Special: Importing American Classic Cars

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If you're interested in importing a car from the USA, CARFAX's U.S. Import Guide provides an extensive look at the step-by-step progression – from the beginning to the end – of the process. But if you're looking to import American classic cars, things can be somewhat different. This guide will help identify the special conditions that exist for American classic cars when importing them into Europe.

From buying and shipping to customs and registration

Why drive an American classic car?

For many, it is a life long dream to own and drive a true classic automobile. Finding the right one for you can take your search across borders and, in some cases, even oceans. Many people look to the USA in their classic car search, and with good reason. Because of the vast size of the American car market, there are simply huge numbers of American classic cars to choose from.

Not only that, there are also many models that were never sold in the European market. America has a rich automotive history, manufacturing many unique and special cars throughout the years. This means, that in many cases, if you drive an American classic, you may be the only one with that car on the road. Exclusivity certainly has allure.

Finally, if the classic car of your dreams originally comes from the USA, the benefits of buying from America, in terms of price and availability, quickly become clear. Depending on the model you’re looking for, it's possible to save a lot of money by buying it abroad and importing it.

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Where to look when buying American classic cars

Of the many options you have when buying American classic cars, one of the best is to work directly with a company who specializes in importing vehicles. These companies typically have good connections stateside and in most cases, they will handle all the dirty details for you. Buying through an importer can potentially save you a lot of time, money, and stress.

If you'd rather search for and buy the car yourself, the internet is be an incredibly helpful resource. There are several classic car search engines that can help.

ClassicCars.com offers an extensive listing of American classic cars by type, location, year, and more. They also host information on car auctions as well as resources for helping ship the car internationally. If you want to import a classic from the USA, this can help make choosing what to buy much easier.

Hemmings.com advertises itself as the world's largest collector car marketplace. They back this claim up by offering classifieds listings from private sellers, dealerships, and auctions. Much like on other used car websites, you can search for the perfect American classic cars by price, make, model, year, and so on.

Can I get a CARFAX Vehicle History Report?

It's recommended to get the CARFAX Vehicle History Report anytime you're buying a used car. This can help you avoid buying a vehicle with a bad history. But does CARFAX have reports for American classic cars? The answer is yes and no.

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) system, which is currently in place in America, wasn't standardized until 1981. This means that figuring out where to locate the manufacturer's identification number on cars built before this time is a quest in itself. This doesn't mean that a CARFAX report won’t be beneficial though. It will contain any information about major repairs completed based on insurance claims for accidents, flood damage and whether or not the vehicle has a salvage title. At the very least, the report will inform you of how many previous registered owners the car has had.

What vehicle history reports do not include is information on any restoration work or modifications and repairs performed by the owner. To learn this information, it is highly recommended to have any car inspected before buying. An appraiser should be able to find out if the car, engine, transmission, etc. are all original, and whether replacement parts are original or after-market.

For more detailed information on buying used cars in America, check out CARFAX’s article on where to buy and what to keep in mind.

Shipping American classic cars to Europe

The process of shipping a classic car is much the same as any car. Certain considerations might be made due to the value of the vehicle in comparison to some other used cars. This may mean shipping your car via an individual 20-foot container in order to ensure maximum safety while traversing the ocean.

For more detailed information on the ins and outs of shipping American classic cars to Europe, check out CARFAX's article on what you need to do before the car can leave the country and how to get your car from America back home.

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Customs clearance for American classic cars

Whenever importing a vehicle into Europe, having the proper documentation is essential for admission into the destination country. In order to ensure a problem-free customs clearance, the following documents are required:

  • 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 American classic cars. But before this can happen, import tax and duties will need to be paid.

Payment of import tax and duty for American classic cars

American classic cars have special Import tax and duty requirements. When you import a genuine classic automobile or motorcycle from the United States, you are normally not required to pay any import duties. This can be a huge savings advantage over other car types, which need to pay a 10% duty.

Another advantage to importing American classic cars is that, depending on the destination country, you only have to pay between 5-7% value added tax (VAT) over the sum of the purchase price and transport cost. This lower VAT rate for classic car import is part of the legislation referring to the import of "antique goods".

Which cars qualify as genuine American classic cars?

In order to qualify for not paying duty as well as the low VAT rate, your classic car must be:

  • Original in state (No changes to the chassis, steering, braking system, engine, etc.)
  • A minimum of 30 years old
  • A model / type which is no longer in production

However, strict criteria apply to be considered a vehicle with historical value. Thus there are some more specific requirements that have to be met in order to fully qualify for this low VAT rate. Ultimately, whether your vehicle qualifies as a classic or not will be determined by the customs office in your local country. Normally, they will perform random checks and physical inspections to verify that American classic cars meet their requirements.

Before you buy anything, make sure to inform yourself about the vehicle's eligibility for import at the low VAT rate. If the vehicle is a replica of an original, for example, the customs office will apply normal import tax and duty. Check out CARFAX’s article on customs clearance for more detailed information.

Vehicle Registration

Once your vehicle has been cleared from customs, you will need to have it registered before you can drive. Most American classic cars don't conform to European technical and vehicle safety regulations. To receive European approval for the vehicle, some adjustments or customizations may have to be made. Most times, only minor technical modifications are necessary.

However, in some cases a waiver of compliance may be issued for the technical requirements on legal roadworthiness; for example those relating to standards for exhaust emissions. These relaxations from technical requirements are handled on a case-by-case basis, so it's recommended to set up an appointment with your local technical inspection authority and find out what you'll need to do to register your car.

For more detailed information on the vehicle registration process, check out CARFAX's article on what you need to do before you can drive.


Once you have completed all of the above steps for importing American classic cars, you should finally be able to get your vehicle registration and hit the road. 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.