Trade Talk Blog T
here’s just something about the wind in your hair and the sun on your face as you ride a motorcycle that makes you feel alive. It’s an exhilarating experience that can’t be matched by anything else. Whether you ride a Harley Davidson to unwind or find a scooter to be the most practical transportation method, riding a motorcycle no doubt feels good.
Motorcycle enthusiasts know the fun and freedom that comes with riding their bike. Moreover, the U.S. is the ultimate motorcycle rider’s paradise with many routes to choose from, such as coast to coast or one of these ten open roads.
But what if you want to import a bike to enjoy a road trip across the U.S.? Or maybe you’ve just moved to the U.S. from another country and want to bring your motorcycle along with you. Importing a motorcycle can be tricky – but it’s not impossible. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about importing a motorcycle into the U.S.
Types of motorcycles
There are six main types of motorcycles: standard, cruiser, touring, sports, off-road, and dual-purpose. Scooters and three-wheeled motorcycles are excluded from these six main categories but are sometimes considered motorcycles under other classifications.
Standard motorcycles are personal bikes known for lower costs, flexibility, and a moderate engine output that is best suited for beginners. They are characterized by their upright riding position and fuel efficiency and are not equipped with windscreens from manufacturers.
Cruisers are commonly recognized as Harley Davidson, Indian, and Excelsior Henderson motorcycles. These motorcycles usually come with large-displacement V-twin engines and a riding position that places the hands up high and the feet forward. While comfortable to ride at low to moderate speeds, cruisers can be tiring during long rides at higher speeds.
Touring motorcycles are specifically designed to cover long distances. They are excellent for long, comfortable travels with large-displacement engines, screens that offer weather and wind protection, large fuel tanks, and a relaxed, upright seating position.
Sport bikes are defined by their top speed, acceleration, braking, handling, and grip. Generally, sports motorcycles are less comfortable and fuel-efficient but come with high-performance engines and a lightweight frame. Their windscreens are highly effective in deflecting air from the rider, which reduces overall drag.
Off-road motorcycles, also known as dirt bikes, are designed for off-road use. Dirt bikes are made to travel across rough surfaces and are, therefore, lighter, and more flexible vehicles with long suspension travel. Their wheels have knobby tires to navigate terrains better.
Dual-purpose motorcycles are vehicles designed for both on- and off-road purposes. While based on a dirt bike chassis, they also include lights, mirrors, and signals to allow them to be used on public roads. Dual-purpose bikes are equipped with a tall seat height and a high center of gravity to accommodate good suspension on rougher terrains.
Scooters are not always classified as motorcycles due to the differences between both vehicle types. Their engines are smaller, quieter, and have more storage space than motorcycles. Overall, it is a better option for a beginner to learn on and ride.
Permanently importing a motorcycle
The only way to permanently import a motorcycle into the U.S. is as a U.S. citizen, a U.S. company, or if you hold legal status to work and live in the United States. Motorcycles that are manufactured for sale in the United States are imported easily because they meet U.S. standards. Other bikes, however, may need to be modified to be allowed into the country.
Motorcycles that are older than 25 years old are not required to meet EPA or DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) to be imported into the U.S.
Temporarily importing a motorcycle
Temporarily imported motorcycles are defined as those that will be in the United States for 12 months or less, as well as motorcycles that enter on diplomatic or government orders. Temporary imports do not have to meet U.S. standards. However, they have to leave the States within a year. Motorcycles under government or military orders can stay for the entire duration, but owners cannot sell or leave the bike at the end of their stay.
You can import a motorcycle temporarily for:
Temporarily imported motorcycles require that:
- The vehicle is not imported by a U.S. citizen or resident
- The vehicle is not sold or transferred to another party
- The vehicle is imported for personal use
- The vehicle is exported within one year of import
To temporarily import a motorcycle, you will need to acquire the following:
- Written approval letter from the EPA. Contact the EPA at least a month before your travels to receive a Non-Resident Temporary Importation Approval form. Make a copy and keep it with you for future reference.
- Upon entry to the United States, file an EPA Form 3520-1 declaring code “O” with the EPA letter of exemption attached.
What are the steps to import a motorcycle to the U.S?
1. Determine the eligibility of the motorcycle
The first step is determining whether the motorcycle is eligible for import under federal and state regulations. The motorcycle must meet all standards the NHTSA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set.
2. Hire a customs broker
An experienced customs broker will guide you through the import regulations and help you overcome any obstacles you might face. Remember to ask them about the entire process before committing to a signed contract.
3. Ship the motorcycle to the USA
Find a shipping company that operates in your country of origin and ships to the United States. You will also need to choose a shipping method and port of entry.
4. Prepare documentation
You will have to prepare the following documents to ensure a smooth import of the motorcycle:
- A U.S. Customs Proforma Invoice
- The carrier’s Bill of Lading (BoL)
- A Bill of Sale showing VIN
- Foreign Registration
- An EPA form 3520-1
- A DOT form HS-7
- Your Importer Security Filing (ISF) for Ocean shipments
- A Letter of Recall and Conformity from the manufacturer (if applicable)
5. Pay all duties and fees
Next, you will need to pay duty on your motorcycle. Motorcycles imported in the United States can be imported duty-free if for temporary personal use or up to a rate of 2.4%, depending on the purchase price. Your customs broker can help you determine what you’ll need to pay.
6. Obtain insurance
You will need insurance for the motorcycle both during shipping and when it arrives in the United States. Costs vary based on the age and make of the motorcycle, where you live, how safe you drive, and what kind of discounts you qualify for.
7. Register the motorcycle
When you have passed inspection and submitted all import documentation, you can finally register the motorcycle with your state’s DMV and obtain license plates and permits
How much does it cost to ship a motorcycle to the USA?
Import costs of a motorcycle vary and depend mostly on the vehicle specifications, the vehicle’s origin, the destination, the season, and the shipping method you choose. Importing a moped, for example, will be significantly cheaper than importing a Harley Davidson or classic motorcycle.
Importing and shipping a motorcycle from Canada
If you’re importing your motorcycle from Canada, you can simply drive across the border after checking and adhering to regulations and preparing all relevant documentation. Alternatively, you can find a truck shipping company that informs you of regulations before transporting your motorcycle from Canada to the United States.
Importing and shipping a motorcycle from Japan
Japanese motorcycles are popular across the entire globe, and it’s easy to see why. Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha are just a few popular brands of Japanese motorcycles you may want to import into the United States. These motorcycles promise users durability and safety while offering efficient gas usage and readily available spare parts. Before importing a motorcycle from Japan, make sure you:
- Check specific regulations for motorcycles manufactured for and in Japan
- Work with your customs broker to help you through the importation process
- Finalize all terms and payments with your customs broker
To import your motorcycle from Japan, you need to use an ocean shipping or air freight company to assist you with paperwork and help transport the bike safely from its origin to its destination.
EPA requirements for imported motorcycles
To pass the EPA emission standards, you must abide by Section 202 of the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act regulates motorcycles and vehicles to reduce emissions as much as possible. When testing your motorcycle, it will have to come back clean for smog, soot, and any other air pollutants emitted from motorcycle engines.
On-road motorcycles, which are classified as those equipped or that can be equipped with brake lights, taillights, and headlights and are capable of speeds greater than 25 mph, must meet all EPA requirements. Any motorcycle that falls under this classification is considered an on-road motorcycle, even if referred to as off-road by the manufacturer.
Contact the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for information on emission testing, and make sure you follow their requirements to avoid the destruction or confiscation of your motorcycle.
Department of Transportation (DOT) import regulations
Imported motorcycles must adhere to federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) and other regulations. Usually, these motorcycle parts are heavily inspected:
- Brake hoses
- Brake system
- Rearview mirrors
- Reflectors and lamps
- Brake fluids
- Tires and rims
- Controls and displays
- Vehicle identification number (VIN)
- Windscreens (glazing materials)
Before importing your motorcycle, make any needed amendments to parts that do not conform to DOT standards.
You will need a DOT form HS-7 and an EPA form 3520-1 for registration. These forms will also assist during the customs clearance process and allow you to register your motorcycle in the correct state.
How to avoid motorcycle destruction
A motorcycle is a prized possession; for many people, it is their pride and joy. That means that damage to a motorcycle during the international shipment process or after would be a nightmare, especially if it happens to be a Harley Davidson or a classic motorcycle.
Motorcycles that are imported into the U.S. without proper customs clearance will either be sent back or destroyed at the port. If you are importing classic motorcycles or a Harley Davidson, be aware that you may need to make changes to the bikes before they obtain customs clearance.
Manufacturing label requirements for imported motorcycles
Motorcycle manufacturers need to comply with label requirements and place a non-removable label by the handlebars without causing damage to them.
The label should clearly state:
- Name of the manufacturer
- The year and month of the manufacture
- Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)
- Gross axle weight rating
- Vehicle identification number (VIN)
- The vehicle classification type
- Bill of sale
International motorcycle shipping
International shipments will mostly follow the same steps, with some variations depending on the shipping method chosen. The motorcycle is either picked up or delivered to a port and is then shipped and transported to its destination, where the import representative is responsible for customs clearance. The motorcycle is then delivered to the owner or picked up at the destination port.
When using international shipment to import your motorcycle, you will always need to clean the vehicle, remove any accessories, disable the alarm if you have one installed, and ensure the gas tank is about one-quarter full. Shipping companies will inspect the bike for dents, scratches, and any other damage that will be documented before shipping.
International shipment of motorcycles can be by sea or air, depending on the country of origin, how fast the motorcycle has to be delivered, and of course, the budget. Air freight is a more costly alternative. However, it is the safest method for luxurious vehicles. Both methods are usually photographed and documented throughout the packing and unpacking processes.
If you choose to import the motorcycle via air freight, it will always be packed in a crate for added safety. The crates are carefully designed to fit the motorcycle and keep it safe during shipping. The motorcycle is placed on a heavy-duty base and strapped down. The bike is then held in position using timber blocks after securing the crate’s sides. Finally, the top crate is placed, and the crate is externally strapped. This method allows you to place personal items, such as helmets, inside the secured crate.
Ocean-shipped motorcycles, on the other hand, are often shipped in larger containers with several other motorcycles. If you happen to be shipping more than one motorcycle, ocean shipping is an ideal and cost-efficient choice. It is recommended to avoid packing additional items with your motorcycle as a safety precaution if you choose to ship via ocean shipping. Remember that ocean shipping, while being the cheaper option, takes a significantly longer time than air freight.
If you need your motorcycle delivered fast, then air freight is the way to go. Air freight shipments are more expensive than ocean shipping. In comparison, air freight shipping can take just 1-2 weeks, as opposed to ocean shipping which may take up to 6-10 weeks to arrive. However, it is the best option for luxurious and antique motorcycles.
Ocean shipping is a more affordable option, especially if you plan to import more than one motorcycle. There are several options to choose from that vary in cost, duration of transport, and the ability to transport additional goods with the motorcycle.
Roll On, Roll Off
RoRo, or a Roll-on Roll-off ship, is a particular type of vessel that is used for the transportation of vehicles. The motorcycle will be loaded into a large cargo area via a specially designed ramp. RoRo is considered a significantly cheaper shipping option since the ship is designed to carry numerous vehicles simultaneously.
If you have decided to ship your motorcycle by Ocean container shipping, there are two different types of containers you can choose from. Either way, the loading and unloading processes are photographed and documented for the owner’s peace of mind.
These containers are designed to accommodate several vehicles and only ship when there are enough vehicles to transport. There are usually more fees than with RoRo shipping, such as a terminal handling charge, a trucking charge, unloading charges, and customs clearance charges. Still, those fees are divided among all the vehicle owners.
The sole container is a fully enclosed container that will only house your motorcycle. This is a faster option than shared containers but will incur higher fees. Sole containers offer more safety for owners and mean you can store additional personal items along with the motorcycle.
If you’re going to import classic motorcycles, consider the added luxury of a door-to-door service. For an additional fee, your motorcycle will be picked up and delivered straight to your door.
Port-to-port shipping is a viable option if you happen to be importing motorcycles in bulk. This is a more affordable option than door-to-door and requires you to pick up the motorcycle at the port of entry following customs clearance.
Filing the correct import documents
To avoid customs clearance issues, make sure you file your documents properly. All the following forms, which will be reviewed at the port of entry, must be filled in English.
Commercial invoices are used for foreign trade dealings and include detailed information on the imported motorcycle. The information found on the commercial invoice is:
- The manufacturer
- HTS codes
- The information of the buyer and the seller
A packing list is simply a checklist that guarantees the cargo being shipped is accurate. Packing lists and commercial invoices help customs agents through a successful customs clearance and provide a confirmation of import for customs officials.
Bill of Lading
A bill of lading (BOLs), which is issued by carriers to import shippers, is a document that guarantees the rights of exporters and importers alike. If anything were to go wrong during shipping, the bill of lading acts as a warranty to ensure you receive compensation for any damages or delays. The bill of lading also includes international shipping details, such as a tracking number to monitor imports.
The arrival notice is an alert you will receive when your motorcycle arrives safely in port. It does not, however, mean that the motorcycle has cleared customs. Once you receive the arrival notice, the customs agent will make the necessary arrangements for you to pick up the motorcycle following customs clearance.
Manufacturers are required by law to keep records on manufactured vehicles and motorcycles for five years after the manufacturing date. Importers can use the records to learn more about the motorcycle being imported. Records include:
- Manufacturing documents
- Media that clearly show malfunctions in vehicle safety
Find your port of entry
The U.S. is home to over 300 land, air, and sea ports of entry which you can choose from. Your port of choice should ideally be located close to your place of residence in the United States, especially if you are permanently importing a motorcycle and wish to register it in your state. You can narrow your choices by visiting this interactive map with details on the different ports and their requirements. If you still can’t navigate the endless choices, consult a customs broker who will guide you.
Work with a licensed Customs Broker
A licensed Customs Broker is an individual who helps clear your motorcycle through customs. Customs Brokers can take care of all required documents and can be of great assistance if you need:
- Your motorcycle to arrive quickly
- To buy a customs bond because importing value exceeds $2,500
- To meet a deadline
- To fast-track approvals with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
While a licensed broker can help you through the process, many require bonds on imported cargo, even if its value falls below $2,500.
There are two types of customs bonds available:
Single Entry Bond
The single-entry bond works best for importers who will be shipping a single shipment to a specific port of entry. A single-entry bond offers great value for money if you will be importing your own motorcycle or plan to import less than four shipments a year.
Continuous bonds are preferred by importers and shippers who need more entries across several U.S. ports yearly. These bonds cover all international shipments at every port of entry in the U.S. Continuous bonds are a more practical choice for high-value shipments and are easily renewed.
Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to get your bike on American soil. The process can be a little daunting, but with this guide, you should have no problem importing your bike. And as always, if you have any questions about the import process, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help. We want to see your motorcycle safely on American roads just as much as you do. Happy riding!
How GHY Can Help You Import Your Motorcycle
At GHY, we help hundreds of importers bring their vehicles into the United States every year without any hassle. From checking your vehicle’s admissibility to preparing and filing your documentation, we’ll take the work off your shoulders. Book a meeting with one of our Trade Experts and we’ll take it from there.