If you’re extremely wealthy or have tons of experience importing and exporting vehicles, stop here. This guide is for the common man or woman who may be stretching it to get their dream vehicle from overseas. If you’ve done this once or twice before, it’s probably still worth a read and I’d love to hear about, or compare/contrast with your experience(s).
EDIT - Please don’t be deterred by my terrible experience at the end of the journey. The whole process really isn’t that difficult, and 95% of my troubles stemmed from a lack of planning/checking out brokers. Now that it’s all over it’s so cool to have the car!
Part 1 - Planning
Honestly, this is most of it. I skipped this step. I bought a car via a side deal after the Bring a Trailer auction did not meet reserve. When I agreed to the deal I had absolutely no idea how I was going to get the car, how I was going to pay for the car, or how I was going to pay for all of the shipping/import fees. Obviously not a good start, but the good news is you can do it! If you find yourself in a similar situation.
First things first.
Have some cash. 4-5 grand to be safe. Most of the organizations you will encounter during this process won’t take a credit/debit card. Even if they do, they’ll charge an extra fee for it. By the time you’re done you’ll pay a shipping company, a broker (probably), your state’s DMV, and a trucking/delivery company (if you wish).
If you’ve already found the car of your dreams. Start researching shipping companies near the car’s location. You don’t have to do this, there are plenty of US based companies that will do this for you, but as I did my research I found the US companies to be more expensive and more wishy washy on the details. One thing to note, you’ll be looking for RoRo shipping (roll on roll off) the boats are like giant floating parking garages. There are other options but they are more expensive and unnecessary in my opinion. This is after all, a guide for regular peeps.
If you’re searching for the car of your dreams begin your search near large ports (the closer you are to a shipping port, the cheaper and easier shipping will be). Once you hone in on a couple of companies, vet them. Deal with someone who will talk to you on the phone. Also make sure that the company will go and pickup the car and put it on a boat unless you plan to go over and do that yourself.
After my rapid fire research and at the suggestion of the seller who had used their services previously, I chose “Global Transport Amsterdam”. I emailed them and told them what I was looking to do and that I’m both new and nervous to the process. Minutes later they called, explained their process and that they would send me an email with a quote. Minutes after that I had a quote with the costs broken out with the option for insurance etc...
They were fantastic, very responsive, and answered every annoying question I had. They always picked up the phone or called back quickly. If I do this again and I think I might, I will use their services again unless the car is too far away for them.
Next, find out if that shipping company works with a US broker, if they do vet that company/broker. I only did the first part of that last sentence, and it was the cause of most of my headaches. I won’t disclose that company’s info yet because I’m still maybe going to do something about it.
Find and vet another US broker or two for comparison and maybe look into DIY. The people at the port of Baltimore told me at a high level what I needed to do to bypass a broker, but I think I would still use a one. If you screw something up it could cost you a lot of money or the car you just bought.
In any case, if/when I do this again I will be looking for a broker that works at or near the port where the car is being delivered. The broker I used this time was based on the west coast. I’m on the east coast, it makes no damn sense...The time difference presented an additional communication boundary, and my broker wasn’t good at that to begin with.
Deal with a broker who will take a deposit and collect the balance after the car has arrived and cleared customs, or even better after the car has been delivered/picked up.
After you are 90% sure that you’ve found a shipping company and broker that you are confident in, put them in touch and make sure that you are part of the chain. Make sure anything they send each other, you get too. My broker sent me everything I needed to register the car, but I had to ask for copies of the bill of lading and I had to have the driver make me a copy of the dock receipt. You probably wont need any of that stuff, but if you or your delivery driver needs any of it you’ll have it instead of waiting around for hours for your broker when it’s crunch time.
Part 2 - Buying the Car
Getting the money
If you happen to have enough cash to buy the car and want to use it for that purpose, skip to “Paying the Lady or Man”. I’ve got an infant and am in the middle of a addition on our house, so I didn’t want to part with the cash. I found out that there are a few banks that will finance classic cars, interest rates are pretty good and they’ll let you finance for long periods of time kind of like a boat, which is nice. The problem with those companies (JJ Best is the one I was talking with) is that the car has to be in the US and titled before they will finance it. So I could buy the car with cash then finance it through them once it gets here. I didn’t want to do that.
I also didn’t want to borrow against my house, or against my retirement. So I got an unsecured personal loan. The interest rate was the same as the the classic car loan banks, but the term was shorter which was for me was preferable. The added benefit to that is that you get to hold the title to the car. Most of you know that it’s a pain to sell a car, but its a lot more difficult if you’ve got a lein on the title. Anyway this is all dependent on your credit situation, and if you’ve gotten this far maybe you’ve decided that this isn’t a good move after all. I thought that for a few seconds at some point during this whole thing, but I countered that negativity with the fact that I could sell the car for more than I bought it for if I decided that it was a mistake.
In addition to the money you should do some sort of bill of sale. I downloaded the standard one for vehicles provided by PENNDOT, then I used DocuSign to have the seller sign it.
Paying the Lady (or Man)
If the seller will agree to it, you can try to use a service like escrow.com. They’ll allow you and the seller to agree on terms, you pay escrow.com then they release the funds to the seller when terms are met. I didn’t know about this service and probably wouldn’t have used it anyway, but it’s a great safety net if all parties agree. I’m sure it costs money but I’m not sure how much.
The problem is, that’s not really how online transactions (or transactions in general work). You pay then you get the item/product/service. So most international sellers and shipping companies will want a wire. If that stops you from buying a car I totally understand.
So a wire it is! The only time I have ever wired money is when I bought my house and that was such a whirlwind of paperwork and other shit, I can’t even tell you how or when that happened. What’s more, is that I was dealing with escrow, and a US based seller/mortgage company so there is relatively simple recourse if I didn’t like the outcome.
I haven’t been inside of a bank in years. Throughout this process I have been in half a dozen times or more. You’ll have to go in and see a teller about wiring money. They’ll need your info, the sellers info (account info etc) then they’ll pull some secret password written on a post-it note out of a drawer and call another manager to complete the wire. Then, poof! Ya money is gone, and about 3 days later it ends up in the sellers account, sometimes it’s faster (or slower) than that. International wires cost around $50 FYI.
Scary right? I’m sure that there are some steps to take if you were to get scammed, but I bet any Nigerian prince will tell you “good luck”
Part 3 - The Journey
Once you and the seller are square, your shipping company can pick up the car! The seller of my car was kind enough to send me some pictures when they picked it up, and the shipping company sent me the tracking info as soon as they got it to their warehouse. Once the boat has set sail, the shipping company will want payment. Again a wire was my only option.
The tracking info will tell you the name of the vessel, and from there there are a myriad of sites that will allow you to track the ship via satellite. Tracking stops after the boat gets a few miles away from shore. Fleetmon.com allowed me to purchase credits ($16) to be able to track the boat for 15 minutes per day for two weeks using satellite AIS tracking (so you can see it the whole way across the Atlantic. So I waited until the boat was out of range and purchased the credits. I took screenshots for oppo and for my own file on the car.
As the boat nears the USA or even before, you should be triple checking the paperwork with your customs person. You’ll fill out DOT form HS-7, EPA Form 3520-1, and most likely a power of attorney for the customs broker.
A few days before the car arrives, you’ll get the customs entry summons. Now you have what you need to go to your state’s DMV and apply for a tag/title. Most states will give you a temp tag and you’re good to go. Pennsylvania will not, and I submitted my application right around the holidays, so everything is taking a while longer.
If your title is in a language other than English, get it translated. You might not need it but it’s cool to have. It took me an hour or so to do it via google translate. I went sentence by sentence and had to stop from time to time to make sense of some phrases.
Keep copies of EVERYTHING even now I have 3 folders each with a copy of every document involved in this process. One in my safe, one in the car, and one in my Ranger in case the tag place calls and needs something. I also have a PDF with everything. Everyone you encounter throughout this process will really appreciate you having your shit together.
Part 4 - Arrival
The “guide” more or less ends here. However I highly recommend that you go and get the car yourself. You can use a delivery service through your broker, or you can hire your own but the next time I do this, I’ll rent an enclosed trailer and go and get it myself. Here is why.
When the car arrived at port is where everything started to unravel for me. I had asked my broker multiple times what delivery looks like, where the car would be stored etc... No response. The nitty gritty details are here, but it was horribly unorganized. I was on the phone for that entire morning! First trying to find the car, then trying to convince a port worker and the delivery driver to wait while I figure everything out, then getting in touch with the customs broker, and finally offering to pay the delivery driver extra so that he didn’t bail on the whole situation.
My driver was a really nice guy. I appreciated the constant communication and him sticking it out for hours while I did all of the work my broker was supposed to do. However, we had congruent motivations. He didn’t want to waste his day and lose money not delivering my car, and I didn’t want my car sitting at port for another weekend after it had already been there for a week. I’m not feeling that he took advantage of the situation, after all I offered to pay him for the fees. But there is a feeling of slimyness about the whole process after the car arrived state side. Kind of like how casinos used to operate (still operate?) in that everyone in line was skimming what they could off of the top.
He was understandably pissed about the fees he incurred and time wasted. At first I’m like “well the broker has to make you whole for all of that”. As I’m saying that to the guy I’m thinking the same thing that he is “yea fucking right is that happening...” He said that the broker didn’t even respond when he asked him about the fees. He asked if I could “cancel with the broker and go directly through him” hinted that he was going to have to come back the following week or bag it all together. That was enough for me to say “fuck it, I’ll pay the $15o in fees”. He was like “it’s not just the fees, it’s gas, my time etc...” So I say “ok well let’s work something out. I want the car, you want to get paid...When you make sure the car exists and that you’re able to pick it up let me know what I owe you.”
He asked what I was paying the broker for delivery, and I told him $375. I asked him how much he was being paid by the broker and he said $200. He gets the jobs off of some sort of dispatch board. So we both knew that the broker had enough to cover the driver’s losses, but that we would have a hard time getting it.
Anyway...He get’s the car, let’s me know that he knows all about 02's grew up around them etc... He sends me video of him driving it around and the car idling...”Awesome”, I think. The guy is going above and beyond. He sends me a pic of it loaded up, it doesn’t look right to me, but “who the fuck am I?” I think.
He still can’t give me a number on what I owe him but says that he’ll bring all of the receipts. When he’s about an hour and a half away with the car he calls and I say “so how much do I owe you?”. He can’t really tell me and keeps saying hes sorry that this happened to me, and that the broker really messed us both up. Finally I throw out a number. “$250? Does that cover you? That’s enough for the fees, and a tank of gas.” He said “I was thinking more like $350-$400, but I won’t do that to you. You seem like a good person and none of this is your fault. $250 is fine.” I said “You’re thinking $350, I was thinking $250, let’s call it a day at $300.” He thanks me and says he’ll arrive in 90 minutes.
He arrives in some sort of modernish Ram dually with the stacks mounted out of the bed. The car is on a rickety, flat, open trailer, and it’s on there crooked. I have a look around. The tip of the exhaust is now bent up, it wasn’t when he picture of it loaded up. I thought it looked wrong because the metal bar on the back of the trailer was barely clearing the exhaust, even the smallest bump would make contact. Obviously that had happened. Also the trailer was high, ramps are steep, and the car is LOW. He has me back it off of the trailer. He lowers it a little bit, but I still scrape exhaust hits the bumper again and it’s bad enough to bend the bumper and crack some of the paint above the exhaust. I take it for a test drive and while I’m enjoying the car, I decide that I can’t mentally deal with any more drama surrounding this car. I’ll pay the guy, get the car fixed on my own and forget about it.
So again, the driver was a good guy and I appreciate what he did. At the end of the day I was the last one to back the car off the truck and damage it. So what can really be done without a bunch of bullshit? Nothing.
Obviously this crazy situation could have been easily avoided if the broker didn’t suck so bad. Still the whole thing from the port of Baltimore to my house felt sordid. Everybody getting what they can along the way, and me just throwing money and time that I shouldn’t have had to just to get my car.
One can always make more money, but you can’t get more time and I’m way over my time budget for this whole thing. I’m so happy to finally have it and I can’t wait to get out there and drive it! I called the body shop I’ve used in the past and the owner came out to have a look at the damage. I explained the situation and he said “I’d have done the same.” To which I said “of course you would, you own a body shop.”
I’ve already ordered a new exhaust. So I’ll be strapping that on, taking it to get inspected, and have the carbs tuned. Then I’ll drop it off to have the bumper fixed. After that I plan to drive it every day that it’s not snowing or absolutely pouring. A fair weather DD I guess you could call it.
Anyway I hope this is helpful or at least interesting to a few of you. TL;DR Have some cash, do your homework, and pick the car up yourself.
Finally another special thanks to The Actual RootWyrm for the advice. If you’re ever in the Philadelphia area, I’d be happy to buy you a couple of beers.
Happy Thursday, and thanks for reading!