Military members save tax on imported vehicles

by Robert Szostek

U.S. personnel stationed overseas can import vehicles to the United States free of federal tax and duty.

This exemption means big savings if you meet three conditions. You must take physical possession of the vehicle prior to shipment, have valid PCS orders and import it for personal use. However, it does not exempt you from state taxation.
“Most people who miss out on the exemption do not take physical possession of the vehicle before shipment,” said Bill Johnson, director of European Command’s Customs and Border Clearance Agency. “If you have a car shipped directly from the factory, you risk having to pay the 2.5 percent federal import duty.”

Registering a vehicle is the best way to show possession, but you can also prove it by simply putting a copy of your movement orders in the glove compartment.
Second, you must have a set of official change of station orders in hand before shipping a vehicle. The exemption is not for people on extended leave or temporary duty.

Third, the vehicle must be for your personal use or for use by immediate family members.

“If you had six dependents of driving age, you could justify importing seven vehicles duty-free; one for each of them and one for yourself,” Mr. Johnson said.
However, it is illegal to use the exemption to import vehicles for third parties or in order to sell them.

People importing vehicles as part of a PCS can save federal duties and taxes, but state taxes on imported vehicles can be high.

You can obtain state tax information from the relevant department of motor vehicles. Internet links to these sites can be found at Call a military customs office to find out more about federal customs exemptions or your local transportation office to learn about shipping procedures and fees.