When the country Japan comes up in conversation, it’s usually related to their rich culture and well-established automotive brands and technology.

It’s not new knowledge to us that Japan’s automobile technology and craftsmanship is one of the largest and most in-demand all over the world including the US. In fact, in a ranking of the most popular car makers in America by YouGovAmerica, Toyota and Honda topped the list of 58 international car brands in Q3 of 2021.

While you can purchase many car models from Japanese brands in many dealerships across the states, importing a car from Japan is still a leading trend in the automobile market.

There are many reasons to import a car. Some of these reasons are fuel efficiency, durability, and reliability that the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) cars are widely known for.

Many of us grew up watching JDM cars, lusting after the forbidden machines. Now we finally have a chance to get them.

If you’re looking forward to importing a car from Japan and are anxious about state rules and processes, worry no more because I’m here to help you out.

Table of Contents

Here Is A Step-By-Step Guide On How To Import A Car From Japan.

Step # 1. Select A Car You Want To Import

jdm nissan skyline import a car from japan
JDM Nissan Skyline

If you already have a car that you’re just keeping in Japan, you can feel free to skip this step. But if this is not the case for you, then selecting the car is the first step.

There are two ways to select a car. First is of course visit Japan and purchase a car there. The second option is to search online like many of us do.

Just a reminder, when searching online make sure that the seller is legit and has valid documents.

You can find tons of youtube videos of people who have been scammed by sellers so do your due diligence and look for sellers with reviews of established sales and shipments to the US.

The best bet is to try and find an importer who has a physical location that you can go to and talk in person.

Step #2. Confirm Motor Vehicles Eligibility For Import

Now that you have selected a car of your choice, we need to talk about the most crucial part of importing; inspecting the car’s eligibility for import.

As much as I want to give you all the convenience and skip the technical rules, it’s highly necessary to be knowledgeable about them before making any move.

First and foremost, let’s talk about the easiest cars to import in the United States. Legally, vehicles that are 25 years old and older are the easiest to import.

They don’t need to follow any Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) however you still need to accomplish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) paperwork in order for your car to receive clearance from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

If your car is a returning US vehicle, you shouldn’t have any problem with its eligibility. Returning US vehicles are considered to have already passed US standards so you can simply import them without much hassle. But again, you have to still conform with any paperwork that the CBP will require.

What if my car is brand new or less than 25 years old?

Well, in this case, you’ll have to undergo a relatively long process to import your vehicle. The US, has its own importation and certification rules and standards.

The standards you have to pass are the DOT standards also referred to as the FMVSS and the EPA standards.

A common indicator of whether the car passed the US standards mentioned above is the stickers or labels. These stickers would be located on different parts of the car.

Cars that are 25 years old and above don’t need to have these stickers but still need to complete the necessary paperwork.

Honestly, if you’re trying to import a car under 25 years old, don’t bother. The amount of money and effort to have it legalized just wouldn’t be worth it in the end, that is unless you have millions of dollars to burn in that case be my guest.

Step # 3. Find A Reliable Carrier

Upon confirming that the car meets US standards, you can now proceed to initiate the import procedures.

There are many logistics and import services that you can find online however, I strongly suggest that you still do your own research and read reviews about their services.

Try to find people who have actually used their services. Import scams are on the rise and many seemingly legit companies are duping people with false images and elaborate schemes.

Establish good communication with your carrier and instruct them to update you each step of the way with photographs and timestamps. You need to know the arrival date so you can get the paperwork done before it docks.

As for the cost, importing a car to the US can cost around a minimum of $2000 or more (not including vehicle purchase). The importing costs depend on several factors like the type of vehicle, shipment time, and the distance from the origin and destination.

Some carriers may offer to help you out if the car you want to import a car that doesn’t pass the FMVSS and EPA standards. Is it legal though? The short answer is yes.

But you need to know that it can skyrocket the shipment cost as these carriers will have to perform modifications on the car.

There’s a chance that a vehicle may not be qualified for modifications at all. Nevertheless, if you are determined to still import this car, here are the carriers you should look for.

If your car didn’t pass the FMVSS, opt for a Registered Importer (RI). They are approved carriers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to modify a vehicle to comply with the FMVSS requirements.

If the car didn’t conform to the EPA standards, choose carriers known as  Independent Commercial Importer (ICI) to perform modifications to meet EPA standards

Step # 4. Complete The Necessary Paperwork

paperwork on how to import a car from japan
Endless Paperwork

Now that the standards are met and you have chosen a carrier, it’s time to deal with some paperwork.

Before your car arrives, make sure that all the forms below are duly filled to avoid any inconveniences for you at Customs.

All in all, you have to prepare three forms and some other miscellaneous documents.

1. EPA Form 3520-1

This form is downloadable online and should be completed before the car arrives. Prepare the important details about your car such as make, model, manufacture date, and VIN number. If you are using ICI, prepare the ICI’s basic information as well.

2. DOT Form HS-7

This form is also downloadable and should be completed beforehand. Once again, you’ll need the basic information about the vehicle you are importing. This includes the make and model, date, and entry port into the US. If you are using an RI, make sure to prepare the RI’s basic information as well.

3. CBP Form 7501

For this form, you will need details of the vehicle and additional documents as evidence of import through CBP. This form shall be completed at an authorized CBP port where your car should also be unloaded in the US.

In addition to these forms, here are the additional documents that you will need.

1. Commercial invoice certificate.

Just like any import goods, your car should have a commercial invoice also known as a customs invoice. This is a document issued by the seller to the buyer for an international sale. This is often attached to the shipment but it’s best to be safe and have a copy of your own.

2. Manufacturer’s letter/certificate for passing DOT and EPA standards.

You only need this if your vehicle has passed the standards but is missing the stickers.

3. Packing list

This shipping document indicates what kind of goods is being imported. It is generally attached to the shipment but you can also ask for a personal copy from the seller.

4. Bill of lading

This document is issued by the carrier to the shipper. It indicates the necessary details for the shipment. It is important because it holds the terms and conditions for shipment and the necessary legal actions if something happens while shipping.

5. Customs bond

This is a legal contract that works as proof that you, the importer, follow the customs rules and have paid the CBP for necessary import duties, taxes, and other fines.

6. ISF Filing

The Importer Security Filing (ISF) or “10+2” is a CBP safety requirement for all shipments that travel by ocean to the US. This includes the importing details and shipment movements.

You must accomplish and submit this document to CBP 24 hours before your car is shipped. Failure to do so may result in paying fines and delayed shipments.

Step # 5 Ship The Car And Get Familiar With The Shipping Terms And Conditions

After choosing the logistics services and accomplishing all the paperwork, your car can finally be shipped.

Communicate with your carrier about the shipping terms and conditions. Before shipping, some carriers offer additional services of picking up the cars from the dealership in Japan or you can also have someone bring the car to the port.

Many carriers will offer preparations to ship the car, which can include cleaning or covering the car with protective materials but expect an upcharge.

As the ship leaves the port, you can expect an average of eight to ten weeks of shipping time.

Step # 6 Pick Up The Car

a red car parked near dock import car from japan
Import Car At The Docks

This step must be the most exciting part. Before picking up the car, check the document once again and get in touch with your carrier, Different carriers can have different rules and locations so always remember to communicate with them constantly.

The general rule is that when your car is cleared by Customs, it’s officially yours!

Congratulations now you’re ready to drive your dream JDM ride!

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