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Importing A Car To The USA

importing cars from Japan to USA is hard, just look at these signs

A guide to the art of importing a car from Japan to the USA

小ontrary to popular belief, the road to importing cars to the USA is often bumpy. Here is all you need to know about delivering a car from Japan to the USA.

By The Editors

Tue, Jan 28, 2020 08:30 AM PST

Japanese cars are unique. Not only are they very innovative, but they are also designed to withstand the test of time. Since they are made with the latest technology, many people resort to importing brand new and used Japanese cars to the USA and other parts of the world.

小ontrary to popular belief, the road to importing cars to the USA is often bumpy. If this is the first time you bring a vehicle into a country, here are some essential steps that you should take.

front of a car on road in Japan
OK, maybe we're not ready to move to Japan to drive their cool cars (we're lost already), but importing a car to the US might be the second best thing.

Step 1. Select a Vehicle 

Thanks to technology, you do not need to go to Japan to personally choose a car. However, it can be quite overwhelming to consider different online companies and find an importer you can trust. 

Whether you need a heavy-duty truck or a luxury car, there are numerous options, which are A-class in terms of quality and performance. You can simply choose from the full range of vehicles available on the Japanese car markets and auctions by browsing different websites. 

Consider the following when selecting a vehicle: 

  1. Is the car of your choice under 25 years of age?  
  2. Check if your vehicle meets U.S. standards before importing it.  

Each country has its own set of rules and regulations for importing cars, and the U.S. is no exception. If you want to deliver any vehicle in the country, you must first check if it complies with U.S. policy. You can do so with the list of Japanese car models that meet U.S. standards. 

If the car that you selected is not on the list, check if it is in the list of vehicles that can be changed to meet all the requirements of the U.S.  

Now, if the car that you selected does not meet the U.S. standards, you still have a chance of importing it. However, it is up to you to make sure that the car is changed accordingly to meet the standards.

It is expensive to bring a Japanese car that does not comply with U.S. policies. However, if you want a specific vehicle, it can be done. It will undoubtedly cost money and effort, especially if you plan to import several cars for commercial purposes. To make sure that you are on the right track, here are some of the steps that you need to follow:  

  • Emergency Testing: This is conducted to verify vehicle compliance with U.S. safety standards. Crash testing is for all non-compliant vehicles before entry into the U.S. 
  • Safety Check Vehicle Parts: Before a crash test, you must ensure that parts of your vehicle are compliant with U.S. standards. Below are some of the vehicle parts that must be kept under control:  
    • Headlight angles: If the headlight angles do not meet American standards, replace them with new headlamps.  
    • Speedometer: If the speedometer is set to kilometers, translate the reading into miles.  
    • Reflectors: Install red glasses at the rear, and orange reflectors at the front of the car before importing.  
    • Brake light: Install a third brake light if it does not meet U.S. standards.  
    • Bumpers: Check the power and durability of the fenders.  
    • Other precautions: The car must also have different safety features, such as a seatbelt reminder alarm and a fuel spill limiter in the event of an accident.  
    • Reinforcement of the Car: Reinforcement of the car doors, bumpers, rear wheels, and roof systems needs to be done to optimize the car’s safety.  
  • Emission Testing: If, for example, a vehicle has undergone crash testing, approval must be obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency. They are mainly responsible for limiting vehicle emissions.

You can always skip these steps by contacting an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI) or Registered Importer (R.I.), who can make any necessary changes to the vehicle you need to import.

busy intersection with crosswalks in Japan
Everything seems so exotic, even the cross-walks are cool... Importing a car from Japan might make SoCal seem exotic too!

Step 2. Double Check if the vehicle has Valid Stickers 

To avoid problems before importing, double-check whether the car has two valid stickers – one issued by the Ministry of Transport and the other by the Environmental Protection Agency. The first sticker is on the inside of the driver’s side of the door, and the second one is on the car engine. 

If one of the stickers is not on the vehicle, a certificate issued by the car manufacturer must be obtained. The certificate must clearly show that the vehicle complies with U.S. car import policies.  

If the vehicle you intend to import is older than 25 years, it must not comply with DOT and EPA policies. However, you still need to complete the documents required by the DOT and EPA to obtain permission from Customs and Border Protection.  

Picking a Car 25 Years or Older

Once a vehicle is 25 years old, it can be directly imported without meeting U.S. standards, given that the car is still running on its original engine. No seatbelts or headlamps? No problem. You can import the car anyway.

However, there are two exceptions to this rule. First, although federal law allows you to import all 25-year-old cars into the U.S., you must still consider the laws that govern your state. Although some states do not inspect imported vehicles, there are still states that require basic car safety features, such as seat belts.

Secondly, California has stricter car emissions laws. Even if a car can be legally imported to other parts of the United States, if it was manufactured after 1975, it must be certified in that state. Without certification, a car cannot travel on California roads.

Step 3. Complete the Required Paperwork 

To avoid unnecessary delays and problems with importing your car into the U.S., you must complete all documents and provide all the accurate and necessary information. This applies even for vehicles 25 years old or older.  

Below is a guide of some of the documents you need to fill out: 

  • EPA Form 3520-1: Collect all vehicle specifications provided by your car import service provider. You will need this information to complete the EPA form, which can be downloaded online. The form asks you for necessary information about the vehicle, including its model, condition, use, and, if applicable, Independent Commercial Importer (ICI). 
  • DOT Form HS-7: Just like the EPA form, you can download the Department of Transportation (DOT) form and fill in the required fields in advance. The DOT form asks you for necessary information about your vehicle, which includes the model and makes of the car, date of entry, and port of arrival. If necessary, please also provide information about your registered importer (RI). 
  • CBP Form 7510: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) form can be obtained and completed at the CBP port. You will need the following when filling out the form:  
    • Correctly completed forms DOT HS-7 and EPA 3520-1. 
    • A Certificate or letter from the manufacturer is required. It must state that the imported vehicle fully complies with the standards set by DOT and EPA. 
    • Proof of ownership of the vehicle must be shown — the original or certified original copy of the certificate of ownership.
  • Collect other documents required for import. 

The documents required to prepare for the import of a 25-year-old car include the following:

  • Commercial bill of lading issued by a shipping company 
  • Invoice in English 
  • ISF file forum 
  • Certificate of ownership or Export Certificate for a vehicle 
  • Export certificate in English 
  • Importer Security Filing Form (ISF)

Step 4. Prepare the Vehicle for Shipment  

If you import a car in partnership with a Japanese company, you do not need to worry about pre-shipment preparation. If you are doing independently, make sure that the vehicle is ready for shipment.

First, professionally clean the vehicle to bring it up to the standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is the department’s policy that all imported vehicles must be free of any foreign objects or debris before they are shipped.

Japansese garden
This is where all cars in Japan live, right?

Step 5. Shipping Your Car

By selecting a suitable transportation company that will deliver your car across the country, will make this process a lot easier and stress-free.

You will need to select a carrier for the vehicle. Typically, shipping costs around $1,500-4,500, depending on the specification of the car, carrier company, and port of entry. 

Shipping can take up to 17 days, so it is best to ask your shipping company to notify you of the exact date of arrival. This will help you to know when to submit all the necessary documents to Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Your vehicle will be carefully inspected at the port of arrival.

Step 6. Pay Import Taxes and Register the Imported Vehicle 

Once the vehicle has been shipped to the port of arrival, you will need to pay duty and federal tax before registering the vehicle. The duty depends on the total value of the vehicle as well as its category. For example, the tariff on trucks is much higher at 24%, while the duty on cars is lower at 2.5%. However, if you are a U.S. resident, you may be exempt from any responsibilities.  

Also, federal taxes are levied on vehicles with fuel economy ratings lower than 22.5 miles per gallon. You can learn more about fuel economy ratings by consulting either independent professionals or car manufacturers.  

After paying all the required taxes, register your car and get a license plate from the Vehicle Department before taking it on the road. You may have to show documents that you received from the Customs and Border Protection Service.

busy Japanese street with huge snow-capped mountain in the background
Maybe we should just move to Japan, rather than import the cars to the US?

To sum up

Japanese cars have a unique character. Not only are they very innovative, but they are also designed to withstand the test of time. Since they are made with the latest technology, many people resort to importing brand new and used Japanese cars to the USA and other parts of the world.  

However, contrary to popular belief, the road to importing cars to the USA is often bumpy. If you are introducing a vehicle, make sure that you are aware of the essential steps that have been discussed in this article to avoid unnecessary issues.

This article was compiled by the editors of LACar.

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