Shipping vehicles stateside

Vehicle shippers must clean their cars, vans or motorcycles from top to bottom, inside and out, before sending them stateside. Dirt and mud are strictly banned from objects to be shipped to the United States because soil-borne pests and diseases can do great harm to U.S. agriculture.

Dirt accumulates in many parts of a vehicle, so ensure yours is clean before the inspectors check it. The car body, engine compartment, trunk, wheel wells, bumpers and undercarriage must also be free of soil, dirt and vegetable matter. The contractor shipping vehicles under government contract will clean the undercarriage for you.

Inspectors also check for snails (especially in Turkey, Spain and Italy) and gypsy moth eggs (especially in Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg) that look like velvety buff or yellowish oval masses about 1½ inches long and ¾ inches wide. Pay special attention to mats and the spaces under seats when cleaning the vehicle interior. The inside must also be free of mud, soil, food scraps and vegetable matter.

Americans in Europe must also beware of car dealers who offer to convert cars or motorcycles to U.S. standards. You stand to lose a lot of money if you try to ship a vehicle “converted” in Europe to the States. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only accept work done by licensed companies in the United States, not the work of individuals or overseas companies. U.S. Customs can easily check vehicle identification numbers to detect phony conversions. It is tempting to try to save some money by doing work here in Europe, but overseas conversions are not licensed by U.S. agencies. However, vehicles rebuilt by the original European manufacturer to U.S. specifications can be imported with the proper documents. Under EPA regulations, nonconforming vehicles less than 21 years old may only enter the United States through an independent commercial importer. These vehicles must be tested and adapted to the emission standards in effect at the time of production. Vehicles that are 21 years old or older do not require EPA tests or conversions. DOT requires shippers of nonconforming vehicles to sign a contract with a registered import company that must certify in advance that it can convert the model to U.S. safety standards. The owner must also post a bond for one and a half times the vehicle’s dutiable value. Vehicles over 25 years old do not need conversion to U.S. safety, bumper and theft prevention standards. Shipping, paperwork and conversions cost between $6,500 and $25,000 per vehicle.

Links to help you ship a vehicle stateside.


Importing a car

Hints on shipping vehicles to the United States from the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. 

Safety conversions The Department of Transportation offers pages on: the current list of DOT licensed companies who can convert foreign vehicles to U.S. safety specifications, importing Canadian-spec vehicles, the eligibility list of vehicles that can be converted to U.S. specs and the forms for declaring the vehicle's status and posting a bond. NOTE: the list of Registered Importers for "gray market" cars is at the end of the "Importation Guidelines (Non-Canadian)" page. The other list includes all the other companies that only convert cars from Canada.

Vehicle importation information from the Environmetal Protection Agency includes a "What's New?" section, The Automotive Imports Facts Manual, Quick Overview, Approved Canadian Vehicles, Independent Commercial Importer List and the EPA 3520-1 Declaration Form.

Links to stateside DMVs

This page has links to all the state DMVs in the USA. Use these to find out about stateside license requirements and the state sales tax you will probably have to pay when you license your vehicle stateside.

Emission standards for nonroad engines

EPA emission regulations cover off-road vehicles such as snowmobiles, dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles as well as nonroad engines for machines such as lawn mowers, generators, aircraft and boat engines. Find out more with this link.

POV shipping information

Information on Vehicle Processing Centers, the "Shipping Your POV" pamphlet (PDF format) and the POV tracking system courtesy of the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.