Import rules and regulations on Japanese used vehicles in United States

Japan a pioneer of automobile industry is known for exportation of vehicles. Large numbers of new as well as used vehicles are exported from Japan every year. Popularity of Japanese vehicles is not confined to few places, but almost all countries across the world import Japanese vehicles. Acquiring a car is not like walking in the park. It requires a lot of planning and thinking. For many people affording a new vehicle still not a possible, thus they prefer to buy used vehicle as it is one of the most convenient route to ownership. Buying a used vehicle is much more sensible decision as one gets a quality vehicle at reasonable prices.


In United States, it is allowed to import a vehicle with steering on the left hand side. Motor vehicles not more than 25 years old must conform to the Department of Transportation (DOT) motor vehicle safety standards that were in effect when these vehicles were manufactured. In addition, passenger cars that are manufactured after September 1, 1973, they must meet bumper standards. At the time of entry, the importer must file form DOT HS-7, indicating whether or not the vehicle conforms to applicable safety and bumper standards.

Vehicles that do not have a certification label attached by the original manufacturer must be entered as a nonconforming vehicle under a DOT bond for one and a half times the vehicle’s dutiable value. This is in addition to the regular Customs entry bond.

Vehicles over 25 years old are exempt from EPA and DOT requirements, although the importer still requires obtaining and preparing EPA and DOT paperwork to provide to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer in order to clear your vehicle through CBP.

In order to avoid importation of dangerous pests in U.S., it is required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the imported vehicle is completely free from any pests. It is important the vehicle imported is thoroughly cleaned before its shipment in U.S.

Duties and taxes to be paid:-

  • Auto -2.5%
  • Trucks -25%
  • Motorcycles- either free or 2.4%
  • Registered Importer (RI) Fees – If required.
  • Independent Commercial Importer (ICI) Fees – If required.

Documents required for port clearance:-

  • Original Bill of Lading
  • Bill of Sale (all related Invoices)
  • Foreign Registration (Deregistration Certificate)
  • Any Other Documents covering the Vehicle
  • Completed EPA Form 3520-1
  • DOT Form HS-7

Note: The two forms above are for declaring the emissions and safety provisions under which the vehicle is being imported.

Vehicles that meet U.S. emission requirements should have manufacturer’s label on the engine compartment in English, attesting to the fact. If the vehicle imported does not have such label, then Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the port of vehicle entry may require proof of eligibility to import under the EPA exemptions or exclusions specified on form 3520-1.

Vehicles that do not comply with U.S. emission standards, unless eligible for exemption or exclusion are allowed to be imported through an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI). Unless work is completed by ISI, vehicle will not be issued to the owner by EPA. In this, the ICI will import the vehicle and will perform any EPA-required modifications on the vehicle and will be responsible for assuring that all EPA requirements have been met. ICI only import or modify certain vehicles, however in general, ICI fees are very high.

The following vehicles need not to match to safety requirements but may not be sold in the U.S. and may require EPA and DOT declarations:

  • Vehicle imported by nonresidents for personal use for a period of one year. The vehicle must be exported at the end of that year. No exceptions or extensions are given.
  • Those belonging to members of foreign armed forces, foreign diplomatic personnel, or other individuals who come within the class of persons for whom free entry have been authorized by the Department of State in accordance with international law.
  • Vehicles that are imported temporarily for testing, demonstration, or competition, provided they are not licensed for use, or driven on public roads. These vehicles may be operated on public roads or highways provided the operations are an integral part of the test. Organizations performing such testing on vehicles must submit proper documents – forms EPA 3520-1 and DOT HS-7 – to CBP at the time of vehicle entry. In addition, applicable written approvals from these agencies must be obtained in advance and presented to CBP along with these forms. Remember, the cost to return vehicles that have been refused prior approval can be very high and must be borne by the vehicle owner(s).

Duty free importation:-

  • Non-residents are allowed to import a vehicle duty-free for personal use, provided the vehicle is imported with the owner’s arrival in the country. Nonconforming vehicles are not allowed to be sold in U.S. and should be exported within a year- no exemption or extension of the export requirement. Conforming vehicles if sold within a year are dutiable if imported under the duty free exemption. Duty must be paid at the most convenient Customs office before the sale is completed.
  • Duty free importation of foreign made car, by U.S. citizens employed abroad or government employees returning on voluntary leave, is allowed if they enter U.S. for a short period of time, claim non-resident status and export the vehicle at the time of their leave.
  • U.S. government Military and Civilian employees returning to the country after completing the assignment to extended duty outside the customs territory of the U.S. are allowed to import a conforming vehicle as a duty free importation. It is necessary that the vehicle is purchased outside the U.S. and should be in owner’s possession before its departure.

U.S. EPA:-
An EPA importation declaration form (EPA Form 3520-1) must be submitted to the U.S. Customs Service for vehicle imported by individuals. One form per shipment may be used, with attachments including all information required to fully describe each vehicle or engine.

Certain vehicles are excluded from emissions requirements. These include (under specified conditions):

  • Older vehicles (e.g., light-duty gasoline-fueled car or truck built before January 1, 1968
  • Non-Chassis-Mounted Engine
  • Racing vehicles
  • Unregulated Fuel Vehicle

Residents importing a used vehicle should discuss with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in their state for the temporary license plates and documents required by DMV from CBP.

An advantage of buying a used car from Japan is quality assurance. People prefer to buy Japanese used vehicles as one gets a reliable vehicle at reasonable prices. Nowadays, due to many portals sites available, it is a trend in U.S. to buy efficient and convenient Japanese used cars online. Japan is prominent for manufacturing good quality used cars at practical prices. Ports for vehicle shipment in United States are Puerto Rico, Caribbean. Generally RoRo (Roll-on Roll-off) shipment method is used for vehicle shipment, however on special request of customers more expensive method called container shipping method is used.


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