How to Bring Foreign Cars to the U.S.

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Importing a foreign car into the United States is not as simple as putting the vehicle on a ship and picking it up at the closest port. All imported vehicles must meet U.S. bumper and safety standards, in addition to air pollution or emissions standards, before they will be allowed in. As most overseas vehicles that meet these standards are already exported for sale, you will have to ensure that you bring your vehicle up to code before you can bring it to the United States.

Things You'll Need

  • Foreign car
  • Find an importer. You will need an importer to help your car comply with U.S. standards, and to process the car and associate paperwork at both ends of the transaction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, provides a list of registered importers, along with vehicle importation guidelines, on their website (see Resources). If you are purchasing a car overseas, your dealer will most likely start the paperwork for you with their own importer, but if you are on your own, shop around and select a provider that offers you the best rates and the level of service you require.

  • Make sure your car complies with U.S. standards. Although your importer will complete most of the paperwork for you, your car is ultimately your responsibility, so you should make sure that all regulations are followed. The primary forms which your importer must file are Department of Transportation Form HS-7, indicating that the vehicle complies with federal safety, bumper and theft-prevention standards, and Environmental Protection Agency Form 3520-1, an air pollution declaration form. In order to clear customs, you will need the shipper's original bill of lading, the bill of sale, foreign registration, and any other documents covering the vehicle. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that your car's undercarriage be free of foreign soil, to prevent the unwanted importation of overseas pests.

  • Do not use your car as a shipping container. If you are present when your car is loaded for shipping, you should resist the temptation to use the space in your car for personal possessions that you might also wish to ship. For starters, your possessions will be an easy, visible target on both the loading and unloading docks and while in transit. Second, the entire contents of your car must be reported to Customs upon entry, and failure to remember any items could result in a fine or even seizure. Also, your possessions are likely to shift during shipping, and may cause damage to your vehicle.

  • Pay duty and receive your vehicle. If your car was shipped in compliance with all U.S. regulations, it will pass through customs and be released to you upon paying a 2.5 percent duty on the value of the car. If you purchased your car overseas, this fee may have been paid at the point of purchase, but if you are simply shipping your own car to the U.S., you will have to pay the duty before your car is released.

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