Importing a car from Japan
Last year I finally took the plunge to import a 25 year old vehicle from Japan. It's not hard if you're willing to be patient, and doing it yourself will be cheaper than buying from a stateside JDM import dealership. There are several paths to getting a legal car in the US, but here's the path I recommend based on convenience and buying from a Japanese auction.
ASSEMBLE YOUR TEAM
You want to find n vehicle exporter in Japan to handle the purchase overseas. Japan has a complicated title/ownership system and all vehicles must go through a de-registration process before they can leave the country. Your exporter will handle all that along with booking the ocean freight to ship your car, various Japanese inspections, and making sure the car gets to port. There are several companies that do this and their fees vary as either a flat rate per car you buy, or a percentage of the purchase price, or some combination of the two. I used JapanCarDirect.com and have been very pleased with their service.
In my case, I paid a $500 deposit to JCD which gave me access to their web platform so I could look at cars at all the Japanese auctions, view historical sales data on the cars, etc. The deposit can be used toward the purchase price of my car should I decide to bid, or it can be kept on retainer if I want to keep using them as a vendor. It is fully refundable and therefore not included in any of the cost estimates in this document.
Once you send over a deposit, you're good to start playing the game of finding a good car to import.
You also want to find a freight forwarder to handle the import of the car one it hits the US port. This will add cost but also makes life super easy because they'll handle filing all the paperwork with the port, US Customs, the EPA, the DOT, etc. Be aware that finding a company willing to import a car for your personal use can be a challenge. Many companies only focus on commercial accounts and don't want to get burned by people trying to import illegal cars. Shop around because fees vary wildly.
As soon as you get into the auction system, it's tempting to see the sales price of cars and think OMG SO CHEAP. The price you pay is only part of the larger picture. Here's pricing for my small kei van. Bigger cars mean higher prices for inland transportation, ocean freight, and delivery to your door. Your Japanese counterparts can help estimate freight costs based on the vehicle prior to bidding so be sure to ask what the Landed Cost estimate is for your vehicle type.
Cost Group 1 - $3,700 Paid once you win a car within a couple days via wire transfer.
- Purchase Price of the Vehicle - My van was $1,680.
- Fee to the Exporter - Figure $1k for most cars for their services. This is how they make their $$.
- Inland Transportation to the Port and Inspections - $300
- Ocean Freight & Marine Insurance - $1,000
- Wire Transfer fee from your bank - $40
Cost Group 2 - $1,700 Paid when your car delivers to port 4-6 weeks after your make your initial purchase. OMG So Many Fees!!! These are the prices I paid through a company down in TX.
- ISF Filing - $52
- Unloading- $172 goes to the port operator who got your car off the ship
- Duty - $334 (Figure 25% of the vehicle price for trucks and cargo vans, 3% for cars)
- US Customs Clearance- $145
- Single entry bond - $95
- Express Courier - $30
- Documentation - $85
- DOT - $53
- EPA - $65
- Transit - $650 to deliver the car to my driveway. This varies wildly based on your distance from the port and the size of your vehicle. In COVID times, budget $1,000 or more to deliver to a location 8 hrs away from the port.
- Wire transfer fee to the freight forwarder - $40
So my $1,600 van cost $5,500 by the time I got it plated and insured in my home state. Budget accordingly. I'll break down and explain some of these fees later