USA How to import a Japanese car into the USA

Discussion in 'Regional' started by Derek, Feb 14, 2014.

  1. Derek

    Derek Derek Weldon

    Jun 20, 2013
    Yokohama Japan
    Now that the Nissan Skyline R32 is importable into the USA, word has spread like crazy about Japanese vehicle importing into the USA. There is a lot of information out there and much of it is wrong. I am writing this as a guide to those who want more information.

    I am the owner of Pacific Coast Auto. We are a Japan based exporter and auction agent. ( We regularly send vehicles to the States and have spent much time researching and learning the process. If anything is not covered in this guide, please ask in the comments and I will try to answer.

    This guide will be broken down into sections -

    1 - What vehicles are importable into the States?
    2 - How can we buy and export the vehicle?
    3 - What is the process of importing?
    4 - How much will it cost?
    5 State Rules
    6 - What loopholes are there to get newer vehicles than 25 years old?
    7 - Conclusion

    I hope everyone enjoys the thread.

    Feel free to copy the link for this thread and post it in other forums.
    Please do not copy only the text. It would be unfair for me to have taken the time to write this out and the credit not go to the Import-era community.


    =======What vehicles are importable into the States?=======

    This is the biggest question I get asked and it is the simplest one to answer.

    Vehicles coming to the USA from any country other than Canada and Mexico must be 25 years old or older.
    This rule applies to passenger vehicles and light trucks.

    It is important to understand that importation and registration are two separate things.

    This is the requirement at the boarder of entry. The vehicle will not be allowed out of the port unless it is 25 years old. This does not have to do with registration (which I will get to later). To physically enter the States, the car has to be older than 25 years old.

    The vehicle MUST be 25 years old based on the month of production, not the year.
    This part is particularly interesting because there are a number of cars (particularly R32s) that have been imported when they were 25 years old based on the year, but still 8 or 10 months away form the month. How are people doing it?

    Most of the cars that are coming in earlier than the year are coming through Canada. The general consensus is that because Canada only marks the "vehicle year" on the registration, it can be used to bring in vehicles early. While this avenue is currently (as the time of this posting) quite easy to import without getting noticed, I expect it to close as the customs people learn their jobs.

    Some cars come from Japan direct to the USA and are importable because the vehicle is missed by customs agents who don't understand the rules. In this case, there is a chance that the car can be held at the boarder. Usually borders have ridiculously high storage costs (up to $50 per day) as incentive to not let this happen.

    Basically, any passenger vehicle 25 years old or older can be imported.
    For exceptions to the 25 year rule, see the exceptions section below.

    =======How can we buy the vehicle?=======

    This guide is simplified for the sake of not being too long. If you need more info, please ask your exporter or importer.

    First you need to contact an exporter located in Japan or an importer located in the States.

    Very basically -
    Exporters cost less
    Importers cost more and offer more services (such as registration)

    There is much more to it than that but we will leave that to another thread.

    How can I find an exporter or importer?
    I will try not to be bias here because we are an exporter but this forum is a good place to ask for advice. Nearly ever member on this forum has imported a vehicle or is in the process of learning how it.

    Exporters that send to the States regularly will have contacts with importers whom then can recommend.

    When picking your exporter, ask if they regularly ship to the States. This is very important because sending to the States requires some differences in paperwork and if done incorrectly, could cause you to pay a $5000 fine. It took us some trial and error to get this worked out and I have to use a different shipping agent for vehicles to the States cause my standard one is too inexperienced.

    Once you have found the exporter / importer, you work with them to find the right vehicle for you and follow their direction how to get it to you. Here are the basic steps -

    EXPORTER METHOD (simplified outline)

    ***For the sake of this guide, I will outline the exporter method. Importers are similar and I will outline the benefits in the import section.

    1 - Pick vehicle (auction or stock) and pay for it
    2 The exporter will load it on a boat for you
    3 Hire a customs broker to import it
    4 Pay tax and duty
    5 Get the vehicle
    6 Register the vehicle

    Some notes -

    **The vehicle must be washed before export.

    You can choose container shipping or RORO shipping.
    Again, over simplified, here are the differences -

    RORO Like a car ferry. This is the standard way to ship and how new vehicles are sent to the States when sold at dealers. For purchasing one, two, or three vehicles, this is the cheapest method. There is a chance to have things like CD players stolen so ask your exporter what can be done about this. You cannot ship cars with inside cargo such as spare parts. Non running cars can't be shipped this way.

    CONTAINER The vehicle is loaded into a container with all your cars or shared with other peoples' cars. This method is usually more expensive, but can be cheaper if sending 4 vehicles in a full container. You can send with inner cargo or spare parts and if you exporter offers the service. You can share with half cut cars or anything else you want form Japan. Non-running and cut cars can be sent this way.

    The exporter supplies these pieces of paper to you -
    Vehicle registration (Called the Export Certificate)
    Translation of the above document (some states may require a certified translation)
    Bill of Lading This is the proof that the vehicle is yours to customs in the US
    Commercial Invoice Stamped and signed paper proving you paid for the vehicle and how much you paid.

    =======What is the process of importing?=======

    If you are using an importer, skip down to IMPORTER METHOD

    To import to the States, you must use a licensed customs agent. Your exporter usually sets you up with one of their contacts so you don't have to. The USA is unique. Individuals are not permitted to clear customs unless registered. There is a form called the ISF form and it is only allowed to be submitted by a registered ISF handler. Every customs agent in the States is registered to do so, however, you should ask if they have experience in RORO shipments because of some strange rules with the ISF form.

    The customs agent will do customs for you and then give you an invoice for their services. The invoice will include these things -

    ***These charges are standard. Some brokers will charge different prices.
    ISF filing - $50
    Customs filing - $150
    DOT filing - $75
    EPA filing- $75
    Customs duty 2.5% for cars 25% for trucks (chicken tax)
    Bond fee - $90

    There may be other charges

    You pay the man and get the paperwork. At this point, drive to the port with a trailer and pick up the car. You can drive the car home on temp insurance if you like, or the customs agent should be able to book transport to you via truck or rail.

    Once you have the car and the all the paperwork, you walk into your registration office and register it as you would a used vehicle. Depending on your state, you may be required to do extra work such as inspections. Call your local DMV for details.

    Importers do all the communication with the exporter so you don't have to.
    If you have used an importer, they will have all the above work included in their fee and you will not have to worry about it. Importers cost more. What are the benefits of hiring an importer?

    Importers know the State level regulations very well and can advise you accordingly.
    Importers can register the vehicle for you so you don't have to.
    Importers may have shops, stock, offer warranties, offer financing

    If you want to know which is right for you, start a thread.

    =======How much will it cost?=======

    Vehicles in Japan are usually priced fairly low compared with other markets. Most countries in the world import a large amount of cars from Japan because of it.

    Every exporter and importer has a different cost structure. Some are cheaper than others but generally, the average costs are -

    Vehicle price - ???,??? yen

    Exporter fee 100,000 yen including all costs. Like mobile phones, there can be a number of hidden costs which make the cost range anywhere from 80,000 yen to 200,000 yen. The majority of good exporters are somewhere around 100,000 yen. Ones that list very low fees are usually the ones with hidden costs.

    Shipping This will be different based on the shipping method, size of the vehicle, or other factors.
    In general, RORO is the best shipping method. It is about $1000 - $1200 for a standard sized car and for a large vehicle like a Land Cruiser, expect around $2000.

    Import fees
    Basically 2.5% of the vehicle price and the exporter fee
    $450 - $500 in various fees.

    Registration This depends on what state you are in. Call your local DMV for details.

    =======State Rules=======

    For importing, understand that there are two bodies you need to appease. The federal level regulates imports into the USA. The State level might have special restrictions for importing and registering the vehicle.

    The rules are slightly different in each State.
    I am not an expert on what is permissible in your State.

    The vehicle must pass federal EPA standards. These are quire easy for all vehicles made in Japan as far as I know. The only niggle which has not been addressed yet is that federal EPA mandates the use of the OBD2 sensor which Japanese cars don't have. This is not a problem yet as the current 25 year old vehicles at the time of this writing were made before the OBD2 requirement and thus are not required to have one.

    California (and some other states) have their own state-level emissions standard. In Cali, it is called CARB. Because of this, some Japanese vehicles are not able to be registered. At the current time, some owners are modifying the cars to pass and some are registering their cars out of State. You should speak with an importer about your options for this. If you are in California, all importers in your area will know what is best for you.

    Because each State makes their own DMV rules, anything goes for them. Most exporters don't keep track of the rules in all 50 States so look to an importer to fill you in or check on internet forums in your area for what other people are doing.

    =======What loopholes are there to get newer vehicles than 25 years old?=======

    The basic answer for most people is Nothing unless you do illegal things. When doing illegal things, you can be punished and the vehicle can be taken away. Please don't contact me about any of these methods of import because we don't deal in illegal imports.

    Illegal or generally shady antics

    Forging the export paperwork
    This used to happen much more in the past but has died off as plenty of people have lost lots of money in cars that had to be sent back. It basically don't work anymore.

    Cut cars and weld back together
    This can work now but it not considered legal in all States. The basic rule is that you cut a car in half, send the parts over, and weld it back together registering it as a kit car. In most states, the definition of a kit car is a chassis that was never registered before. As all the Japanese cars have been registered before, they are real cars and so do not qualify as kit cars. Some states are not as clean on their words as others and some just never check the car over. If you are interested in doing this, here are some thoughts -

    This is certainly not safe to do
    The structure of the car will never be as stiff and enjoyable as before
    Customs knows about this and is flagging containers that have fronts and rears in the same container. You could lose the whole car unless you bring in two containers.
    The cost is very high. You will need to spend money on cutting the car, container shipping, welding it back, etc. It could easily add $20,000 to the car cost.
    Once a car is cut, it may be difficult to sell. Especially if you are selling it over State boarders.

    Shipping the car to Canada and driving it down
    I get this question all the time. The answer is no. If you drive a Canadian car across the boarder, you must drive it back to Canada. The boarder agent may ask if you are importing the car and you can get punished for lying. Still, people do it this way. Cars that are imported illegally here can sometimes be registered for road use BUT THEY ARE NOT LEGAL. This is important because people seem to thing that registration makes them legal. No, they are registered illegal items that have not been caught yet. Usually they are caught when someone goes to sell the car across a boarder line and someone in the other State notices. Then the car gets taken and crushed.

    Are there legal ways to import a newer than 25 year old vehicle?

    Yes, but you probably don't qualify.
    ***Also, please do not flood this thread with questions or comments about newer vehicle importation. This thread is meant to be a source for information on how to legally import vehicles using the standard method. If you would like to discuss the 25 year rule in more detail, please make another thread about it.

    Legal ways to import a newer than 25 year old car -

    1 Re-import a vehicle that was made for the US market and has documentation that the vehicle complies to US standards.

    2 If you are not a resident, you can import for up to one year. After, it must be exported.

    3 Import for show, race, competition. These cars can't be licensed for road use. However, they can be driven on the road only if that is part of the competition, race, exhibition (according to Federal law). You need to file EPA3520-1 and DOT HS-7. You must get advance clearance before importing. Many vehicles are turned down cause they are not pre-approved. It has never happened to us but I have heard of it. In most cases, you will need to prove you are associated with the venue you are bringing the vehicle in for. Example, if for SEMA, you will need a written confirmation that the vehicle will be displayed at SEMA. If used for race, you need to convince them that it will be used for a race team and likely show a history with the racing association. From what I have seen, this is not given easily. Usually cones in a parking lot doesn't count. I have heard people say that you can drive the vehicle up to XXXXX miles per year but I have yet to find it officially stated somewhere.

    4 I heard that R33 Skylines are importable?
    For those who don't know the history of this, please Google Motorex. They took some R33 Skylines and crash tested them. They brought in some Skylines and registered them. Then they went bankrupt and there were criminal charges. I have read about it a lot and I have not found a satisfactory way to import an R33 Skyline. I have not heard of even one R33 being legally imported (through DOT and EPA) since the bankruptcy of Motorex. I hear that EPA and DOT certification was never done properly and continues to be the case. There is a list of parts that need to be complied to register the vehicle but that list was kept a secret and was never released. I have seen some paperwork claiming to be this list but I worry it might not be credible. If it were, I would expect to see more R33s imported. Once one company finds out how to do it, we will see hundreds of them come in. If well funded and motivated companies can't figure it out, I doubt that it would be possible. Although I have read a lot about this, there is a lot of mis-information, and I don't feel confident in advising about this.


    Thank you everyone for reading this.

    If you have any questions, please submit them to the comments section and someone can answer you if they know the answer. I will try to make it back on here every once in a while to answer quesitons.

    Feel free to copy the link for this thread and post it in other forums.
    Please do not copy only the text. It would be unfair for me to have taken the time to write this out and the credit not go to the Import-era community.
    Pajerist likes this.
  2. Dah_Hunter

    Dah_Hunter Looking over your shoulder, so you dont have to.

    Jun 20, 2013
    Lower Rainland (BC)
    I have stickyed this.

    Very good info.

    thanks Derek.