On this page I will introduce JDM import (import of Japanese cars) to those who are new to this. There are few resources on the internet that can ease the experience for first-time importers. I use my experience as an example (I imported a car to the UK) so it will be a bit country specific but the process should not differ much in other European countries.
Importing a car from Japan might seem complicated even frightening for the first time. First you have to pick a car you’ve seen only on pictures and on top of that you have to trust somebody (a private person or an employee of an importer company) to pick the right car for you. Second – and this is much harder -, after you’ve made your decision, you still have to wait months (depending on your location of course) until you can be sure you’ve made the right choice.
In the UK there are plenty of companies importing vehicles from Japan since both countries have left-hand traffic. If you can’t find a proper import company near you, you can still contact others in neighbouring countries as well since usually these companies ship to ports Europe-wide.
I believe when looking for an importing company the most important things are:
Luckily internet is there for you – browse forums and ask people to gather information.
In my case I used the Driftworks forum and I found a company called japaneseusedcars.com. Finding a lot of positive posts about the company was not enough, I also wrote a few emails to garages specialized in japanese car tuning. Garage-D gave me positive feedbacks as well about this company so I decided to contact japaneseusedcars.com on their website’s contact form. Soon I was contacted by Michael who was very patient to answer all of my questions months before I actually had the money to buy a car. I always received a response in usually 36 hours. The company ships cars to several ports in the UK, the most common one is probably Southampton.
Importing isn’t really that complicated. Its process differs slightly from company to company but doing it for the first time can be a bit nerve-racking. As I did the import via japaneseusedcars.com, I will describe their process in detail.
First you have to transfer a deposit to the company’s bank account. In case of japaneseusedcars it was 150,000 yen (¥) (~£1000) which you can transfer as normal international transfer (via your bank) or Paypal. You have to pay all bank fees, which means an extra ¥2,500 at japaneseusedcars. So basically you have to transfer ¥152,500. If you forget to add the bank fee, you can pay it later when buying a vehicle. Details for the transfer will be sent by the company in an email. When transferring the deposit and later on the rest of the money please pay attention to the spelling as Japanese banks are very meticulous. As a reference for the transaction you can use your email address / name or any other personal detail.
When the deposit is received (~ 5 days) you get access to the member section of the site where you can bid on actual cars. You get a password and a username and you can start browsing the cars online.
In Japan cars are usually sold by auction houses and there you have a chance to get a car cheaper than you would from a private person or a trader.
Every car going for auction has an auction paper and few pictures attached (2 external and 1 internal usually). The auction sheet contains everything you have to know, modifications, external damage, rust on underbody and so on. Every car is evaluated between 1 and 5, 5 meaning a car like new, 1 is the opposite. Most common evaluation is R though which means either a broken or not properly modified car. Sometimes highly modified cars get these as well so you have to ask the contact if in doubt, they can translate the auction sheet. Interior evaluation is from A to D, A is the best a car can get.
Bidding is not complicated. You can browse cars based on auction days on the company’s site or search for what you want. Generally auction data are uploaded 3-4 days in front but beware, auction data can change up to the last 24 hours, so keep checking daily if you don’t want to miss any update. If you have a car you’d like to buy, ask the contact at the company for the translation of the Japanese auction sheet (unless you speak Japanese), they usually answer in 12-24 hours. Import companies usually provide translations for the common terms.
If you still want the car, each vehicle has a ‘bid’ button on the site and when pressing it you have to give basic information about your purchase like: the maximum amount you want to pay for the vehicle, if you’ve bid on other cars on that auction day or not, how many cars do you want etc. You also have to fill in your details and the port you want the car to arrive to (you can change it later though). You can of course ask your contact to recommend a FOB price for the vehicle you want to import. Keep in mind that FOB price does not contain shipping costs and custom costs. After this you only have to confirm the bid and you’ll receive an email about it. The bid has to arrive latest at the auction day until 8 or 9 (Japanese time).
On the auction day or latest next day the company will inform you in email if the bidding has been successful or not. In case of an unsuccessful bid, you will know the winning bid for the car so you’ll get an idea if you need to increase your bid or not. In case of successful bid, you have to pay for the car in 3 days. If you don’t want more cars, you can deduct the deposit from the amount to pay.
In case of successful bid you have to fill a consignee document which is usually sent with the result information. This is used to confirm your details, address etc. for the provisional invoice and other important documents. As mentioned before, you have to pay for the car in 3 days. It takes around 10 days to get all documents from the auction house and apply for the export certificate. Once the export certificate is acquired, a spot on a ship is booked. Usually some more photos are sent to you about the vehicle when it arrives at the departure port. You can choose what type of transport you want for the vehicle (RORO or container) but I believe a simple and cheap RORO (roll on roll off) gets the job done.
Once the shipping details are known you receive them in an email:
Documents are sent about 1 week after the vehicle departs and you will receive a tracking number for the package as well (by email). The shipping line agent will contact you or your agent shortly before arrival. If you have purchased insurance covering theft and damage, please make sure you check and log with the shipping line any irregularities before removing the car from port. Otherwise insurance companies may refuse any claim.
So this is the first additional cost besides the price of the vehicle. You need to pay for
Here comes the worst part of the import: you have to wait a lot of time. Of course, you can track your vehicle while on the ship as well by one of these sites:
You will receive the following documents prior to the vehicle arriving to the destination port:
Bill of Sale must include the year, make, model and VIN number of the vehicle. Customs at the port of entry will require this. If it is not on the Bill of Sale they will ask you to get another one, which could cause delays and potentially incur fees.
Your vehicle will go through customs first. This takes usually an additional 1 or 2 weeks. I strongly advise to get a customs agent do the job for you, you can save a lot of headache and time with this for a relatively small amount of money.
To clear your vehicle through customs you need to email or fax the Bill of Lading, the export certificate (English translation) and the invoice to your customs agent along with your personal details (name, phone number). The agent will calculate the total customs fee and once you transfer the amount to them, you are ready to pick up your vehicle. Your taxes are calculated from the CIF price of the vehicle (Cost-Insurance-Freight) and you have to pay duty and VAT.
An example calculation (for UK importers):
So the total customs fee you have to pay in this example is 700 (duty) + 1560 (VAT) + 100 (customs agent fee) = £2360.
Once cleared from customs your vehicle will need to be released by the shipping company, this is achieved by lodging with them the original Bill of Lading and paying the terminal handling charges (storage of the vehicle is only free for a few days and it varies amongst shipping companies but usually 5-7 days) and / or freight if applicable. In the UK, HM Revenue & Customs will then (within 7-10 working days) place your vehicle on the NOVA system which will tie up your vehicle as tax paid when you go to register it. The process is similar in other countries as well. The customs agent will forward copies of your customs declaration / clearance by email along with an invoice once everything has gone through.
The next thing you have to do is to transport it to a garage for a thorough examination, get a number plate, pay taxes (in the UK road tax, in other countries this probably exists under a different name) and prepare the vehicle for the roadworthiness exam (called MOT test in the UK). The garage doing the tests can also do the paperwork so you don’t have to mess with it. Unfortunately this final stage can be very slow because of the paperwork involved but don’t give up! If you are lucky and your vehicle is in great condition, you only have to pay the price of the test 🙂
The last thing you have to get before you roll out the garage is the insurance.
Enjoy your ride!
Abbreviation of “Free On Board”. FOB price includes transportation of goods (vehicle in this case) to the port of shipment plus loading costs. FOB price does not contain marine freight transport, insurance, unloading related costs which needs to be paid by the buyer. Transportation costs from the destination port is obviously a cost paid by the buyer as well.
Abbreviation of “Cost, Insurance & Freight”. This is the sum of
CIF price is used to calculate duty when clearing goods from customs.
Abbreviation of “Cost and Freight”. Means costs of the goods (vehicle in this case) and freight to the destination port.
Abbreviation of “Roll-on/Roll-off”. RORO shipping method involves a vessel designed to carry wheeled cargo which are driven on and off the ship on their wheels or using a platform vehicle. Vehicles are secured with straps and braces to prevent their movement. Usually the cheapest and yet safe method of vehicle shipping.
Abbreviation of “Lift-on/Lift-off”. LOLO vessels use cranes to load and unload cargo as opposed to RORO vessels where vehicles are loaded on their wheels.
The vehicle is loaded into a 20ft / 40ft container. It is secured to the floor of the container with blocks and straps to prevent movement during transportation. This is for clients who want a safer, enclosed environment. However, this option costs 2-3 time more than RORO shipping.