Buying things in Europe with the intention of exporting to the US

I am an expat living in Switzerland. I tend to have a lot of free time, especially in the evenings and weekends. I was thinking of buying things locally for the sole purpose of exporting them to the US. Obviously this would be more of a hobby than a real business, as it would be difficult to scale this up.

Some ideas that I had in mind:

  • used license plates. Perhaps I could buy them in bulk from a junk yard ship them to the US, and have a friend resell them. There seems to be quite a large supply no eBay though, going for around $20 a plate.
  • other car parts. Let’s say European BMWs of a certain model had some aesthetic bits that are different than the US version, I think the fanboys would be quite interested in converting their US cars to the European version. I would need to set up an on-demand service, where someone is interested in a specific part, I source it, and ship it to them. Shipping larger items could be a headache.
  • complete cars. I would essentially need to partner with someone in the US for something like this, as navigating the customs and imports laws can be a minefield. However, I could certainly act as a scout looking for cars, test driving, inspecting, buying, driving them to shipping facility, etc.

Has anyone done something like this? Do you think that I could make some extra cash on the side, or is there basically no profit in something like this?


You seem very focused on cars. Those things are large and probably not very profitable.

If you have access to VAT rebates, I would go for luxury products such as women’s handbags, shoes, etc. A handbag that is 5000 Euro could net you a 1k rebate and you could sell it with little or no discount stateside depending on the demand for the particular bag.

High end wine and craft beer.

Rimowa suitcases bought in Germany. They’re substantially cheaper in Germany than in the US, even without the vat refund.

You’re in Switzerland? Uh, maybe chocolate, watches, and I resist suggesting an ugly one. :slight_smile:

For used parts that are easy to source, you might have something here.

For new parts and scale, you may run into problems not with customs, but with the manufacturers and their authorized dealers, who may be prohibited from exporting (or selling to exporters) by their agreement with the manufacturer.

For complete cars I would guess there already are businesses in the US that can do it, so you’d be competing with them.

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