- Most expats purchase a car locally after they arrive in Houston as importing a car is expensive and there are time limits on how long the car can stay inside the U.S. unless it is converted to U.S. standards, which is even more expensive. Unless it is a car that you cannot live without, leave it in your home country and purchase another one in Houston.
Requirements and Process
There are two ways to import a car. One way is to import it permanently and the other is to import it for less than a year. As a non-permanent resident owning a car that does not meet U.S. EPA emission and DOT safety requirements, you are allowed to bring a car and drive it in the U.S. for up to one year with the intention to export it again after that time frame. In this case, when processed by customs, the title will be marked as not for sale.
The person importing the car has to arrive in Texas in conjunction with the car or already be in Texas. Make sure your shipper uses Houston as the port of entry and informs you of the arrival date so you can process the car through customs. When the car is received in Houston and processed by customs, it will receive a stamp on the registration that the car is not for sale and has to be exported again within one year. You will have to pay the duties before being able to pick up the car. It is also recommended to use a broker assisting you in the process here in the U.S. whose name should be given to your shipper to work with.
The following broker can be recommended:
Gateway Clearance Services, INC, – http://www.gateway-group.com/en/rel/55/
Houston, TX 77032
Ph 281-443-7447 or 1-800-338-8017
The following documentation is required from the importer when processing customs clearance:
- Shipper’s bill of lading
- The car’s foreign registration papers – in the importer’s name or a bill of sale (in English) has to be presented to prove ownership.
- CBP Form 3299 from http://forms.cbp.gov/pdf/CBP_Form_3299.pdf (to be handed to customs) This form is needed to import any personal effects or household goods through a shipper.
If the car needs to stay in the U.S. for longer than a year or will not be exported again, it will need to meet U.S. EPA emission and DOT safety requirements. Check with your car’s manufacturer if your car has a label that shows that the car meets all U.S. standards. In this case, the following is also needed:
- Completed EPA Form 3520-1 from http://www.epa.gov/oms/imports/forms/3520-1.pdf (to be handed to customs)
- Completed DOT Form HS-7 from http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/hs799short.pdf (to be handed to customs)
If the car will stay in the U.S. for longer than a year or will not be exported again, but does not meet U.S. standards, it will need to be imported through an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI) that will not release the car until the EPA requirements are met through conversion. Some are not convertible, so check with the ICI prior to planning on importing outside of the one-year length exemption. The following is the approved ICI in Houston:
Wallace Environmental Testing Laboratories
Houston, TX 77055
For a full list of all ICI’s recommended by the EPA nationwide, visit http://www.epa.gov/OMS/imports/icilist.pdf
- Shipper’s cost
- Tax on cars is 2.5 % of value
- Any storage costs in case processing is delayed (can amount to several hundred dollars for a few days)
- ICI Conversion, if needed (several thousand dollars, depending on car and amount of work needed to be done)
For more information on the laws and regulations, visit:
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Customs and Border protection (CBP) – http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/trade/basic_trade/importing_car.xml
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – http://www.epa.gov/reg3artd/vehicletran/vehicles/importing_vehicles_in_the_u.htm