects of importing a car.

In many cases, if you wish to buy a particular brand of vehicle that can't be found in the United States, you'll need to import a car from Europe. European car options are oftentimes different from American ones, and even similar vehicles or cars from the same manufacturers and model lines can have unique features in European and American versions. In order to buy a car from Europe, however, you'll have to go through quite a bit more in terms of logistical finagling than you would in the United States. Read on for a brief overview of how to import a car from Europe.

Choose the Car and Check Emissions
If you're thinking of importing a car from Europe, it's likely you already have a set vehicle in mind. If not, check over the different European brands to be sure that the vehicle you're interested in can't be found in the United States as well. When you've settled on a car, you'll need to review your local American emission laws as well as the car's emissions ratings. This is to be sure it will be legal for you to bring it into the country in the first place.

Contact the Dealer and Negotiate
If there's a specific dealer you'd like to work with in Europe, contact them to begin your negotiations for the car. If there is not, you'll need to likely contact the manufacturer directly for a good idea of how to secure a vehicle. In many cases, working with the manufacturer directly is a bonus and makes your task easier. Many manufacturers will help to take care of customs forms and shipping procedures for you.

When you've settled on the vehicle, enter into negotiations for the purchase price of the car. This process may work very similarly to an American negotiation process or it may not, depending upon the exact dealer and manufacturer you work with.

Arrange for Shipping
You'll need to hire a shipping or transport company to deliver the car for you. This may add hundreds of dollars on to the cost of the car, so be sure to factor this into your considerations when you plan to purchase the vehicle. You can work with local companies that have international partners, or you can contact European companies directly. Most American-based companies with international shipping policies will be able to provide you the best deal.

Complete the Proper Paperwork
You'll need to fill out certain paperwork in order to bring the car into the country. Depending upon where you're buying it from, you may need to deal with export papers and taxes as well. You'll likely need to deal with import paperwork and fees for bringing the car into America. The shipping company or the manufacturer can help with that, as can the DMV in your state if you're having trouble.

For more information about how to import a car from Europe, consult with a professional in your area.

Importing Classic Cars to the USA

Importing a classic car into the USA could prove to be a worthwhile experience as long as the necessary rules, regulations and paperwork are considered before making a purchase. Most classic European car buyers are enamored by the rare find, and buy the car without first knowing how to legally put it on US soil. Any car that is imported into the US will have to confirm to various emissions, bumper and safety standards before it is rendered legal to use. Here are the few steps on how to import a classic car to the US. You'll need:

  • U.S. EPA form 3520-1
  • U.S. DOT form HS-7
  • DOT Registered Importer (RI) contract (when applicable)
  • Money to pay for duties

Check the NHTSA List of Approved Vehicles
This list will give you an idea if your classic car is eligible to be imported to the USA. If the vehicle you purchased is not on the list, you will have to hire the services of a DOT certified Registered Importer. This specialist will perform the necessary modifications to make the vehicle conform to crash and safety standards. Secure a DOT Form HS-7 to ensure that the vehicle conforms to various bumper and safety standards. The services of an RI could be expensive, but are necessary to make the vehicle eligible for import.

Consult the U.S. EPA
The U.S. EPA guidelines should be consulted to become familiar with the various regulations that need to be followed when planning to import a car into the USA. The emission testing procedures will measure the amount of hydrocarbons, nitrous oxide and particulate emissions from the tailpipe while the car is strapped into a dynamometer. All cars have to meet U.S. EPA standards before they can be imported and used in the US. Certain vehicles such as race cars and classic cars built before January 1, 1968 may be excluded from emission requirements.

Secure a U.S. EPA form 3520-1 to prove that the vehicle has passed EPA requirements. This form will be given to U.S. Customs officials before given the permit to enter.

Make Arrangements with U.S. Customs
Before shipping the classic car of your dreams, notify the carrier or shipper of the arrival date of the car to make the necessary arrangements at the U.S. Customs office.

Clean the Undercarriage
The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that the undercarriage of any imported vehicle must be cleaned or steam washed to prevent the entry of soil, insects and other foreign matter into US soil. Have a reputable car wash or detailing shop undertake the procedure.

Ship the Vehicle
Have the vehicle shipped and prepare documents such as the original bill of lading, bill of sale and old vehicle registration. These documents have to be presented to Customs upon arrival of the car.

Submit Documents and Pay Duties
Present the vehicle documents upon arrival along with the EPA form 3520-1 to U.S. Customs and pay the appropriate duties/fees corresponding to the transaction. Duty rates are normally based on 2.5% of the purchase price of the car. Other regulations and exemptions may vary. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection will provide all the necessary information regarding updates, fees and exemptions in regards to importing a classic car to the USA.

You should also make sure that you empty the vehicle of all personal belongings prior to its departure. If you leave anything inside there is a high risk of theft while the vehicle is in transit or sitting at docks. Most shipping companies will reject your vehicle if it has personal belongings inside, and if not, you could be in for a hefty charge by Customs upon the vehicle's arrival.

Laws Regarding Importing Cars to the U.S.

If your vehicle does not meet the emission requirements then it must be imported through an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI). The ICI will be responsible for ensuring that the vehicle is modified to meet the requirements, and the EPA will not allow the vehicle's release until the work is completed.

Standards and Taxes

There are some countries from which you cannot import a car that was built in that country. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, will have the latest information about import prohibitions. Most countries from Africa, the Middle East and several from Central America as well as Cuba all have importing sanctions. This department has a phone number and you can easily obtain the information you need. This can save you a lot of time, stress and money before you start looking for an imported car.

Additionally if you use an imported car to import narcotics, drugs or other illegal items the consequences are very serious. Make sure you know where the car is coming from, who it is shipping and how it is kept secure. If your name is on the title then you are held responsible.

Common Imported Car Scams

There are many scams that are used when importing a car. They can range from simply taking your money and not delivering your car, to not delivering the right car. It is always best to purchase your car in person, but if this is not possible, keep an eye out for the following scams. Take note of these red flags to ensure you are using a legitimate company.

  • Disregard of safety standards. Many of the cars that are imported are considered unsafe, but they're still imported and registered. This is illegal, and they should never have been imported. When the authorities are aware of this issue they will then contact you if you got your car from the same importer. It will need to be inspected and if it does not meet safety regulations, it will be taken or you will need to have the car completely fixed, which can be a lot of money
  • Alternative payment methods. If the car importer is requiring payment through Western Union, be wary. Of the many scams out there, paying by Western Union is a huge warning sign. Your bank will be able to provide you with instructions. Other car payment scams to watch out for include when a seller sends you a tracking number from an escrow service. Check out the email, as Money Bookers and Yahoo! do not use Western Union. If you are told to pay using Intuit PayTrust or eBonza, it is most likely a scam
  • Waived taxes. If a company is offering no fees for import taxes, investigate before taking action. See if there are any customer reviews you can read, as there have been several scams that involve importers not using the proper paperwork in order to avoid paying any import duty. This is more typical of a car dealership than importing a car yourself, but it is still something to be aware of
  • Indeterminate vehicle location. Many people look to import their car when they move overseas, but they wait for a lengthy period of time and the company they used has not yet contacted them about the car. When finding a company yourself, you need to do some careful research. A legitimate company can be of great help, as there is plenty of paperwork you will need to fill out. Paying a large sum of money to have your car imported and then have nothing arrive, only to be told by the company that they are not responsible for any loss, will result in plenty of buyer's remorse. Make sure you read all of the fine print and keep all the paperwork. You also need to have insurance, as things can happen during transport
  • Clear title. Cars cannot legally be imported unless the title is clear, so make sure you get this information. Then you can check on the car title yourself before making a purchase. This is necessary if the imported car is already in the country, or if you are buying a car and then having it imported.
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