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Import / Export FAQ

The Japanese Used Cars Import / Export FAQ

Okay, this is the Import / Export FAQ page where you will get the low down on importing a new or used car directly from Japan.

I have added information I have used myself when importing cars from Japan, and links to other sites to aid in your own Japanese Car import project.

Please be aware that the whole of the epoi site including this page is presented as an information resource and is subject to the epoi Disclaimer and Terms of Use. It is also Copyright © 2004 ePoi.Com All Rights Reserved.

Import / Export Overview

Here is an example overview of the process involved in importing a car from Japan if you intend to do it yourself.
Note, that there may be variations on this import process, and this is just an example of what you might expect.
I imported my own car from Japan (an Isuzu Bighorn 4x4) and these are the steps and processes that I went through.

  • Find an exporter of used cars from Japan. (See the Exporters page for a list of Japan Used Car Exporters).
  • Choose the used Japanese car you want. (See the Cars page).
  • Contact the exporter and offer to purchase the car from Japan.
  • A Pro-Forma Invoice will be issued by the Exporter, usually by fax.
  • Sign and return the Pro-Forma Invoice - you have agreed to purchase the car!
  • Send payment for the car to the Exporter by Telegraphic Transfer via your bank.
  • Exporter will book the vehicle onto a ship from Japan and clear the car for shipping - known as FOB.
  • A short while after the ship has sailed from Japan the Exporter will send by Special Air Post the shipping documents and car documents to you by courier.
  • At this point you may be asked to pay the balance of any outstanding amount owed to the Exporter (as you have received confirmation from the Exporter that the car is on board ship from Japan and on its way).
  • Instruct a Shipping Agent who will handle the arrival of the car in the UK and the clearance through customs. (See the Freight page for a list of Freight Forwarders and Shipping Agents).
  • When the car arrives, the Shipping Agent will clear it through UK Customs.
  • Pay the shipping fee, which is calculated on the cubic meterage of the vehicle.
  • Pay the 10% Import Duty and 17.5% VAT.
  • Pay the Customs Duty.
  • Pay the Shipping Agent for their Services.
  • The car is released from Customs and available for collection.
  • Register the car and pay the registration fee.
  • Prepare the car for the SVA Test or MOT test. (i.e Change Speedometer to Miles Per Hour, Fit Rear Fog Lights etc.).
  • SVA test and/or MOT the car.
  • Tax and Insure the car for use on the road.
  • Drive and enjoy your imported Japanese Car!

What might go wrong?

Not wanting to worry you, but clearly, there is a lot of potential for mishaps and disappointments along the line.

A way to avoid this is to do your research thoroughly and choose a Japanese Car Exporter, and Shipping Agent who you are certain are trustworthy and able to do their job.

How can you know? I hear you ask...... Well, do the research! Japanese Car Auctions Trade Associations: When you visit their web-site see which trade associations they belong to. Then visit the trade association's home page and see if they are listed. Caveat Emptor, of course - don't be quick to trust, make sure. (See JUMVEA and below - a good place to start).

Testimonials and References: You might also like to check their testimonials and references page. You are considering spending a lot of money with them, why not ask them for a reference or testimonial that you can check. Being able to get feedback from someone who has already used the company and had a positive experience will be a big plus in helping you to make a buying decision. Any legitimate Japanese company ought to be able to provide you with a previous happy customer (or more than one) that you can contact and ask what the experience was like. Testimonials can be pretty useless otherwise, unless there is the opportunity to check them out yourself.

Pay for your Japanese Car by Credit Card: You might also want to consider paying for your car by credit-card, which should give you some protection, (Check with your credit card company). The downside to this is that you will limit the available Japanese exporters you can use and also the few that do accept credit cards will charge a surcharge - typically 6.5% or more.

The Japan Used Motor Vehicle Exports Association (JUMVEA) - The Japan Used Motor Vehicle Exports Association (JUMVEA) is a Japanese Trade Association for Car Exporters from Japan that has a list of accredited members who currently export used cars from Japan.


Phew! Here's a good one ... :-)

You must budget carefully. It is easy to get carried away with the prices of used Japanese Cars that are quoted FOB in Japan - they will look extremely cheap compared to the similar Japanese Car model available in the UK.

When you have paid for your Japanese Car import FOB (Free on Board) you have paid for the car in Japan. It also includes the cost of clearing it through Japanese Customs and onto the ship. It does not include the cost of shipping the car to the UK.

Paying FOB therefore still leaves you with the cost of the Shipping, the Import Duty (10%), the VAT (17.5%), the Customs fee, the Shipping Agents fee, the SVA or MOT test preparation and the cost of the SVA or MOT itself.

You may also have costs involved in collecting the car from the port, car registration costs and the insurance to use the car on a public road is almost certain to be high.

Clearly, this will all add a substantial amount to the cost of the cheap import car you have seen advertised in Japan.

Typical Costs

To help, I've worked out what I think the typical costs might be for a Japanese import car that costs approx. 500,000 Yen FOB in Japan (Roughly 2,500) and another that costs approx. 100,000 Yen FOB in Japan (Roughly 500) - Note: These are imaginary cars and imaginary figures - they are presented here for information and as a guide only. Want to view our disclaimer?

Example 1 - Vehicle Under 10 years old
Purchase Price in Japan 500,000 Yen FOB

  • 2,500   Purchase of the car FOB in Japan
  •    700   Shipping Cost
  •    320   Import Duty 10% of above two (FOB Purchase Price plus Shipping Cost)
  •    616   VAT 17.5% of above three (FOB Purchase Price plus Shipping Cost plus Import Duty)
  •    200   Shipping Agent Fee
  •      50   Customs
  •      38   Car Registration Fee
  •    300   SVA Preparation
  •    180   SVA Test
  •      30   UK Number Plates
  •      40   MOT Test
  • ======
  • 4,974   Grand Total
  • ======

Example 2 - Vehicle Over 10 years old
Purchase Price in Japan 100,000 Yen FOB

  •    500   Purchase of the car FOB in Japan
  •    700   Shipping Cost
  •    120   Import Duty 10% of above two (FOB Purchase Price plus Shipping Cost)
  •    231   VAT 17.5% of above three (FOB Purchase Price plus Shipping Cost plus Import Duty)
  •    200   Shipping Agent Fee
  •      50   Customs
  •      38   Car Registration Fee
  •    200   MOT Preparation
  •      30   UK Number Plates
  •      40   MOT Test
  • ======
  • 2,109   Grand Total
  • ======

As you can see from these imaginary examples, the costs for Import Duty and VAT vary with cost of the car.

A cost that is likely to vary according to the size of the Japanese car you purchase is the shipping cost, (see below for more information). This is because it is worked out by the cubic metre and different sized cars from Japan will attract different shipping costs. You will often see this cost quoted as an m3 figure, which is another way of saying Metre Cubed. Typical charges for Shipping costs from Japan to ports in the UK are in the 38 - 45 per cubic metre range and are often quoted in US Dollars.

Visit the M3 Shipping Table page to see a guide to cubic meterage for typical Imported Japanese Cars.

Remember there are other costs that have not been reflected here though they are likely to be minor. Fax costs, Telephone Calls to Japan (minor! Ha!), Credit Card charges, Taxi or other travel fares to the home port of destination when the car arrives in the UK, etc., ..........

Currency Converter Free Currency Conversion Utility.


Single Vehicle Approval / Enhanced Single Vehicle Approval Test

All cars younger than ten years old imported from outside the EU are required to undergo the SVA / ESVA test for the Vehicle Inspectorate.

Typical minimum work needed to pass an SVA / ESVA or MOT test with a Japanese imported car will be the fitting of a new Speedometer Facia (converts kilometers to miles per hour) and the fitting of a rear fog light.

All cars registered after 1st January 1997 need to meet the requirements of the Enhanced SVA test, the ESVA, for the Vehicle Inspectorate.

This means providing with the vehicle at the time of the ESVA a "model report" that shows the vehicles compliance with European emission and safety standards.

The model report is a document that has been commissioned by someone for the exact same car as you wish to pass the ESVA. You can hire the Model Report and submit it with your own vehicle to show compliance to the standards.

Unfortunately, if there is no Model Report available for your particular vehicle, then you will have to commission one and pay the full cost of this. You can then, of course, rent out your model report to other owners of that particular Japanese Car. This will allow you to recoup costs and possibly make a profit.

Cars manufactured after 1st January 1998 will additionally require a CAT 2 Immobiliser fitted to pass the ESVA test - probably an additional cost of approx. 200.

The most common differences between Japanese manufactured vehicles and UK vehicles are: No rear fog light; No MPH display on the speedometer; Inadequate number plate space; wrong Radio Activated Security Systems (RASS) frequency; Fuel filter nozzle of incorrect diameter.

Vehicles manufactured after 1 October 1998 will have their RASS frequencies checked as part of the ESVA test. RASS Radio Activated Security Systems. If your vehicle has a radio-activated immobiliser, alarm or central locking, only radio frequencies within the following ranges are legal in the UK: 417.90 - 418.10 MHz (until Jan 2008); 433.05 - 434.79 MHz; 868.00 - 868.60 MHz, 868.70 - 869.20 MHz and 869.70 - 870.00 MHz.

Japanese Imports Car Insurance

Another cost to bear in mind which may be very significant AFTER you have your imported car is your car insurance. It is not unusual for insurance companies to load the charges on Japanese Imported Cars. Expect to pay as much as THREE TIMES your usual premium just because it is an imported vehicle.

I know, I know, the insurance situation is scandalous. You may be able to avoid huge charges by shopping around carefully (as ever).

More and more companies are offering competitive rates for insurance of Japanese Imports now, for instance, there are reports that Tescos is competitive.

Visit the Insurance page for companies that have been reported as offering reasonable rates for Imported Japanese Vehicles.

Shipping Charges

As already stated shipping charges are calculated on the cubic metre value of the car to be shipped from Japan.

Here are some typical m3 figures for some common Japanese Car Imports. You will often find comprehensive lists on Japanese Car Exporters websites.

  •   9 m3    Sports Car (i.e Toyota MR2)
  • 11 m3    Saloon Car (i.e Toyota Corolla)
  • 16 m3    People Carrier (i.e Toyota Estima, HiAce, Nissan Serena)
  • 18 m3    SUV (i.e Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Land Cruiser)

To calculate shipping cost multiply the m3 figure by the actual shipping charge per metre. i.e. for a Japanese People Carrier ...... 16 x 38 = 608

Don't forget these are only rough estimates provided as examples.

Visit the M3 Shipping Table page to see a guide to cubic meterage for typical Imported Japanese Cars.

UK Ports

Typical ports that you will see quoted on Japanese websites for UK delivery are:

  • Bristol
  • Liverpool
  • Newcastle
  • Southhampton
  • Tilbury

All other things being equal, choose the port nearest to your home. This will minimise your transport costs to the port and also make dealing with any problems that arise easier.

A problem I have encountered is that some exporters from Japan will only send vehicles to Southampton. I have no idea why this is, but it is something to watch for as it can significantly increase your costs if you have to travel excessively to collect your Japanese import from a port miles from your home.

Caveat Emptor

As ever, when you are buying anything, whether from a shop, trader or online it is basically a case of "Caveat Emptor" which for those of you who don't speak fluent Latin :-) means "let the buyer beware".

My personal experience and opinion of buying a car in Japan and importing it to this country is that it can be a profitable, and satisfying experience.

However, this may NOT be the case for you. Some tips: Do all the research you can before you commit your hard earned cash. Don't rush into a purchase. Calculate ALL your costs. Take care in selecting a supplier in Japan. Find out the law before you import.

Currency Converter

Currency Converter Currency Converter that will allow you easily and quickly convert Japanese YEN to UK Pounds or United States Dollars or any other currency. A Free Service.

Final Thoughts

Don't forget also, that your time has a value. If you go into this as an interesting adventure then you won't be counting this. But if you see the whole thing as stressful and a chore then wouldn't you rather pay the extra and buy from a dealer at home? It's your call.

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Import / Export FAQ!

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