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if you have had experiences importing a BMW!

Want to import a BMW? Unless the car is over 25 years old, a Z1 used for show or display, or a race car, you will need to know about US government regulations.

A widely quoted but valuable starting point is Customs Publication No. 520. Here is what the Customs Publication says:

Imported motor vehicles are subject to safety standards under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, revised under the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988; to bumper standards under the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972, which became effective in 1978; and to air pollution control standards under the Clean Air Act of 1968, as amended in 1977 and 1990. Most vehicles manufactured abroad that conform with U.S. safety, bumper, and emission standards are exported expressly for sale in the United States; therefore, it is unlikely that a vehicle obtained abroad meets all relevant standards. Be skeptical of claims by a foreign dealer or other seller that a vehicle meets these standards or can readily be brought into compliance. Nonconforming vehicles entering the United States must be brought into compliance, exported, or destroyed

So what can you do? Here are some tips:

  1. Contrary to what you might read elsewhere, you can do it yourself. If you decide to do-it-yourself, you will at a minimum have to complete all of the forms and pay a tax. 

  2. Have all the paperwork for the vehicle including the bill of sale, foreign registration, and any other documents covering the vehicle. 

  3. Get a letter from BMW of North America, if you can, describing the differences between the US model and the imported model. Most of the model differences will not matter to the US agencies, but some will, depending on current US laws. A letter from "a dealership or foreign representative" will not be accepted.

  4. For the EPA, make sure there is a manufacturer's label in the English language affixed to the car, stating that the vehicle meets all U.S. emission requirements. Otherwise, the car must be modified to meet the requirements.

  5. The best way to import your BMW is to hire an importer. Make sure the company is a licensed DOT Registered Importer. Ideally, the importer should be registered with DOT and EPA and have experience importing BMWs.

US Government agencies and the people that deal with them use a lot of acronyms. So before we begin, here is a list of some of the most common acronyms:


Usually, the Department of Transportation, but could also be the Department of the Treasury, the agency responsible for the US Customs Service.


Environmental Protection Agency. Insures the vehicle meets current US exhaust emissions requirements.


National Highway, Traffic & Motor Vehicle Safety Agency. Insures the vehicle meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety, Bumper, Theft Prevention and other Standards.


Registered Importer. The job of the DOT registered importer is to modify foreign vehicles to confirm to DOT standards. The process costs money and takes time. Click here for a current list of DOT RI's. 


Independent Commercial Importer. EPA maintains a list.


Code of Federal Regulations. US laws governing Importation of Vehicles, Registered Importers, and more.


Internal Revenue Service. Insures that all taxes are paid.

FMVSS Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The imported vehicle must meet all the US safety standards.

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Do It Yourself

Most people choose to have an agency do the work for them, but there is no reason why you can't be your own importer. If you decide to do the job yourself, make sure you are prepared and your knowledge is current. Click here if you want to have someone do the work for you.

Get up to speed on the regulations!

You will need some Forms:

HS-7 Form  

Importation of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Equipment Subject to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety, Bumper and Theft Prevention Standards (pdf).


Bond To Ensure Conformance With Motor Vehicle Safety And Bumper Standards (pdf).

Customs Form #3299  

 Declaration of Free Entry of Unaccompanied Articles (zip).

Exhaust Emissions

Vehicles that do not have an emissions label should have a letter from BMW North America stating that the vehicle meets US emissions standards. The EPA has a form that states all of the requirements. Click here to view the form (pdf).

States in the USA may have their own emissions requirements. For example, the emissions requirements for the State of California exceed the requirements of the Federal Government. For information regarding requirements in a specific state, we advise you to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles or other appropriate agency in that state since the requirements vary by state. Click here for information about bringing a car or truck into California. 

Contact by letter or fax, BMW of North America and request a 'Letter of Compliance' to safety and emissions standards. You will be required to provide the vehicle Identification Number, Make, Model and Year as well as the name of the registered owner. They will arrange to forward a letter advising if your automobile qualifies and what if any upgrades must be done to bring the vehicle to standards. 

For federal regulations concerning vehicle emissions contact the Environmental Protection Agency, Manufacturers Operations Division, EN-340, 401 M Street SW, Washington, DC 20460, (202) 564-9660. 


Ideally, you ship the car and give the paperwork to the agent you meet at the dock. He or she reads the forms, inspects the vehicle, signs the forms, and you drive off. Rarely is the process this simple.

  1. Create a folder. Have all the paperwork for the vehicle including the bill of sale, foreign registration, and any other documents covering the vehicle. We recommend you do this before you ship the vehicle. Make sure you keep copies of the documents.

  2. In the folder, you should have the letter from BMW of North America describing the differences between the US model and the imported model, and stating that the vehicle meets US emissions standards and FMVSS standards.

  3. Vehicles manufactured to meet the FMVSS standards will have a certification label affixed by the original manufacturer in the area of the driver-side door. If the car has the FMVSS and EPA stickers on a model made for export into the USA, you should have no problem with the DOT.

  4. Certify that the car has been professionally cleaned. Steam cleaning the engine and underbody kills insects and keeps the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) happy. Otherwise, they may fumigate and temporarily store the vehicle (at your expense) until it has been certified safe to drive.

Modifying the Vehicle

You may have to have the vehicle modified in order to import it into the USA. Here is where you can spend the money and practice your paperwork skills! 

You must enlist the services of a DOT Registered Importer (RI). The job of the RI is to modify foreign vehicles to confirm to DOT standards. The process costs money and takes time. Click here for a current list of DOT RI's. Here's how it works:

A vehicle without the DOT certification label must be imported as a nonconforming vehicle. In this case, the importer must contract with a DOT Registered Importer and post a DOT bond for one and a half times the vehicle's dutiable value. This bond is in addition to the normal Customs entry bond. Copies of the DOT bond and the contract with an RI must be attached to the HS-7 form.

Here are some common - and some not-so-common - modifications and possible pitfalls:

  • Failure to meet emission requirements

  • Failure to meet safety standards

  • Replace kmh speedometer with mph

  • Tires sold in Europe must have a DOT number marked on the sidewall

  • Some BMWs may have to pay a gas-guzzler or luxury tax

Some creative people have devised workarounds to the regulations. Here are some examples:

  • Import as a farm vehicle.

  • Import as an off-road vehicle.

  • Import as a race car.

  • Disassemble the vehicle and ship as parts.

  • Use the vehicle for show and display only. The BMW Z1 is an example of a car in this category.

  • In some instances, a temporary approval can be obtained for a non-performing vehicle. The vehicle must be exported one year after entry with no extensions permitted. 

Remember, if you choose one of these alternatives, you may not be able to obtain a motor vehicle registration from your local government. More importantly, your vehicle may not be imported and, under US law, it can even be exported or destroyed!

Pay the Taxes

The current Duty Rate for imported automobiles is 2.5% of the declared value. The vehicle may also be subject to gas-guzzler (the vehicle has poor gas mileage) and luxury taxes (the vehicle has a high value).


Laws, Agencies and Regulations

The National Traffic & Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 established the agency of the same name within the Department of Transportation. Click here for the agency's home page.

Applicable Laws:

49 CFR 591  

 Importation of Vehicles and Equipment Subject to Federal Safety, Bumper, and Theft Prevention Standards.

49 CFR 592  

 Registered Importers of Vehicles Not Originally Manufactured to Conform to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

  • Within the USA, copies of the CFRs can be purchased from the Government Printing Office (GPO).

Click here for a Copy of the Federal Register Notice for Show or Display of a vehicle (pdf).

Customs matters can be obtained from:

Classification and Value Division
Department of the Treasury
U.S. Customs Service
Washington, DC 20229
(202) 927-0300

Click here for another version of Customs Publication No. 520.

Click here for The VIN Law.



US Customs web site. You can also request information and forms from the nearest office, from embassies and consulates abroad, or write to: 

P.O. Box 74707
Washington, D.C. 20044 

Click here for info from the Foreign Trade Zone manual.

Click here for info on RI's. An RI is an independent business and may be selective in the type of work it performs. Some RI's regularly work with BMWs.

Mailgate has a formatted, searchable version of announcements from the NHTSA.

The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) page on the FMVSS standards. Other SEMA pages are:

World Express has helped Importers and Exporters of Classic Cars traverse their way thru the maze of paperwork related to importation, and exportation for over 30 years. World Express Inc. has also helped importers of non-conforming automobiles with Compliance relating to U.S. Customs, EPA and DOT.

Sunshine Car Import is a licensed Importer (DOT/ EPA) and offers the full service to import any vehicle including:

  • Pick up from most European Cities

  • Shipment from Bremerhaven to Jacksonville/Florida

  • Full Conversion (DOT) and Emission Test ( EPA) in their facility in Cape Coral, FL

  • Delivery to any US-Address

Click here for a message forum post written in response to importing a car from Germany. Click here for another message forum post about Importing a Motor Vehicle Into the United States.

Moving to the USA has info on emissions, registration and state licensing.

The Cross Border Car Movers has info about importing and exporting between Canada and the USA. Click here for a nice set of links.

GLOBAL TOURING Touring To Europe was written for BMW motorcyclists exporting a bike from the USA to Europe, but has good info and links.

Motorex contains a sample agreement with an RI

Importing a Classic Car to America is oriented toward importing a classic car from Canada.

Buyer Services International is a British-owned company, based in America, that provides a variety of services to anyone who wishes to purchase a classic or exotic car for export overseas.

The Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory has a nice page on Importing a Vehicle.
Click here for a nice page written for US Navy personnel but has good info on the requirements.

Perils Of Gray Market Vehicles is a brief article warning of potential problems

The Star Bulletin has an interesting letter stating problems importing into Hawaii.

Shipping Scooters Stateside is Costly Luxury is a US Army letter discouraging importing of Vespas with some info on importing.

Click here for an article on iillegal import seizure, an example of why the DOT insures everything is done properly

The Spanish Trail Rovers has an excellent page on how to import a Land Rover

Click here for the DOT Decision That Nonconforming 1993 BMW 525i Passenger Cars Are Eligible for Importation

Sun International has more than 25 years of experience in all areas of the automobile business and related topics. Through their automotive consulting group, they can provide solutions for importing, EPA, CARB, DOT, engineering, marketing, promotion, sales, after sales, warranties, spare parts, performance parts, long term support, etc. Some examples include the BMW Alpina. They can provide access to import services including Customs Broker, legal, bonding. 

SEFCO Export Management Company. Click here for info on overseas moves, including vehicles. 
Their shipping services are provided in cooperation with Allshore Forwarders Ltd

American Red Ball International home page. Click here for vehicle importation guidelines

Tom Ruble and Sons is the only registered importer (R.I.) in Indiana. They are Heavy Duty Truck Specialists.

B. R. Anderson & Co. is a freight forwarder with customs info for the port of Puget Sound.

A Customs Broker and Freight Forwarder, Norman G. Jensen (NGJ) clears into the USA several thousand motor vehicles annually from Canada and European Nations. Click here for info on importing vehicles into the USA.

Vehicle Importation Network System (VINS) features automated full service vehicle import processing. Call Kathi Wozniak at (315) 686-1188 or email

The EPA maintains a list of Independent Commercial Importer (ICI) companies.

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