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Importing Japanese Used Cars Into United States

WHAT YOU CAN IMPORT

The following can be imported with minumum restrictions:

  • Older than 25 years - Does not need to meet any standards.
  • Older than 21 years - Does not need to meet EPA emmission standards.
  • Race cars - Only for vehicles that meet NHTSA and EPA requirements.
  • Show cars - For vehicle intended for show and have restricted travel use.
  • Kit cars - Only for vehicles that met NHTSA and EPA requirements.
  • Off-Road vehicles - Falls under the CPSC and EPA possible requirements.
  • Vehicles that has a manufacture's label on the engine compartment in English, attesting that it meets US Emission and Safety standards.

If you want to import a car less than 25 years old for driving on public roads, you must use a Registered Importer (RI) to comply it to Federal safety, bumper and theft prevention standards. If the motor vehicle is less than 21 years old, you must additionally hire a Independant Commerical Importer (ICI) to comply it to EPA emission standards.

When using a RI, there must be posted a "DOT Conformance Bond" worth one and a half times the vehicle's dutiable value. When using a ICI, a "Customs Bond" worth at least the vehicle's value is required by the EPA if the vehicle is being petitioned. Customs may still require the bond regardless if EPA requires.

Additionally, only those that are listed by NFTSA as eligible for importing may go through the process. If a vehicle is not listed, a RI must petition and prove to NFTSA that the vehicle meets, or can be modified to meet, all US Federal safety and bumper standards. Proving includes providing crash test data which is a very expensive process.

Because costs can become prohibitly high, it is very important that you throughally research your options to see if it is worth importing.

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HOW MUCH IT WILL COST

DUTY:
Auto -2.5%
Trucks -25%

Rates are based on price paid and/or payable.

OTHER COSTS:

RI (Registered Importer) Fees - If necessary.
ICI (Independent Commerical Importer) Fees - If necessary.

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REQUIRED DOCUMENTS

FOR CUSTOMS CLEARANCE:
  • Bill of Lading
  • Bill of Sale (all related Invoices)
  • Foreign Registration (Deregistration Certificate)
  • Any Other Documents covering the Vehicle
  • Completed EPA Form 3520-1
  • DOT Form HS-7

The two forms above are for declaring the emissions and safety provisions under which the vehicle is being imported.

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WHAT MUST BE DONE

Planning and Preparing

Importing into the United States can vary much ease, speed, and costs depending on which car you import. Before you begin, you should consider if the vehicle you want to import worth the effort, time, and money involved in importing.

Besides Canada, which has special agreements, any car produced with the intention to be sold in a country or countries besides the United States is "nonconforming". Nonconforming vehicles are those that have not been approved for selling within America and are thus not certified to pass US safety, bumper, theft prevention, and emission standards. When importing Japanese used cars, you must bring your vehicle into compliance with these standards and be able to prove so. This is unless you qualify for an exemption.

There are a number of exemptions, as mentioned in WHAT YOU CAN IMPORT found above. For example, there are the Age Exemptions. Importing an old car is the cheapest (and easiest) import because of the exemptions. A vehicle 25 years old and older can be imported without complying to any safety, bumper, theft prevention, or emission standards. A vehicle 21 years old or more can be imported without the need of passing any emission standards.

Hiring a Registered Importer

If you don't want an older car and want to use it on public roads/highways, you will need to hire an Registered Importer (RI) that can comply and certify the vehicle you want to import. What is important to know is that not every vehicle is "eligible" to be imported and not every RI can import every "eligible" car.

Eligible means to the NHTSA (National Highway Transport Services Agency - a division of DOT) that a vehicle has been proven able to comply with their safety, bumper, and theft prevention standards. Those vehicle that are eligible are listed the "List of Nonconforming Vehicles Eligible for Importation" found on NHTSA's Import page.

If you want to import that is not listed, you will need to hire a RI willing to petition the vehicle to become eligible on your behalf. To eligible, the RI must prove the car is or is able to be modified to be in conformance with safety and bumper standards. All vehicles must already be in conformance with the theft prevention standards at the time of importing. For more information, read United States Theft Prevention Standards.

If the car is listed, you will need to find who is the cheapest RI capable of importing that vehicle. You will also want to find out the cheapest Indepentant Commerical Importer (ICI) who can bring your car up to US emission standards.

Hiring a Independent Commercial Importer

ICI, or an Independant Commercial Importer, is company that is not connected to the government or an OEM (manufacturer) and is registered with the EPA Certification and Compliance Division. If an imported vehicle needs to prove that is able to comply with emission standards, it must be imported by an ICI. This means that they will be the ones entering and clearing your vehicle through Customs.

Any vehicle that is 21 years old and older does not have to be imported through an ICI. If the car is less than 21 years old, you must find a ICI that can import for you. A list of Independent Commercial Importers can be found at EPA's Importing Vehicles and Engines.

The vehicles that a ICI can import is limited. The ICI must have a certificate of conformity for any vehicle to import a car that is over 6 years old. For vehicles less than 6 years old, the ICI will need to have certificate of confromity for the exact same model, model year, and engine being imported.

Customs

Assuming you've verified your car is importable and you have made all necessary arrangements, the next step is at Customs. If you've hired an ICI, they will handle your Customs processing. Simply, they will ask you for all necessary information and funds to pay duty tax and clear the vehicle.

If you are importing a vehicle without the need of an ICI, bring documents listed in the REQUIRED DOCUMENTS section above. You will need to also pay Duty tax before they will clear your vehicle.

In the case your vehicle must be passed through an RI for modifications/certification, you should imediately have it transported to the RI or have it setup for the RI to pick up the vehicle themselves. One option US Customs give you is to have the car transported bonded to another bonded location before clearing Customs. This sometimes used by RI which have their facilities bonded. The advantage is the car be modified and tested before paying Duty.

Legalizing

If you need to pass any federal standards, they will be taken care of by those who you hire. One issue you should be aware of is your state may have additional standards that must be passed. For example, California has additional emission standards called CARB. Talk to your ICI if you need to pass additional requirements.

Once all all standards are meet, you can get the car released from bond. After being released from bond by both NHTSA and EPA, the vehicle can be brought to your local state's DMV or similar agency for registering for road use. If all is well, you should be given documents as normal.

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LINKS FOR THE UNITED STATES

NHTSA - Vehicle Importing Regulations
EPA - Importing Vehicles and Engines
CBP (Customs) - Import Spotlight

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