How to import a car from Japan to Australia

Many car enthusiasts and prospective buyers in Australia turn to Japan when considering importing a vehicle. Japan is renowned for its high-quality automobile manufacturing and offers a broad selection of cars that often include models and features not available locally. This trend is driven by several attractive factors, including affordability, superior Japanese engineering, and the availability of unique vehicles.

In this article, we’ll explore the process of importing a car from Japan to Australia in detail. You will learn about each necessary step, from understanding the legal requirements and managing costs to navigating the importation process smoothly. This guide aims to equip you with the knowledge to successfully bring your chosen vehicle from Japan to your doorstep in Australia, ensuring a clear and hassle-free experience.

1. Why Import a Car from Japan?

1.1 Quality and Selection

Japan is globally recognized for its exceptional automotive standards. The vehicles manufactured there are known for their reliability and advanced technology. Buyers have access to a wide array of models, including the latest releases and high-spec versions not always available in Australia. This quality and variety make Japan an excellent source for importing cars.

1.2 Cost Advantages

Importing a car from Japan can often be more cost-effective than purchasing a similar model in Australia. The primary reason is the lower cost base in Japan, coupled with a competitive used car market that drives prices down. Even with import duties and shipping costs, the total expense can still be favourable. This cost efficiency is a significant draw for Australian buyers looking to maximize value.

1.3 Unique Models

Japan offers some unique or rare car models that are not sold on the Australian market. These can include special editions and performance cars that car enthusiasts seek. Importing from Japan provides an opportunity to own distinctive models that stand out due to their rarity, enhancing not only the driving experience but also potentially the vehicle’s investment value.

2. Understanding Australian Import Regulations

2.1 Eligibility

Before you import a car from Japan to Australia, it’s crucial to understand which vehicles are eligible under Australian law. Not all cars can be imported freely. The eligibility criteria largely depend on the vehicle’s age, type, and intended use. For example, classic cars over 30 years old generally face fewer restrictions, appealing to collectors and enthusiasts. On the other hand, newer vehicles must meet more stringent criteria and often require special approval under schemes like the Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme (RAWS) or the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme (SEVS).

2.2 Safety and Environmental Standards

Australia maintains strict safety and environmental regulations to ensure that all vehicles on its roads are safe and environmentally friendly. Imported cars must comply with these standards, which include passing tests related to emission levels and structural integrity. Specifically, vehicles imported from Japan must be modified to meet the Australian Design Rules (ADRs), which cover aspects from emissions to the layout of the controls and safety features. This compliance is critical not only for the legality of the import but also for the safety and environmental impact of the vehicle on Australian roads.

3. Choosing the Right Car

3.1 Research well

When planning to import a car from Japan to Australia, thorough research is key. Start by identifying the type of vehicle that best suits your needs and budget. Explore various online resources, such as manufacturer websites and forums, where enthusiasts discuss the reliability and performance of Japanese cars. It’s also crucial to identify reputable sellers or exporters in Japan. Look for businesses with positive reviews and a strong track record. This initial research will help ensure that you choose a reliable vehicle and deal with trustworthy partners.

3.2 Inspections and History Checks

Before finalizing your purchase, the importance of vehicle history and pre-purchase inspections cannot be overstated. Obtain a detailed history report that includes information on any accidents, service records, and previous ownership. In Japan, vehicles are subject to stringent inspections known as Shaken, which can provide valuable insights into the car’s condition. Additionally, consider hiring a professional to inspect the car. This step is vital to assess the mechanical and aesthetic condition of the vehicle, ensuring it meets both your expectations and Australian import standards.

3.3 Online Auctions and Dealers

Navigating online auctions or contacting dealers directly in Japan offers access to a broader range of vehicles, often at competitive prices. Online auctions are particularly popular for buying used cars in Japan. Platforms like USS and TAA provide comprehensive listings and detailed information about each vehicle. If you choose this route, familiarize yourself with the auction process, including understanding the auction sheet’s grading system. For dealing with dealers, ensure they are licensed and have experience in exporting cars to Australia. They can often assist with the export process, making it smoother for you to import your chosen car.

4. The Import Process

4.1 Hiring an Importer

Utilizing a professional importer can significantly simplify the process of importing a car from Japan to Australia. An experienced importer understands the legal and logistical complexities involved and can help navigate the often intricate customs procedures. They can also assist in handling paperwork, ensuring compliance with both Japanese export and Australian import regulations. While managing the process yourself might seem cost-effective, the expertise of a professional can help avoid costly mistakes and delays.

4.2 Required Documentation

To successfully import a car from Japan, several key documents are necessary. The list includes:

  • Export Certificate: This document from Japan verifies the car’s legal status and provides detailed information like the car’s age, make, and model.
  • Import Approval: Issued by the Australian Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, this approval is crucial for the vehicle to be legally imported and registered in Australia.
  • Bill of Lading: This shipping document outlines the journey of the car from Japan to Australia, including the shipping dates and the vessel name.
  • Cleaning Certificate: To ensure that no foreign soil enters Australia, this certificate proves your vehicle has been cleaned to meet Australian quarantine standards.

4.3 Shipping

When shipping a car from Japan to Australia, you have mainly two options:

  • Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo): This method involves driving your car on and off the shipping vessel. It is often more cost-effective and is suitable for vehicles that can be driven.
  • Container shipping: Offers more protection during transit as the car is secured within a container. This method is preferable for high-value or sensitive vehicles. Shipping times can vary, but typically, it takes about 2 to 4 weeks for a ship to travel from Japan to Australia, depending on the specific departure and arrival ports.

5. Costs Involved With Procedure

5.1 Purchase Price

The price of a car in Japan can vary widely based on the make, model, age, and condition of the vehicle. Generally, Japanese cars are competitively priced due to a saturated local market and strict vehicle inspections that encourage earlier disposal and frequent updates of models. However, special editions or rare models may carry a premium. It’s important to factor in these costs and compare them against local prices in Australia to assess the financial viability of importing a car.

5.2 Shipping and Insurance Costs

Shipping costs depend on the method chosen—Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo) or container—and the specific ports of departure and arrival. RoRo tends to be less expensive and is suitable for durable vehicles, while container shipping provides better protection and is ideal for luxury or classic cars. The cost typically ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 AUD. Additionally, insurance during transit is crucial to protect against loss or damage, adding to the total cost. Insurance rates can vary, usually about 1.5% to 2% of the vehicle’s value.

5.3 Taxes and Duties

Upon arrival in Australia, imported cars are subject to various taxes and duties:

  • Customs Duty: Generally set at 5% of the vehicle’s value.
  • Goods and Services Tax (GST): Calculated at 10% of the Value of the Taxable Importation (VoTI), which includes the customs value plus customs duty and international transport and insurance costs.
  • Luxury Car Tax (LCT): If applicable, this is charged for cars above a certain value threshold. Understanding these taxes is essential to budgeting correctly for the total cost of importing a car.

5.4 Compliance and Modification Costs

Once in Australia, imported vehicles must comply with national safety, emissions, and design standards. Costs associated with compliance can include modifications to the vehicle, engineering certificates, and inspections. These costs can range from a few hundred to several thousand AUD, depending on the vehicle and the extent of the modifications required. It’s advisable to consult with a compliance expert to get a detailed understanding of these potential expenses before finalizing the import.

6. Registration and Compliance

6.1. Inspection and Compliance

Once your imported car arrives in Australia, it must pass specific inspections to ensure it meets local standards. The primary inspection is for compliance with the Australian Design Rules (ADRs), covering safety and environmental criteria. Here’s how you can manage this:

Obtain an Import Approval: This document, necessary before your car ships from Japan, must be presented.

Schedule an Inspection: Contact a licensed vehicle inspection centre to examine your car. They will check if any modifications are necessary to comply with ADRs.

Complete Modifications: If the inspection identifies the need for modifications, these must be completed to proceed with registration.

Obtain a Compliance Plate: Once compliant, your vehicle will be fitted with a compliance plate as proof of its adherence to Australian standards.

6.2. Registration Process

Registering your imported car involves several key steps:

Proof of Ownership: Provide documents like your sales contract and export certificate.

Proof of Compliance: Show your compliance paperwork and any modification records.

Insurance: Secure compulsory third-party insurance, required for all vehicles.

Registration Application: Submit your application at a local vehicle registration office along with all necessary documents.

Pay Fees: Registration fees and any applicable road taxes must be paid upon application.

7. Tips and Best Practices

7.1. Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Verify Sellers and Agents: Work only with reputable exporters and importers to avoid scams.

Understand All Costs: Be aware of all costs from start to finish, including hidden fees for shipping, insurance, and modifications.

Check Legal Restrictions: Always confirm that the specific model you intend to import is permitted under current Australian laws.

7.2. Maintaining the Vehicle

Maintaining a Japanese import requires regular servicing to ensure it continues to meet performance and safety standards. Use quality parts and find a mechanic skilled in dealing with imported vehicles, particularly if they involve unique technologies or configurations common in Japanese models.

7.3. Resale Value

Japanese imports can have good resale value in Australia, especially well-maintained models or those that are rare in local markets. To maximize resale value, keep comprehensive maintenance records, ensure the car remains in good condition, and stay informed about market trends affecting imported vehicles.


How much tax to import a car from Japan?

When importing a car from Japan to Australia, the tax typically includes a 5% customs duty and a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) based on the Value of the Taxable Importation (VoTI). The VoTI includes the cost of the vehicle, shipping, insurance, and the customs duty itself. Additionally, if the imported car is a luxury model exceeding a certain price threshold, it may also be subject to the Luxury Car Tax (LCT).

How much is the import fee for cars from Japan?

The import fee for importing a car from Japan to Australia primarily consists of the costs of obtaining an Import Approval from the Australian government. This fee can vary, but generally, it is around AUD 50 to AUD 1000 depending on the type of vehicle and the specific import option being utilized (such as under the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme or other permits).