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Canada and Mexico are right next door, but vehicles can’t just drive over the border. Learn more about the ins and outs of international vehicle shipping.
- America has customs and safety rules to govern international vehicle shipping
- Following these rules helps prevent delays and added costs
- Canadian shipments may be easier at customs
- Final costs and duties differ based on multiple factors
International vehicles may need to cross U.S. borders from Canada or Mexico for several reasons. You may be traveling and don’t want to hire a new car, or perhaps you are moving permanently to the U.S? The vehicle even may have been purchased from either of our closest neighbors and has to make its way to the USA.
The big question in each of those scenarios is: “Can I bring my car into the U.S. and if so, how?” The answer is “yes” but America does have some special customs and safety rules that apply to international autos. Here’s what you need to know to ship a vehicle into this country safely and legally.
The U.S. authorities that handle international vehicle shipping
All vehicles entering the U.S. must comply with several governmental standards. Among these are the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air Act. Any vehicle that doesn’t measure up faces one of three outcomes: be upgraded, go back to where it came from, or be destroyed.
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the EPA aren’t the only bodies regulating international vehicle shipping. Other important organizations are the Department of Transport (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
These laws apply equally to every international vehicle entering the U.S., but whether it’s coming from Canada or Mexico (and as a visitor or a permanent relocation) can make case-specific differences.
International vehicle shipping from Canada or Mexico
CBP will want the U.S. shipper to provide the following documentation before allowing a vehicle from Canada or Mexico to enter America:
- Bill of Lading
- Bill of Sale
- Vehicle title/ownership documents
- The shipper’s personal ID
- A record of the vehicle’s intended U.S. destination
- DOT form HS-7
- EPA form 3520-1
- A letter from the vehicle manufacturer (including the VIN) confirming that the vehicle complies with all applicable U.S. safety and emission standards.
Importing can be easier – at least, from the EPA’s point of view – if the car is coming from up north. This is because many Canadian vehicles have emissions control systems that closely match those of their U.S. counterparts, while Mexican vehicles are less compatible.
Some Canadian vehicles will have a vehicle emissions label to identify them as conforming to the EPA’s environmental standards, which speeds up the import process.
What happens when the paperwork is in order?
CBP issues written approval providing the final piece of paperwork for buyers to register the car as a U.S. vehicle with their state’s DOT office. A note for northern visitors who bring their car with them: Any Canadian-licensed vehicle shipped into the U.S. can only stay for a year before it has to undergo the permanent importation process.
Duties apply whether the vehicle is new or used and are based on the price paid/payable. Rates are currently 2.5% for cars, 25% for trucks, and 2.4% for motorcycles with most Canadian-made vehicles being duty-free.
Some incoming vehicles are also subject to Section 4064 of the International Revenue Code, better known as the “gas guzzler tax.” You can check this EPA list to see if the vehicle you’re importing is impacted.
Further international vehicle shipping costs
Duties and taxes are universal expenses for every car coming from Canada or Mexico. Further expenses are dependent on several other case-specific factors, including:
- Vehicle type (larger vehicles are naturally more costly)
- Distance to shipping ports (living close to one can really reduce cost)
- Route Taken
- Open or Closed Transport (the latter is more expensive)
- Land, sea, or air transportation
- Pickup location
- Using or passing on expedited shipping
An auto broker can help you weigh these factors and how they impact your unique situation so you can make the most cost-effective decision. Make sure you speak to a great one (more on that below).
A further international vehicle shipping checklist
Here are some other essential practices to make international shipping easier:
- DO have the undercarriage of the vehicle steam-sprayed or thoroughly cleaned before shipping. This prevents the importation of foreign pests and soil.
- DON’T attempt to sneak in a vehicle that doesn’t meet U.S. emissions guidelines. Use an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI) that can make the necessary modifications before the vehicle is shipped.
- DO bear in mind that ICI services can be extremely expensive. Consider if it’s cost-effective to import a vehicle that may need significant modification.
- DON’T use your incoming vehicle as a storage container for personal belongings. Many shippers and carriers won’t touch the car if you do.
- DO declare the entire contents of a vehicle to the CBP on entry. Failure to do so can result in seizure of the vehicle and everything in it.
- DO check with your local and state authorities about shipping cars from Canada or Mexico. They may have specific processes that differ from other regions.
You can call the EPA hotline at (734) 214-4100 and the DOT hotline at (734) 214-4100 for further information on U.S. import rules. CBP can be contacted online or by calling 1-877-227-5511. These resources will help you gather all the necessary paperwork and speak to the right people to make international vehicle shipping go smoothly.
Finding a great international vehicle shipper
Many carriers will claim to make cross-border shipping an easy experience, but only a certified auto broker like Mercury Auto Transport knows if they’re genuine. The right investment here can really pay off by hiring drivers who know the routes, follow the rules, and will prioritize your vehicle’s safety.
Mercury Auto Transport is a nationwide, full-service auto shipping company that connects buyers with trustworthy vehicle carriers anywhere in the country. We’re dedicated to making vehicle shipping cost-effective and stress-free, whether that’s in-state or international.
Our process is transparent and trustworthy, and we’re always working to get you the best deal. Call us today for an international shipping quote!