How to import a car from Australia to the US

Live in America but found your dream classic Down Under? Follow our guide to ensure your purchase gets safely across the Pacific and on to your driveway

Favourable exchange rates and some great classics make Australia a popular source of vintage cars for US buyers. The task may seem daunting at first, but there are a number of reputable shippers and transport specialists out there who regularly bring classic cars into the US, and utilising their services can take a lot of the guesswork and hassle out of the process.

The laws governing the importation of classic cars are also far less onerous if the vehicle in question is at least 25 years old, and a shipper will be on hand to guide you through the murky bits. You will still need to be involved with some aspects of the importing process, so we’ve outlined the steps required to get your newfound classic into the States.

Vehicle collection

We won’t be delving into the dangers of buying a car sight unseen here, but once you have found your dream classic it is vitally important to have it visually inspected before taking things further. If you’re unable to do it yourself, then it is well worth employing the services of a specialist to assess the car. Online images do not always reveal hidden rust, mechanical issues and, at times, wilful misinformation. It is also advisable to have the car fully photographed and its condition recorded before it leaves the seller’s premises.

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A shipping agent will have to be found, but first you will need to get the car to it. Some shippers offer a collection service for an extra fee, but if not you may have to employ the services of a specialist car transporter.

Insurance limits for transport companies vary, and if the vehicle is especially valuable it’s worth checking whether its insurance covers the value of the car. Enclosed trailers, if available, can be worth the extra expense.

If the car has any peculiarities, such as a quirky starting procedure or perhaps a mechanical fault, be sure to inform the shipper and/or transport company beforehand. If it’s a non-runner your transport costs are going to escalate.

If you intend to drive the vehicle to the shipping collection point, you will need to have the car registered and insured for use within Australia. This can often be more of a hassle, and sometimes even cost more, than simply using a transport company.

Once at the collection point, you will need to make sure that the fuel tank is close to empty; most shippers can drain the fuel tank for you. You will also need the original vehicle title, your passport and a bill of sale, which all need to be submitted to customs for clearance. An export permit is also required, which can either be filled out electronically or using a B957 form. This can be done via a courier if arranged beforehand, and is usually done on your behalf by the shipper.

Shipping options

Depending on where your car is located, it may be shipped from a variety of different ports within Australia, so you will need to find a shipper that operates out of a port that is convenient for your needs. As an example, A-1 Auto Transport offers a door-to-door delivery service and operates out of four of Australia’s major ports.

The shipping costs depend on the location and size of the vehicle, as well as what method of transportation you intend to use. RoRo (roll-on, roll-off) is the cheapest method, but the increased risk of damage to the car while in transit may make using a container a better option. Sharing a consolidated container with other cars also allows you to pack some items into the vehicle and keeps costs down, too. A-1 Auto estimate that this will cost approximately £2000 ($3000) for the average classic car.

Air freight is also an option, although the disproportionately higher costs involved make this method sensible only on very high-value cars. Whichever method you choose, transport insurance is a must and it is usually around two percent of the vehicle’s value. It can be less on very high-value classics and is usually negotiated on a case-by-case basis. The entire shipping process can take anything from eight to 14 weeks.

US paperwork requirements

Once the car finally arrives in the US, it will need to be collected from the port and cleared by the local customs agents. There are a number of steps that need to be followed, and most shippers will take care of the majority of these, but it’s still a good idea to be aware of the broader picture.

  • Required documentation includes a copy of your passport, vehicle title, bill of lading and a POA (Power of Attorney) letter for the clearing agent. Some of this will be required to be completed before your car leaves the country of origin.
  • A DOT HS-7 form (available online on the NHTSA site) and a CBP 3299 US customs form will also need to be completed.
  • Each state has different local laws regarding registration; eg California allows 14 days. However all states require that your car is insured before it can be legally driven on the roads.
  • If the vehicle is 25 years old or older, it will not be required to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) laws. You will however be required to show proof of registration if the date of manufacture is not stamped on the vehicle’s body.
  • Cars that do not fall under the 25 year exemption will need to meet all US EPA and DOT requirements, which may add significantly to your costs. You can avoid certain requirements if you only intend to import your car temporarily into the US, for a maximum of one year.
  • If your particular car has had an engine swap or major rebuild, be sure to confirm whether it still falls under the 25-year-old exemption rule before you ship.
  • State laws can also differ from Federal laws, so while you may be free to import a car that is over 25 years old and has no headlights or seatbelts, the state you wish to use it in may require you to fit these before they issue you with number plates.
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Final delivery

Once the car has been successfully cleared through customs, you will need to have it insured before you can take delivery. Some shippers offer warehousing services where they can store your car until you are ready to pick it up, and you can even have it delivered to your front door – for an additional fee of course.

Be sure to do your homework beforehand, pick a reputable shipper that best suits your needs and follow the NHTSA laws. Follow that advice and the importation process can be a lot less arduous than you might think. Once you start enjoying your new acquisition, you may even be tempted to bring in another foreign classic. Our classifieds section is a great place to start…

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