Car Import from the USA/Canada: BARGAIN OR MONEY PIT?


The USA still boasts the largest car market in the world. Even in the Corona year of 2020, nearly 14.6 million vehicles were sold here, following over 17 million cars in previous years. In Germany, there were just 2.9 million sales last year, down from 3.6 million in 2019. These figures show: compared to the USA, car sales in Germany only reach about a fifth of American sales figures.

Car import from the USA and Canada

The US market is unparalleled in terms of model diversity and range. From sought-after muscle cars, American cars, or classic cars to the latest model produced in America, everything is available. Many vehicles on offer are not intended for the European market or arrive here with a significant delay.

Those who want such a vehicle (quickly) must buy it in the United States. Even re-imports of European-made cars can be interesting, as US prices are often significantly lower than local ones.

US car purchase always a matter of calculation

Nevertheless, every car purchase in the USA is a matter of calculation. Of course, it's not just the purchase price that needs to be considered. Additional costs include transportation, transport insurance, fees, customs duties, import sales tax, and the necessary technical modifications in our country. Other challenges include the increased risk of "remote purchasing", administrative processing, and the regulations for registration. Last but not least, the question of whether a purchase is worthwhile also depends on the exchange rate.

Since early December, the dollar exchange rate has been stable at over 1.20 dollars for one euro. This is the highest value since 2018, meaning that the dollar is currently relatively cheap compared to the euro. This, of course, also applies to US car purchases in dollars. However, this is still quite a distance from the rates between 2007 and 2013 when one euro was worth between 1.30 dollars and 1.50 dollars. Interim conclusion: based on the exchange rate, this is certainly not the best possible, but also not the worst time for a US car purchase. Over the year, the euro has gained more than 10 percent against the dollar. Strong further euro appreciations against the dollar are currently not in sight. So, waiting for even better exchange rate times is not worth it!

Update: Since the current dollar exchange rate has a rather negative impact on a purchase and this post is a bit older but still popular, here's a small update on the current situation.
Various vehicles that are only available in limited quantities in Europe will continue to find their way across the big pond. This includes American classics in particular. But also typical vehicles like the Dodge Ram, Ford F-150, Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, and Chevrolet Corvette, to name just a few of the import classics. A self-import could save a lot of money. It's always a good idea to compare the local market with the markets in the USA and Canada to decide the most affordable way to get your dream car.

Customs, taxes & co. - what costs should I expect when importing a car?

Classic cars with discounted import dutiesThe rules for customs and taxes are clear. For classic car imports (vehicles older than 30 years and meeting other classic car criteria), no customs duties apply, and the import sales tax is (reduced) 7 percent. For "regular" vehicle imports from the USA, 10 percent customs duties and 19 percent import sales tax are due. For pickups, even 22 percent customs duties apply. In the past, importing via the Netherlands was worthwhile due to their import duty of only 6 percent. Since our neighbor raised the duty to 9 percent, this advantage has largely disappeared. The slight customs savings might be outweighed by other cost disadvantages.

Vehicle typeCustomsVAT
Includes pickups if the loading area exceeds 50% of the wheelbase.
Classic cars
Importing as a classic car requires the vehicle to be in its original condition.

Sales tax also applies when purchasing a domestic vehicle. The tricky part about import sales tax is that it's not only calculated based on the US purchase price, but also includes additional costs for transport, customs clearance, etc. On top of that, there are the costs for the technical modifications required for registration. They often amount to between 1,500 and 2,000 euros.

In total, for "regular" vehicles, people often roughly estimate a quarter to a third of the purchase price in euros for "additional costs" for transport, import, and conversion. Of course, it always depends on the specific case. With our sample calculator, the costs can be calculated relatively precisely in advance.

Navigating the challenges of US car import successfully

With an experienced import and transport partner by your side, the challenges of buying a US car can be easily navigated. Support with car purchase and contract conclusion, transport organization and execution up to delivery at the destination, handling of customs formalities and port processing, initiation of conversion - it's good when this comes from a reliable and proven hand, and you don't have to worry about it yourself. This also offers the security of not buying the proverbial "pig in a poke" despite the geographical distance.

With, part of the international freight forwarder SATS Group, you have this security! Here, they not only offer the most comprehensive German online marketplace for US vehicles but also competent support in purchasing and handling transport and import.

Of course, we offer our import service for vehicles for all cars you find in the USA or Canada. Request an offer!

How much is the purchase worth to me?

Finally, the question remains: Bargain or money pit? Those who have dealt with the costs of US car import before purchasing will not be surprised. Therefore, the term "trap" is misplaced. It's self-explanatory that the costs can offset some price advantages, especially for re-imports. Always compare carefully in such cases. For rarities or vehicles only available on the US market, the question is less relevant. The "opportunity" to buy is only available in the USA, and every fan of a vehicle will judge for themselves how much it's worth to them!