Imported Vehicle Registration

If you have imported your vehicle directly from another country (a direct import), you need to register the vehicle with DMV.

To register your imported vehicle, you’ll need:

You may also need:

  • Evidence that your foreign import vehicle meets United States (U.S.) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).
    • This is mandatory for vehicles manufactured after 1995.
    • This includes the federal certification label attached to the vehicle confirming FMVSS certification.
  • Additional evidence: A copy of a letter from the manufacturer confirming that the vehicle meets FMVSS and U.S. emissions standards.

Usually you can only get this evidence for vehicles manufactured in Canada.

  • A copy of the Department of Transportation bond release letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • A certificate stating that the vehicle has been inspected by a California Air Resources Board-licensed laboratory.
  • Evidence that the vehicle meets Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California emissions standards.
    • This includes an EPA and California emissions label attached to the vehicle.
    • A smog certificate.
    • This applies to gasoline vehicles manufactured after 1968.
    • This also applies to diesel-powered vehicles manufactured after 1980.

Frequently Asked Questions

A direct import vehicle is a vehicle that is not manufactured to be used or sold in the U.S. Because of this, direct import vehicles typically do not meet U.S. (FMVSS) and do not meet California emissions standards.

Please be aware that some imported vehicles cannot be registered in California, or in the U.S., according to the California Health & Safety Code §§39024.6, 43150–43156, 43203.5, 43600, and 44200–44210.

Vehicles (and engines) imported from other countries must meet the 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 your direct foreign import 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.

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.

In order to drive your imported vehicle in the state of California, you will have to modify the vehicle to meet these safety standards:

  • CARB
  • EPA emissions standards
  • U.S. FMVSS

If your Direct Import vehicle is over two years old, it may be expensive or impossible to convert the vehicle to meet required standards.

If your vehicle was manufactured after 1968 (cars) or after 1978 (motorcycles) and it does not comply with EPA or CARB emissions requirements, you can contact CARB for information on what to do.

By phone: 1-800-242-4450
By email:

If your Direct Import Vehicle can be modified to meet emissions standards, you can register your vehicle with the state of California. Please visit our Registering a Nonresident Vehicle brochure for step-by-step instructions.

Because your vehicle was manufactured outside of the U.S., your vehicle title will be branded “NON-USA” if it does not have a federal certification label and U.S. emissions label attached by the manufacturer.

The date that registration fees come due for out-of-state vehicles varies depending on many factors. For information about fees, residency, and exemptions, please view the Registration Fees page.

When you pay all your fees, DMV will issue a one-time, 30-day temporary operating permit to allow you time to complete the other vehicle registration requirements.

Registration fees for your direct import vehicle must be paid to DMV within 20 days of entry into California even if you do not meet all other requirements to register your vehicle in California.

  • For CARB direct import program information, visit
    • Or contact CARB by phone: 1-800-242-4450.
  • For California emissions standards, visit the CARB website.
  • Visit the EPA website and review 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 NHTSA website.
  • For importation or clearance information, see the CBP website.
    • Or contact CBP by phone: 1-877-227-5511.
  • For gas-guzzler tax information, see the IRS website.
  • For California use tax information, see the BOE website.

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