Importing a Car Purchased in a Foreign Country to the United States
Below we describe the basic process to import a vehicle into the United States. We are focusing on U.S. residents who are buying a car or similar vehicle from another country. There are rule differences for temporary stays, Canadians moving permanently to the U.S., returning military personnel, employees working abroad, and other types of importers. Be sure to also read our page on importing a vehicle, which has tips on how to successfully complete this process, and common pitfalls to avoid.
As soon as you decide to buy a Canadian vehicle, you should call or review the website of each of the following agencies to confirm the required paperwork and current process:
- U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) for the port you will be using. See our pages for your specific port to get this telephone number.
- U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Your Local State Department of Transportation
We have contact information for each on our government contacts page.
Selecting a Vehicle to Purchase – Meeting U.S. Standards to Import a Vehicle
If the vehicle you are importing is less than 25 years old, you will need to prove that it meets U.S. safety and emission requirements. Most cars sold in the U.S. are built specifically for this market, and cars built for other markets may not meet all of the requirements. If your car was manufactured more than 25 years ago, it is exempt from these requirements.
The Department of Transportation keeps a list of vehicles that are likely to comply with import requirements, although it’s not a guarantee. It can be found on this page, under the heading “eligible vehicles.”
You’ll know a car complies with all the necessary requirements when it has stickers from the EPA and DOT. It might also have a single combined sticker representing both. You can’t get these stickers yourself; the manufacturer of the vehicle will be the one to get and apply them.
If you want to import a car that doesn’t comply with regulations and have the necessary stickers, you’ll need to work with a “registered importer,” a business approved by the government to handle these issues. The government has a list of approved Registered Importers. If you go this route, you should be prepared to potentially spend several thousand more dollars in the process, including paying for modifications.
Buying the Car You Want To Import
- When you pay for your vehicle, you want a bill of sale with the VIN# showing you and/or a spouse as owner of vehicle. You also want the Manufacturer’s Statement/Certificate of Origin, and the vehicle title.
- You should check out the vehicle history, using a service such as Carfax, before making any purchase. This report will show you the history of the car, including any accidents serious enough to block entry or require additional testing.
If you’re buying a car in Canada:
- You should obtain a temporary license plate / insurance card from the Canadian Province in which you are buying the vehicle – even if you extended your U.S. insurance to cover it.
- You will also pay GST, but you should not have to pay PST as a non-resident of the province.
Taking an Imported Car through U.S. Customs
You need to have all of the documentation for the vehicle with you when you cross the U.S. border. This will likely include the following:
- Bill of sale
- Foreign registration
- Proof of insurance
- Shipping company’s bill of lading (if car is being shipped)
You will also need to fill out these two forms:
At the border, you will be given another form, CBP Form 7501 Entry Summary. Fill this out and make sure to keep it (along with all the other above documentation) with you, since the DMV will need to see it later.
Customs officials will inspect the car and make sure it matches the paperwork you submit. The whole process will probably take a half hour or so if there are no problems.
Tip: Clean the car! Soil is one of the many items that are not allowed into the U.S., even if you’re only accidentally bringing it in on the bottom of your car. Make sure your vehicle is thoroughly washed.
If you’re driving your new car across the border, make sure to check our page on the border inspection process to be fully prepared.
Duties and Taxes to Import a Vehicle into the United States
Most vehicles made in Canada or the U.S. are not subject to duties. For foreign-made vehicles you will likely pay the following
- Autos – 2.5%
- Trucks – 25%
- Motorcycles – No Charge or 2.4%
As a returning U.S. resident, you may apply your customs exemption and those of accompanying family members toward the value of the vehicle. To qualify:
- You must be driving it across the border.
- The vehicle must be for personal use.
- You must have made the purchase on this trip.
Learn more about the customs exemption and how best to take advantage of it on our “What Will It Cost?” page.
What to Do When You Get Back Home
- If you have not already done so, get the vehicle insured immediately.
- Take all of your documentation, including the customs paperwork, and head to the state DOT to register the vehicle. You will then pay state taxes and fees for the license plates.
- In some states, you will then need to get a smog emission test on the vehicle before registration will be complete.
- A few weeks later, you will get new plates, and tags for the vehicle.