Considerations when Importing a Car from the USA to France

Originally posted on & updated on 28th November, 2023

The tax system for car and vehicle purchases in the US varies from state to state and differs from that in France and Europe. Importing a car from the USA or another non-European Union (EU) country into France involves several steps and considerations, including taxes, import duties, vehicle compliance, and French car insurance.
Importing foreign and vintage cars can be very exciting as there’s a wide range of vehicles and options that may not be available in Europe. In addition, many people have relocated to France with their special beloved vehicles, some with entire car collections.
However, before you rev up your engines and hit the ‘autoroute’, it's crucial to understand the financial aspects involved. Here's an overview of the rules and requirements for importing a vehicle into France from the USA, and most non-EU countries:

Taxes and Import Duty

  • Value Added Tax (VAT): In most cases, you will be required to pay VAT on the car's value. The standard VAT rate in France is 20%. However, for vintage cars older than 30 years, the VAT rate is reduced to just 5.5%.
  • Customs Duty : The EU and the USA have a trade agreement that generally allows for duty-free import of American-made cars into France. However, it's essential to confirm the specific regulations and rates with French customs at the time of import.

What is a Certificat de Conformité?

To legally drive your foreign car in France, the vehicle must comply with French safety and environmental standards. This involves obtaining a "Certificat de Conformité" or "Certificate of Conformity" from the manufacturer or an authorised representative. Additionally, you may need to undergo modifications or inspections to ensure your vehicle meets safety and emissions standards.
The DREAL, ‘la Direction Régionale de l'Environnement, de l'Aménagement et du Logement’ is the body responsable for this administrative process. DREAL stands for Direction Régionale, de l'Environnement de l'Aménagement et du Logement in French. In English this means Regional Department of Environment, Planning and Housing, with the keyword being regional, it’s not a national website. Visit the full list on the Annuaire Public website to find your branch.

Vehicle Registration in France

After obtaining the "Certificate of Conformity" certification, you will need to register your car with the French authorities. This includes obtaining French license plates and vehicle documents called a Carte Grise . The process can be long and complex, and it's advisable to work with a professional or service that specialises in importing cars to ensure compliance.

Car Insurance in France

In France, car insurance is mandatory for all vehicles, including imported ones. You will need to purchase motor insurance coverage that meets French requirements. Insurance costs will vary depending on factors such as the type of vehicle, its age, your driving history, and the level of coverage chosen.

Importing Vintage Cars in France

Vintage cars that are more than 30 years old are considered "véhicules de collection" or collector's vehicles. It's important to note that the specific rules and requirements for importing vintage cars can evolve and may depend on factors such as the car's age, model, and modifications.
As a result, it's recommended to consult with the French customs authorities (Douanes Françaises) and relevant agencies or experts who specialise in car imports to ensure compliance with current regulations. Especially as it may prove more difficult for some insurance companies to consider non-standard cars that are not listed on their systems and databases.

These vehicles are subject to specific regulations:

  • they may be eligible for reduced VAT (5.5%).
  • conformity certification may not be required, but safety considerations still apply.
  • collector's cars often have different registration and insurance options tailored to their status.

Additional Considerations

Importing a car from the USA into France can be complex, particularly for vintage cars. The process may also involve shipping costs, customs paperwork, and emissions testing, depending on the vehicle's age and emissions standards.

It's advisable to seek professional guidance and perform thorough research to navigate the legal and administrative aspects successfully, especially as regulations may change over time. Finally, for buyers looking to find their French home or invest in a new-build property in this wonderful country, look at our essential guide for Americans, which includes tips about driving licences in France.

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