Information Re: Importing to the USA (1 Viewer)

gilmorneau

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I’ve imported several Landcruisers from overseas in the last few years, and thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned about the process—where to find cars, how to get them shipped, how to get them through US Customs, what everything costs, how long it takes, who can help, what’s legal and what’s not, etc. Hopefully, this can serve as a reference for anyone interested in bringing a foreign-market vehicle to the USA (or buying one that’s already been imported). This might be a good candidate for the moderators to make a sticky of.

I’ve tried to organize it into sections, but it’s a ton of information, so take your time.
 

gilmorneau

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The first decision you probably need to make is whether you want to do this yourself, or whether you’d rather just contact someone who brings in cars and have them do it all for you. Obviously, that would cost a bit more than doing it yourself, but on the other hand, it’s certainly easier. There are several IH8MUD members who have imported cars for fun or profit from various parts of the world.

From Japan and Australia, contact: @SteveJackson at Landcruisers Direct
From the Middle East, contact @Honger who brings trucks over from time to time
From Europe, you can seriously do it all yourself if you read through this thread.
From South/Central America, no idea who to call.

For certain imports, you may need to use a Registered Importer, which is a specific, government-defined and sanctioned entity, about which there’s more information later in this thread.
 
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gilmorneau

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THE BASICS

Most people who’ve looked into importing cars know about the 25-year rule. That is, you can’t legally import a car into the US unless it’s over 25 years old. The details are more nuanced than that, and there are exceptions that I’ll get to later, but that’s the essence of it.

If you decide to import a car, there are several agencies of the US government that you’ll deal with, chief among them are: US Customs and Border Protection, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Department of Agriculture.

The NHTSA will want to be sure that the car is either: in compliance with all relevant US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards in effect when the car was built, or that it is exempt from them. Lucky for us, the NHTSA grants an exemption for cars over 25 years old. Hence the 25-year rule.

The EPA wants to be sure that either: the car meets all relevant US Federal emissions requirements in effect as of its manufacture date, or, as above, is exempt from them. Again, lucky for us, the EPA grants an exemption for cars over 21 years old. It’s not a blanket exemption, however. The EPA requires vehicles to be in “original unmodified configuration” to receive the exemption.

The USDA wants to be sure the vehicle is clean of any foreign soil or other organic matter in order to prevent accidental entry of non-native, harmful, or invasive bio organisms to the US.

US Customs is mostly a clearing house for making sure that you’ve followed all the rules; that all the paperwork for the car and import process, as well as all the paperwork for NHTSA and EPA, is in order and that you’ve paid the relevant import duty (tax). You can clear your car through Customs yourself if your import is over 25 years old, but I’ve always used a Customs Broker and would highly recommend it. Doesn’t cost much relatively speaking and it’s always gone very smoothly.
 
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gilmorneau

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THE PAPERWORK:

NHTSA form HS-7
. This is the form on which you declare that the vehicle you’re importing is either conforming to or exempt from US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. If your car is 25 years old or more, it will be exempt, and you check box 1 and state the manufacture date (month/year).

You’ll find the form here:

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/hs7_r.v.7.pdf

There’s a video “how to” for completing the form here:



EPA form 3520-1. This is the form on which you declare that the vehicle you’re importing is either conforming to or exempt from US Federal emissions regulations. If your car is 21 years old or more, it will be exempt, and you check box “Code E”.

You’ll find the form here:


There’s a video “how to” for completing the form here:



(Neither the EPA nor the NHTSA ask you to prove that your car is exempt, BTW, only to declare it. It’s tempting to think that you could bring in any car if you just “declare” it to be exempt, and I’m sure people have tried, but declaring something to the US government when it’s not actually true is called perjury. It’s a felony.

That said, if your car gets held up in Customs for some reason, it’s possible that you may actually be asked to prove the facts you’ve declared. It’s best to know how to get some documentation. In the instance that your car gets held in Customs for any reason, it will accrue port and storage fees, and possibly fines. Unfortunately, nothing you can do about it but pay it. It’s never happened to me, and if you do everything “by the book”, ship RORO, and use a Customs broker, it’s unlikely to happen to you. )

Bill of sale. BoS should include buyer and seller names and addresses, vehicle description, year, make, and model, VIN, date of sale, sale price, and any other pertinent information. BTW, the amount you’ll pay in duty (import tax) is keyed off the amount on the Bill of Sale.

Power of Attorney. This is the form that allows a Customs Broker to legally act on your behalf in dealing with US Customs. It’s a generic legal document and samples abound on the internet if you’d like to see what one looks like. If you’re not using a Broker, obviously you wouldn’t need this.

Bill of Lading. Like an address label and tracking information. Has sender, recipient, the name of the ship, the port it’s sailing from, the destination port, description of the cargo, etc. It’s wise to confirm that all the data is correct.

Importer Security Filing. Required by US Customs (or is it Homeland Security?) for “security purposes”, it seems redundant, but they can’t live without it. Has much the same info as the BoL. This needs to be filed before cargo is loaded onto a ship headed to the USA

The Arrival Notice. As the name implies, notice of arrival. This comes with an invoice for Terminal Handling Charges (T.H.C.) and Wharfage.

Cargo Release and Delivery Order. As their names imply. You’ll need them to pick up the car at the port.

The Entry Summary, CBP form 7501. This is proof positive that your vehicle has cleared US Customs.

I’d recommend keeping a folder with printed copies of all the documents you accumulate during the process. You’ll need some of them when you pick up the car at the port, and may need some to register and title the car in your home state.
 
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gilmorneau

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WHERE TO FIND CARS (and what you might find)

Below are the places most people are going to source a Landcruiser to import, with my observations about what you might find in each place. Take my comments as one man’s opinion—others may disagree.

BTW, you should probably be prepared to compromise. That is, you’re not likely to find exactly the car you’re looking for—model, year, equipment, motor, color, etc. Remember you’re looking at 25+ year-old used cars that weren’t sold in large numbers to begin with in many markets, and not all options were available everywhere. In the case of Landcruisers, they were usually sold and used as work trucks, and many have suffered the ravages of time. Be prepared to sift through a lot of cars to find the nice ones.

Europe: This is where I’ve sourced all my imports. I like the fact that they’re all left hand drive (like here in the US), and most European countries have some sort of annual inspection as a requirement for registration to ensure that cars are roadworthy and at least minimally maintained. OTOH, there are many areas of Europe where rust can be a problem on old cars (worse as you go north), so know your tolerance for it and inspect any potential purchases closely. Some cars in Europe are sold “for export”, which usually means they won’t pass inspection and the seller anticipates they’ll end up in Africa where rules are more lax. Some of these export cars can be pretty bad, so caveat emptor. Also noteworthy is that air conditioning was a rare option on some models in Europe 25+ years ago.

Here are some European websites with “for sale” listings:

AutoScout24 Europe's car market for new and used cars - https://www.autoscout24.com/ Europe-wide

https://www.mobile.de/?lang=en Germany

https://www.leboncoin.fr/ France

Subito.it - https://www.subito.it/annunci-italia/vendita/auto/ Italy

MILANUNCIOS | Coches de segunda mano y ocasión - https://www.milanuncios.com/coches-de-segunda-mano/ Spain

② Tweedehands & nieuwe auto's kopen en verkopen | 2dehands - https://www.2dehands.be/c/auto-s/c91.html Belgium

Japan: I briefly flirted with buying and importing from Japan, but ultimately decided I wanted LHD. Virtually all cars sourced in Japan are RHD, which might not bother you, and if not, read on. As far as I know, all used cars in Japan are sold via auction, that is, you would never buy a used car directly from a private party seller there. To find cars, you can go to an auction site like this one:

Japanese car auction. Used Cars from Japan. Car auctions online. Vehicles, Bikes, Parts - https://auc.japancardirect.com/

Some sites require a subscription to gain full access to all the details or to bid on cars.

You’ll find a ton of useful and detailed information on the process of importing from Japan here:

DIY GUIDE TO IMPORTING A 25 YEAR+ OLD FOREIGN VEHICLE INTO THE U.S. - https://wittymelon.wordpress.com/portfolio/importing-vehicles-into-the-u-s/

Japan is a small country, so you can frequently find vehicles with relatively low mileage and in remarkably good condition for their age. First class parts and service availability means many cars have been very well maintained. But Japan is also an island, so some cars have lived near the sea and been exposed to salt air and lots of moisture. Rust can be an issue depending on where a car is located and how it was cared for. Not all models are available in Japan, but then some other models are Japan market only.

Australia: Again, pretty much exclusively RHD, but there are heaps of Landcruisers in Australia. You almost can’t step out of your house there without bumping into one.

You’ll find “for sale” listings here:

Gumtree Australia - https://www.gumtree.com.au/cars

https://www.carsales.com.au/

Most of the population centers in Australia are on a coast, and Australians love to drive their trucks on the beach where saltwater can cause problems with corrosion. Australia is also vast, so oftentimes trucks will have very high km’s and commensurate wear. On the other hand, some Australians love their trucks and maintain them religiously. There’s a well established supply chain for parts and service there, so it’s less likely you’ll find the bodged, improvised repairs that are common in developing countries. There’s so many Landcruisers there, you can find one in just about any condition and configuration.

South/Central America: I don’t have any direct experience importing from South or Central America because I’ve always been wary of the quality of the inventory, but there are people on IH8MUD who’ve imported or owned such vehicles, so perhaps they’ll comment. I will say that I’ve seen a lot of fresh paint and new interiors over who-knows-what on cars that might look good from a distance, but warrant closer inspection, to put it politely. A lot of these cars seem to end up in Florida, then on eBay, Bring a Trailer, and elsewhere. Not to say it’s impossible to find a car in good shape there, only that it’s wise to look closely before you buy (which, come to think of it, I suppose is true anywhere).

Africa & The Middle East: I know there are guys on here who’ve brought trucks in from the Middle East. Mostly guys who served in the military or who work and live there. Maybe they’ll see this and add some information. Older trucks from the Middle East tend to be used as work vehicles in a harsh environment and with sometimes limited resources available, so expect to find wear and tear and maybe some imaginative repairs. Not too much trouble with rust (though it is possible). Sometimes they’ll come with air conditioning but no heat, so there’s that.
 

gilmorneau

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WHO CAN HELP WITH AN OVERSEAS PURCHASE

Unless you’ve found a particularly accommodating seller, you’re going to need some help--boots on the ground where the car is. Most overseas sellers won’t want to bother with you if you respond to their ad and tell them you’re a buyer in the USA. It’s much easier for them to sell locally.

It’s important to note, however, that if you hire someone overseas to inspect a car for you, and/or arrange its shipment to the USA, it’s still your job to decide whether to buy or not buy a specific car. They’ll look at it for you, and make the arrangements, but value judgments are for you to make. You’ll need to ask the right questions and get the information and photos you need to make an informed decision. This is true for any broker or agent whose services you contract. My experience has been that buyers tend to be overly optimistic about the condition of cars they’ve not seen in person, and they assume that the broker, agent, or seller has the same metric for judging vehicle condition as they do. Everybody’s different. What a guy in Detroit might call “light rust”, a guy in Arizona might call “rotted beyond salvation”. Get photos. Ask questions.

In Europe, you can get help from this guy:

Busman: VW T3 syncro specialist and car buying service for Defender, Land Cruiser and Mercedes G - https://busmaneurope.com/

He used to specialize in shipping rare versions of VW syncro 4x4 vans to buyers around the world, but has expanded his business to include Landcruisers, Land Rovers, and G-wagens, among other things. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend his services. It makes things SO much easier to have someone on the other end who speaks the languages and knows the ropes. He’ll call the seller on your behalf, get answers to all your questions, and go see the car in person if you decide to move forward with purchasing it. He’ll handle the money exchange with the seller, and take the car to the port for you and get it shipped.

Note that intra-Europe transport can get expensive. If the car you want to buy is far from a shipping port, it will need to be transported there at your expense. Both fuel and labor are expensive in Europe, so this can add up quickly. Not a big deal, and easy to arrange, but it needs to be factored into your expenses.



If buying from Japan, there are lots of options, but I can recommend these guys from experience:

Japan Car Direct - https://japancardirect.com/

I got as far as sending them a deposit (earnest money) which they refunded without drama when I decided not to buy. They’re in Japan and know the car auction and shipping business. They’ll send you photos and condition reports of vehicles you’re interested in, and inspect them in person for you prior to purchase, as well as making all the shipping arrangements for you. There are several other businesses that offer similar services.

That’s it for people I’ve personally dealt with for help in finding and shipping a car from overseas, but if anyone has specific recommendations for help “on the ground” in the Middle East, Australia, or South/Central America, hopefully this thread will entice them to post.
 

gilmorneau

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RORO vs CONTAINER

RORO means Roll On, Roll Off, meaning your car will be driven onto and off of the ship for transport, and means (of course) that your car must be drivable. It’s probably going to be less expensive than Container shipping, but it depends where your POL (Port of Loading) and POD (Port of Discharge) are which method I’d recommend. I’ve never had the slightest problem with RORO, but I’ve always shipped out of Zeebrugge, Belgium, which is a hub for shipping new cars from Europe to the US. Thousands of brand new Fiats, Volvos, Audis, Mercedes, BMWs or whatever leave RORO from Zeebrugge all the time on giant floating parking garage ships headed for America. They save a few spaces on each ship for guys like us to put our “classics”. Port Hueneme is one of the ports that receives a lot of those new cars. If they can safely transport all those millions of dollars worth of brand new cars via RORO, they’re not going to have a problem with one old Landcruiser. On the other hand, if I were shipping out of a generic cargo port (rather than one that routinely handles cars), particularly in some parts of the world (use your imagination), I’d probably prefer to containerize my car for a secure journey. Note that container shipping can sometimes cause more headaches when clearing Customs in the US.
 

gilmorneau

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AN EXAMPLE OF HOW IT ALL WORKS

In this section I’m going to detail my experience importing a Landcruiser from Europe to my home in Colorado, with timeline, procedures, and expenses. In this case, I kept a log of everything that happened during the process. There may be variations when you do it, based on where you source a car and who (if anyone) you have help you, but the principles of importing are similar regardless. It went like this:

July 10: I found a car that I was interested in for sale in Europe; it was advertised on Mobile.de

July 13: I contacted Busman.be (see above) to inquire about the car on my behalf, get some questions answered, and obtain some photos.

July 16: Busman went to see the car in person and sent me 80 photographs and a video.

July 17: After some negotiating with the seller, I agreed to buy the car for about 5% less than the asking price. As everywhere, some sellers will negotiate, some won’t. This guy was being a bit of a curmudgeon, but I got him to give a little.

July 24: Busman made arrangements with the seller to pick up the car, and I wired funds to Busman to pay for the car and cover his fee. Since the car wasn’t too far from his place, the fee for this particular job was €500. (His fee varies with the distance he needs to travel to get the car.) This was the first time during the process of buying this car that I’d spent any money: It cost me the price of the car + Busman fee of €500 + wire fee from my bank of $45.

August 1: Busman has the car in his possession.

August 4: Busman transports the car to the port and arranges for shipment.

August 5: I received a shipping quote from International Car Operators (aka ICO--the shipping line) to have the car shipped Roll On, Roll Off from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Port Hueneme in California.

The shipping quote broke down like this: $1231 + €270 flat rate, plus misc. document and courier charges that came to just over €100. Grand total was just under $1700.00 when everything was converted to US dollars. This is not a fixed rate for every shipment from Europe to the USA, BTW. On another day, under different circumstances (price of fuel, sailing schedules, destination port, etc.) the price could be less, could be more, but this is fairly typical pricing. Payment not due at this time, I pay it later.

Also on August 5, the shipping line requested a copy of the Bill of Sale, which had been provided by the seller. Usually, the seller will complete and sign the BoS then email it to me as a pdf, which I can print and sign so I then have a BoS with both our signatures on it. This seems to work for everyone, including the shipping line, US Customs, and my local DMV. Anyway, I sent them a copy of the BoS as requested.

ICO sent me estimated sailing schedule: depart Zeebrugge 8/24, arrive Hueneme 9/23.

Lastly, on August 5 (busy day), I contacted my Customs Broker via email to notify her that I had another car coming, and advise her of the schedule.

August 11: My Customs broker requested that I submit (via email) some necessary paperwork, which I did this day. Specifically, the following:

EPA form 3520-1

NHTSA form HS-7

Power of Attorney

Copy of Vehicle Title from Europe

Bill of Sale


August 12: Received some documents from the shipping company. Specifically:

A draft Bill of Lading

The Importer Security Filing

I forwarded both documents to my Customs Broker. No further action required by me at this time.

August 25: Received notice that the ship had sailed and also got the invoice from the shipping company. Wired them payment as itemized above (about $1700), and paid my bank their exorbitant wire fee of $45.

August 27: Shipping company confirmed receipt of payment and notified me that they would be sending the car’s documents via DHL. This includes the vehicle’s Title (original, not a copy), and sometimes some other pertinent stuff. Depends on what the seller provided.

August 31: Received the documents via DHL. All in good order.

September 10: Received a document from NYK, the shipping and logistics company. Specifically:

The Arrival Notice. This came with an invoice for Terminal Handling Charges (T.H.C.) and Wharfage. Total in this case was $150.00. I paid via wire, but since it’s a domestic wire, my bank only charged me $25.00.

September 22: Received notice that the ship had arrived at Port Hueneme, CA.

Sent payment to my Customs Broker. Her fees included: $185 to clear the car through Customs, $50 to file the ISF on my behalf, $100 bond fee, and 2.5% of the vehicle’s sale price in duty.

September 23: Received notice that the vehicle had cleared Customs and was available for pick up.

Ports will usually grant some “free days” so you can make the necessary arrangements to either get there yourself to get it, or hire someone to pick it up for you. Port Hueneme gives 5 free days. It might be different at other ports, I don’t remember. I’ve picked up cars at Newark and at Galveston as well as Hueneme, and never had to pay any port storage.

I also received a couple more documents from my Customs Broker this day, specifically, the Cargo Release and Delivery Order.

September 25: Having received payment, my Customs Broker sent me stamped copies of the Customs Clearance forms. Specifically:

The Entry Summary, CBP form 7501, which proves the vehicle has cleared US Customs

September 28: I had arranged to have a transport company pick the car up at the port since I was not available to get it myself in this instance. Whether you hire someone or go get it yourself, you (or your transport guy) will need to have a copy of the Delivery Order with you, and you should also have your Entry Summary available.

Ports are secured locations (like airports), so you can’t just go wandering around in there. You’ll need to call ahead, make an appointment to pick up your car, and usually arrange for an escort while on Port property. The fee for the escort varies from port to port. I’ve paid nothing, and I’ve paid, like, $25 or something. If you’re hiring someone to pick up the car for you (a transport company) be sure the driver has a TWIC card (Transportation Worker Identification Credential). Having one is a Dept. of Homeland Security requirement for them to get on port property and pick up your car.

September 30: The driver delivered my car to me in Colorado. Transporting the car from Port Hueneme to my place in Boulder, CO was $850, which is more or less typical. Price of transport within the USA varies with the cost of diesel and demand, so it could be more, could be less on another day.

So that’s pretty much the whole process, from the seller’s driveway in Europe to mine in Colorado. Here’s a summary:

It took 82 days from the time I first saw the car advertised online until it was in my driveway. (My own laziness might have added a few days here and there, so figure this as being on the lengthy end of normal. It could probably be done in as little as 60 days if you’re diligent and lucky.)

It cost me: The sale price of the car + 2.5% import duty + $2890 for shipping and Customs stuff + $850 to have it transported to my house in Colorado from the port in California.
 

gilmorneau

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DUTY.

The amount you pay in duty (import tax) when importing goods into the USA is determined by what’s called an HTS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule) code. Every type of imported commodity is classified in the HTS codes, and each code lists the amount of duty to be collected for each specific item or type of goods. You’ll find the HTS codes here:

Harmonized Tariff Schedule PDFs - https://hts.usitc.gov/current

You can sort through them if you like, but as you might imagine, it’s a lot of information. If you hire a Customs Broker, they will do this for you. If your shipping company has experience shipping cars, they’ll know the proper HTS codes. Your vehicle’s configuration, engine displacement, fuel type, and the manufacturer’s intended function will all dictate which HTS code is appropriate. No distinction is made in the HTS between new and used cars. The major distinction that’s of concern to importers of vehicles is whether your vehicle was manufactured with the primary purpose of carrying passengers, or with the primary purpose of carrying goods. Generally speaking, passenger vehicles have a 2.5% import tax, while cargo carrying light trucks and vans have a 25% import tax. The 25% duty is called the “chicken tax”. You can learn about it here:

Chicken tax - Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_tax

No one likes the chicken tax except maybe American truck manufacturers who benefit from the lack of competition it enables. BTW, adding seats in the back of your pickup or cargo van doesn’t make it a passenger car. The tax is based on the vehicle as originally configured by the manufacturer, it’s not based on any modifications you may perform in order to avoid paying the tax (of course).
 

gilmorneau

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WHAT IS LEGAL TO IMPORT?

There are always a lot of questions about what’s legal and what’s not. The easiest place to start is probably the NHTSA form HS-7, which details the different ways that you can legally import a car into the USA. The options given on the HS-7 are comprehensive, and nothing has been excluded. If it’s legal to bring it in, it’s listed as an option on the HS-7. As a reminder, the form is here:

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/hs7_r.v.7.pdf

The top bit of the form is relatively generic and self-explanatory. The numbered boxes that make up the bulk of the form are the interesting part. To legally import a car, you must select one of the options from this list. Here are the choices, paraphrased and summarized for brevity (my comments in italics):

Box 1: The vehicle is over 25 years old. It’s exempt from FMVSS and you can import it. This is the winner for most people, but read on if you must have a newer than 25 year old car.

Box 2: The vehicle complies with all US FMVSS and has a manufacturer’s sticker to prove it, or the vehicle complies with all Canadian Safety Standards. Unless the vehicle was originally sold new in the US or Canada, this won’t be the case.

Box 3: The vehicle is to be imported by a Registered Importer and modified (within 120 days) to meet all relevant FMVSS. Now, this is actually a way to get some newer than 25 year old vehicles imported legally. If there’s a “substantially similar” version that was sold in the USA, it should be possible for a Registered Importer to modify an import to meet FMVSS, albeit sometimes at great expense. (More info about this in a subsequent post)

Box 4: You’re only importing the vehicle to immediately export it. This is probably not your plan.

Box 5: You’re a foreign citizen importing your car for personal use while you’re in the US and you’ll export it after no more than a year. Can’t sell it or keep it here. Probably not your situation.

Box 6: You’re a foreign diplomat or ambassador or something like that. You’re probably not.

Box 7: You’re importing the vehicle for research, demonstration, or racing. You’ll never drive it on the road, you can’t sell it, you can keep it for a maximum of 1 year (at the discretion of the NHTSA), and you agree to export it or destroy it when you’re done with it. Probably isn’t, but If you think this is you, the application is here:


Box 8: Vehicle was not manufactured for use on public roads. People have misread this as being a great big loophole, as in: “if I tell the Feds my import is for off-road use only, they’ll let me have anything.” But that’s not what this says. It doesn’t matter what you intend to do with it, it only matters for what purpose the manufacturer built it. In the case of any Landcruiser ever built, Toyota made them to be driven on public roads. Sorry. This section pertains to tractors or whatever, not Landcruisers. You can try if you want. The application is here:


Box 9: The vehicle was supplied by the manufacturer incomplete. This would be for something like a cab/chassis that is intended to be built into a motorhome, for example, and when everything that’s on the partial vehicle conforms to FMVSS. It doesn’t apply if you take your new Landcruiser apart overseas and ship it in pieces.

Box 10: Show and Display. Everybody thinks this is another big loophole, too. It’s not really. The application is here if you want to try:

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/appsd_permissionjuly2014_r.v.2.pdf

Read the Terms of Importation. Pretty limiting. You can’t drive it, you can’t sell it, and honestly, a Landcruiser would not normally be accepted for a Show and Display exemption anyway—most of them aren’t that special (I suspect some at the Landcruiser Musuem might be here on Show and Display, but then, they’re showing and displaying them).

Box 11: Doesn’t apply to vehicles, only to parts.

Box 12: You are a member of the Armed Forces of a foreign country on assignment in the US and want your own car for personal use. Can’t sell it while you’re here, and you agree to export it when you leave. Probably not you.

Box 13: You are a Registered Importer and plan to petition the NHTSA to have the car considered for import. If your petition fails, you agree to export, surrender, or destroy the vehicle. Self explanatory.

And that’s it. That’s the sum total of all the different ways you can legally import a vehicle into the USA.
 

gilmorneau

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REGISTERED IMPORTERS (and when you need to use them):

As noted at “box 3” of the NHTSA HS-7 form, in some instances you can use a Registered Importer to bring a newer than 25 year old (nonconforming) car into the US legally.

The NHTSA publishes a list of Registered Importers here:

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/active_ri_list_as_of_august_2_2018.pdf

(This list is from 2018—there must be a more up-to-date one somewhere, or just contact NHTSA.)

The NHTSA also publishes a list of nonconforming vehicles that are eligible for importation. That list is here (henceforth referred to as “the list”):

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/elig120115.pdf

If the vehicle you desire is on the list, someone else has already gone through the procedure of petitioning the government to allow it in with modifications. It can thus be imported through a Registered Importer and modified (at your expense) to conform with US safety regulations.

If the vehicle you want to import is not on the list, but there is a US equivalent version of it (“substantially similar”), you can petition the government to allow you to import it through a Registered Importer if it can be shown that it’s possible to modify it to meet US FMVSS regulations.

Here’s a sample of what to expect from the petition process:

Notice of Receipt of Petition for Decision That Nonconforming 1999 to 2006 Toyota Land Cruiser IFS 100 Series Multipurpose Passenger Vehicles Manufactured Prior to September 1, 2006 Are Eligible for Importation - https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2012/04/04/2012-8003/notice-of-receipt-of-petition-for-decision-that-nonconforming-1999-to-2006-toyota-land-cruiser-ifs



Lastly, if the vehicle (newer than 25 years old) that you want to import is not on the list, and there’s no US version of it, it’s still possible to petition the government to allow you to import and modify it, but the bar is set somewhat higher. From the NHTSA website:

“If there is no substantially similar U.S.-certified vehicle, the petition must specify that the vehicle has safety features that comply with, or are capable of being altered to comply with, the FMVSS based on destructive test information or other evidence the agency deems adequate.”

That’s right, if there’s no “substantially similar” US version, the government may ask for crash testing before they’ll put a car on the eligibility list. Ouch. Of course, that doesn’t mean that crash testing is mandatory, only that they can ask you to do it if they feel it’s necessary in order to confirm that the safety features of the vehicle meet US FMVSS requirements. If you can somehow convince them that the car will meet FMVSS without crash testing, they allow that as a possibility, but ultimately, it’s up to them, not you.
 

gilmorneau

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THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

With all requirements of the NHTSA met, let’s consider those of the EPA. For them, you’ll need to complete form 3520-1, which, again, you’ll find here:

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-07/documents/form3520-1-2020-07-secured-enabled.pdf

Similar to the NHTSA, the EPA is asking you to declare whether your vehicle is conforming (to Federal Emissions Standards), or is exempt from them, and giving you options from which to choose. All of this is assuming you’ve already satisfied the requirements of the NHTSA, BTW. This is in addition to, not instead of, NHTSA compliance.

If you’re wanting to import a car less than 21 years old that was originally sold in a market other than the US or Canada, it’s pretty safe to say it’s not conforming and options labeled “code B”, “code F”, “code EE” and “code FF” do not apply as they are only for US or Canadian vehicles that meet all motor vehicle emissions standards of those countries.

So you need to determine by what means your import is exempt. There are only two options, but obviously, “code E” (the vehicle is over 21 years old) is the most relevant for almost everyone. The other option pertains only to Canadian or special hardship cases.

The other ways the EPA will let you import a non-conforming vehicle are:

-Vehicles excluded from EPA jurisdiction

-Vehicles being imported on a temporary basis

-Vehicles being imported by an Independent Commercial Importer for the purpose of modification to meet EPA regulations

-and OEM imports

You can read through the other options on EPA form 3520, but they’re not very appealing, and won’t generally apply to anyone wanting to import a less than 21 year old vehicle for use or sale in the USA.

BTW, for a good time, read the section titled “penalties”. It’s a hoot. Don’t mess with the EPA, I guess. Quoted here for your amusement:

“Any person who knowingly makes any false or fraudulent statement, or omits or conceals a material fact can be fined up to $320,000 or imprisoned for up to 5 years, or both. Any person who improperly imports a motor vehicle or engine may be fined up to $44,539 per, and may be subject to forfeiture of the entire importation bond, and U.S.Customs may seize the vehicle.”
 

gilmorneau

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A WEE LITTLE LOOPHOLE

The more observant among you may have noticed that the NHTSA requires the car be over 25, while the EPA only asks that cars be over 21 years old to get an exemption. The implications of this are that you could, in theory, import a car over 21 years old, but less than 25 years old. You would need to have the car brought in by a Registered Importer, and modified to meet FMVSS, but the advantage in this scenario is that the vehicle would have an exemption from EPA regulations, so you could get a motor that was never offered in the USA and is not EPA certified and still be OK. In terms of Landcruisers, it’s 2021 now, so this would apply to 1996-2000 Landcruiser 80 and 100 series. Only the IFS versions of the 100 series are on “the list”, so it wouldn’t apply to the HZJ105 models, but you could get a 80 or 100 with the awesome 1HD-FT/E turbo diesel motor. Less than 25 years old. Totally legal.
 

gilmorneau

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For those who really, really want a foreign-market car NEWER than 25 years old (and want to explore the margins of legality):

OK, let’s say you’re not satisfied bringing in a 25+ year old Landcruiser, or you can’t find one that’s nice enough for you, or the model you want, or whatever, and you want to know if there’s a way to get a newer one into the USA. First, let me say that if there’s a legal way to import a car into the USA, I’ve spelled it out above. I don’t think I forgot anything. But we all know that some guys just must have the forbidden fruit. The factors that come into play then become, “how far are you willing to push the rules?” and “what is your tolerance for risk?”

Consider these hypothetical scenarios:

Let’s say you just flat out smuggle a nonconforming car into the US. Ship it in a container, lie on the paperwork, drive it off the port and register it in Florida. Boom. Done. Assuming you manage to escape detection by Customs (no small task), you now have a titled and licensed-in-the-USA foreign-market car that’s less than 25 years old. Easy peasy, right? One problem: sneaking a car past Customs doesn’t mean that the car is legally in the USA. It means you’re a smuggler and the car is contraband. Even if another guy did the smuggling, and sold it to another guy, and you bought it from that guy, the car is still contraband and in the country illegally. It can be confiscated and destroyed by the US Government, and you can be prosecuted, even if you “didn’t know” (and especially if you did). This from US Customs and Border Protection:

“If you purchase a vehicle that was brought into the U.S. and sold without being properly entered through CBP, that vehicle is subject to seizure.”

So, if someone in the USA has a less than 25-year old foreign-market car for sale here, it is almost certainly illegal in some way. Either it’s just plain in the country illegally, or it’s in the country legally, but it’s illegal to sell it. All the rules spelled out in gory detail previously in this thread apply to cars that are already here, too. There’s nothing magic about that moment when a car crosses the border into America such that the rules only apply then. They always apply

And don’t be tricked into thinking that because a vehicle has license plates and registration that it therefore must be in the US legally. Not true. Registration of vehicles is handled by individual States and is governed by their laws. Importation of vehicles is a Federal matter, and thus governed by Federal laws. It is completely possible to be in compliance with a State law and in violation of a Federal one. (For example, anybody in Colorado and several other states can buy and posses weed without breaking any state laws, but it’s still a Federal crime. The state of Colorado can’t come after you for it, but the Feds can if they choose to.) All of the cars seized and crushed in the notorious YouTube videos were registered and had license plates. It didn’t matter to the Feds.

OK, so how about this: Some Landcruisers were virtually unchanged for many years. Take for example the 70-series. Suppose I just buy one that’s over 25 years old and swap the old VIN tag onto a new 70-series before I bring it over? Now I’ve got a “25-year old” brand new car. They’re pretty much the same car, so what does it matter? Fraud is why it matters. Perjury is why it matters. Both are felonies. I can’t suggest you go there unless your risk tolerance is very high.

Not one to take “no” for an answer, maybe you think you’ll just import a 25+ year old one legally. Get it registered, legally. Insured and everything. Vanity plates, even. Then go online and start ordering new parts: update the fenders and hood to the new style. New style headlights. New seats and seatbelts. Maybe buy a cool new diesel motor from Australia or Europe to put in there. Tear out the old leaf springs and put in coils from a newer model. Whatever you like. Sadly, that’s not legal strictly speaking, either. Many of those parts you’ve swapped onto the car won’t meet US FMVSS, and you lose the EPA exemption if you swap motors (it’s considered tampering, and it’s a violation of the Clean Air Act).

Obviously, there are degrees to which a person can bend the rules, and there are different levels of risk in so doing. VIN swapping and smuggling are waaaaay over my head when it comes to risk, but maybe you’re comfortable with them, or you feel the risk level and potential penalty are acceptable consequences. Up to you. Everybody’s different.
 

gilmorneau

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ENFORCEMENT:

Which brings me to enforcement. Lots of things are illegal, and we do them with little risk: We drive 5mph over the speed limit on the Interstate, or forget to signal a lane change. Whatever. Small potatoes. Even if we get pulled over, maybe we have to pay a ticket. Smuggling goods into the US or being in possession of contraband the stakes are much higher. But the question is, “how likely are you to get caught and have to deal with the consequences?” And the answer is: “Who knows?” It could happen, but will it happen to you?

Let’s say for example you’re a “businessman” knowingly importing newer than 25 year-old cars illegally, and your modus operandi is VIN swapping. You’ve done maybe a couple dozen cars this way and sold them in the USA to unsuspecting buyers to whom you’ve lied about the cars’ provenance and legality. Chances are good you may get caught. If you do, you’re in deep doodoo, and all the people to whom you’ve sold cars get a 5am wake-up call from armed Federal agents coming to confiscate their cars—surprise! This is one of the higher probability-of-legal-trouble scenarios. It sucks if you’re just the unsuspecting buyer, but there it is. There was a case not terribly dissimilar to this a few years ago where several people got their Land Rovers seized by the Government. Much litigation ensued. Fortunately, all the owners eventually got their trucks returned, but mostly because of the tireless pro bono work of a Land Rover loving attorney, and the fact that the Government had a poorly documented, weak case. If the Feds could have produced the receipts, so to speak, those cars could have been seized and destroyed. In other cases, cars have been. In those cases, there was nothing for the owners to do but pay the fines and write off their cars.

Now let’s say instead that you’ve played by the rules, or have at least acted in good faith, and imported a 25+ year old truck and then, after you get it home, modify it with a non-EPA certified motor swap and some not FMVSS compliant seatbelts and headlights and other parts. Are you going to get the 5am wakeup call from the Feds? Are they going to crush your car? Realistically? Probably not. Sure, what you did is illegal. You’ve violated Federal statute. But really, the US Justice Department has bigger fish to fry, don’t you think? Once a car is registered in your home state, you mostly need to satisfy your local jurisdiction’s laws and regulations. The Feds probably aren’t even looking. Not that they couldn’t, of course, and don’t come crying to me if they bust you, but I wouldn’t stay up nights worrying about it.

To get an idea of the likelihood of prosecution, there’s this relevant little tidbit:


“If prosecutors ( in the federal system) conclude that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, they will ask if reasons exist that suggest that the prosecution should not be brought. Typical reasons might be that it’s a small enough infraction that it’s not worth their time, that they don’t have enough resources, or that the prosecution won’t have any deterrence value

The Principles of Federal Prosecution are intended to guide prosecutors in the exercise of their discretion…(and)… deal with the specifics of the offense and the nature of the defendant. How serious is the crime? How culpable is the accused in the scheme, and what is his role? What is his criminal history? And, more generally, what would be the deterrent value of the prosecution?”



From this you could reasonably infer that while modifying your personal vehicle in the privacy of your own garage may in fact be illegal in some way, the chances of Federal prosecution are likely small. On the other hand, if you’re in the business of intentionally defrauding the US Government and citizens of America, especially if you’re doing it blatantly and on a larger scale, they are much more likely to come after you. It’s all a matter of degree—the seriousness of the violation, and your tolerance for risk.

There are those who believe that any minor violation of any NHTSA or EPA rule will inexorably lead to the dreaded pre dawn raid of Federal Agents confiscating the illegal car and dramatically crushing it on YouTube while the pitiful owner becomes someone’s b*tch in jail. Not true. There are also those who believe that they can get away with anything, or that their ignorance of the law or steadfast belief in untruths will protect them from the consequences of their actions. That’s not true either.

If you’re going to do something that may be of questionable legality, at least try to have a sound, well documented argument that purports to show why it’s not. Claiming you “didn’t know” or whining that things “shouldn’t be that way” won’t get you very far in a courtroom on the remote chance things come to that.

Naturally, there are many shades of gray in such matters. What if:

-You legally import a 25+ year old car but replace the body with a new (<25 yrs old) foreign-market body? You keep the chassis, engine, and vin # from the original car. It would be pretty easy to argue that it’s still EPA exempt (since you haven’t modified the drivetrain), thus OK federal emissions-wise, but pretty hard to argue that it’ll satisfy NHTSA requirements since the body you’re swapping on doesn’t. If you were swapping on an American-spec body you could argue that it’s all OK. You might even win.

-Or you legally import a 25+ year old car, but replace the motor with a different foreign motor? Easy to argue that it’s still exempt from NHTSA requirements, since you haven’t changed anything safety-wise, but by swapping in a non-compliant motor, you’ve violated the “tampering” provision of the Clean Air Act and thus are no longer eligible for the EPA exemption. I suppose you could argue that if both the donor and recipient vehicle have been imported legally, that somehow the concept of legality should apply to all the parts of both, and hence if you started swapping from one to the other (for instance the motor), it’s all still legit. You might even find someone who’d buy your theory.

-You find a foreign-market car for sale locally that’s less than 25 years old, or has been extensively modified. All I can say is read this entire document and decide for yourself.
 
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gilmorneau

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THE RECEIPTS (or where to source original information)

Now for the really boring (I know…don’t say it) part. Below are some of the references on which most of the rules are based. There’s a lot more, but if you really want to geek out on this stuff start here:

--The 25 year rule:

H.R.2628 - 100th Congress (1987-1988): Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988 - https://www.congress.gov/bill/100th-congress/house-bill/2628

--The Clean Air Act of 1970 (amended since), source of many of the relevant EPA rules:

Clean Air Act Text | US EPA - https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview/clean-air-act-text

(The federal tampering prohibition is contained in section 203(a)(3) of the Clean Air Act (Act), 42U.S.C. 7522(a)(3).

-- The “Chicken Tax” (25% import duty on light trucks):

Proclamation 3564—Proclamation Increasing Rates of Duty on Specified Articles | The American Presidency Project - https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/proclamation-3564-proclamation-increasing-rates-duty-specified-articles

--49 CFR Part 591 (Code of Federal Regulations) pertaining to imports:

49 CFR Part 591 - IMPORTATION OF VEHICLES AND EQUIPMENT SUBJECT TO FEDERAL SAFETY, BUMPER AND THEFT PREVENTION STANDARDS - https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/49/part-591

--7 CFR 330.300 - pertaining to Soil from foreign Countries, Territories or possessions:


--National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (source of the NHTSA’s FMVSS):

https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-80/pdf/STATUTE-80-Pg718.pdf

--The NHTSA’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards:

FMVSS - https://www.nhtsa.gov/laws-regulations/fmvss

--The Harmonized Tariff Schedule codes:

Harmonized Tariff Schedule PDFs - https://hts.usitc.gov/current

--And, because their importance can’t be stressed enough, the EPA form 3520-1:

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-07/documents/form3520-1-2020-07-secured-enabled.pdf

--and NHTSA form HS-7:

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/hs7_r.v.7.pdf

--If you want to bend the laws a bit and wonder if you’ll get caught, the Principles of Federal Prosecution are here:

9-27.000 - Principles Of Federal Prosecution - https://www.justice.gov/jm/jm-9-27000-principles-federal-prosecution

--More Information on importing from the EPA

Importing Vehicles and Engines | US EPA - https://www.epa.gov/importing-vehicles-and-engines

--and yet more geeky legalese about importing:

19 CFR § 12.73 - Importation of motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines. - https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/19/12.73
 
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gilmorneau

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Registering your foreign-market car once you get it home

This varies from state to state, and it would be impossible for me to list the requirements for all 50 states, so you’re just gonna need to check with your local authorities. If you’ve registered a foreign-market car in your state directly after import (i.e. it didn’t already have title from another state), please post your experience here so people can get an idea of how it works state by state.

I will say that there are some notoriously easy states for titling such cars, such as Florida, where apparently if you have a smudged Xerox copy of a note written in crayon by a 3 year old on the back of a soiled cocktail napkin, they’ll give you a title and plates. And there are notoriously difficult states for titling foreign-market cars, such as California, where you are required to run a gauntlet of live-fire obstacle courses, decipher ancient texts, and return with the broomstick of the witch, and you’ll still be denied title. There’s an informative thread here for those curious about what Californians endure:

California Title and Registration of Diesels - https://forum.ih8mud.com/threads/california-title-and-registration-of-diesels.868513/

Most states are going to be somewhere in between. In Colorado (where I live), the State publishes a list online spelling out exactly what they require. All of it is stuff you’ll have anyway once you’ve gone through the import process, and if you submit it to the State of Colorado, they’ll issue a title for you. I’ve never had any trouble with the process, other than having clerks at my local DMV know nothing about it. Here’s the list for Colorado:

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/si...orted Motor Vehicles Titling Requirements.pdf

It’s a good template to work from regardless of where you are located. In addition to all that, Colorado has the “normal” requirements for titling a car, such as a VIN inspection, emissions test, proof of insurance, etc. Just take everything with you when you go to the DMV and you should be OK. And be patient with the clerks—they probably don’t see this sort of thing much, and it’s likely that you know more about it than they do.
 

gilmorneau

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INSURANCE

If your foreign-market car is in the USA legally, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting it insured. My insurance company wanted a photograph of the VIN plate to confirm the VIN number (since it isn’t formatted like USA VIN numbers), but other than that it’s been no hassle at all.

On the other hand, if you have a car that’s in the US illegally, even if the nature of the infraction is minor compared to outright smuggling, your insurance company might not be forthcoming with payment of any potential claims should they discover it. Insurance companies can be very resourceful about not paying claims. If they discover you’ve been paying premiums for all these years on a car that’s in the US in violation of Federal law, it could constitute grounds for dropping your coverage and not paying your claim (and leaving you on the hook for all damages). You could sue them for it, I guess.
 

gilmorneau

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I know that’s a lot of reading, but I tried to include anything pertinent that might be useful as reference. If there’s some glaring omission, please let me know and I’ll try to address it. Otherwise, I hope this proves useful for anyone interested in owning a foreign-market vehicle.
 
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Wow! Although I have made myself familiar over the last few years with most of this information, that is a very helpful, well written and comprehensive summary of the subject worthy of submission as a graduate level English essay. Thanks for that obviously considerable effort and for sharing.
 

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