Banner--Importation and Certification FAQ's Directory

Part 1 Group 1 All Vehicles

Importation and Certification FAQ’s

PART I
Group 1: All Vehicles

  1. Is there a need for DOT Approval?
  2. Can NHTSA tell whether my vehicle is conforming?
  3. Importing a conforming vs. a non-conforming motor vehicle.
  4. Importing a vehicle already determined eligible for importation.
  5. Importing a Canadian-certified vehicle; need for automatic restraints.
  6. Re-importing a U.S.-certified vehicle.
  7. Re-importing a U.S.-certified vehicle missing its certification label.
  8. Importing a vehicle that is at least 25 years old.
  9. Importing a vehicle for parts.
  10. Importing a disassembled vehicle.
  11. Importing a right-hand drive vehicle.
  12. Importing a vehicle for show or display.
  13. Importing of an off-road vehicle.
  14. Importing a racing vehicle.
  15. Temporary importation by non-U.S. residents.
  16. Temporary importation of a vehicle; expiration of temporary importation period.
  17. Exporting a vehicle.

Additional Information on the NHTSA Website

1. Is there a need for DOT Approval?

DOT does not approve any motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment items as complying with all applicable FMVSS. That is instead the responsibility of the vehicle or equipment item's original manufacturer. For motor vehicles, the certification is provided in the form of a label that is permanently affixed to the vehicle by its original manufacturer, stating that the vehicle complies with all applicable FMVSS in effect on its date of manufacture. For vehicles other than motorcycles or trailers, the label must be affixed to either the hinge pillar, the door latch post, or the door edge that meets the door-latch post, next to the driver's seating position. For motor cycles and motor driven cycles, the label must be affixed to a permanent member of the vehicle, as close as is practicable to the intersection of the steering post with the handlebars, so that it is easily readable without moving any part of the vehicle except for the steering system. For trailers, the label must be affixed to a location on the forward half of the left side of the vehicle, so that it can be easily read without moving any part of the vehicle.

2. Can NHTSA tell whether my vehicle is conforming?

Motor vehicle manufacturers are not required to submit to NHTSA, and do not submit to NHTSA, information on whether any particular vehicle they manufacture has been manufactured to comply with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety (and, where applicable, bumper and theft prevention) standards. Moreover, there is no way for NHTSA to discern, from the VIN that has been assigned to a vehicle, or from any other identifying characteristic, whether the vehicle was originally manufactured to comply with all applicable standards. The only way that NHTSA could tell whether a given vehicle has been so manufactured is if the manufacturer has affixed a label to the vehicle certifying its compliance with all applicable standards. If you are unable to find a certification label on a particular vehicle, and are interested in learning whether the vehicle was originally manufactured to comply with all applicable standards, you should contact the vehicle's manufacturer. A list of manufacturer contacts can be found on NHTSA's website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/.

3. Importing a conforming vs. a non-conforming vehicle.

If a motor vehicle was manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, and bears a label certifying such compliance that was permanently affixed by its original manufacturer, there is no need for NHTSA approval before the vehicle is imported. However, the manufacturer would have to submit to the agency information identifying it and the products that it manufactures that are subject to our standards no later than 30 days after manufacturing begins. In addition, the manufacturer would have to submit to us information necessary to decipher the VIN that it must assign to each motor vehicle it manufactures for sale in the U.S. If the vehicle manufacturer is not located in the U.S. the manufacturer must also designate a U.S. resident as its agent for service of process.

If the vehicle is less than 25 years old and was not originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, and/or was not so certified by its original manufacturer, it cannot be lawfully imported into the U.S. on a permanent basis unless NHTSA determines it eligible for importation. The agency makes those determinations on its own initiative or the basis of a petition from a registered importer. These are business entities that are specifically approved by NHTSA to import nonconforming vehicles and to perform the necessary modifications on those vehicles so that they conform to all applicable FMVSS. The petitions must specify that the vehicle is substantially similar to a vehicle that was certified by its original manufacturer as conforming to all applicable FMVSS and is capable of being readily altered to conform to those standards, or, if there is no substantially similar U.S.-certified vehicle, that the vehicle has safety features that comply with, or are capable of being altered to comply with, the FMVSS based on destructive test information or other evidence the agency deems adequate. Import eligibility decisions are made on a make, model, and model year basis.

An additional requirement for the lawful importation of a nonconforming vehicle is that it be imported by a registered importer (RI) or by an individual who has contracted with an RI to bring the vehicle into conformity with all applicable FMVSS. A bond in an amount equivalent to 150 percent of the declared value of the vehicle must be given at the time of importation to ensure that the necessary modifications are completed within 120 days of entry. A list of RI's can be found on our web site at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/. You might want to contact one or more of the listed RIs to obtain their opinion on the feasibility of conforming the vehicle that you seek to import to the FMVSS, and the costs involved in petitioning the agency to determine that vehicle to be eligible for importation, as well as the costs for conforming the vehicle to the FMVSS.

4. Importing a vehicle already determined eligible for importation.

NHTSA makes import eligibility decisions on a make, model, and model year basis. A list of vehicles that NHTSA has determined to be eligible for importation can be found on our web site at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/. If the vehicle you are seeking to import is of a make, model, and model year that is on that list, it can be imported by an RI, or by a person who has a contract with an RI to modify the vehicle so that it conforms to all applicable FMVSS and bumper standards after importation. At the time that NHTSA determines a vehicle of a particular make, model, and model year to be eligible for importation, the agency assigns the vehicle a unique vehicle eligibility number. That number is to be entered on the appropriate block of the HS-7 Declaration form that is to be given to Customs at the time of importation. The number alerts Customs to the fact that the vehicle can be lawfully imported (by an RI or by a person who has a contract with an RI to modify the vehicle), even though the vehicle was not originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS.

5. Importing a Canadian-certified vehicle; need for automatic restraints.

Before it can be lawfully imported into the U.S., a vehicle that was not originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, and/or was not so certified by its original manufacturer, must first be determined eligible for importation by NHTSA. The agency has determined that Canadian-certified passenger cars manufactured on or after September 1, 1989, are eligible for importation, provided those vehicles are equipped with automatic restraints that meet the requirements of FMVSS No. 208, “Occupant Crash Protection.” If a vehicle manufactured on or after that date is not equipped with automatic restraints, it has not been determined eligible for importation. Without this determination, the vehicle cannot lawfully be imported into the U.S.

6. Re-importing a U.S.-certified vehicle.

If a vehicle now outside the U.S. bears a certification label affixed by its original manufacturer stating that the vehicle complies with all applicable FMVSS in effect on its date of manufacture, it can be imported as a conforming motor vehicle under Box 2A on the HS-7 Declaration form that must be given to Customs at the time of entry. You can download a copy of that form from our website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import.

7. Re-importing a U.S.-certified vehicle missing its certification label.

If your vehicle was originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, and was so certified by its original manufacturer, it can be lawfully imported as a conforming motor vehicle under Box 2A on the HS-7 Declaration form to be given to Customs at the time of entry. If the vehicle is missing its certification label, it can still be imported as a conforming motor vehicle, provided you obtain a letter from the vehicle’s manufacturer stating that the vehicle was originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS. A list of manufacturer contacts is on our website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/. If the manufacturer is unable or unwilling to supply you with a letter stating that your vehicle was originally manufactured to meet all applicable FMVSS, bumper, and theft prevention standards, we can provide you with a form letter recognizing your vehicle as having been so manufactured. You would have to support the contents of the form letter with evidence (preferably in the form of a State-issued registration document) showing that the vehicle was registered in the U.S. before it was shipped overseas. If you do not have the vehicle’s prior registration documents, you could support the contents of the form letter with a report from a commercial VIN checking service (such as Carfax) that identifies the vehicle’s prior registration history and shows that the vehicle was once registered in the U.S. If you wish to be furnished with the form letter, you should call the Imports and Certification Division at 202-366-5291.

8. Importing a vehicle that is at least 25 years old.

A motor vehicle that is at least 25 years old can be lawfully imported into the U.S. without regard to whether it complies with all applicable FMVSS. Such a vehicle would be entered under Box 1 on the HS-7 Declaration form to be given to Customs at the time of importation. If you wish to see that form, you may download a copy from our website at www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import. You should note that the 25 year period runs from the date of the vehicle's manufacture. If the date of manufacture is not identified on a label permanently affixed to the vehicle by its original manufacturer, to establish the age of the vehicle, you should have documentation available such as an invoice showing the date the vehicle was first sold or a registration document showing that the vehicle was registered at least 25 years ago. Absent such information, a statement from a recognized vehicle historical society identifying the age of the vehicle could be used.

9. Importing a vehicle for parts.

If a vehicle originally manufactured for on-road use is shipped with its engine and drive train, it would be regarded as a motor vehicle for the purpose of the vehicle importation laws, and would have to be declared as such. If the vehicle was not originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, it could not be lawfully imported unless it is determined eligible for importation by NHTSA and is imported by an RI or by a person who has a contract with an RI to modify the vehicle so that it conforms to all applicable standards following importation.

If a vehicle is shipped without its engine and drive train, it would be treated, for importation purposes, not as a motor vehicle but instead as an assemblage of motor vehicle equipment items. In this instance, the vehicle would be entered under Box 1 on the HS-7 Declaration form, which covers motor vehicle equipment not covered by a standard, or manufactured before the date that an applicable standard takes effect. Any items included in the assemblage that are subject to an FMVSS (brake hoses, brake fluid, glazing, lighting equipment, seat belt assemblies, tires, rims) that were not manufactured to comply with the applicable standard, and/or were not so certified by their original manufacturer, must be removed from the assemblage and exported or destroyed before entry. Any covered equipment items that were manufactured in compliance with the applicable FMVSS, and were so certified, must be entered under Box 2A.

10. Importing a disassembled vehicle.

A disassembled vehicle that is shipped without an engine and transmission is treated for importation purposes not as a motor vehicle, but instead as an assemblage of motor vehicle equipment items. Such an assemblage can lawfully be imported into the U.S., provided any equipment included in the assemblage that is subject to FMVSS, but was not originally manufactured to comply with that FMVSS or was not so certified by its original manufacturer, is removed from the assemblage prior to entry into the U.S. Equipment items that are subject to the FMVSS include tires, rims, brake hoses, brake fluid, seat belt assemblies, glazing materials, and lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment.

If the assemblage is shipped with an engine and power train (even if those components are not installed), it would be regarded for importation purposes as a motor vehicle, and would have to be either manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, and be so certified by its original manufacturer, in the form of a label permanently affixed to the vehicle, or be determined eligible for importation by NHTSA and be imported by an RI or by a person who has a contract with an RI to bring the vehicle into compliance with all applicable FMVSS after importation.

11. Importing a right-hand drive vehicle.

In order to be lawfully manufactured or imported for sale in the U.S., a motor vehicle must comply with all applicable FMVSS issued by NHTSA. It is possible for a right-hand drive (RHD) vehicle to be manufactured in compliance with the FMVSS.

A motor vehicle that was not originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, and/or was not so certified by its original manufacturer, in the form of a label permanently affixed to the vehicle, cannot be lawfully imported into the U.S. unless it is determined eligible for importation by NHTSA. The agency makes these decisions on the basis of a petition from an RI. These are business entities that are specifically approved by NHTSA to import nonconforming vehicles and to perform the necessary modifications on those vehicles so that they conform to all applicable FMVSS. The petitions must specify that the vehicle is substantially similar to a vehicle that was certified by its original manufacturer as conforming to all applicable FMVSS and is capable of being readily altered to conform to those standards, or, if there is no substantially similar U.S.-certified vehicle, that the vehicle has safety features that comply with, or are capable of being altered to comply with, the FMVSS based on destructive test information or other evidence the agency deems adequate.

As previously indicated, an import eligibility decision can be based on the substantial similarity of a non-U.S. certified vehicle to a vehicle manufactured for importation and sale in the United States, and so certified by its original manufacturer. If the vehicle you are seeking to import is a RHD, even if there were a U.S.-certified left-hand version of that vehicle, it might not be considered "substantially similar" for import eligibility purposes. Our experience has shown that the safety performance of RHD vehicles is not necessarily the same as that of apparently similar left-hand drive vehicles offered for sale in this country. However, NHTSA will consider the vehicles "substantially similar" if the manufacturer advises the agency in writing, on the manufacturer’s letterhead (and not that of an authorized dealership or other such entity affiliated with the manufacturer) that the RHD vehicle would perform the same as the U.S.-certified left-hand drive vehicle in crash tests. Absent such evidence, the petitioning RI would have to demonstrate that the vehicle, when modified, would comply. In this case, you might want to contact one or more of the RIs listed on our website to obtain their opinion on the feasibility of conforming the RHD vehicle to the FMVSS, and the costs involved in conforming the vehicle and petitioning NHTSA for a determination as to whether the vehicle is eligible for importation.

12. Importing a vehicle for show or display.

Certain motor vehicles that are deemed to be of unusual historical or technological significance can be imported for purposes of show or display. Information on importing a motor vehicle for those purposes can be found on NHTSA’s website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/ShowDisplay/. When a vehicle is imported for purposes of show or display, it cannot be driven in excess of 2,500 miles per year. As a general rule, a motor vehicle will not be determined eligible for importation for purposes of show or display if more than five hundred vehicles of the same model were produced, if a version of the vehicle was originally manufactured for sale in the U.S. and certified as complying with all applicable FMVSS, or if the vehicle has been determined eligible for importation based on its capability of being modified to comply with all applicable FMVSS.

13. Importation of an off-road vehicle.

If the vehicle was not primarily manufactured for use on public streets, roads, and highways, it would not qualify as a "motor vehicle" that must comply with all applicable FMVSS, and bear a label certifying such compliance that is permanently affixed by its original manufacturer to be lawfully imported into the U.S. A vehicle that is not primarily manufactured for on-road use can be imported under Box 8 on the HS-7 Declaration form that is to be given to Customs at the time of entry. Such a vehicle is not subject to NHTSA’s jurisdiction, but may be subject to the jurisdiction of the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). For information on the requirements, if any, that apply to these vehicles, you should visit the CPSC’s website at http://www.cpsc.gov or contact that agency at 1-800-638-2772.

14. Importing a racing vehicle.

If the vehicle was originally manufactured as a racing vehicle, it can be permanently imported into the U.S. under Box 8 on the HS-7 Declaration form that is to be given to Customs at the time of entry. The importer must obtain a letter from the vehicle's original manufacturer confirming that it was originally manufactured as a racing vehicle. A copy of the manufacturer's letter should be attached to the HS-7 Declaration form that is submitted to Customs when entry in made. In this instance, no approval from NHTSA is necessary to import the vehicle.

If the vehicle was not originally manufactured as a racing vehicle, it can only be imported on a temporary basis under Box 7 on the HS-7 Declaration form. A NHTSA permission letter is necessary to import a vehicle on this basis. NHTSA grants permission in annual increments for up to 3 years if duty is not paid on the vehicle, or for up to 5 years if duty is paid. If the vehicle was originally manufactured for on-road use, it would have to be in full race configuration at the time of importation, and lack equipment and features needed for on-road use.

Information on importing vehicles for racing purposes is available on NHTSA's website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/racing.

15. Temporary importation by non-U.S. residents.

Nonresidents of the U.S. (including U.S. citizens living abroad) may temporarily import nonconforming motor vehicles into the U.S. for personal use, for a period not to exceed one year. The vehicle must be registered in a country other than the U.S. at the time of entry, must not be sold while it is in the U.S., and must be exported when the year is up. If you wish to import your vehicle under these conditions, you should check Box 5 on the HS-7 Declaration Form to be given to Customs at the time of entry. Your passport number and the country that issued the passport must be specified on the declaration. An international convention governs the importation of these vehicles. The U.S. is a signatory to this convention. The convention provides that vehicles can be imported under its terms for a period of up to one year. NHTSA has no authority to extend the one-year period that a vehicle imported in this manner is allowed to remain in the U.S.

16. Temporary importation of a vehicle; expiration of temporary importation period.

Motor vehicles that were not originally manufactured to conform to all applicable FMVSS may be temporarily imported into the U.S. for specified purposes, including research, investigations, demonstrations or training, or competitive racing events. Vehicles imported for those purposes are entered under Box 7 on the HS-7 Declaration form to be given to Customs at the time of importation. Unless the importer is a manufacturer of motor vehicles that are certified to the FMVSS, a NHTSA permission letter is needed to accomplish such an importation. Instructions and an application for obtaining a NHTSA permission letter are found on our website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import. Once the application is completed, it should be faxed to the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance, Import and Certification Division at 202-366-1024. We grant approval for temporary importations under Box 7 in annual increments for up to three years if duty is not paid on the vehicle, or for up to five years if duty is paid. We are not averse to granting extensions to existing approvals if we receive a request in writing to do so, supported by a full explanation of why the extension is needed. Vehicles that are temporarily imported must be exported or destroyed upon the expiration of the period for which importation has been allowed.

17. Exporting a vehicle.

NHTSA does not regulate the exportation of vehicles from the U.S. We only regulate the importation of vehicles into this country. Therefore, we can offer no guidance on this subject. If you have a question regarding the exportation of a vehicle, you may want to direct that question to the Customs Director at the port through which you intend to ship the vehicle or visit http://www.customs.gov.

Additional Information on the NHTSA Website

  • Importing a Canadian-certified motor vehicle

For detailed information on how to import a Canadian-certified vehicle please visit our website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import.

  • Importing a non-U.S. or Canadian –certified (Gray Market) Motor Vehicle

For detailed information on importing a non-U.S. or Canadian-certified motor vehicle, such as one that was originally manufactured for sale in Europe or in the Far East, please visit out website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import.

  • How to Become a Registered Importer

For detailed information on how to become a Registered Importer please visit our website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import.

  • List of FMVSS

For a booklet that lists the FMVSS, and provides a brief description of each standard, please visit our website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import.

  • List of Registered Importers

For a listing of all Registered Importers in active status with NHTSA, please visit our website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import.

  • HS-7 Declaration Form

To download a copy of the HS-7 Declaration form, please visit our website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import.

  • Vehicles Eligible for Importation-Eligibility List

Vehicles on this list may ONLY be imported under bond and by an RI. For a list of vehicles that NHTSA has determined to be eligible for importation, please visit our website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import.

Part 2 Group 2 Motorcycles and Scooters
Part 3 Group 3 Trailers and Heavy Trucks
Part 4 Group 4 Equipment
Part 5 Group 5 Import Eligibility Petitions
Part 6 Group 6 Motor Vehicle Exportation
Part 7 Group 7 Related Government Agencies
Part 8 Abbreviations Defined
Part 9 Appendix
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