Before you decide to import an automobile or car parts into the United States, you should ensure that the car or car parts conform to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. These agencies have very detailed requirements that can make importing a vehicle difficult, if not impossible, for some vehicles that were not originally manufactured for the U.S. market.
Nonconforming vehicles less than 25 years old entering the United States must be brought into compliance, exported, or destroyed.
Cars over 25 years old are exempt from EPA and DOT requirements, although you will still need to obtain and prepare EPA and DOT paperwork to provide to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer in order to clear your car through CBP.
From a CBP standpoint, you must file an entry on the car to receive the entry summary document CBP Form 7501. Filing an entry is initiated by declaring the car to a CBP officer when you enter the U.S. If your paperwork is in order, the officer will help you file the entry at the border. If you are not prepared, the officer may advise you to file the entry at a CBP port near your residence – however, in many cases the closest port could be 1-3 hours from your home, so it is in your best interest to be prepared to file the entry when you initially bring the car into the U.S. Without a copy of the CBP entry form, you will not be able to register the car in the U.S.
Prior to filing your entry with CBP, ensure you have valid proof of ownership, which is an original certificate of title, or a certified copy of the original. Ensure you have documentation, such as a manufacturer’s letter, stating that the car conforms to EPA and DOT standards, as well as a completed EPA form 3250-1 and DOT form HS-7. (If the vehicle has stickers on the engine (EPA) and inside the drivers-side door (DOT) stating that the car was manufactured to U.S. standards, you will not need a manufacturers letter. Some vehicles are listed by make, model, and year on the DOT and EPA web sites as conforming. If your vehicle is one of those, that would also negate the need for a manufacturers letter.)
If the vehicle has not been in your household for at least one year, you will be required to pay 2.5% duty, which is assessed based on the purchase price or blue book value. It is illegal to bring a car into the U.S. and sell it without first entering it through CBP. If you purchase a car that was brought into the U.S. and sold without being properly entered through CBP, that car is subject to seizure. NEVER purchase a used car in the U.S. if the owner cannot show that it is currently registered in the U.S. and demonstrate that it conforms to DOT and EPA standards.
If purchasing a car from a dealer, they should handle registration for you, if they don’t, the purchase should be contingent on your successful registration of the vehicle. (We get many calls from people who unwittingly purchased a vehicle that had been brought into the U.S. and then illegally sold. Buyer beware.)