Importing a Car from Europe to the U.S.

Importing a Car from Europe to the U.S.

Breeze Customs Blog


he U.S. is a great place to buy a car, but it’s often difficult to find the exact model you want. When you’re looking for a car that is not available in the U.S., it can be tempting to simply import one from Europe and get the car you really want. European products have grown in popularity among Americans in recent years, especially cars. That is because European countries manufacture some of the safest and most reliable motor vehicles—not to mention their attention to luxury and quality engineering.

However, importing a car from Europe can be difficult and expensive. You’ll have to ensure that the vehicle meets safety and emissions standards before bringing it into the country. In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps and costs of importing a car from Europe to the U.S.

5 reasons you should buy a European car

1. Wide Variety

While the U.S. is home to some of the most popular car brands in the world, such as Ford and Chevrolet, Europe offers a wider variety of cars than the U.S., and it’s much cheaper to import them from there. That is because there are 44 countries in Europe, and the number of car manufacturers is higher than those in the U.S. So, if you’re looking for something different than what’s available locally, there are plenty of options available in Europe that you can ship back home.

2. Great Quality

The main reason is that European car manufacturers often use high-quality materials and manufacturing processes to create their vehicles. In addition, they pay higher wages to their employees, which allows them to hire better engineers and designers. This has resulted in a culture where European consumers expect more from their cars than a typical American vehicle. Also, European cars have higher safety ratings. They often come with more advanced safety features and are better engineered than their American counterparts.

3. Better fuel efficiency

Because gas prices are higher in Europe, cars are manufactured with fuel efficiency in mind. Moreover, European cars are subject to strict emissions standards, so they must meet those standards, or they cannot be sold in the European market. This makes importing a car from Europe to the U.S. an especially good idea if you want to save money on gas and reduce your carbon footprint.

4. Smaller in size

This is important for several reasons. First, if you live in an urban area where parking is tight or expensive, these smaller cars will be easier to maneuver around tight spaces and park in small lots. Second, if you live somewhere with harsh weather conditions like heavy snowfall or hot summers, the fact that European cars are lighter means they’ll be easier on your wallet when fuel costs go up.

5. High resale value

European cars have more safety and luxury features than their American counterparts, making them more expensive and harder to find. And, while it may cost you a hefty investment upfront, your investment in importing a vehicle from Europe is well worth it. That’s because the car will not lose much value over the years, and you can sell it for a profit later.

Which cars can be imported from Europe to the U.S.?

Before you begin your import journey, you must determine if the car you want is eligible for import from Europe to the U.S. As with all other foreign car imports, eligibility is based on whether your car conforms to the rules and regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the emissions standards and regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

When importing a car from Europe, you must understand the import regulations and requirements. DOT and EPA have strict regulations for imported vehicles. These rules ensure that all vehicles meet high safety and environmental standards and protect consumers from fraud. A customs broker can help you understand these import regulations and streamline your import process.

In most cases, the European car you want to import may be a nonconforming vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines a nonconforming vehicle as “a vehicle that does not meet safety standards set by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) (as per the Motor Vehicle Safety Act), or that has been altered from its original design.” It also refers to a vehicle not built to EPA standards.

Because European cars are not usually manufactured according to U.S. standards, you can import your nonconforming vehicle into the United States either by certification or by exemption:

1. By Certification

A nonconforming car can be imported if it is modified, tested, and certified by a Registered Importer (RI) or an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI).

2. By Exemption

The EPA and CBSA allow you to import a nonconforming vehicle temporarily – with EPA’s pre-approval – if it is imported for the following purposes:

  • Testing
  • Display
  • Repair or alteration
  • Non-residents
  • Competition/Racing

The car should be imported under a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) bond if it qualifies for an EPA exemption.

What if my European car is a classic or antique?

Commonly known as the 25-year rule, the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988 (IVSCA) exempts nonconforming foreign motor vehicles that are 25 years old or older (classic or antique) from the restrictions imposed by this Act. If the car you wish to import from Europe is older than 25 years, it may as well be exempt from meeting EPA and DOT requirements. Moreover, If the car is at least 21 years old, there are no EPA compliance requirements upon importation.

That means that if you are importing an older car model, you will not have to go through inspections or compliance procedures. While this may sound like good news, it doesn’t mean that you can simply ignore the EPA and DOT requirements entirely. There are other hoops you must jump through before your car is allowed on American roads.

How are cars transported from Europe to the U.S.?

The most common methods of transporting imported vehicles from Europe are:

  • Air Freight – This is the most expensive method of importing a motor vehicle, but it only takes several days to arrive at your destination.
  • Ocean Freight – This container shipping method is the most common means of importing motor vehicles from Europe into the U.S. But it can take up to two months for cars to arrive by Ocean.

You will need to find a reliable car shipping company with experience importing cars from Europe to America. The company should be able to offer you an accurate quote for their services and provide you with an estimate for how long it will take them to ship your vehicle across the Atlantic Ocean.

How much does it cost to import a car from Europe?

There are several costs to consider when importing a car from Europe into the U.S. These include:

  • Import Duties: Importing a car from Europe to the United States means paying duties and fees. The amount of duty depends on the type of vehicle, its value, and its age. The import duty for European cars is 2.5%
  • Customs Bond: A customs entry bond is required for every imported vehicle. You can choose to obtain a Single-Entry Bond (for one-time imports) or a Continuous Bond (for multiple imports within 12 months).
  • DOT Bond (for nonconforming vehicles): Cars without a DOT certification label must be imported as nonconforming. In this case, you must register with a DOT-Registered Importer (RI) and post a DOT bond (the value of the bond should be 1.5 times the car’s dutiable value).
  • Gas-Guzzler Tax: Some imported cars are subject to the Gas-Guzzler Tax. The amount of the tax is based on a combined fuel-economy rating assigned by the EPA. The higher the fuel economy, the lower the tax, and no tax is imposed on cars with a combined fuel-economy rating of at least 22.5 miles per gallon.
  • Insurance: Once you import your car from Europe, you will want to purchase an insurance policy. That is because to drive in most states legally, you need to meet the minimum vehicle insurance requirements set by the state. When shipping your car from Europe, it’s also a good idea to have an insurance policy covering its shipping.
  • Brokerage fees: If you work with a customs broker, you will need to pay a small fee for their services. Most people who import cars from Europe prefer to work with a customs broker to guide them and help streamline the importation process.
  • Shipping fees: European cars are usually imported by ocean freight. Shipping fees depend on the size of your car and the carrier you choose. If you have an auto broker or shipping company handling the shipping process for you, request an estimate on shipping costs before you commit to working with them. Otherwise, a customs broker can help you find the best shipping partner to import your car from Europe.
  • Licensing and registration: When your car arrives in the U.S., you will have to pay fees for its licensing and registration. The fees vary, depending on where you wish to register your car.

What are the steps to import a car from the Europe to the U.S.?

1. Determine your car’s eligibility

To import a car from Europe, you will first need to determine whether or not it qualifies for importation under U.S. regulations (both federal and state). For a vehicle to be able to enter the country, it must meet all the safety standards set by NHTSA.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also determines whether an imported car meets an acceptable level of emissions control for use on U.S. roads (known as “conformity” requirements).

2. Hire a customs broker

Most car importers prefer to hire a customs broker to help with the import process. A customs broker is a CBP-certified individual or company that specializes in importing cars and other goods from foreign countries into the United States.

We recommend working with a customs broker because they know all the import rules and regulations, have experience dealing with importing vehicles, and can help you navigate any potential pitfalls.

Once you find a broker that meets your criteria, it’s crucial to read reviews about them and ask them questions before committing to work with them.

3. Ship your car from Europe to the U.S.

Next, you will need to find a shipping company that can handle the transportation of your car from Europe to the U.S. If you do not have an established relationship with a European auto shipper, consider using an agent or customs broker who has experience in the field.

You will also need to choose a port of entry. There are more than 300 land, air, and sea ports in the United States. Choosing a port of entry that handles vehicles and is closest to your destination state is best. This interactive port of entry map provides detailed information about each port and its requirements. We recommend speaking to a customs broker to simplify the process and help you choose the most suitable port of entry.

4. Prepare your paperwork

Now that you’ve determined your shipping method and port of entry, you’ll need to prepare your import documentation. The documents required to import a car from Europe to the United States are:

  1. A U.S. Customs Proforma Invoice
  2. The carrier’s Bill of Lading (BoL)
  3. A Bill of Sale showing VIN
  4. Foreign Registration
  5. An EPA form 3520-1
  6. A DOT form HS-7
  7. Your Importer Security Filing (ISF)
  8. A Letter of Recall and Conformity from the manufacturer (if applicable)

You can either submit these documents to CBP yourself or have your customs broker file them on your behalf.

5. Pay duties and fees

Imported cars in the United States are subject to customs duty. The amount of duty you will need to pay depends on the value of your car. All foreign and European vehicles are dutiable at the following rates:

  • 2.5% for cars
  • 25% for trucks
  • Either free or 2.4% for motorcycles

6. Get insurance for your vehicle

You will need to purchase insurance for your imported car. The cost varies based on the age and make of your car, where you live, how safe you drive, and what kind of discounts you qualify for. It will cost more to insure a European car than an American one. Insurance companies usually consider the following factors when calculating premiums:

  • The make and model of your car. Some cars are more expensive to insure than others. For example, a small car costs less than a large SUV.
  • Your driving records. Expect to pay more for insurance if you’ve had multiple accidents or speeding tickets.
  • Where you live. Some states have higher rates than others due to traffic congestion, the cost of living in the area, and other factors.

You’ll also need insurance on your vehicle while it’s being shipped from Europe to the U.S. Your customs broker can help arrange this in advance as well.

7. Register your car in the U.S.

Once you’ve submitted your import documentation and passed an inspection, you can register your vehicle with your state’s DMV and acquire license plates and permits.

For registration purposes, your responsibility as an importer is to establish that the imported vehicle conforms to import rules and regulations. You can do so by contacting the vehicle’s manufacturer and asking for a certificate of compliance with U.S. standards. Most manufacturers are already aware of the regulations and will issue a certificate of conformity when requested. You will need to have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on hand when speaking to the manufacturer since vehicles and their attributes are tracked with this number.

When U.S. Customs verifies that your European vehicle conforms with EPA and DOT requirements, an informal entry (Customs Form 368) must be completed and submitted to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for registration. The process of acquiring plates and permits may be different from state to state, but in general, you will need to:

  1. Apply for a permanent vehicle registration
  2. Provide proof of insurance for your vehicle
  3. Pay any applicable taxes and fees associated with registering a new vehicle (these vary by state)
  4. Obtain license plates, which may be purchased from your local DMV location
  5. Obtain any necessary permits, such as a license plate sticker or emissions test certificate

How Breeze Customs can help you import a car from Europe

At Breeze Customs, we helped hundreds of importers bring their vehicles into the United States every year without hassle. We’ll take all the work off your shoulders, from checking your vehicle’s admissibility to clearing customs. Book a meeting with one of our Breeze Customs Concierges and we’ll take it from there.