Importing motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines
(hereafter referred to collectively as vehicles) into the U.S. can be a very
complex and confusing process. Imported
motor vehicles are subject to U.S. air pollution control (emission) standards,
safety standards, and bumper standards. Most vehicles manufactured abroad that conform to these rules are manufactured
and exported expressly for sale in the United States. Foreign made vehicles not manufactured for U.S. exports are
unlikely to meet all relevant standards. Be skeptical of claims by a foreign dealer or other seller that a
vehicle meets these standards or can readily be brought into compliance.
This page provides information for importing a motor vehicle
into the United States, including requirements of:
Please note that additional state rules may apply including
air emission rules, titles and registration. (see below under More Resources)
Before attempting to import any vehicle into the U.S., you
need to consider the EPA requirements covering vehicle air pollution emissions.
The Federal emission testing requirements are based on
complex laboratory testing procedures. The emissions are measured while the
vehicle is being driven in the laboratory on a chassis dynamometer. The vehicle
is driven through a specific driving cycle representing a typical urban drive
of 10.5 miles, takes 14 to 36 hours, and includes fuel filling, starting, stopping,
accelerating, decelerating, cruising, idling, and sitting while parked*.
The emissions measured include hydrocarbons (HC), Carbon Monoxide (CO),
Nitrous Oxides (NOx), Evaporative emissions, and particulate emissions.
Commercially, testing for light-duty vehicles (e.g., passenger cars) typically
costs about $1,000.
An EPA importation
declaration form (EPA Form 3520-1)
must be submitted to the U.S. Customs Service for most vehicle importations by individuals (including motorcycles,
disassembled vehicles, kit cars, light-duty vehicle/motorcycle engines). [This form is not required for motor
vehicles that are imported by their original manufacturer and are new and are
covered by an EPA certificate of conformity and bear an EPA emission control
label.] One form per shipment may be
used, with attachments including all information required to fully describe
each vehicle or engine. Off-road
vehicles/engines and heavy-duty engines must use Form 3520-21.
Certain vehicles are excluded from emissions
requirements. These include (under
vehicles (e.g., light-duty gasoline-fueled car or truck built before January
- Non-Chassis-Mounted Engine
- Unregulated Fuel Vehicle
For more information see: Overview of EPA Import Requirements for Vehicles and Engines.
U.S. Department of Transportation/National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration
Motor vehicles not more than 25 years old must conform to
the Department of Transportation (DOT) motor vehicle safety standards that were
in effect when these vehicles were manufactured. Passenger cars manufactured after September 1, 1973 must also
meet bumper standards. The importer must file form DOT
HS-7 at the time of entry, indicating whether the vehicle conforms to
applicable safety and bumper standards. The original manufacturer is required
to affix a label to the vehicle certifying that these standards have been met
if the vehicle is intended for sale in the United States. Vehicles that do not bear a certification
label attached by the original manufacturer must be entered as a nonconforming
vehicle under a DOT bond for one and a half times the vehicle's dutiable value.
This is in addition to the regular Customs entry bond.
Unless specifically excepted (see List of
Nonconforming Vehicles Eligible for Importation), the importer must sign a
contract with a DOT Registered Importer (RI), who will modify the vehicle
to conform with all applicable safety and bumper standards and who can certify
the modifications. A copy of the RI's contract must be attached to the DOT HS-7
form and furnished to the Customs Service with the DOT bond at the port of
U.S. Customs Service
Vehicles imported to the U.S. must pass through a port of
entry and be cleared by U.S. Customs. For
Customs clearance you will need the shipper's or carrier's original bill of
lading, the bill of sale, foreign registration, and any other documents
covering the vehicle. You will also need a completed EPA Form 3520-1,
or a manufacturer's label in the English language affixed to the car, stating
that the vehicle meets all U.S. emission requirements.
The owner must make arrangements with U.S Customs for
shipping a vehicle. Have your shipper or carrier notify you of the vehicle's
arrival date so that you can coordinate with U.S. Customs. Shipments are cleared at the first port of
entry unless you arrange for a freight forwarder abroad to have the vehicle
sent in bond to a Customs port more convenient to you.
You may make arrangements to import your vehicle with an
Independent Commercial Importer (ICI). In this case, the ICI will import your
vehicle and perform any EPA-required modifications and be responsible for
assuring that all EPA requirements have been met. ICIs can only import certain
vehicles, however, and in general, their fees are very high.
Foreign-made vehicles imported into the U.S., whether new or
used, either for personal use or for sale, are generally dutiable at the
- 3% or 3.4%
Duty rates are based on price paid or payable. Most
Canadian-made vehicles are duty-free.
As a returning U.S. resident, you may apply your $400
Customs exemption and those of accompanying family members toward the value of
the vehicle if it:
you on your return;
imported for personal use; and
acquired during the journey from which you are returning.
For Customs purposes, a returning U.S. resident is one who
is returning from travel, work, or study abroad. After the exemption has been
applied, a flat duty rate of 10% is applied toward the next $ 1,000 of the
vehicle's value. The remaining amount is dutiable at the regular duty rate.
Nonresidents may import a vehicle duty-free for personal use
if the vehicle is imported in conjunction with the owner's arrival.
Nonconforming vehicles must be exported within one year and may not be sold in
the U.S. There is no exemption or extension of the export requirement.
Conforming vehicles imported under the duty-free exemption are dutiable if sold
within one year of importation. Duty must be paid at the most convenient
Customs office before the sale is completed.
U.S. citizens employed abroad or government employees
returning on TDY or voluntary leave may import a foreign made car free of duty
provided they enter the U.S. for a short visit, claim nonresident status, and
export the vehicle when they leave.
Military and civilian employees of the U.S. government
returning at the end of an assignment to extended duty outside the customs
territory of the U.S. may include a conforming vehicle among their duty-free
personal and household effects. The auto must have been purchased abroad and be
in its owner's possession prior to departure. Generally, extended duty is 140
days or more. Navy personnel serving aboard a U.S. naval vessel or a supporting
naval vessel from its departure from the U.S. to its return after an intended
overseas deployment of 120 days or more are entitled to the extended duty
Clean the Undercarriage.
To safeguard against importation of dangerous pests, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture requires that the undercarriage of imported cars be free of foreign
soil. Have your car steam-sprayed or
cleaned thoroughly before shipment.
For your own safety, security, and convenience, do not use your car as a container for personal belongings. Your
possessions are susceptible to theft while the vehicle is on the loading and
unloading docks and in transit. Also, many
shippers and carriers will not accept your vehicle if it contains personal
belongings. The entire contents of your
car must be declared to Customs on entry. Failure to do so can result in a fine
or seizure of the car and its contents.
Imports from Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, or North Korea, or that involve the
governments of those countries, are generally prohibited pursuant to
regulations issued by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets
imported automobiles may be subject to the "gas-guzzler" tax. The
amount of the tax is based on a combined urban/highway fuel-economy (miles per
gallon) rating assigned by the EPA for gas-guzzler tax purposes. This EPA
rating may be different from fuel-economy ratings indicated by the
If the EPA has not assigned a gas-guzzler fuel-economy
rating for the model automobile you import, a rating must be independently
determined. No tax is imposed on automobiles that have a combined fuel-economy
rating of at least 22.5 miles per gallon.
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
Importing a Motor Vehicle. This U.S. Customs web page provides essential information for U.S. residents, military or civilian government employees, and foreign nationals who are importing a vehicle into the U.S. It includes U.S. Customs requirements and those of other agencies whose regulations we enforce.