How to Import a Car From Japan to Australia

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Posted on 30th April 2017 – Shipping Vehicles

Japan is well known for its high cost of living, so it may surprise you to hear that it is a great place to buy everyday second-hand cars. With a reputation for great quality and longevity, they are indeed a very attractive proposition and more people in our corner of the world turn towards that country to find bargains.

If you are considering buying your next vehicle from Japan, here is what you need to know.

Why are cars so inexpensive when bought in Japan?

If you have ever considered buying a Japanese car from your local dealer, you will have noticed that they are not cheap, so how come that there is a significant difference when you buy them directly from Japan? The reason is the infamous ‘shaken’.

Buying a car when living in Japan is a serious commitment. If you live in Tokyo for example, an overpopulated city where space is at a premium, you actually have to get authorisation to buy a car by proving that you have a parking space for it. If one comes with your home, great, otherwise you will have to rent one and show evidence of it before a car dealer agrees to sell you a vehicle.

As soon as your car is three-years old, then the terrible shaken makes its appearance and car owners tremble. The shaken is the combination of mandatory checks and taxes the Japanese have to follow to keep their cars on the road. There’s the weight tax, the vehicle’s inspection, the compulsory insurance, all this in addition to the car tax itself and another, more comprehensive, insurance. It will easily set back car owners by 100,000 yens (NZ$ 1,300), AND it has to be done every two years.

As a consequence, many Japanese choose to sell their cars when the shaken runs out and invest their money into a new car instead, which explains why you can find a multitude of cars 3-, 5-, 7-, 9-, 11-years old for sale at bargain price, with absolutely nothing wrong with them. Actually, because the Japanese state imposes so many requirements on road-worthiness, second-hand cars will have usually been maintained to the highest standards, with all the paperwork you could possibly desire.

If you don’t want to buy a Japanese car, there are also great bargains to be had on foreign (i.e. non-Japanese) cars as they lose their value much quicker.

Bought a car in Japan? Here is what comes next

Vehicle import into Australia, even for individuals, is quite strict, and before committing to a purchase, double-check that the vehicle is eligible for import. Vehicles containing asbestos will be forbidden entrance for example, so it is important to ensure that yours is asbestos-free. You should also note that many American motorhomes won’t be given entry due to excessive rear overhangs.

First of all, you must obtain a Vehicle Import Approval from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. It has to be noted that your vehicle will not be released by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection without one. The application involves producing supporting documentation and will usually be assessed within 20 working days of receipt.

The date of manufacture of your car will determine which administrative and mechanical steps will apply to importing it into Australia. You also need to be aware that requirements may vary from one state to the other so it is essential to check with the local government their specific rules.

a) Cars manufactured after January 1, 1989

Unless they are imported under the Personal Import Scheme, any used or new vehicle manufactured after January 1, 1989 must be registered under the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme. Only a Registered Automotive Workshop (RAW) can attest that the vehicles in question complies, and the car must be imported in their names, not that of the owner.

It has to be noted that eligibility under this scheme doesn’t mean that a vehicle meets Australian road standards, called Australian Design Rules, or that the work required to be given entry will be minimal. It is simply one of the administrative steps of the process.

RAWs tend to specialise in models, so check their website,, to see which one is most suitable for your vehicle.

Your car will have to undergo a number of changes to be issued with a certificate of compliance such as fitting new seat belts and child restraint anchorage points, installing anti-intrusion bars if necessary, changing the fuel filler neck, installing new filters, replacing the vehicle’s fluids, fitting new tyres and degassing the air conditioning.

b) Cars manufactured before January 1, 1989

Unless they were manufactured before 1970, left-hand drive vehicles will need to be converted to right-hand drive with an engineer’s approval. If you are importing your car into Western Australia however, the conversion is only required if the vehicle was made prior to January 1, 1989. There are several exemption categories so do check whether your car is eligible to avoid unnecessary costs.

Once your vehicle has been through quarantine, it can be collected with a release document from them and your Customs agent.

Almost there

You will now have to pay the various fees connected to importing a vehicle such as freight, import duty, Goods and Services Tax (GST) as well as quarantine and Customs clearance fees.

Once your vehicle has been made compliant, you will need to take it to the local Transport Centre. You can either get a temporary registration or you can hire a truck. There again, regulations vary from state to state as some will let you drive the vehicle to the Transport Centre without an Australian plate. There, all your documents will be inspected, and, provided all is well, your car will be released.

As you can see, importing a foreign car into Australia can be quite involved and opportunities to make mistakes are numerous, and this is why we always recommend that you use a professional shipping company like McCullough. With over two decades’ experience, we make importing cars into Australia stress free for owners. Contact us on +64 9 303 0075 or request a quote online.

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