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Importing Used or Salvage Vehicles from the United States into Guatemala

By Mike Richards Updated: 08/17/2022 Posted: 11/02/2016

  Importing Used Salvage Vehicles Guatemala

One thing many may not realize about Guatemala is how much of an appetite the country has for imported used vehicles. In fact, recent statistics suggest that as much as 70% of all the cars imported into the country every year are second-hand cars, with many of them originating from points in the United States.

Needless to say, more and more are becoming interested in importing used or salvage vehicles from the United States into Guatemala. For some, it might be for personal reasons; for others, it could be a business opportunity. Whatever your reasons, though, there are things you’ll need to know about the process in order to ensure your used vehicle arrives at port in Guatemala without a hitch.

Below, we’ll be covering it all. From the taxes and duties that will need to be paid once your car arrives, to which used vehicles are most popular with Guatemalan car buyers, it’s all here. So, if you want to know how to import used U.S. vehicles into Guatemala, read on to learn how the whole process works.


Purchasing Used Vehicles at U.S. Online Car Auctions

Getting the best deal possible on used cars in the United States is way easier than it ever has been before. That’s thanks to something called online used car auctions, which allow average consumers and importer-exporters to gain access to used car auctions taking place across the country everyday. Previously, you’d have to have a dealer’s license for the privilege.

This is great news because through used car auctions, you can stand to save up to 70 or even 80 percent on the cost of a used vehicle. Needless to say, this presents a unique business opportunity to someone looking to import used cars from the United States into Guatemala.

To get started, you simply need to create an account and make a deposit. This deposit is what will establish your potential maximum bid, typically representing 10% of whatever that bid might be. (As an example, a $300 deposit would empower you to bid up to $3,000 on used cars!)

After getting set up, you’ll be able to browse an extensive inventory of online auctions across the United States. In addition, you’ll have access to an auction agent or broker. They can help you with everything from setting bids to vetting different vehicles. Best of all, this agent or broker can also search U.S. used car auctions that can’t display publically online. Giving you access and increasing even more the array of choices before you.


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

Guatemala is a member of the Central American Dominican Republic United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), and as such, it’s incredibly easy to find a port that offers shipping services to Guatemala. Aside from choosing the port you’d like to ship from, the biggest decision that you’ll have to make is your preferred shipping method.

In essence, you’ll have two main methods to choose from: traditional container shipping and something known as RORO shipping. This latter method is short for “roll-on roll-off” shipping, which accurately describes how your used vehicle will be loaded onto and the off of the ship. (It will be rolled on at the departure port and then rolled off at the arrival port.)

This last method has a number of advantages that you may wish to consider. For one, it’s significantly cheaper than traditional container shipping. Also, it’s incredibly more convenient, making it much easier to clear customs and take possession of your vehicle once it arrives in port. The only significant drawback is the safety of your vehicle.

While RORO shipping is safe overall, your car’s exposure to the elements and ship workers handling your car does open up the possibility of damage occurring during transit.

The two major container ports in Guatemala are Puerto Quetzal and the Port of Santo Tomas de Castilla. The first of those two ports is located on the western coast of the country and makes an ideal arrival port for those shipping their used vehicles from the West Coast of the United States. The Port of Santo Tomas de Castilla is located on the eastern coast of Guatemala, south of Belize. This would be the ideal destination for those shipping from the Gulf region and the East Coast of the United States.

For more information about Puerto Quetzal, you can consult the port’s official website right here. If you’d like to learn more about the Port of Santo Tomas de Castilla, you can consult its official website right here.


Clearing Your Used Vehicle Shipped to Guatemala Through U.S. Customs

The process for clearing a used vehicle through U.S. customs on its way to Guatemala is incredibly simple. You only need to make sure that you pay attention to timing and providing the right documentation in order to ensure that things proceed without a hitch.

First, you’ll need to make sure that you have the used vehicle’s Original Certificate of Title. In addition to this, you’re going to need one of the following two options. First, you can get a certified copy of the Original Certificate of Title (which you can do through the DMV). Second, you can also secure two complete copies of the Certificate of Title.

Once you have the above documentation, you will need to provide the above along with the vehicle to U.S. customs at your chosen port of departure. To find out where U.S. customs is based at your chosen port of departure, simply contact the Port Director.

Once U.S. customs has your vehicle and documentation, they will do the following. First, they will verify that the documentation provided accurately reflects the vehicle. To do this, they will cross-reference the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) listed on the Certificate of Title with those printed on various components of the vehicle. Second, they will inspect the vehicle to ensure that there is no illegal contraband.

Once U.S. customs verify your documentation and certify that there is nothing illegal, they will clear your vehicle for shipping, and load onto the ship. Should you have any additional questions about U.S. customs procedures for used vehicles, simply consult the official website for U.S. Customs and Border Protection here.


Getting Your Used or Salvage Car Through Guatemala Customs

Thanks to the trade relationship that exists between the United States and Guatemala, clearing your used vehicle through Guatemalan customs is a relatively straightforward affair. Once the vehicle arrives in port, you will need to present the following documentation to customs authorities:

  • Two (2) Original Copies of the Bill of Landing
  • An Original Copy of the Purchase Invoice and Two (2) Copies
  • The Original Certificate of Title
  • The Vehicle’s Original U.S. Registration
  • Your Passport (or the NIT of the Importer)
  • A Report from a Certified Mechanic Attesting to the Vehicle’s Condition

Note that the first four items on the above list you will notarize after inspection by Guatemalan customs.

When importing a used vehicle into Guatemala, there are a few things you should be aware of. First, customs authorities will not allow a vehicle that’s older than 10 years (from the date of manufacture) to be imported into the country. In addition, some importers have reported that customs authorities can be somewhat arbitrary when establishing the value of a vehicle (more on this below). Because of this last point, we advise procuring documentation that establishes the value of your used U.S. vehicle before importing it into Guatemala.

If you require further information about what will be required when clearing your used U.S. vehicle through Guatemalan customs, please consult the government’s official website for the Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria de Guatemala (SAT).


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

As a participating member in the Central American Dominican Republic United States Free Trade Agreement. Also known as CAFTA-DR, used vehicle imports from the United States were previously duty- and tax-free. However, those duty and tax breaks were only set to last for a period of ten years, and expiration was recent.

In order to determine both the customs duty and the Value Added Tax (VAT) that you will need to pay, you’ll first need to establish the ‘base value’ of your automobile. This is done by looking up the average trade-in value for your vehicle through the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), and then adding $880 dollars to that value. For example, if you determine that the average trade-in value of your vehicle is $1,000, then the ‘base value’ of the vehicle would be $1,880.

Normal passenger vehicles that can carry five passengers or less have customs duty equal to 20% of the base value outlined above. For passenger vehicles that can carry six to nine passengers. The customs duty is 15% of the base value above.

When it comes to calculating the VAT, things get a little more complex, as you’ll need to take the vehicle type into account:

  • Pick-Up Trucks: 23.2% of the Base Value
  • 4×4 SUVs: 28.8% of the Base Value
  • 4×2 SUVs: 34.4% of the Base Value
  • Normal Passenger Vehicle: 34.4% of the Base Value
  • Microbuses: 8% of the Base Value

Both the customs duty and the VAT will need to be paid upon the importation of your vehicle. In addition, there is a 500-quetzales fee for the processing of your used vehicle’s paperwork.

To get more information about customs duties and taxes due on used U.S. vehicles imported into Guatemala, please consult the official website for Guatemala’s customs authority, Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria de Guatemala, right here.


The Used Car Market in Guatemala

In Guatemala, the used car market is big business. In fact, over 70 percent of car imports into the country every year are second-hand vehicles, according to statistics by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Administration. In addition to this, the used car market is bolstered by the ready availability of low-cost mechanics. And strong demand for replacement vehicles when repairs become too expensive.

There is also incredibly diversity in terms of the kinds of vehicles that make up the country’s automotive fleet. Regular passenger vehicles comprise just under 24% of the automotive fleet overall. Pick-up trucks and SUVs make up 20% and 11% of the fleet respectively. What some may find surprising is the incredible popularity of motorcycles in the country. In fact, motorcycles are the most popular vehicle type by plurality, making up just over one-third of the country’s automotive fleet overall.

Overall, there’s a strong preference among Guatemalans for Asian makes and models. This is due in large part to their low cost, especially as compared to American makes and models. That said, vehicles manufactured in the United States are beginning to gain ground in the country. Particularly as they become more price competitive with their Asian counterparts. Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge in particular have been gaining ground over recent years.


The Most Popular Used Vehicles in Guatemala

As already mentioned, Asian makes have a strong hold on the Guatemalan used car market. In fact, Toyota has been the most popular make for 2016 overall, owning a 14.8% share of the market. Hyundai, Kia and Nissan also own places in the top-five most popular car makes in Guatemala, each owning greater than 10% market share each. This, of course, is good news for those importing used vehicles from the United States into Guatemala, as great deals on second-hand vehicles from these manufacturers are readily available in the U.S. used car market.

Those, however, who are looking to import American cars into Guatemala have plenty of reasons to be encouraged! So far in 2016, Ford has climbed the ranks to become the third-most-popular automotive make with Guatemalan car buyers overall. In fact, Ford owns an 11.2% market share for the year. In addition to Ford, Chevrolet has also been climbing the charts. When tabulating the last statistics, Chevrolet had become the sixth-most popular automotive make in the country. Owning an 8.6% share of the market.

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