How To: Register a Vehicle Imported From Another Country

You always need:

You may also need:

  • Evidence of compliance with California emissions standards (1968 year model and newer gasoline-powered vehicles and 1980 year model and newer diesel-powered vehicles).
  • Evidence of compliance with U.S. emission standards (vehicles 20 years old and newer).
  • Evidence of compliance with United States (U.S.) safety standards (vehicles 24 years old and newer).

What Is a Direct Import Vehicle?

A direct import is a vehicle that is not manufactured to meet U.S. federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) and/or California emissions standards and not intended by the manufacturer to be used or sold in the U.S.

It may be very costly or impossible to modify vehicles not originally manufactured to meet California Air Resources Board (CARB) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions requirements, and Department of Transportation (DOT) FMVSS.

Not all direct import vehicles over two years old can be converted to California emissions standards and FMVSS. If the vehicle is a 1968 or newer year model auto or commercial vehicle, or a 1978 or newer year model motorcycle that does not comply with EPA or CARB emission requirements, contact CARB by phone at 1-800-242-4450 or by email at

Motorcycles, off-highway vehicles, and diesel-powered vehicles cannot be converted to California emissions standards at this time. Therefore, they cannot be registered in California unless they were originally manufactured to meet U.S. and California emissions standards.

Can I Register a Direct Import Vehicle in California?

Anyone who brings an imported vehicle into California, or purchases an imported vehicle while in California, should be aware that some vehicles cannot be registered in California or in the U.S. (California Health & Safety Code §§39024.6, 43150–43156, 43203.5, 43600, and 44200–44210). For rules and exceptions, see the Buying a Vehicle From Out of State–Can You Register It in California? (FFVR 29) Fast Facts brochure.

Vehicles (and engines) imported from other countries must comply with requirements of the following agencies:

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for emissions requirements.
  • U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for safety requirements.
  • U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for gas-guzzler taxes.
  • California Air Resources Board (CARB) for emissions requirements.
  • California Board of Equalization (BOE) for use tax.

If the vehicle was not originally manufactured to meet California emissions standards and DOT FMVSS, the vehicle cannot be registered in California, unless the vehicle is modified and tested under CARB’s direct import program.

Where Do I Find Information?

  • For CARB’s direct import program information see the CARB website at
  • For EPA information, see the EPA website at and their Procedures for Importing Vehicles and Engines into the United States (EPA-420-B-10-027) publication.
  • For federal vehicle importation and certification standards, see the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website at
  • For importation or clearance information, see the CBP website at or contact CBP at 1-877-227-5511.
  • For California emissions, see the CARB website at or contact CARB at 1-800-242-4450.
  • For gas-guzzler tax information, see the IRS website at
  • For California use tax information, see the BOE website at

How Do I Register a Qualified Imported Vehicle?

Imported vehicle registration applications require the same documents shown in the How To: Register A Vehicle From Out-of-State (Nonresident Vehicle) (HTVR 09) brochure.

In addition, the application must include the following forms for:

  • Customs—Evidence the vehicle has cleared CBP. Evidence is CBP forms 3299, 3311, 3461, 6059, or 7501 stamped or endorsed by CBP.
  • U.S. Safety—Evidence of compliance with U.S. FMVSS vehicles 24 years old or newer. Satisfactory evidence is one of the following:
    • The federal certification label affixed to the vehicle certifies the vehicle conforms to FMVSS.
    • A copy of the letter from the manufacturer certifying the vehicle complies with FMVSS and U.S. emissions standards (usually attainable only for vehicles from Canada).
    • A copy of the DOT bond release letter issued by the NHTSA.
    • A certificate of conformity issued by a CARB-licensed laboratory.
  • Emissions—Evidence of compliance with EPA and California emission standards. Any of the following are acceptable:
    • An EPA and California emissions label affixed to the vehicle.
    • A certificate of conformity issued by a CARB-licensed laboratory. No smog certification is required if this document is submitted for original registration.
    • A letter from the manufacturer stating the vehicle complies with FMVSS and U.S. emissions requirements (usually only attainable for vehicles from Canada).

Will My Title Be Branded NON-USA?

Yes. The vehicle title will be branded with “NON-USA” if the vehicle does not have a U.S. federal certification label (safety label) and U.S. emissions label affixed by the manufacturer.

When Do I Pay Fees to Register?

The date that registration fees become due for out-of-state vehicles varies. For complete date fees due, residency, and exemption information, see the How To: Determine Residency/When Fees Are Due on Out-of-State Vehicles (HTVR 33) brochure.

Registration fees for your out-of-state vehicle must be paid to DMV within 20 days of entry into California to avoid penalties, even if you do not have all of the other requirements needed to register the vehicle in California (California Vehicle Code §516). When the fees are paid in full, DMV will issue a one time 30-day temporary operating permit to allow you time to complete the other registration requirements.

What Fees Are Due?

The amount of fees due depends on a variety of factors. For an estimate, use the fee calculator. An exact amount can only be calculated when you submit your registration application to DMV.

Final Registration Approval

DMV field offices will send the completed imported vehicle application to the Technical Compliance Section in DMV headquarters for final determination as to whether the vehicle can be registered in California.