Importing/Exporting a Car

Unless you are a diplomat or military person with special import status, you will very likely not be allowed to bring a car into the host country with you.

In countries that will allow you to import a vehicle, you may face significant costs for shipping, modifying the vehicle to meet local standards and customs duties. If you still wish to give it a try, begin with the host country's Embassy to learn about import restrictions. You can locate various foreign embassies' home pages here.

More bad news: Bringing a car you purchased in the host country back to the U.S. is also very difficult. Cars purchased overseas are subject to duties and taxes and must meet U.S. safety and emission specifications.

If you think that last sentence means “expensive”, you are on the mark. Depending on the country of manufacture, you might have to replace the entire exhaust system, add on a catalytic converter, get new tires and replace all of the car's window glass with the proper type safety glass.

The really dangerous thing is that you can import a car “conditionally”, which means the guy at your foreign country end says he can put the car on a ship next Tuesday and you pay up. The car gets on the boat and is carried to the dock in L.A., where it goes into a Customs holding area pending you paying up to have all the modifications made. If you don't follow through, you will either have to pay to have it re-exported, or it will be destroyed “under Customs supervision.”

That all said, if it is your lifelong dream to import and own a real London black cab (as a friend wanted), the folks to start with are the U.S. Customs Service. You'll want their booklet “Importing a Car”.

You'll also need to chat with the Environmental Protection Agency. You'll want their pamphlet ‘Automotive Imports Facts Manual'. They also maintain an “auto safety hotline” for questions at 800-424-9393.

There is one possible exception on the export side. A relatively few overseas car makers will sell you a U.S.-spec vehicle overseas. You pick it up at the factory or dealer, drive it around and then make your own arrangements to ship it stateside. Since this is especially popular with European manufacturers, it is frequently called “European delivery.”

The key is that the car already meets U.S. safety and emission standards, though the expenses of taxes, duty and shipping still are there. VOLVO, BMW and Mercedes Benz have or have offered such programs. Ask lots of questions and be sure of what additional costs you'll be responsible for before slapping down any cash.

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