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Customs Importing
Clearing Customs when Importing a Car

(This article is a consolidation of advice from several MOT members.)

Contributors:
  • Wes Stewart
  • John Wright
  • Skip Laughlin
  • Jimmy Singer

Wes Stewart's advice:

OK, here goes the drill for Galveston.

   1. You should get an arrival notice form from the shipper.
   2. Call Customs, ask for the enforcement department and establish if the car has cleared that part of the entry process.
   3. If so, take paperwork that establishes the car's age and your ownership to the commercial desk
   4. Pay what they ask you to pay (I think this is a bit subjective, and can be up to 2.5%
   5. Take this stamped paperwork to the dock, show the guy there (Tony, most likely) and pick up your car.

Most of the time a broker is a waste of time for a one-off import.

The shipper should provide details on which dock etc.

With regard to shipping. Phoenix Cargo is the best, no question. Contact Emma Travers nee Pittaway, goddess of all things transported (tell I said so for either a discount or a giggle from flattery) http://www.phoenix-cargo.com/automotive.htm note the Mini at the bottom of the page.

While I am thinking on it, there are some other things to remember. Read "mistakes I have made that could have been avoided"

    * have duplicate keys, the original V5 and bill of sale sent to you by fedex
    * have a copy of the paperwork put under the seat in the webbing/squab
    * have the grounding scheme marked on a piece of wide masking tape and put on the battery e.g. NEGATIVE GROUND (RORO crews have a nasty habit of presuming all older British cars are positive ground. Roached my alternator in Mr. Wiggles as a result.
    * remove wheel covers and stow them in the boot
    * have 1 gallon of gas in the tank, Any more and it will get siphoned and probably take the crew to pizza in some port.


John Wright's advice:

We had to go down to the Arlington PD and get the Stolen Vehicle Division to look over the paperwork and car.


Skip Laughlin's advice:

More info on importing through Galveston:

The Customs Service Office for the port of Galveston is in ......... (wait for it) ............. Houston!

Silly me, I was in a hurry, so I went directly to the shipping lines office (probably Wallenius Wilhelmsen) in Galveston first to get the arrival notice. They said "Have you been to Customs?" I replied that I hadn't and how many blocks away was it?

It is located close to Houston's "Bush Intercontinental Airport" in north Houston. Contact info is US Customs Service, 2350 N Sam Houston Pkwy E, Houston, TX (281) 985-6700. So, I retraced my steps about 65 miles north to complete the balance of the paperwork that Wes describes. Then drove back to Galveston .

The 2.5% fee is supposed to be based on the established value. The sale amount does not appear anywhere on the import paperwork, so take your Bill of Sale. Further, the sale price needs to be stated in US Dollars. If it is in GBP, then you have to go get a Wall Street Journal for the same day as the date of sale. My original bill of sale was not in USD, so I made my own. These PC's and laser printers are handy little things, eh?

I had to document the weight of the last one, a Mini pickup. But I think that was because I brought it in as a commercial vehicle, as the fee was much less than 2.5%.

There is a wealth of info on the Mini Mania chat group about importing.
Do a search of the topics here: http://www.minimania.com/msgthreads.cfm

I've done this twice, and generally speaking, I found Galveston to be pretty relaxed on vehicle inspection. The last I knew, there was only one US Customs Service employee in Galveston. And he/she has got bigger fish to fry than inspecting an old British car. Which is OF COURSE at least 25 years old. Many of the east coast ports (with the notable exception of Charleston) are much more strict.

Getting it inspected and registered in Texas is another story.

You first get a Texas safety inspection. Ask the inspector to complete the “green form”, which is used for importing cars from out of state. And this is definitely out of state. (Your tag agent will use the VIN on the inspection form and compare it to the one on your import paperwork. They don’t physically inspect the car.) (And they have no idea how much it may be worth.)

The British form you will have is the V561, “Certificate of Permanent Export”. The seller must turn in the British registration upon export and they are issued the V561. They, of course, must send that along to you. The tag agent will look that form up in their reference material to verify that it is the correct form to document the vehicle’s history.

You will need to complete the Texas Vehicle Title Application. I think I had to forge the sellers name and signature last time to match the V561. That document and the Bill of Sale will establish cost, which is how they will compute the sales tax due.

Now that I think about it, the pickup paperwork suggested that title had passed in the UK. The nice folks at the tag agency were peering over the V561 and asked “So, then you paid tax in England on the sale?”.

One more thing about registering the vehicle: You have to have an inspection of the vehicle done by a recognized law enforcement authority. The first time I did it, it was the Allen PD. Then the rules changed and it had to be a Sheriff or Highway Patrol or similar to perform the inspection. I don’t recall the form involved, whether they furnish or if you do.


Jimmy Singer's advice:

I'll elaborate on this.

If you ship the car roll-on/roll-off to Galveston, it will likely come on a Wallenius Wilhemlsen ship (www.2wglobal.com). They will be the ones that send you the Notice of Arrival. You should get it about a week before the car arrives but don't be surprised if it comes after the car actually has landed in Galveston. Whoever you bought the car from (or is handling this stuff for you in the UK) needs to send you the new keeper's portion of the V5C (UK title).

If you are in Dallas, it generally makes sense to make the trip and do everything at once. The first destination is the Customs office at:

 US Customs
 2350 N Sam Houston Pkwy E
 Houston, TX 77032

Here, you will go into the office for clearing personal goods. In here, you will ring the bell at the window on the right. There are 2 and you need the one on the right. You need to bring: The V5C (if its from the UK) or the whatever title work you have from the originating country. You also need a Bill of Sale showing that the person on the foreign title sold it to you. You'll also need your drivers license. I believe that to legally use the informal clearance desk, the car needs to have cost less than $2,000 but I'm not going to tell you what to do here. If its over 2k, you are supposed to use a customs broker.

The customs officer will look at your papers, photocopy them, and fill out 2 forms, one of them is the DOT declaration form (you need this when you take it to get a title). They may ask you to fill it in, but not always. Be sure to check the exemption #1 stating the car is over 25 years old. For that matter, be sure that your car is over 25 years old before you ship it.

The other form is Customs form 7501 for the Department of Treasury. Here, they will write all the car info and calculate your duty and fees. Technically, you are supposed to pay it but I bat about 50/50 on them charging me sometimes and not charging me other times. I think there must be confusion amongst the officers if they are supposed to collect it or not. Personal check is okay.

Once you are settled up at Customs, head directly for Galveston. The Wallenius Office is now located in the Bank of America building at:

 2200 Market St # 703
 Galveston, TX 77550
 (409) 763-1500

Here, you will need the form they gave you at Customs (the one they perforated with a date stamp), You will also need a money order, cashier's check or cash in the amount shown due on your arrival notice plus any storage fees that may be due if you waited over 10 days to pick it up. No personal checks and no credit cards. Pay up here and Vicki Morgan will give you another form that's stamped 'ok to release cargo' that you will now take down to Pier 34 where your car is. If you call 409-763-1500 and press 2, you will hear directions to pier 34.

Driving into the pier, you'll be stopped by security, Tell him you're going to Wallenius to pick up your car and they will point you in the right direction. At Pier 34, take your Cargo Release up to the window of the trailer house that's parked in front of the warehouse. Admire all the tractors you thought were made in the USA but really aren't and hope none of them ran over your Mini like what happened to one of mine. Go inside and look at your car. It'll be filthy, and probably won't start because the battery will be dead (even if its brand new). It'll be parked amongst a lot of new BMWs and maybe another Mini or two. You might also see some Humvees with lots of bullet holes and stuff.

Check out you car, if its beat up, have them note your forms so that you can make a claim on your marine insurance or against Wallenius (fat chance). Tell them the battery is dead and they will send someone over to boost it off and you're ready to load it up on your trailer and drive home. You may or may not have tags on it so I suppose you could drive it home but unless its extremely nice, I would recommend getting it home and giving it a good once over before you ventured off on a 300 mile trip.

Contacts:

    * Tony White [email protected] -- He works for Wallenius in Southampton and would be the person to contact in England that can assist you in getting the car shipped out of England.
    * Vicki Morgan [email protected] -- Vicki works at Wallenius in Galveston. She can tell you if your car has arrived and how much you owe. You'll be paying her unless you mail the check into the NJ office ahead of time.
    * Hicks Uhaul 409-741-0532 -- They moved to a new location on Teichman rd. in Galveston. Call them to rent a trailer or tow dolly for your Mini. You have to lie to them though because classic Minis aren't in the uHaul computer and uHaul freaks out if its not in the system. Tell them you are towing a 1970 MG Midget and you should be fine. Your Mini will ride fine on a tow dolly or a car trailer. A tow dolly one-way to Dallas generally runs about 88.00 but it fluctuates a little bit.

Keep in mind, you can have a customs broker handle all this for about 400 or less and have the car picked up from Galveston and delivered to Dallas for about 250-275. It's a VERY long day to do all this yourself in one day and since you'll be taking time off of work to do it, a wasted vacation day is a consideration. I'm writing this as though you are in Dallas like me, but I guess if you're in Houston, its not nearly as big of a deal.

If you are from Dallas:

    * Option 1 Do it yourself:
          o Day off work $$$.
          o Gas to Houston and back $120.
          o Customs fees duty ?? $75,
          o Trailer rental $90,
          o Lunch at Casey's in Galveston $15 (recommended),
          o Diet cokes and candy $10.
          o Total $310 plus wasted sick/vacation day
    * Option 2 Have it done for you:
          o Customs broker $380
          o Ship to your house $275
          o Total $650 plus you didn't have to make a fake bill of sale for Customs and have the stress of going in there to clear a car that may or may not actually be 25 years old.

For what its worth, I buy a lot of cars overseas and you should really be careful that the car you are buying is as nice as you think it is (I can almost guarantee it isn't). All of the cars will have a lot more corrosion problems than the owner claims it does. Rust free to them means it doesn't have holes in the body and rust poking through the paint. I've bought countless 'rust free' cars that had rust bubbles all over them. Make absolutely sure the subframes are solid and that the car has a current MOT. If it can't pass the MOT, its probably not worth going through the trouble to import it unless you are planning to do lots of work.

If you want a non-smoker car, you can pretty much forget it.

Plan to spend about:

    * Car price $varies
    * Wire transfer fees $30
    * Transport to port $500 depends of course but the Dollar is WEAK!
    * Sea transport $1500 roughly
    * Customs $100 or 400 if using a broker
    * Going to Galveston $varies $100-300
    * Getting a US title $200-500
    * New Battery $70 at least 70% of my cars need a new battery

Don't be surprised if the logistics of getting it here are more than the car cost in the first place.

Good luck

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