How to import a Classic Car from Europe and Save Thousands

Author: admin / Date: August 8, 2022 / Tags: classic cars

Imagine finding your dream Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Renault or other classic European car. You make your purchase and you are ready to ship your new beauty across the Atlantic to bring her home, and then you realize that importing a car from Europe to the USA isn’t as straightforward as it would seem. Don’t let the regulations and cost get you down! If you know just a few tips and tricks it can be easier and less expensive to import a car than to purchase a new one in the U.S., and here is how! 

Ensure You Have Proper Documentation 

In the United States, any car that is over 25 years old is considered a classic, so the first thing you will need is to obtain documentation stating the age of the vehicle along with the documents that prove that you are the new owner.

The original bill of lading, bill of sale and the old vehicle registration need to be presented to Customs upon the arrival of the car. 

Check the NHTSA List of Approved Vehicles

There is a list of approved cars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that states all of the classic cars that are eligible to be imported to the USA. If you purchase a car that is not on the list, you will have to hire a DOT (Department of Transportation) certified Registered Importer to do the modifications needed to ensure the car conforms to all Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DOT regulations and standards. 

You will save thousands if you do the work needed to meet U.S. safety standards upfront. Many imported cars are unsafe, yet registered which is illegal. If for any reason your imported classic car is inspected and it does not meet the safety regulations your car can be seized or you will need to have the car completely fixed, costing you money out of pocket or the total loss of the car.

Pro Tip: Find a reputable car wash or detailing shop because the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that the undercarriage of any imported vehicle must be cleaned or steam washed to prevent the entry of soil, insects and other foreign matter into US soil. 

Determine Your Preferred Shipping Method

Once your paperwork is in order you will have two options for shipping your car home: Roll-On/Roll-Off (RoRo Shipping) and Container Shipping. 

Put simply, RoRo shipping is less expensive and you will save money, though some people are wary of RoRo as your classic car will be exposed to factors such as the weather, the shipyard, and the marine environment. With this method however, all of the vehicles are tied securely and have protective covers so the risk is low, and the pros are high. Often people fear theft as your car will be left openly in the shipyard, however you should remove any personal belongings from the car regardless of the shipping method chosen.

With RoRo shipping you have fixed departure and arrival dates, meaning you as the owner will know exactly when the car has to be driven to and picked up from each port. There are no fixed shipping dates for container shipping.

If you do choose container shipping to keep your car away from the elements or other “cons” for RoRo shipping, you do have the option to save money with a shared container as opposed to an exclusive container, meaning there would be other cars shipped with yours in one enclosed space, however some people prefer their own personal container, particularly if you are shipping back tires, spare parts or other components. 

PRO TIP: Save yourself time and stress by notifying your shipper or carrier of the arrival date of the car so they can make the necessary arrangements at the U.S. Customs office.

Beware of Scams

One sure way to spend more than you expected on your car import is by falling for a scam, and there are many that are used when importing a car. Here are somethings to look out for:

  • Your bank should be able to provide you with payment instructions, so be wary of a car importer requiring payment through Western Union. Keep an eye out as well for sellers asking you to pay through Intuit PayTrust, eBonza or other platforms as it could be a scam. 
  • While it sounds nice, if a company is offering no fees for import taxes, look into their credibility before taking action. There are many scams where importers will not use the proper paperwork to avoid paying import duty.
  • Ensure you do careful research before hiring an import company. There are cases of people spending a large sum of money to import their car only to be told the importer is not responsible for any loss, and the car is gone. To that note, also make sure you have insurance! 
  • Finally, cars cannot be legally imported unless the title is clear so check on the car title yourself before making a purchase. 

Your Car Has Arrived – Now What?

Upon the arrival of your classic car, the vehicle documents along with your EPA form 3520-1 will be presented to U.S. Customs and the appropriate duties/fees will be paid for the transaction. Typically duty rates are based on the purchase price of the car and average around 2.5% of the price paid. 

Visit the website for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for all of the necessary information regarding updates, fees and exemptions in regards to importing a classic car to the USA.

Good luck with your import and happy driving!


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