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Importing Used or Salvage Vehicles from the United States into Germany

By Mike Richards Updated: 08/09/2017 Posted: 10/10/2016

As a major trading partner of the United States, there’s no doubt a demand for used U.S. vehicles in the German auto market. That said, there are some headwinds, particularly those poised by the robust German automotive manufacturing industry. In addition, the environmental restrictions and automotive tariffs present across the rest of the European Union are also present here.

If you know what you’re doing, though, you can stand to save lots of money when importing a used U.S. vehicle for your own personal use. In addition, you may also stand to make lots of money if you’re looking to build a business around importing used U.S. vehicles into Germany. No matter what you intend to do, though, you’ll find everything you need to know about the entire process here. From purchasing a car through an online car auction to registering your vehicle once it arrives in Germany, we’ve got you covered from point A to point B. Let’s take a look…

Purchasing Used Vehicles at U.S. Online Car Auctions

When it comes to purchasing used and salvage vehicles in the United States, the best way is undoubtedly online used car auctions. Through websites that provide this service, the average consumer and the would-be importer / exporter can gain access to a plethora of used car auctions taking place across the United States, all without the necessity of having a dealer’s license, which is typically required.

To get setup with an online used car auction site, you merely need to create an account and then make an initial deposit. This deposit is necessary in order to establish your bidding power through the website, with the size of the deposit typically representing 10% of your total maximum bid.

After an account is created and a deposit made, you will then be able to browse a massive database of U.S. used car auctions available through the website. In addition, you’ll be connected with an auction broker or agent, who can assist you with everything from selecting appropriate bid prices to connecting with used car auctions that cannot be displayed through the site’s public database.

Shipping a Used or Salvage U.S. Car to Germany

If you are shipping a used or salvage vehicle from the United States to Germany, you will have two primary shipping options to choose from. The first is traditional container shipping, and the second is something that’s known as RORO shipping. RORO stands for “roll-on roll-off”, which accurately describes the method by which your vehicle will be loaded onto and then unloaded off of the ship.

For those looking to cut costs and increase convenience with their shipping, the latter method is without a doubt preferable. However, it is worth noting that there are a few drawbacks to RORO shipping. First, your vehicle will be exposed to the elements while in transit. Second, it may be necessary for ship workers to move your vehicle while the ship is underway. Both of these factors do open up the possibility of damage taking place.

Whichever method you decide to opt for is up to you. When choosing a departure port, you should have your pick of the litter as most major U.S. ports in addition to many minor ones offer shipping service to Germany.

When importing a used or salvage vehicle from the United States into Germany, you will have two options for an arrival port: the Port of Hamburg and the Port of Bremerhaven. To learn more about the Port of Hamburg, you can visit its official website right here. To learn more about the Port of Bremerhaven, you can visit its official website right here.

Clearing Your Used Vehicle Through U.S. Customs

In order to clear your used U.S. vehicle being shipped to Germany, you will first need to gather the appropriate documentation. This should include your vehicle’s original Certificate of Title along with either a certified copy of that title or two complete copies.

These documents along with your vehicle will have to be presented to U.S. customs at your chosen port of departure at least 72 hours in advance of your ship date. In order to find out precisely where you will need to present your vehicle at port, simple contact your chosen port’s Port Director.

Once U.S. customs has both your vehicle and the required documents, they will conduct a thorough inspection. First, they will check the see that the title accurately reflects the vehicle being shipped, cross-referencing the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and the engine number. Second, they will inspect the vehicle from front to back in order to ensure that there are no illegal substances or items secreted away.

Provided that your vehicle passes the above inspection, it will be cleared by customs and then loaded onto the ship. Should you have any additional questions about the U.S. customs clearance process, you can consult the official website for U.S. Customs and Border Protection here.

Getting Your Used or Salvage Car Through German Customs

As a major trading partner of the United States, clearing German customs with your imported used or salvage U.S. vehicle will be relatively straightforward. Once the vehicle arrives in port, the following documentation must be presented to customs in order for your vehicle to be cleared:

  • Original Bill of Landing
  • Original Certificate of Title
  • Original United States Vehicle Registration
  • Proof of Identity (Passport, Visa, Driver’s License, etc.)
  • Proof of German Residency

Note that customs duties and taxes (outlined below) will be due before the vehicle can be cleared in a German port.

Provided that German customs determines that your documentation is legitimate and that everything is in order, you will be provided with a Customs Clearance Certificate, which is known in German as a Zollbescheinigung. Be sure to keep this document in your possession, as you will need to present it when it comes time to register your vehicle.

Generally speaking, there are no special restrictions imposed upon used vehicles imported from the United States into Germany. However, there are certain things you may wish to be aware of if you’re importing classic and vintage vehicles. To find out more, you can consult Germany’s Central Customs Authority here.

Import Duties and Taxes for U.S. Vehicles Imported into Germany

As a member of the European Union, Germany imposes the standard import duties for used vehicles imported from the United States. These are as follows:

  • A 10% tariff is assessed on all regular passenger vehicles.
  • A 22% tariff is assessed on all larger vehicles, including trucks and busses.
  • Used automotive parts, as well as refurbished ones, are subject to a 4.5% tariff.

The above tariffs are calculated based upon the customs-assessed value of the vehicle. In addition, there are also a number of taxes that are applicable.

The first is a turnover tax that is assessed on all vehicles, new and used, imported into Germany from non-European-Union Countries, including the United States. This turnover tax is equal to 19% of the total value of the car plus the customs duty outline above and the total cost of shipping for the vehicle. This “turnover tax” can also be thought of as the Value Added Tax (VAT) for used vehicles imported into Germany from the United States.

As with other European Union countries, you can gain an exemption to the customs duty if you meet certain requirements. First, the vehicle must be for your own personal use. Second, you must have relinquished your citizenship in your original country. Finally, you must have established a residence within Germany for a period of six months or longer. For more information about this, please consult this website.

All vehicles in Germany are subject to a vehicle tax. This tax is dependent upon a number of different factors ranging from the vehicle’s age to its carbon emissions. In order to find out the vehicle tax liability for your used vehicle, you can consult this online calculator provided by the German Ministry of Finance (Bundesministerium der Finanzen) right here. Note, however, that imported electric vehicles are permitted to seek a 5-year dispensation from the vehicle tax.

For more information about applicable duties and taxes for used U.S. vehicles imported into Germany, you can consult the official website for the Central Customs Authority (Generalzolldirektion or ZOLL) right here.

How to Register an Imported Used Car in Germany

If your used or salvage U.S. vehicle will only be operated inside of Germany for a period of less than 12 months, then vehicle registration is not necessary. Instead, the vehicle can be owned and operated under its United States registration. However, if your intention is drive the vehicle for longer than those 12 months or to sell the vehicle, then it must be registered with German authorities. (Also, please note that if you take advantage of this exemption, then you must have in your possession a certified German translation of your United States Original Certificate of Registration.)

To register your vehicle, it must be presented to a local office of the Kfz-Zulassungsstellen. This office will conduct tests to assess the roadworthiness of the vehicle and also to ensure that it meets European safety and emissions requirements. When registering the vehicle, you will also need to present the following documentation:

  • Clearance Papers from German Customs (Zollbescheinigung)
  • Proof of Identity (Passport, Visa, Driver’s License, etc.)
  • Proof of German Residency
  • Proof of Vehicle Insurance
  • Certificate of Title
  • Original United States Vehicle Registration
  • Proof that Vehicle Has Not Been Previously Registered in Germany

(Please note that the Zollbescheinigung must attest that all customs duties and taxes have been paid in order for vehicle registration to be granted.)

Provided that the Kfz-Zulassungsstellen determines that the vehicle meets emissions, safety and roadworthiness requirements, and the above documentation is in order, then the vehicle will be granted a German registration. Should you have any further questions about the process for registering a salvage or used U.S. vehicle in Germany, please consult the Kfz-Zulassungsstelle’s official website here.

The Used Car Market in Germany

It should come as no surprise that domestic automotive manufacturing is an import cog in the overall German economy. In fact, statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Association show that Germany’s automotive industry accounts for more than 20% of all industrial sales for the country. All told German automotive manufacturing is worth in excess of $411 billion USD or more annually.

Given this, the market for imported used and salvage vehicles is more attenuated than you’d find in other member nations of the European Union. That said, there are opportunities for the would-be exporter of used and salvage U.S. vehicles to Germany. For one, there is a growing demand for hybrid and electric vehicles in the country, particularly as more stringent environmental standards take hold in the country and elsewhere in Europe. In addition, among wealthier German auto buyers, there continues to be a strong demand for luxury vehicles, of which American makes enjoy some success.

Overall, one should expect the demand for low-cost and fuel-efficient vehicles to grow over the years to come. Therefore, it would be prudent for someone looking to export used U.S. vehicles to Germany to look into what’s available in used and salvage vehicle auctions in the United States. The opportunity for profit is definitely there.

The Most Popular Used Vehicles in Germany

It should come as no surprise that European makes, and particularly German ones, absolutely dominate the German used and new vehicle markets. In particular, Volkswagen remains the most popular automotive make in the country, placing four of its models in the top 10 in terms of popularity overall. As elsewhere in Europe, the Volkswagen Golf is the most popular car sold in the country, having owned a 9.0% share of the overall automotive market overall in 2015. Also placing in the top 10 for Volkswagen were the Passat, Polo and Tiguan, all of which placed in second, third and fifth overall.

Rounding out the top 10, you’ll find that Skoda and Opel are also popular makes. In the luxury sector, BMW and Mercedes are the most popular. In particular the Mercedes C-Class is a hit with German auto buyers, having owned a 2.2% market share in 2015.

American automakers also have some popularity with German auto buyers, particularly where low-cost and fuel-efficient vehicles are concerned. In fact, the Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta found themselves in the top 20 in terms of popularity in 2015. The Focus enjoyed a 1.7% share of the market while the Fiesta enjoyed a 1.5% share of the market in 2015. In recent years, the Ford Kuga has seen some increase in popularity, however its market performance is middling compared to the other two Ford models.

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