A guide on importing a boat into the US, from the experts in exports.
The US has thousands of lakes, bays, and shorelines to go boating on. Heading into the country with your boat to enjoy these areas can seem like a no-brainer. But if you purchased your boat outside of the US, you will have to deal with customs and you may even have to pay import duties.
If you’re bringing a foreign boat into the US, what tips do you need to keep in mind?
Importing a Boat Into the US for Personal Use
To import a boat for personal use into the US, you must have two documents with you, including:
- Proof of ownership (such as a bill of sale)
- Proof the boat conforms to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards
To prove your boat meets EPA standards, you must have Engine Declaration Form 3520-21. If you are importing your boat from Canada (and you purchased it from a Canadian manufacturer) the boat’s emissions standards are probably similar to the standards required by the EPA. However, unless your vehicle has an EPA emissions compliance label, you will have to fill out the Engine Declaration Form. Alternatively, you may get a letter of compliance from the US representative of the boat’s manufacturer.
If you are importing jet skis into the US, you must also fill out Engine Declaration Form 3520-21.
How much is the import duty on a boat?
Most pleasure boats are subject to import duty when imported into the US. According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the current duty rates that apply to boats are:
- Sailboats and motorboats other than outboard motorboats: 1.5%
- Outboard motorboats: 1%
- Inflatable vessels: 2.4%
- Canoes: no duty
- Rowboats/other vessels not designed for use with motors or sails: 2.7%
Tariff rates on imported goods are always subject to change. You can find the most recent import duty percentages on boats in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTS), Chapter 89. To help you calculate import duties on your boat, you can also speak with a certified customs broker.
Are there other taxes levied on boats?
The only US federal tax you will have to pay for importing your boat is one of the tariff rates listed above. Sales tax and GST/HST/PST only apply with the purchase of the boat. If you buy a boat in Canada, you’ll have to pay the applicable GST. When you cross the border to the US, you do not also have to pay US sales tax. Keep in mind, however, that some US states do levy a personal property tax on boats. If you purchase a boat in the US, you will pay the sales tax of the state you bought it in (there is no federal US sales tax, it’s only at the state level).
Looking to import a boat into Canada? Read our guide.
Importing a boat on a trailer
If you are carrying your boat across the border on a boat trailer, you will need a 17-character Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) for the trailer, as it’s considered a “motor vehicle.” You must also fill out DOT FORM HS-7 for the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You will need to know the make, model, and year of your boat trailer to fill out this form.
Import procedures for arriving by boat
Pleasure boats (non-commercial vessels) must report their entry to the US upon arrival in any port or place within the US if the following is true:
- It’s a vessel from a foreign port or place
- It’s a foreign vessel from a port of place within the US
- It’s a vessel of the US carrying foreign merchandise for which entry has not been made
In these situations, the master of the vessel must immediately report arrival to the nearest CBP facility. You can report by telephone, using the CBP ROAM app, or in person at the nearest Port of Entry. If CBP refers you for formal entry, you must complete and provide Form 1300 within 48 hours.
Buying a US boat to use in the US if you are not a US citizen
If you travel to the US to purchase a boat and you are not a US citizen, as soon as the sale is complete your boat is considered an unregistered vessel. To move the boat out of the jurisdiction of the port it’s currently in, you must file Form 1300 with CBP.
Cruising licenses for foreign vessels
You may have a foreign-flagged vessel, such as a Canadian boat, but often cruise through US waters. No vessel can cruise through US waters without documentation, whether it’s US-flagged or foreign-flagged. Most US states require owners to register their boats, but what about foreign vessels that sail into US waters for short periods of time?
To avoid having to pay an import duty at every port and to move from port to port freely, you can get a CBP Cruising License. They are available from the CBP Port Director at the first port of arrival in the US. The CBP Cruising License is valid for one year. With the license, you still have to file a Notice of Arrival (NOA) with the National Vessel Movement Center (NMVC) with the US Coast Guard, however. Note that this cruising license is only available for non-commercial small vessels and pleasure boats.
Purchasing a Canadian boat to bring back to the US
If you purchase a Canadian-registered boat in Canada and want to import it into the US, you will have to de-register it through Transport Canada so you can register it with the US state you plan to use it in. You must purchase the Canadian boat in Canada, then pay a duty on it at the US border. It’s not possible for the seller to move a Canadian boat to the US so you can purchase it in the US because it is illegal to sell a foreign vessel in the US.
Does importing a boat into the US sound like a hassle?
Importing a boat to the US can be complex. Whatever your situation — a non-US citizen bringing a boat across the border to use, a US citizen purchasing a foreign boat and bringing it back to the US, or a foreign vessel sailing in US waters — BorderBuddy can help you understand your customs clearance obligations.
You don’t want to get in trouble with CBP, and you don’t want to face steep fines for violating customs regulations, so let a certified customs broker handle the import for you. Call BorderBuddy today to see what we can do for you.