WhyBike Motorcycle Blog

Importing Motorcycles into the US

By James - 6/27/2006

I received an email about the process of importing a motorcycle into the United States.

Hi guys. A couple of months ago you answered a question from Trevor about bringing a bike into California. It helped me immensely as I’m doing the same thing, however I’m importing mine from Australia. I don’t suppose you know any additional items that I’m going to encounter? I’m wondering if the DMV will allow me to register it with a KPH dial rather than mph, etc. It’s 97 TL1000S with enough mileage to fill the criteria.

My father imported an old Triumph motorcycle from Scotland. Unfortunately it was from the 1900’s and as an antique was not subject to many of the regulations needed to import a modern motorcycle. But from what I have researched, it looks like there are three national agencies, along with the state Department of Motor Vehicles that you will need to deal with. Here are the steps you will need to take and links to those agencies’ websites for more resources:

Make sure it is safe
The NHTSA will have to make sure it is road legal. Many different countries have different specifications to what is allowed on the road. Speedometers are not required in California, although odometers are, so you may need to convert the odometer into miles, but you should ask the NHTSA about this. If it fails this inspection, you will need to fix the problem parts and have the inspection again.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Importation Regulations

Make sure it is clean
The EPA will want to make sure that the motorcycle is up to current pollution standards. I am unfamiliar with Australian pollution controls, but most European four-stroke engines are required to run cleaner than American engines, so there is a good chance you should pass their test. If it fails the smog test, you will have to fix the problems and retest it, export it, or destroy it.
EPA - Imports of Vehicles, Engines and Equipment

Make sure the greedy feds get their cut
The federal government will want their “duty". Since the feds did not get their import tax when it came through the dealer, they will expect it from you. According to John K., a fed who wrote in to the blog, “The duty on motorcycles with engines greater than 700cc imported into the U.S. is 2.4 percent. All others are imported duty-free. “
US Customs Department - Permanently Importing a Motorcycle

Make sure your state will register it
Now that you have made sure it is road legal, you can take your proof to DMV and register it. This is not that common so expect to have to talk to a few different people before one of them knows how to register it. IMPORTANT! Make sure that you do not unload the motorcycle from its crate until you register it, or you may have to pay penalties. Contact your DMV first and they should be able to tell you what forms they will need from each agency.

I hope this helps and good luck on with your purchase.


1 Comment

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  1. I would like to import a small, low emission, high mpg,interurban bike to California. I am leaning toward the Honda Sonic, sold in Thailand. It is fuel a injected, water cooled, 125cc bike, with a 5 speed manual transmission. While the emissions are not a problem and the gas milage is 100+, I have been told it would not be legal to register or license in CA. Anybody got any ideas?

    Comment by Dave — 6/28/2006 @ 1:40 am

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