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Regulatory Compliance for Vehicle Imports

If you are importing automobiles into the United States, you should be aware of these requirements from the EPA, the DOG, and the USDA.

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When shipping vehicles into the U.S., you should take heed of the following requirements to ensure that you comply with all the government bodies that oversee vehicle importation. These include the Environmental Protection Association (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – in addition to U.S. Customs themselves.

What does the EPA Require?

Vehicles will need to meet US emissions requirements and have a label on the engine, in English, that says that they do. If the vehicle does not have the label, proof of eligibility to import under the EPA exemptions will be required. Cars that do not meet EPA requirements can be imported through an independent commercial importer (ICI), who will modify the car to meet EPA requirements. Note that these independent commercial importers can prove costly in terms of time and money, since they are required by the EPA to hold the vehicle for 15 days before it can be released by Customs.

Further details on EPA requirements for vehicles can be found here:

http://www.epa.gov/otaq/imports/documents/420b11015.pdf

What does the DOT require?

Cars made after Sept. 1, 1978 must meet bumper requirements, and cars made after model year 1987 must meet theft prevention standards. Vehicles that meet these standards need to have a certification label affixed by the original manufacturer near the driver’s side door. If your car meets requirements and lacks this label, make sure the sales contract identifies this fact. It can be presented to the Customs to expedite import.

Cars that do not meet DOT standards have to be imported by a DOT registered importer (RI). The RI is usually the same company as an ICI and will modify the car to bring it into compliance. In addition, as with an ICI, the RI cannot release the car until it meets requirements, and their services can be expensive, depending on what mechanical work needs to be done on the vehicle. Furthermore, you will need a DOT bond worth 1.5x of the dutiable value, plus the Customs entry bond required for non-conforming vehicles, worth 3x the vehicle’s dutiable value.

Flexport strongly suggests that you get estimates of the cost to bring your car into compliance before you decide to import it into the U.S.

Further details on DOT requirements can be found here: http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/rules/import/

USDA Oversight

The USDA gets involved with vehicles as well. Be sure that the vehicle you are importing is completely clean and free of soil, bugs, straw, etc. The USDA requires the undercarriage to be free of foreign soil to prevent the accidental import of foreign pests. In other words, the undercarriage needs to be thoroughly cleaned before import. Cars are visually inspected when entering the US. If the car does not meet standards, it may be barred from entering the US (and possibly forced to be exported back out of the country).

One Last Thought

Customs recommends against importing goods in your car. However, if you choose to do so, it is important to be aware that all goods are subject to additional duties. Everything in the car – commercial or personal – must be declared and processed separately from the vehicle itself.

The process of importing the car is complicated enough already, so we highly recommend shipping and declaring any personal effects or commercial purchases separately.

*Note that Flexport does not ship vehicles at this time. *

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