How to Legally Import a Car to the US

December 15, 2017

Import a car

The Audi RS3, Ford Focus RS, Lancia Ypsilon – all super-cool cars, but you won’t find them driving around on U.S. streets. Even manufacturers you see on a daily basis – Honda, Volkswagen, Subaru – all have models made solely for European and Asian markets. You want one, but you can’t exactly head to the nearest dealership and just sign some papers.

This is where vehicle importing comes into play. You can have that right-hand drive car of your dreams, all for an affordable price, but you’ll need to navigate the U.S.’s import laws first. Above all else, you want to make sure you do it legally. Illegal imports will be crushed and that is not a sight you want to see.

This brings us to our goal: How can you, the average American driver, import a vehicle? What are the insurance implications? The answer begins with age.

How Old is Your Dream Car?

Many of the rules and regulations surrounding import laws relate to the age of the vehicle. This has to do with emissions standards. The U.S. is on the stricter side and they want the vehicles on their streets to be eco-friendly and up to code.

There is a simple question to determine a vehicle’s import eligibility: Is it older than 25 years old? If the answer is yes, then you can import it without any restrictions from the U.S. government (as long as it has the original engine). If the answer is no, then we move on to our next point.

Is it Compliant?

At the end of the day, the U.S. simply wants an imported vehicle to be in compliance with today’s vehicle rules and regulations. To clarify, this means being able to pass a modern inspection test, with all the emissions and safety bells and whistles.

Of course, for you, this is far from simple. Most foreign vehicles under 25 years old are called non-conforming: They were manufactured under different rules and regulations than the U.S. ones. Think of it like you are the vehicle manufacturer here in the U.S. – this means you have to go through the same process they do, all for your imported vehicle.

The steps include:

  • Buying multiple vehicles so they can be crash tested
  • Passing U.S. emissions tests
  • Replacing any parts that don’t meet U.S. standards

What If It’s Younger Than 25 Years Old?

This may all sound like too much to handle, but importing doesn’t have to be tricky. The easiest and cheapest option is to buy a foreign vehicle older than 25 years old. If you want a younger model, consider shopping in Canada. Canadian rules and regulations are similar to the U.S., so any vehicle legal there will have fewer hurdles to become legal here.

Just because you’re shipping your car from the same land mass, doesn’t mean we all agree on regulations. You’ll still need to cover customs, shipping and bond costs. Since we’re on the topic of expenses…

How much is it?

Shipping a Christmas present to my Grandma in the next state can cost $50, so importing a car across thousands of miles should be crazy expensive, right? Jalopnik did some research and importing a car from Europe should only cost you around $1,000 – $1,500, which doesn’t seem too high a cost for your dream car.

I would suggest seriously considering importing through a professional import dealership. They’ll have listings of affordable vehicles, tons of experience making sure your car is safe and well packaged. Plus they can help you navigate the dreaded associated paperwork.

On top of the initial shipping expense, if you want to import a vehicle to the US, you should expect to pay 2.5% of the car’s value in duties. If it’s a truck, that jumps to an incredible 25% in tax. Ouch!

It’s in the US, What Now?

So you’ve navigated the complicated US import laws, made sure you used a reputable shipping company and your new pride and joy is Stateside. Now, just the small task of getting it to your house. As your new ride comes to the States on a ship, it will be rolled off on the Coast. If you live in Nebraska, this is not ideal.

You can get your car shipped, again, from the port to your house. Although, this can often cost more than the initial trip from Europe to the US. If you’re willing to cough up a bit more money in customs forms and deal with (yet more) paperwork, taking a trip to the port and driving it home sounds pretty cool.

But, to drive it off the port, your import will need the right insurance.

Do I Need Special Insurance?

There is no specific insurance for imported cars, but like with American models, more safety features will often lead to lower rates. You may also find it tricky to find your 400bhp Turbo Audi RS3 in the dropdown when getting a quote. Consider insuring with a company that specializes in more unusual or classic cars. Not only will they be more open to your new import, but they’ll also be able to recommend coverage levels to ensure your pride and joy is well protected. If you are not a resident of the U.S., you may find it a bit more difficult to acquire auto insurance.

So, compare policies and make sure you shop around. Compare.com specializes in car insurance, helping you to compare a range of packages and companies for free. Start your quote today.

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