This post documents expenses in importing a vintage (25 years or older) car from Europe to the U.S. That's the minimum age for a car so it does not have to meet U.S. DOT and EPA restrictions where the cost becomes prohibitive to us normal enthusiasts. In September I had a '73 Giulia Super shipped from Belgium to the port at Tacoma, Washington. See this post, http://www.alfabb.com/bb/forums/sedan-1963-1974/47327-belgium-tacoma.html
, for details about the car and other comments/questions during this adventure.
My working assumption was that I could import (including shipping and other expenses) a top condition Giulia sedan for the same price or less than I could buy one for here in the states. This assumption is predicated on the value of Giulia sedans being significantly higher here in the U.S. due to their rarity and growing cult status. In Europe the tables are turned with the sedans being more common than Sprint/GTV coupes and Spider roadsters. This assumption likely will not hold with importing another Alfa model. Another make/model of car that fits into this category making it a good value to import (that I also considered early on in my search) is the Lancia Fulvia--much more common and thus less expensive in Europe. Certainly with the Giulia sedans, there is a much wider selection in Europe as far as condition, available engines, and color choice. Here it's been "take what you can get" for several years with the sedans unless you want to partake in an EBay bidding war and end up overpaying by several thousand dollars for a model with a less desireable drivetrain as has happened more than once in past months.
Note that every month the Euro/dollar exchange rate has become more and more unfavorable to those in the U.S. looking to import from Europe. Thus my expenses over the last couple months (notably the purchase price of the car and shipping, which both needed to be converted to Euros) are already outdated in U.S. dollars by about 5%! But, despite the naysayers who claim even today that the exchange rate keeps them from importing, it's really not that bad yet at least for the Giulia sedans. Continuing this trend in the exchange rate another couple years though may eliminate the cost advantage.
First, the purchase price of the car. Depending on condition, drivetrain, and year (or, more accurately, series) in roughly that order as far as impact on price, a nice (condition 2 or 3 in terms of common collector car price guides) Giulia sedan in Europe will sell for between 8,000 and 14,000 Euro. With an exchange rate of 1.38 back when I bought, that's $11,000 to $19,300. A more typical range is 9,000 to 12,500 Euro for either a 1.6 liter dual carb Super or a bigger transplated engine (almost always a 2.0 dual carb) which is (was) $12,400 to $17,250. My Super was within this range. For the purpose of giving an absolute cost at the end and figuring costs that are a percentage of purchase price, estimate a cost of $15,000 in the middle of the range for a solid "no excuses" example.
Secondly, shipping costs. For "roll on, roll off" (RoRo) shipping, the only reasonably priced way to ship a car (containers add $$$ and unless it's a priceless work of automotive art being bought as an investment rather than a driver, not worth the expense). My car was shipped by a top notch shipper named Wallenius Wilhelmsen that ships vehicles only, thousands per ship (obviously new cars make up the huge majority of what they transport). There was no damage I could find as a result of shipping and the car arrived clean with only a thin layer of dust, which could have been either from the voyage over or from storing it a few days in a warehouse while it cleared customs. Shipping costs are fixed regardless of the price of the car and mine cost 1386 Euro or just over $1900 (I see that same amount now pushes $2000 with the current exchange rate). Shipping insurance for privately imported cars in this value range is not common I believe. Obviously you take a slight risk with the car being damaged (or worse) during the shipment, but I think it's far less of a risk than shipping via a car carrier truck over the highways of the continental U.S. based on the horror stories I've read. My shipping cost of course was dependent upon the shipper, the port it was leaving from, and the port it was arriving at. That meant a trip through the Panama Canal for a west coast port. Certainly shipping to an east coast or Gulf of Mexico port would reduce the cost. Still, it's pretty amazing to me that you can ship a car for that cost when it costs more to ship across the U.S. in a closed carrier. It was 4 weeks on the water with minimal other stops along the way (one port in Europe and one in Califonia, then Tacoma). Actually that time passes very fast in my experience especially since the shipper provided a web based capability to track the ship through ports along the way.
The shipper will send you an arrival notice for the car a week or so before hitting port stating a price that needs to be paid in cash or cashier's check. This was called a "Wharfage Discharge Fee" on my arrival notice and the money goes to the shipper although I'm not sure how it is disbursed after that point. It was a flat rate of $100 in my case.
The other fees that need to be paid are to U.S. Customs. The Department of Agriculture inspects the car to make sure it is clean to their standards (especially the undercarriage). If it does not meet their standards, I was told it's a $200 fee for them to steam clean the car. That seems to be quite rare though, perhaps dependent upon the port. Assuming it passes that inspection, the only remaining fees are a 2.5% customs duty for importing a car and then a $9 fixed processing fee. For the $15000 assumed value, that's $384. They get the value of the car for the customs duty from the Bill of Sale you'll need to present to them (along with the original title and registration for the car that the shipper will send you from the port of departure).
Running total of all costs, again with this median value $15000 vehicle would be 15000+1900+100+384 = $17,384. Of course, if you have state "use" or "sales" tax collected when you title and license the car in your state, that will be a chunk of change much more than the 2.5% customs duty. You people in states like Oregon should feel very lucky about not having to pay this. There are a few other smaller considerations as well. You probably will have international wire transfer fees to send money to purchase and ship the car. Also, you'll have to account for any costs that the person who is acting in Europe on your behalf incurs such as transportation. I'm not sure how that would work if you were to go directly through a dealer rather than a private party sale without having a person in place to help with the purchase and shipping. Plus, you may have international phone calls and faxes to send and the phone company loves those--emailing as much as possible is definitely the way to go.
Finally, quite a few people advocate hiring (and paying) a customs broker to handle the details of getting the car from the ship into your hands as far as customs clearance, etc. I strongly recommend doing it yourself and saving several hundred dollars. The whole process for picking up the car involved only a few stops at two or three different offices very close to the port of arrival. There is no tedious or confusing paperwork to prepare before you arrive to pick up the car. Part of the job of the people at the port (customs and port employees) is to help you through this process. There is a lack of cohesive documentation available on what the process involves as far as customs clearance, but AlfaBB posters and then a few phone calls to arrival port offices (the shipper's office there, customer service at the port, and the customs office) got me through all that without lightening my wallet. My personal experience with importing is a very positive one. I did find the right car for me and got it safely back home for thousands of dollars less than buying through Ebay in a rushed environment where what you end up with falls far short of the what the auction posting makes it out to be.