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If you have purchased a luxury or sports car in Europe and would like to import it to the USA, you should familiarize yourself with all the rules and regulations required for a successful import. Failing to comply with some of the requirements can result in unwanted consequences, from additional financial charges to the car being returned to its country of origin or even destroyed.

Also, if you choose shipping as the method of transporting the car to the US, it’s advisable you know the shipping procedures.

Here’s the overview of car importation requirements for the USA and also the basic overview of the shipping process.

How shipping works

At Ship Overseas, a reputable international shipping company, the shipping process starts with the customer providing the year, make, model, and location of the car, after which the customer gets the shipping rate.

With the initial budgeting, the importer has to make sure their vehicle will be able to pass the USA EPA, DOT and CBP standards. Once you are sure your car can pass all the checks, you take it to the nearest port or arrange for its transport. Depending on the method of shipping, the transport can take up to 2 weeks.

After that, you should choose your preferred shipping method. Some ports support RoRo shipping, whereas other support only container shipping. Contact Ship Overseas to check whether the port nearest to you supports your chosen shipping method.

Once the car arrives at one of the US ports (Newark, NJ, Jacksonville, FL, Baltimore MD, Galveston, TX, Charleston, SC, Long Beach, CA, Brunswick, GA, Tacoma, WA), you can either pick it up yourself or have it picked up by a truck carrier and transported to the address you provide.

EPA, DOT & CBP import requirements

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designed a comprehensive manual (available on their website) on the emission regulations regarding the non-US version vehicles and also US-version vehicles driven overseas.

Additionally, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) imposes a set of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety, Bumper and Theft Prevention Standards which all cars have to pass to be imported from Europe.
Finally, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can ship the car back to Europe if it doesn’t pass its safety, bumper, and smog check.

To be able to import a car from Europe and register it in the US, you have to make sure it complies with all the standards and passes all the above-mentioned checks.
If you are importing a classic car, there are certain differences. For example, if the classic car is 21 years old or older, it doesn’t need to comply with the EPA requirements. What’s more, for cars 25 years old or older, there is no requirement for compliance with DOT’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Duty-free import

There are certain individuals who can import a car into the US duty-free. These include returning US citizens and US military and government employees. Additionally, non-residents can also be eligible for duty-free vehicle import if the vehicle is intended for personal use up to 1 year and if the import of the vehicle coincides with the arrival of its owner.

Important info to Ship a Car Overseas:
  • No car can leave USA if it has a lien on it. What does this mean? Your car must be paid in full. The only people who can ship a car overseas and still carry a lien on the car are US Military and Government employees/contractors. For those people a letter of authorization from the lender will need to be issued to pass US Customs. Otherwise the car may be considered stolen.
  • A clear Title of Ownership with no Liens on the Title.
  • If you bought a car new, then your name must be listed on the front of the Title as the registered owner.
  • If the vehicle has been sold, then both the Seller and Buyer have to sign the back of the Title in the spaces as detailed on the back of the Title.
  • For safety reasons, the vehicle cannot have more than a ¼ tank of gas.
Import Duty for Destination Country:
  • Import duty is NOT collected by Ship Overseas. It must be paid at the arrival port by whoever is picking up the car. We wrote a blog post about vehicle import duty here. It talks about how to find out import duty for your country.
Travel & Living Abroad:
  • Most countries will allow a traveler to temporarily import their car for up to 6 months. After the 6 months is up, import duty will be charged. For many travelers going to Europe and taking their car, a deposit is paid up front. When the car goes back to it's destination country, the deposit is refunded. If a person has lived in USA for 1 or more years, most countries will allow that person to bring their car back duty free! The car must not have any liens on it. Please check with your Customs Department first.
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