Finding a car that’s in your price range, makes a statement, and is for sale nearby can feel like an impossible task. What if you find a car overseas that’s exactly what you want—how do you get it into the country? It can be done, but there are a lot of details that need to be covered to import a car. And it all starts with research.
Finding the car
Some websites specialize in selling vehicles from Japan and Europe to the U.S. Another option is message boards—chances are someone has some inside knowledge on the kind of vehicle you want to import.
You can also travel to the place you want to buy the car from. If you really want a quirky Japanese K car, go to Japan. You can find some exotic cars in the Middle East, if your budget is in that direction. Then there are the random “barn finds” you might stumble across in other countries.
Shipping (not what you’d expect)
Cars are big, heavy things. Surely, shipping costs are going to be exorbitant. Wrong. Vehicles are shipped by truck, rail, and sea every day, and the cost is low, all things considered, when they can be moved in bulk. The high-end will be around $2,000 for shipping a vehicle.
Once the boat docks, the car will have to be moved by ground unless you live near a port town. Shipping a vehicle by truck is also shockingly cheap—a few hundred dollars. Again, the savings are in the bulk rate; trucking companies plan the most efficient route for drop-off and pick-ups then pass the savings on to you.
Time and pens
Finding a car and finding a shipper are the easy parts and could be done in a day or two. The time and paperwork, however, are where the real costs come in.
The 25-year law
This law is well known with car geeks but pretty obscure for everyone else. Every vehicle in the U.S., either domestically built or imported, has to be certified by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. This means it meets all the current standards for markings and safety.
Even if technically the vehicle meets the standards, if the NHTSA hasn’t certified the vehicle, you’re limited to importing vehicles that are at least 25 years old. There are some exceptions:
Importing a car can very much end up in your favor. There is a good chance it will retain its value. And if you know what you’re looking at, you can get a really good deal. But that is the key: doing your research, knowing what you want, and knowing what it’s going to take. There are plenty of resources out there—car people like sharing and want you to succeed!