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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
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months (notably the purchase price of the car and shipping, which both needed to be converted to Euros) are already outdated in U.S. dollars by about 5%!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.

Gary
 

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Gary:

Thank you for a very informative and useful post. A couple of comments:

1) If you got your Super for anything near $17,384 all I can say is WOW!!

2) Isn't the rate for a RORO transport dependent on the Port? I would think a car coming to the east coast from Europe would be cheaper than humping it all the way around the americas to get to the Port of Tacoma. Then again I'm no Magellan...

Again, thanks for the great post!
 

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Very informative - thanks for posting your experience in details. And, congrats on the car :)

I wonder if the customs and import procedures are the same in all states. I understand that US customs is federal and that it should be the same everywhere, but I wonder if there are differences between ports in practice, and if the state does have some influence, e.g. is there a state part of the import? Anyone has any experience?

Also, beyond EPA and DOT, your specific state may have additional vehicle regulations. In CA we have CARB.

Jes
 

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Discussion Starter #4
2) Isn't the rate for a RORO transport dependent on the Port? I would think a car coming to the east coast from Europe would be cheaper than humping it all the way around the americas to get to the Port of Tacoma. Then again I'm no Magellan...
Hi Rich,

Yes, I tried to imply in my original post that the shipping cost would be dependent upon the departure and arrival ports and then obviously different shipping companies can charge different amounts. I think you'd save several hundred dollars shipping a car to the east coast over the west coast. It is pretty clear though you would normally want to ship it to the closest port and hopefully that means you can pick it up in person. Certainly if you live in say Arizona or Utah, you might have it shipped to a Gulf of Mexico port and pick it up there, driving a few extra miles yourself rather than having it shipped through the Panama Canal and into California (where it would take another week to arrive as well as cost a bit more).

Gary
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I wonder if the customs and import procedures are the same in all states. I understand that US customs is federal and that it should be the same everywhere, but I wonder if there are differences between ports in practice, and if the state does have some influence, e.g. is there a state part of the import? Anyone has any experience?

Also, beyond EPA and DOT, your specific state may have additional vehicle regulations. In CA we have CARB.

Jes
Hi Jes,

Yes, I'm sure different states and ports all have nuances. In Washington the Customs (actually called Customs and Border Patrol) office filled out one form that stated that they had cleared the car and that it was exempt from DOT/EPA restrictions and thus could be titled/registered just like any other vehicle. They did verify the VIN/chassis number under the hood matched the other documentation I had. After driving home (I had a 3-day trip permit for that) I gave this form to my local county licensing office back on the other side of the state and they were perfectly happy with that, a bill of sale, and what I told them was a title in Belgium (they gave up trying to decipher anything but the make, model, year, and VIN after a few minutes) :)

Gary
 

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I imported a couple of cars my self via Baltimore harbor (MD). One time I was glad that I had a broker on Baltimore. My car was over 25days in the harbor because of the fact that the customs had to check the VIN on the car. It took the broker over 25 days to convince the customs to do it. As a private party you are not or almost not allowed to talk to the customs. They only talk to brokers. Yes you do save about $250 but some times it worth the money. My other car the Super arrived on a Saturday and I cleared it and picked it up on the following Monday.
Customs are a strange thing.

All the best and happy Motoring
Rob
 

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Thanks Gary!
Your description is right on the mark! The hardest part of importing a car for the first time is not knowing all of the details. When you are done, it all seems simple!

Randy
 

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When I shipped my Giulietta Berlina (RoRo) from Liverpool to the Port of Newark, two years ago, the cost was only $1200. The Customs Office in Newark is nowhere near the port, and I was told by others that it would take two days of running around to clear Customs, so I opted for a broker. I did insure the car through Haggerty while it was in transit. Everything went very smoothly.
 

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I think you are absolutely right. You need to hire a broker to do all the paperwork, plus they know all the people at customs. This helps a lot especially if you live far from the destination port.

First time I imported my Giulia 3 years ago, it took the broker almost 3 weeks to do the paper work and charged me $350. In addition I paid some storgae fee's, I think you are allowed to keep the car there for 5-7 business working days.

Second time I imported my Berlina 2 years ago, I told the broker I am going to offer you another $100 if you do it in a week, and guess what he did it in a week. One other problem is after inspecting the car it will take time until they clear it in the database, so the car will not be available for pick up.

In my opinion it is not worth importing cars from Europe, since they are not cheap there, plus the Euro conversion (if the market says $1.40 for 1 Euro, the bank will charge you $1.45 at least).
I would never do it again, I will wait for my chance to find one here in the US.

Giorgio



I imported a couple of cars my self via Baltimore harbor (MD). One time I was glad that I had a broker on Baltimore. My car was over 25days in the harbor because of the fact that the customs had to check the VIN on the car. It took the broker over 25 days to convince the customs to do it. As a private party you are not or almost not allowed to talk to the customs. They only talk to brokers. Yes you do save about $250 but some times it worth the money. My other car the Super arrived on a Saturday and I cleared it and picked it up on the following Monday.
Customs are a strange thing.

All the best and happy Motoring
Rob
 

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Well, if you are waiting to find a Super this nice for sale in the US, be prepared to wait a VERY long time.

I agree that a customs broker is not required, but nice to use if you need to. I was happy to pay for this service and a company to do the DMV paperwork, as I was under a big deadline to get the car cleared, registered and up to a show.
Randy
 

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In reply to Giorgia I want to ad that a broker will never take up to, in your case, three or more weeks to clear because he will never hold a car longer than necessary. He wants his money a.s.ap. from you.
As soon as possible after the clearing you can pick the car up the next day or the folowing day after that. It's never in the interest of thr broket to keep your car any longer. The storage fee you pay at the docks is for the clearing office and not for the broker.

And to Randy I will say that the DMV takes only an half hour, when you have all your papers ready. But little time changes it.

Happy motoring
 

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Also, a small note to Rob, the shipper actually gave me the phone number of the Customs Lady and when I called, she cleared both cars while we were on the phone!
I was able to do this because my broker had kept me informed as the Giulias passed each authority's inspection!
 

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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. Gary
NOT TRUE at Mid-Atlantic terminal Baltimore. I have had the absolute worse time with customs here than anywhere else. They waited a minimum of two days to do anything, no matter how much i called or checked in. Only after i hired Krause customs brokers (best $200 i have ever spent) anything got done.
The port employees were very helpful, the Customs inspectors/officers continued to tell me how this was now Homeland security and (importing my alfa romeo?) was a very serious matter. When i told them i was military and understood the new precautions that they needed to take in today's world they told me "its a much different war here than anywhere I have been." Apparently coffee breaks and surfing the Internet are a big deal.
 

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I guess that the East Coast Customs is more difficult, strict and living up to the rules than the West Coast Customs. Here in Baltimore the brokers do talk as little as possible to the customs otherwise they will ruin their relationship with them.
On the otherhand you as buyer why bother about spending $300 dollars on a $+10thousands costing car and have somebody taking all the hasle out of your hands.
You can yell at the brokers officer but not at the customs otherwise your car will be there for ever. Do you know that some fancy cars like very expensive Porsches and Mercedes cars have been in Saettle docks for over 2.5 years, yes outside.
A Broker is your only friend in the harbor.
Rob
 

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Gary:


2) Isn't the rate for a RORO transport dependent on the Port? I would think a car coming to the east coast from Europe would be cheaper than humping it all the way around the americas to get to the Port of Tacoma. Then again I'm no Magellan...
Yes, it does make a difference where you ship to. Or from. Mine was shipped from Germany to Houston....I found that is was even cheaper from Germany than it was from Belgium (my car was in Holland, so it was no big deal whether it would ship from Germany or Belgium) I paid 840 Euros for shipping, including pick up in Holland and taking it to port in Germany, which was close to 200 miles one way. I paid another 100 Euros for insurance

I wonder if the customs and import procedures are the same in all states. I understand that US customs is federal and that it should be the same everywhere, but I wonder if there are differences between ports in practice, and if the state does have some influence, e.g. is there a state part of the import? Anyone has any experienc

Jes
I thought it should be the same as it is federal, but I never had to pay a 2.5% import duty.....No one even asked about the value of the car, until I got it registered here in TX and had to pay sales tax. Customs here really was a breeze....and I am glad Gary had no issues, as I was one of the people telling him he did not need a broker;)
 

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Hi Peter,
There is another story. Very cheap transport costs and low insurance fee, No import taxes, No broker usage and No problem.

So you can not say with or with out a broker is better.
Just do what ever you think is right. The bottom line is that you get your car over here and drive it.

Have a good one
Rob
 

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Discussion Starter #17 (Edited)
After reading all the various experiences, it does seem like a common thread that the customs people on the east coast (northeast at least) create a lot more headaches when importing a car than the customs people on the west coast or Gulf coast. One poster described that as possibly following procedure more closely, but to me it appears like them just being jerks about it rather than wanting to help people in what should be a very simple process. I also find it hard to believe that cars have been sitting on the dock in Seattle (I'm guessing this is a different port than Tacoma?) for a couple years unless those cars are under 25 years old. In that case, all bets are off because you are taking a huge risk even trying to import such a car that will have to comply with U.S. DOT and EPA restrictions to be titled and registered like any other car.

I will thus modify my conclusion to state that the thing to do is to be calling the port customer service office and the port customs office well before your car arrives and ask them whether you can do the procedure yourself or if a broker is needed. I was told by both offices at the Port of Tacoma that only if you start importing cars frequently (i.e., you become a dealer), will they then balk at you doing it yourself and require you to start using a broker. For an individual importing a car for personal use, both the port office and customs actively encouraged me to just do it myself and save the money and hassle of involving another party. So, I can say at least that when importing into the port of Tacoma, there's no need to involve a broker. Others have had similar experiences at various ports, and obviously some have had aggravating experiences both when they've done it themselves and even when they hired a broker.

Bob, a Giulietta Berlina would certainly be another car that justifies importing into the U.S.!! They are rare anywhere, but essentially non-existent in the U.S. A couple of them came on the market while I was looking and I admit I was smitten by the idea of having something so unique and charming in style. But, ultimately my number one desire was to have the best driver I could (which is also why I decided on an Alfa sedan over an Alfa coupe like I had previously owned) so the Giulia made more sense. If I was ever to be in the position to own two very nice vintage Alfas....

At the Tacoma port they will hold the car for you for 15 days without any extra storage expenses. They had cleared my car through customs within 48 hours of it hitting the dock, although they also like to say you should expect it to take 3 to 5 business days.

I'll also concede that the European bank Roland and I used did tweak the exchange rate a bit in their favor from the current rates I was getting off the internet (they also extracted their own small fixed fee out just like my bank did to send the international wire transfer). But, it wasn't nearly on the order of 1.40 to 1.45. As we've seen though, your experience may vary. Best advice here is to either find out in advance the rate you will be getting (or at least very close since it will change daily) and the service fee from the bank the money will be wired to or to do the transaction in two wire transfers--one to purchase the car and one to pay for the shipping and then make up any shortfall (the latter is how I did it with Roland).

Finally, I will agree with Randy (101/105guy) that if you are going to wait for the right Giulia sedan to come along in the U.S. or maybe Canadian market, you are indeed in for a very long wait! The last one that I saw that was truly for sale and met my criteria (completely rustfree, not a Nuova model, a 1.6 dual carb or better engine) was the one Jeff Trask had in California last year (I wasn't in a position to buy then although I would have liked to have been). Even then it was a pretty dear price for a car that needed paint work (sold for around $14K I believe) and it was a paint color down my list quite a ways. In fact, early this summer I had what looked like an opportunity to puchase a completely original (other than a re-paint in the original color) Biscione model Super from another board member that fall through when the owner realized how much the car meant to him when faced with the prospect of it being gone. The "I'll wait" point of view I think is for those who already have one of these cars and maybe would consider another in the right circumstances rather than those who truly are motiviated to find their first to allow them enjoy the experience of owning one of these exceptional cars. Now that I'm on the "other side" as an owner, I already can see that's the case--the risk/reward ratio is changed and it's hard for someone as a current (or probably past) owner to put themselves in the other position.

Gary
 

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One other conclusion.....

from the above posts is that importing a classic Alfa to the US can be done by the average enthusiast. Some had more drama than others, but all seemed to have a good result. And the economics DO make sense, if you consider the cost to rebuild / restore one.
The car from Newport Beach recently sold on e-bay for well over $10 K and it needed a LOT of work.
Jeff Trask's car was a jewel, but still needed a complete repaint.
Gary and I ( and many more ) were able to bring in a car to drive and enjoy.
Oh, and about selling one....
I brought in two cars, thinking that I could sell one to recoup some of the cost of the other. Well, now that I have driven both for a year I can't imagine selling either one! :rolleyes:
Randy
 

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Great Info

can't thank everyone enough for the great info since i've been bitten by the import bug.

a small side note that might benefit someone. look into paying for the car with your credit card. before you think i'm totally crazy, hear me out. when i was stationed in Germany i bought an Audi 80 as a second car. i went to the german bank where i had an account to exchange my US dollars into then DM. since the car wasn't that much, the teller asked me if i had a credit card. of course i did, she then informed me that the bank's exchange rate is much lower for credit card transactions.

i'm assuming since someone getting ready to wire funds would have those funds available anyway, using a credit card wouldn't be a big deal since those funds could go towards paying off the purchase, therefore not incurring additional finance charges. i'd double check with your bank to make sure what i'm telling you still applies, but i remember it making enough of a difference that it made it worthwhile back then.

and if it has changed, please come back and post it here so we can all benefit.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
look into paying for the car with your credit card. before you think i'm totally crazy, hear me out...
Doesn't sound crazy to me if it saves money both with a better exchange rate and not having to pay international wire transfer fees. I know that after I wired funds I was pretty nervous for the 2 or 3 days it took for the funds to show up in the recipients bank account in Europe. Apparently it's much harder to trace down what happened if there is a problem with an international versus a domestic wire transfer and it's the sender who assumes that risk so that was the cause of my concern. In fact, the first local credit union I was going to use said they had temporarily stopped doing all international wire transfers precisely because of the lack of verifiability of funds being received and tracing problems. So, I quickly transferred money to another financial institute that did offer international wire transfers.

Buying a car from Europe presents several extra risks over buying one here in the U.S. when the whole transaction takes place in person and you immediately take possession of the car and have the title signed over. Whether those little risks when added up are acceptable is all part of the decision someone has to make before pulling the trigger.

Since credit card companies take out a percentage (2% or so for Visa/Mastercard?) on the seller's end for any purchases, I assume you've somehow worked that through with the recipient? So, have you identified a specific car to purchase or are you working through logistics while searching?

Gary
 
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