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USA Customs Guide

Guide to USA car import regulations

Get the facts about shipping your car to the USA and know before you go to avoid delays and problems.

We’re pleased to offer our comprehensive guide to USA customs requirements to help you understand any restrictions that may apply to your vehicle, and any regulations that must be adhered to when importing your car. We hope you find this useful and that it covers everything you need to know, however, we are happy to help if you need any assistance.

Before you go

Before you undertake shipping your car to the USA it is advisable to ascertain if your vehicle is eligible to be imported and if any modifications to your vehicle will be required. The importation of motor vehicles not manufactured in and conforming to U.S safety and emission standards is strictly regulated and applicable import regulations can vary dependent on the type of vehicle being shipped. Your reason for importing the vehicle and your personal status in the U.S may also have an impact on regulations that will apply.

Import Regulations

Regulations governing the importation of motor vehicles manufactured outside of the U.S and that do not conform to U.S Safety and Emission standards, in the first instance, are dependent on the age of the vehicle. While there are stringent safety and emissions requirements that must be met by vehicles under 25 years old, if you are importing a car that is over 25 years old it qualifies for exemption from regulations governing both safety and emissions standards.

Information on requirements for different types of vehicles and for varying purposes of importation can be found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website here.

Vehicles more than 25 years old

If your car is more than 25 years old, it can be imported into the U.S regardless of whether it conforms to U.S Safety, Bumper and Emission regulations as the date of manufacture precedes the applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) being in effect. It is important to note that if the date the vehicle was manufactured is not identifiable on a ‘label’ or plate permanently fixed to the vehicle by the manufacturer you must provide documentary evidence that details the date of manufacture. Acceptable forms of documentation include a vehicle registration document or an original sale document (invoice) showing the date the vehicle was first sold. If this is not available it may be possible, on application, to use a statement from a recognised vehicle historical society identifying the age of the vehicle. To declare your vehicle as being over 25 years old to U.S customs you will be required to complete a HS-7 form.


Vehicles that do not need to comply with U.S safety and emission regulations

In addition to vehicles more than 25 years old there are some circumstances where vehicles being imported by certain individuals or for specifically identified purposes may not need to conform to safety and emissions standards. For example, vehicles being imported by non-residents for a temporary period, there are also concessions available to members of the armed forces or diplomatic personnel. For further details on vehicles or individuals who may qualify for exemption from safety and emission regulations please see the U.S Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) website here.

Motor Vehicles less than 25 years old

All motor vehicles being imported into the U.S that are less than 25 years old must conform to U.S safety and U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards. If your vehicle was not manufactured in the U.S or Canada and was not originally manufactured to conform to applicable U.S or Canadian standards, we would advise that you conduct research to find if any modifications may be required to bring your vehicle in line with the required standards. Vehicles manufactured to comply with applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) will have a certification label permanently attached by the original manufacturer.

To import a vehicle that was not manufactured to conform to the appropriate Safety and Emissions standards you must contract with an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI) or ‘Registered Importer’ (RI) to undertake any modifications that may be required to bring the vehicle in line with the appropriate standards.

Registered Importers

Before any modifications can be undertaken an RI needs to confirm with the NHTSA that the vehicle is eligible to be modified on the grounds of if it is capable of being modified to comply with the standards required. A list of non-conforming vehicles that have already been identified as being eligible to be imported by or through an RI is provided on the NHTSA website here.

Additional information, along with a list of Registered Importers who can assist with vehicle modifications, can be found on the NHTSA website here.

When importing a car using an RI that will require modification work to bring it in line with US safety and emission standards you will also be required to post a Conformance Bond with the Department of Transport (DOT) using NHTSA form HS-474 available here.

Due to the length of time it may take to confirm if your vehicle is eligible to be imported and so that you are aware of costs that may be incurred it is advisable not to ship your vehicle until you have completed your research and are aware of what will be required on arrival.

Preparing your car for shipment

Aside from preparing documentation to comply with documentary and regulatory requirements, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) also have standards to which your vehicle must be cleaned to avoid the potential importation of dangerous pests. You should ensure that your vehicle is well cleaned before being shipped. If your vehicle is found not to be sufficiently clean on arrival, delays and costs may be incurred while your vehicle is cleaned to USDA standards. Examples of areas to which particular attention should be paid include:

  • Wheels/tyres (including spare wheel and in spare wheel housing)
    • Under wheel arches and around mud guards.
    • In the corners engine bay also checking for insects and plant matter radiator and cooling fan
    • Check for cobwebs (and any residents!) around corners of dashboard and under seats

For further information contact details can be found on the USDA website here.

Documentation we need

To ship your vehicle to the USA there are a few things that you will need to provide us with:

  • A Copy of the V5 (Licence Document) for your vehicle – we do not need the original.
    • A Copy of the photo page of your Passport
    • A Copy of a valid MOT certificate will only be requested if you require us to arrange collection of your vehicle in the UK using an insured driver. If your vehicle does not have a valid MOT, or if you would simply prefer, we can arrange collection using a recovery vehicle or enclosed collection vehicle.

Arriving in the USA

Shortly after departure from the UK we will provide you with copy shipping documentation (the Bill of Lading) covering transport of your vehicle to America along with anticipated arrival date and contact details for our agents at your port of arrival. Our agents will be in contact with you in the US ahead of the arrival to make arrangements for the arrival of your vehicle and in regard to completion of local import formalities.

Port and shipping line charges

When your vehicle arrives at the destination there will be charges payable to the shipping line/receiving agents for handling your vehicle at the port. There are also standard costs in relation to clearing your vehicle with the US customs and border services.

An indication of charges for these standard services that you should expect to pay when your vehicle arrives in the USA is provided below.

Shipping by
20′ container
Shipping by
Ro Ro
Compulsory Optional
Port Charges US$573 US$150 X
Transport to warehouse and container unloading US$525 n/a X
Customs clearance US$165 US$165 X
Security filing and Bond fees US$200 US$200 X

Benefits of Roll on Roll off (Ro Ro) Shipping

Ro Ro destination charges are cheaper than for container shipping as your car is simply driven off the ship and there is no container to require use of crane facilities at the port. The car is cleared on the quayside thus avoiding charges for moving a container to a warehouse to be unloaded. You are not permitted to pack personal items into your car when shipping by Ro Ro.

Benefits of Container Shipping

While destination charges are slightly higher for container shipping you do have the flexibility of being able to load personal or household items into the container for shipment. These items can be placed onto a pallet and loaded separately into the container. If you wish to ship your car in a container and also have personal items to be shipped please contact us and we will provide a quotation for the most suitable and cost effective way to ship your car and belongings.

40′ Container. Additional Benefits

When you ship two cars in a 40ft container or allow us to ship your car with another car inside a 40ft container there are savings to be made at destination. While port, transport and warehouse unloading is more expensive totaling US$1530 per container, it works out cheaper as you have 2 cars so you will pay US$765 per car.

Documentation required by US customs to import your vehicle

For all vehicles being imported into the U.S, basic documentation that U.S customs will need include;

  • Copy shipping documentation: A Bill of Lading. We will provide you with your Bill of Lading when your vehicle has been shipped from the UK.
    • A copy of your passport / Visa
    • A copy of the vehicle licence document (V5)
    • Completed NHTSA form HS-7.

Additional documentation required to import a non-confirming vehicle less than 25 years old.

  • Completed EPA form 3520-1
    • Copy DOT Conformance Bond – to be attached to the HS-7 form.
    • Copy contract with the RI in regard to completion of modification work – to be attached to your HS-7 form.

Duty and Tax

When importing your vehicle into the U.S you will be required to pay import Duty based on the value of the vehicle being imported to U.S customs. While duty rates may vary dependent on the type of vehicle and status of the person importing the vehicle into America, as a guide please see below duty rates generally applied to foreign made vehicles being imported into America.

Cars 2.5%
Motorcycles 0% – 2.4%
Trucks 25%

There are however, some instances where ‘Free Entry’ may be applied for where vehicles may be conditionally imported by certain individuals for certain periods of time or for certain purposes with payment of import Duty and Tax not being required. Further information regarding Duty and Tax and details on ‘Free Entry’ can be found on the CBP website here.

Certain vehicles being imported to the US may also be subject to the ‘gas-guzzler tax’ imposed by the Internal Revenue Service. Gas-guzzler tax if imposed will vary dependent on the combined fuel economy of the vehicle assigned by the EPA with vehicles that have a combined fuel economy of at least 22.5 miles per gallon being exempt from gas-guzzler tax. Please note that the EPA assigned fuel economy of a vehicle may vary from that quoted by the manufacturer however, details of EPA assigned combined fuel economy for most vehicles can be found on their website here.


When your vehicle has been cleared with US customs and any applicable duty and tax has been paid, you will receive the CBP Form 7501 Entry Summary as evidence that appropriate declarations were made and duties and taxes have been paid to the U.S CBP. Make sure that you keep a copy of the form along with your NHTSA form HS-7 and, if required and issued, EPA form 3520-1 as you will be required to present these documents along with other vehicle documentation when you register your vehicle with your local state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.

DMV procedures and fees for registering your vehicle vary from state to state and we recommend contacting the local DMV office in your state of destination prior to shipment to familiarise yourself with their requirements and fees that you will be required to pay when registering your vehicle.