Part 4: Customs clearance and import tax from USA

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Once your vehicle has been shipped, the next step in the process is customs clearance. This involves paying the necessary import tax and duty. The big question is: How much should you expect to pay? CARFAX's U.S. Import Guide will help guide you through the sometimes complicated world of European regulations, customs clearance, and import taxes.

Arrival in Europe

When your vehicle arrives at the European port of destination, the car will either be driven off the ship (if you used the Roll on-Roll off method of transport) or unloaded from its container. In order for you car to enter the country, you will need to have the proper documentation. To avoid delays or unnecessary issues and ensure a smooth customs clearance process, the following documents are needed:

  • Bill of Sale
  • Original Title Certificate
  • Shipper's Export Declaration
  • Declaration of Dangerous Goods
  • Passport
  • Direct Representation Form (Note: only necessary when you're working through an importer. This gives them permission to handle on your behalf)
  • VAT-number (Note: only needed when clearing the vehicle in your company's name)
  • Customs Exemption for import duties & VAT (Note: only possible when you are moving to Europe and are relocating your vehicle as a part of your household goods)

These documents will generally serve to get customs clearance for your vehicle without any issues. But before this can happen, import tax and duties will need to be paid.

Payment of Import Tax and Duty

It is much easier to get through this part of the process if you're using an importer to get your American car into the country. The forms that need to be filled out at the customs office are relatively complicated. If you haven't used an importer and have to do this part yourself: take your time, ask any questions you may have, and make sure everything is clearly explained if you don't understand.

Despite the complicated forms and document requirements, the import tax and duties are relatively easy to understand. The tariffs for customs clearance are set at the European Union level. Here is what you can expect to pay in import duties, depending on the type of vehicle you’ve bought:

  • 22% for trucks (including pickups, when the cargo area is more than 50% of the length of the wheelbase)
  • 10% for passenger cars (this includes pickup trucks, when the cargo area is less than 50% of the length of the wheelbase)
  • 8% for motorcycles with an engine capacity to 250cc
  • 6% for motorcycles with a engine capacity exceeding 250cc

In addition to import duties, in order to get customs clearance you have to pay an import tax. You will pay anywhere between 19-22% value added tax (VAT) on the import depending on the country.

car customs clearance chart

Practical Example

This example will demonstrate the cost of customs clearance when exporting a normal car into Germany.

Imagine the purchase price of the car listed on the sales contract is $15,000. The German customs agency will convert the amount into the current rate in Euro. At the time of writing, this equals approximately €13,820. Then the costs for transportation are added in. In our example this will be €750. It is on this number that you have to pay the import duty of 10%. You now have a sub-total of €16,027. The 19% import tax will be paid based on this value. This leaves us with a grand total for the complete car purchase of €19,072.

calculation tax import

As a general rule of thumb, the total amount of import duties and VAT will be around 1/3 of the purchase price of the car.

When import tax and duty have been paid, the customs office will provide a customs clearance certificate, which must be presented upon registration of the vehicle.

A note about customs declarations

Whether you are using an importer or you're taking care of the sending process yourself, make sure to have an accurate customs declaration. The declaration should include:

  • An accurate description of the goods
  • Their value (normally the actual price you have paid)
  • Whether they are gifts, commercial, or personal items

Since the required documentation discussed at the beginning includes a bill of sale, it's not really possible to falsify this information. But beware that some importers will include a value on the customs declaration that is lower than the actual price paid. This is generally done in an effort to avoid paying full price for duty and/or VAT when the goods come into Europe.

However, as you are technically the importer, you are legally required to make sure you have an accurate declaration. Inaccurate information will only cause delays as the customs office makes enquiries into your vehicle's details. It's possible for your car to be seized, and you will be left responsible for any additional charges (e.g. storage costs, testing, etc.).

Always read through the fine print when using an importer. If you are unsure or confused about anything, ask questions. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

It's important to inform yourself of all local regulations regarding importing vehicles into your country.  Be sure to carefully examine prices, taxes and import duty, shipping costs, etc.

Now that your car is finally in Europe and through customs clearance, you’re almost ready to get it out into open traffic. Following CARFAX's U.S. import guide should help you finally get behind the wheel. For more information on how to import a car from the USA, continue reading Part 5: Vehicle Registration & Licensing.