There are different information on the internet what is needed to enter the USA with a vehicle, in my case a motorcycle. If you‘re looking for it you come across stuff like EPA letter, 3520-1 customs form and how hard is it to get a valid insurance.
So let me tell you my experience.
What do you need to get into the USA with a motorcycle?
Short answer: If you enter on the land border, you need absolutely NOTHING!
When coming from Mexico, make sure to check out properly at the Mexican customs to get your deposit back. Then drive to the USA border. On a motorcycle it’s allowed to skip the line of cars and just head straight up to the front of the queue! I skipped all the cars in Tecate and got the same info from other bikers crossing in Tijuana.
At the USA booth they will ask the usual questions. If you already have a Visa in your passport, they will let you straight pass through. You don‘t even need to get of the bike. Otherwise they instruct you to go the the office, where you fill out your immigration form (I-94W if you are part of the Visa Waiver program, costs 6$). You don‘t need to do the online ESTA application for the land border, that’s only required for flying into the USA or coming by boat!
They will not ask you for an American insurance and they will not give you a TIP (Temporary Import Paper)! As those are not needed for Canadians or Mexicans, the border controls are not equipped to make you a TIP! In fact, they don‘t even know what it is if you ask for it!
I went the extra mile and drove to the customs office in San Diego to ask for the TIP. There they explained that they could give me one if I insist, but it is not needed as I‘m just crossing the USA up to Canada. You only need it when flying/shipping your vehicle into or out of the USA. Everything else, the EPA letter, the 3520-1 form and the American insurance are only needed if you want the TIP.
If you really want an insurance or need the TIP for shipping, see the information below on how to get those papers.
The conclusion is:
If you drive through the USA on land borders (Canada-Mexico or in reverse) then you don’t need anything!
You only need the EPA letter and insurance for the TIP when flying or shipping to or from the USA!
As stated above, an insurance is technically not needed to enter the USA on a land border. But maybe you still want one or you‘re shipping the bike there. An American insurance is valid for Canada too.
You will quickly find out that basically no insurance company will sell you a police if you mention that you have a foreign motorcycle.
The only option as of today is progressive.com
There you can do everything online, including signing and downloading the contracts. You must provide an American address, though. But as no paperwork will be sent there ever, I chose a Walmart in Texas. Try different addresses, as the prices vary very much! Depending of the options and address you chose the prices may vary from 100$ to 2000$/year! Try an address in a small town in Texas instead of big cities like LA or NY.
In some forums you‘ll find Cheryl of fernet.com as an insurance broker for foreign motorcycles. But all she does is completing the same online forms on progressive.com and charges you 60$ for it!
In the forums you‘ll read about the EPA letter. The official name of it is „Nonresident Temporary Importation Approval Letter from EPA“.
It is needed when flying/shipping the vehicle from or to the USA to get the TIP.
It’s free and you can get it by email. It takes about two weeks to be processed.
Here is the official information (Nonresident Exemption 4-13) how to get it and this is my application as an example: EPA-Letter-example
You must print your completed application, sign it with a pen and make a photo of it. Then send it to the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Don‘t forget to attach a copy of your motorcycle papers.
After leaving the USA you must send them prove that the vehicle has left the USA (shipping papers, TIP of Mexico, etc).
It‘s this form form3520-1-2017-07-secured-enabled which refers to the EPA letter and you need to fill it out for the customs to get the TIP (temporary import paper).