Motor Vehicle Imports to the United States

Image of Business People - Serbinski International Accounting Firms - Vehicle ImportsThe information on this page concerning the importation of vehicles into the United States has been provided courtesy of the U.S. Customs Service. For questions regarding the accuracy or completeness of this information, please contact: Port Director, Port of Buffalo, 111 West Huron Street, Room 603, Buffalo, NY 14202 (716) 551-5200 Fax: (716) 551-5020. All information should be verified prior to importing any vehicle.   


This information relates to the importation of vehicles into the United States by individuals for personal use. The importation of vehicles for resale or for commercial purposes may only be done by Registered Importers. If you would like information on becoming a Registered Importer, you may contact the Department of Transport directly at (202) 366-6018. In order for vehicles to be brought into the United States, they must meet the requirements set out by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

It is the responsibility of the importer to establish to U.S. Customs that the vehicle being imported is in conformity. This may be done by contacting the manufacturer of the vehicle (not the dealer) in Canada, and asking for a certificate of compliance with U.S. standards. Generally, vehicle manufacturers are aware of the regulations and will issue a letter indicating the minor deviations from conformity that exist in the vehicle. In order to obtain a certificate of conformity, you should have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) available when contacting the manufacturer, since all vehicle attributes are tracked by these numbers. Once Customs verifies that the vehicle is in conformity, an informal entry (Customs Form 368) will be completed. This form must be taken to the state Department of Motor Vehicles (usually with the vehicle physically present for inspection) in the state in which you reside, in order to register the vehicle.   

DOT Requirements

All imported vehicles must conform to the safety and bumper standards established by the DOT. A vehicle will not be permitted into the United States unless the following is presented to U.S. Customs:

For Vehicles less than 25 Years Old

The manufacturer of the vehicle will be required to write a letter stating whether the vehicle, identified by VIN number, meets U.S. Department of Transportation standards "except for minor labeling requirements". This letter should be presented to U.S. Customs on entry.   
The only exceptions from obtaining this letter are if the vehicle is more than 25 years old or if it is being imported by a registered importer. All trailers must be imported through a registered importer. The Department of Transport has set up a hotline that provides information pertaining to gray market importations and Canadian vehicle importations. You may contact them directly at 1-800-424-9393.

EPA Requirements

All 1988 through 1995 Canadian automobiles, light duty trucks and heavy-duty gasoline fueled engines are considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conform to U.S. emission requirements. If the vehicle is a 1987 model or older, check to see if it has a sticker under the hood stating that the vehicle conforms to federal emission standards. If there is no label, of if the label has another country's name in it (i.e. "meets Canadian federal standards"), then you must have the manufacturer send you a letter stating whether your vehicle meets U.S. emission standards "except for minor labeling requirements". Once you receive the letter, you do not need to forward it to the EPA, but present it to U.S. Customs at the time of importation.   

Conformity with EPA's standards for 1996 model years or newer depend upon the vehicle's specific make and model. The only exceptions for importing a vehicle that was not originally manufactured in conformity with the U.S. EPA standards would be if:

  1. You are immigrating to the U.S. and qualify for a Canadian immigrant waiver. To qualify you would need to meet the following:
    • You must have a "green card", and
    • You must provide proof of ownership of the vehicle, and
    • You must complete and sign form EPA 3520-1 at U.S. customs.

Duty Requirements

The following vehicles are free of duty:

  • All Chevrolet Corvettes and Ford Taurus SHOs
  • All 1979 and older passenger vehicles and light duty trucks with a VIN beginning with either 1 or 4
  • All passenger vehicles model year 1996 or newer with a VIN beginning with either a 1 or 4
  • All passenger vehicles, regardless of model year, with a VIN beginning with either 2 or 3, and
  • All light duty trucks with a VIN beginning with 2.

Duty applies to all other motor vehicles as follows: Personal importations of motor vehicles are subject to duty at a rate of 10% on the first $1,000 (U.S. dollars) plus 2.5% (two point five percent) for passenger vehicles; 25% for trucks; or 3.2% for motorcycles, applied to the remaining value of the vehicles in $US dollars. The only acceptable forms of payment are U.S. currency or a personal check written against a U.S. bank.