Calculator - Vehicle import tax and duties when shipping a car to America

If you’re taking a car into the United States and choose AutoShippers to ship it for you, we will always strive to be clear and upfront with you regarding all costs involved. Not just our own prices, but any other costs that you’ll incur, such as port fees and customs clearance charges.

Many of these charges are set fees that are the same for everyone, and so quite straightforward. Where things can get a little more complicated, though, is when it comes to the tariffs and taxes that become payable to the local government on arrival.

So, in this article, we’ll focus on the US and look at what monies may be owed to Uncle Sam – and what discounts or exemptions you may qualify for, depending on your personal circumstances and the vehicle we’re moving for you.

There are two separate issues to consider here. The first, which will apply to everyone, is import duty, while a limited number of vehicles (but by no means all) may also be subject to what is known as the ‘gas guzzler tax‘. Let’s take a closer look at each of those in turn  – but first of all, you need to be sure your car is eligible for import in the first place.

Eligibility for Import

It’s important to note that not all cars can be taken into the USA. This is because the United States has its own laws regarding vehicle safety and emissions, and any cars being brought into the country must comply with those laws.

This is the case in most countries – but moving cars between other countries tends to be a bit easier because most national vehicle standards worldwide match those laid down by the United Nations’ World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations. Unfortunately, this is not true of the United States, which means cars manufactured in (for instance) Europe or Japan are built to a different set of standards – and so are not eligible for US import.

There’s an exception for cars that are over 25 years old – and we have written extensively about “the 25-year rule” here. Some more recent cars can also still be imported if you use the services of a Registered Importer – a company that has been state-certified as being able to adapt a given overseas-built vehicle so that it matches up to US safety and emissions regulations. 

But for the private individual moving their own vehicle, the rule of thumb is that you can only take a car into the US permanently if it is over 25 years old, or if it was built for the US market in the first place (ie, it’s an American car).

Note that we said “permanently” there. That’s important because the rules change if you are only taking a car into the US temporarily – defined in this case as meaning a period of less than a year. In that case, not only does your car not have to comply with US safety and emissions standards, you won’t have to pay import duty on it either.

So, now that we’ve established whether your vehicle can legally be imported at all, let’s look more closely at the taxes and duties involved.

Import Duty

In theory, this is quite simple: the US levies an import tariff on all imported vehicles, based on their value at the time of purchase. This is charged at 0-2.4% for motorcycles, 2.5% for cars, and 25% for trucks and lorries.

Obviously, this depends on your being able to prove the value of your vehicle when you bought it, so when you go to Customs to collect it, you’ll need to make sure you have the Bill of Sale with you. Once you’ve paid the import tariff, you will be given a copy of CBP Form 7501 – the Customs document confirming that the tariff has been paid. Keep this safe, because you will need to present it when you register and insure the vehicle.

That’s all pretty straightforward, right? It is – however, there are numerous exceptions that apply.

This is where there’s some good news for our many American customers because if you’re a US citizen, this tariff can be reduced. It may even be waived altogether – both for US citizens and for overseas visitors, although this only applies in certain circumstances and a fair degree of jumping through hoops is involved (see ‘Free entry’ below).

Returning US Citizens

Firstly, all “returning US citizens” (anyone who’s been working, studying or travelling abroad) qualify for an $800 exemption. This isn’t $800 off the fee payable, but rather a deduction of $800 from the car’s taxable value, and it applies as long as the vehicle in question…:

  • Was purchased while they were overseas
  • Is being shipped into the US at the time of their own return to the country, and
  • Is for their personal use (ie, is not used primarily for business purposes, being imported on another’s behalf or intended for imminent resale).

Note that if a family group is moving together, with a single vehicle, each of their $800 exemptions can be applied to the same car. But note, too, that for the purposes of calculating this tariff, the first $1,000 of the car’s value is then taxed at the slightly higher rate of 3%, with any remaining value charged at the standard rate.

Things are getting complicated already, so an example may be helpful here…


John, Claire and their daughter have been living in the UK for some time, but are returning home to the States and taking their car with them. The car is eligible for legal US importation and was purchased last year in the UK, for the rather convenient sum of $40,000.

So, 2.5% of $40,000 is $1,000. However, John and Claire won’t have to pay that much because the import duty is actually calculated based on a reduced value of $37,600 – that is, $40,000 less the $800 exemption for each of the three family members. The first $1,000 of this figure is charged at 3% ($30) and then the remaining $36,600 is subject to the usual 2.5% tariff, which comes to $915. A reduction of $85.

Free Entry

US military personnel and civilian employees of the US armed forces who are returning from an overseas posting of no less than 140 days – or 120 days in the case of navy personnel on board a vessel – and who are bringing a car that they have purchased while overseas back to the States with them, can bring it into the country without paying any import duty, providing they do not sell the car within the next 365 days.

Should they decide to sell it within that period, the import duty on the vehicle (calculated as above) must be paid at the nearest Customs & Border Patrol office before the sale is completed.

Temporary Visitors

Those who are bringing a car into the country for a period of fewer than 12 months may also qualify for free entry, providing that:

  • The car is for their personal use, and
  • The car leaves the country when they do.

This rule applies both to US citizens who ordinarily live overseas but are returning to the US for a short visit or a temporary work posting, and to foreign nationals – for instance, anyone who’s coming to the US for a touring holiday in their own vehicle.

Non-US citizens will, however, need to prove that their visit is only temporary and that they, therefore, qualify for free entry. This means you will need to obtain Non-Resident Temporary Importation Approval from the Environmental Protection Agency in advance.

Proving Temporary Visitor Status

To get the necessary approval, you will need to write to the EPA (or email in advance – ideally at least a month before shipping – clearly stating:

  • Your full name, address, telephone number and email address
  • The address, telephone number and email address where you can be contacted during your stay
  • Your vehicle’s make, model, year of manufacture and Vehicle Identification Number
  • Your reasons for bringing the car into the country, when it will arrive and when you will be leaving.

This submission must be accompanied by the following supporting documents:

  • Proof of ownership (copies of the logbook and bill of sale)
  • A copy of the vehicle’s registration document, and
  • A copy of your passport.

If approval is granted – a process that can take up to two weeks – you will be sent a Non-Resident Temporary Importation Approval form by the EPA.

You will then need to present this form at Customs when you collect the vehicle, along with:

  • A completed Environmental Protection Agency declaration form 3520-1 (to confirm that the vehicle conforms to US emissions standards)
  • A completed Department Of Transporation form HS-7 (the form that certifies your car can be legally imported)
  • A completed Customs & Border Patrol form 3299. This is the ‘Declaration for free entry of unaccompanied vehicles’ and you will need to tick the box for Code ‘O’, “imported by a non-resident for personal use for a period of one year”.
  • The bill of lading you were given by your shipping company
  • A copy of your passport.

The above forms can be downloaded from the websites of the relevant agencies. As you can see, there are a lot of them to fill in, so we’d recommend setting aside a full day – before the car is shipped – for dealing with all the paperwork and making sure everything’s in order. As always, professional car shipping companies such as Autoshippers will be happy to help. Feel free to get in contact with us for advice or to help with any questions you have.

Special Circumstances – Show and Display

The above standard rules for temporary visitors assume that the vehicle is road-legal in the US to start with. But special exemption from import tariffs can also be granted for non-compliant vehicles that are being brought into the US for ‘show and display’ purposes, or to take part in motor races, as long as:

  • they are not going to be driven on public roads
  • they will be re-exported within 12 months.

This will only apply in a vanishingly small fraction of cases. If you do happen to need more detailed information on what taking an F1 car or ultra-rare Japanese prototype into the US entails, though, then again you can contact one of our customer advisers who will be happy to help!

A far greater proportion of AutoShippers customers, on the other hand, will need to take into account the second fee they may have to pay, on top of the import tariff described above – the so-called ‘gas-guzzler tax’.

Gas-Guzzler Tax

As with import tariffs above, let’s take a quick overview here before we start drilling down into the details.

In a nutshell: in a bid to reduce air pollution (and, latterly, to minimise CO2 emissions), the United States government has since 1978 applied a levy on vehicles with very low fuel efficiency. For cars manufactured and sold in the United States, this tax is paid by the manufacturer, and the customer won’t even notice. But if you already own such a vehicle and are importing it from overseas, you become liable for the tax when you import it.

For this reason, you will need to complete IRS Form 6197 when you import your car. This can be downloaded from the Inland Revenue Service’s website.

The good news here is that the tax won’t apply to the vast majority of vehicles as the bar is set at 22.5mpg, which is extremely low compared to the fuel economy of most modern cars. So, if you’re shipping a typical family saloon or hatchback, you should be golden! You’ll still need to fill out Form 6197, but you can simply tick the box for Line 1 – MPG of at least 22.5, in which case the tax payable is 0%.

The bad news is that cars which fall foul of this requirement tend to be top-of-the-range vehicles – think Ferraris, Bentleys, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis and Rolls-Royces. And we do actually ship a fair number of such cars to the US every year. So if you’re intending to take such a car to the States, read on!

How to Tell If You’re Liable for the Gas-Guzzler Tax

To find out if this tax applies to you, you will need to visit the US Environmental Protection Agency’s website, where you can find lists (by model year) of all vehicles manufactured since 1980 that are subject to the tax. Note that vintage cars manufactured before the gas-guzzler tax was introduced are exempt – as they are from emissions regulations generally.

If your vehicle is on one of those lists, then you’re going to have to pay – and this is a progressive tax, so the poorer the car’s fuel economy, the more it’s going to cost you to bring it into the country. The current rates are as follows:

Average fuel economy (mpg) Tax payable
21.5-22.5 $ 1,000
20.5-21.5 $ 1,300
19.5-20.5 $ 1,700
18.5-19.5 $ 2,100
17.5-18.5 $ 2,600
16.5-17.5 $ 3,000
15.5-16.5 $ 3,700
14.5-15.5 $ 4,500
13.5-14.5 $ 5,400
12.5-13.5 $ 6,400
<12.5 $ 7,700

If those rates seem somewhat punitive… they’re supposed to be! The tax is in place specifically to limit the number of inefficient polluting vehicles on US roads.

Determining The Fuel Economy of Your Car

Note that the gas-guzzler tax is applied based on the fuel efficiency of your vehicle as determined by the US Environmental Protection Agency, not by the manufacturer. This matters because, while car manufacturers today are obliged to make such information public – and, in many countries including the USA, ensure it’s displayed on a window sticker – the figure they quote may not be the same as that determined by the EPA.

The reason for this is that the EPA figure reflects the car’s fuel efficiency as calculated in laboratory tests. First, the car’s average miles-per-gallon performance is ascertained in both urban and highway conditions, and then a ‘combined fuel economy’ is calculated. This is not a simple average of the two but is actually based on the assumption that the average driver will spend 55% of their time driving in built-up areas, and 45% on highways. It is this combined fuel economy that is then used to determine tax liability.

Manufacturers use exactly the same tests, and use exactly the same formula to work out the car’s combined fuel economy. But the figure they quote in their literature (and print on those window stickers) is then adjusted to take into account the fact that real-world driving is not done under laboratory conditions. Other, external factors such as weather conditions, ambient temperature, fuel quality and tire pressures all play a part in the fuel economy achieved in the real world, and the manufacturers’ figures reflect this.

But here’s the good news: all of those factors reduce fuel efficiency: by around 10-20% in the case of city driving, and 20-30% on the highway. What this means is that the combined fuel economy quoted by the manufacturer is usually a few MPG lower than the value assumed for tax purposes… which may offer a small glimmer of hope for anyone whose heart sank when reading the table above!

What If No EPA Figure is Available?

The EPA’s testing procedures are very thorough, but in the case of extremely rare cars, a combined fuel economy figure may not have been determined. In this instance, your best bet is to contact both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Inland Revenue Service direct, and ask their advice.  

Next Steps

By the time you’ve collected your vehicle from Customs and paid the relevant taxes as outlined above, you should have a completed CBP Form 7501 Entry Summary, confirming that the import tariff on your vehicle has been paid. You should also have copies of NHSTA Form HS-7 and EPA Form 3520-1 (declaring that your vehicle is compliant with emissions regulations), and you will have completed IRS Form 6197 to satisfy the gas-guzzler tax requirements. Make sure you retain all of this paperwork because you’ll need it when you come to register and insure the vehicle.

If you qualified for free entry under the Temporary Visitors’ exception, you will also have a completed CBP Form 3299. Again, keep hold of this – in fact, it’s a good idea to keep it with you at all times. Not only will you need this for insurance purposes, having it to hand will make your life a lot easier if you’re stopped by the police. We’re very used to seeing cars with European plates here in the UK, but over in the US, the same does not apply, and a vehicle sporting British plates is quite likely to attract attention.

Are Any of These Charges Subject to Change?

All of the above reflects the situation at time of writing. But nothing stays the same forever, and while the processes outlined aren’t likely to change, the numbers involved might.

In recent years there has been much international wrangling regarding import tariffs between Europe and the US. In 2018, for instance, President Donald Trump threatened to raise the import tariff on European cars to 20% – although since the European Union said that it would simply respond in kind, that idea seems to have died a death. Trade agreements between the US and Europe are, however, subject to ongoing negotiations – and of course, just to complicate matters, the United Kingdom is in the process of leaving the EU, which means a new set of terms will need to be negotiated.

Naturally, this is a situation we are monitoring closely, and we will update the information on this website as and when things change.