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Here is a short guide based upon my experience on how you can go about importing a secondhand car from Japan.

There are as I see it three main methods of importing a used Japanese vehicle:

  1. Buy one off the forecourt of a UK dealer.
  2. Buy one through a UK dealer, who will get a vehicle to your specification from Japan, and do all the paperwork etc. for you.
  3. Do it ALL yourself.

There is another method of "do-it-yourself" which would involve going to Japan and together with a Japanese Dealer (who needs to be a member of relevant Motor Auctions) buy a vehicle on sight, rather than just on paper/internet.

I chose to do it all myself, and I'm sure my regular visitors will be able to attest to the fact that I've enjoyed every minute of it!

Here are the steps in brief on how to go about importing a used car from Japan yourself.

Decide what you want

Pretty obvious I suppose, you want a used Toyota Estima of course! Also set your budget on how much you can afford. Here's a breakdown of the possible expenses:

  • FOB, the actual cost of the vehicle from Japan (includes ALL Japanese dealer fees)
  • Freight, at around $65 per m3, for a Toyota Estima around 610 - 688 dependant on the exchange rate.
  • Terminal Handling & Admin. around 60.00
  • Customs processing fee, around 70.00
  • Duty, 10% of total of FOB + Freight + Terminal Handling & Admin.
  • VAT, 17.5% of total of FOB + Freight + Terminal Handling & Admin. + Duty + 30 VAT adjustment
  • UK Bank charges for Telegraphic Transfer (x2 deposit and balance), around 50.00 in total
  • SVA Preparation, around 150 - 500 (hopefully, although this may be more! See Tip below.)
  • SVA Test & admin, around 195
  • MoT, 32.00
  • Registration, 25.00
  • Number Plates, 25.00
  • Road Fund Licence, 155 or 85.25
  • Insurance

Tip: It is advisable to budget for more than the basic known costs, i.e. SVA preparation, do not budget for the basic cost alone, add some for contingency so there are no nasty surprises when it comes to be SVA'd or MoT'd.

Find a Japanese Export dealer

    There are a few around on the net (See Links page). However, I suggest you contact Mike Ainis at Angel Motors Japan, they are the suppliers of my excellent vehicle, and I unreservedly recommend them. They are prompt in all communications, helpful to the extreme, and in my case bent over backwards to ensure I got what I wanted, at I believe a good price!

Agree specification with dealer

    Now this is an area that you need to have self-control over, I know this because I didn't! Decide on what you must have on the vehicle, and then decide the year and mileage you will accept dependant on your budget of course. E.g. you must have 4WD, but would also like a Cool/Hot box and seven seats, you want a '94 model with no more than 50,000 miles on the clock. Well this may seem a reasonable specification, and indeed it is, but you will be limiting your choice, and excluding very nice models that you would in fact be happy with. For example in specifying seven seats you will be cutting out the majority of vehicles that have eight seats, i.e. a 'G' grade rather than the more common 'X' grade. You will then be further cutting down your choice by insisting on a Cool/Hot box etc. etc. In making your specification detailed, it will probably result in you having to wait a long time for the right vehicle to appear, at the right price - this is what happened to me. Although in the end I got an excellent example of a Toyota Estima.

    Normally, you will need to send either a deposit to the dealer or the whole amount in advance. Generally the preferred method of payment (MOP) is by bank Telegraphic Transfer, which will cost you around 25 per transaction. It may seem preferable to use a Credit Card, but dealers probably won't accept this MOP as it costs them a sizeable amount to accept a credit card transaction.

    Tip: If when you place your deposit there happens to be a good exchange rate GBP/Yen, then why not open a foreign currency account for the balance at that exchange rate, which will protect you from the GBP falling against the Yen before you pay the balance. Although of course this may also work against you. It's your choice.

Organise Freight and Customs Clearance Agents.

    These will obviously be dependent on where you live, and which shipping company your Japanese dealer uses. I would expect that once you have found who your shipping agent is in the UK, that they would be able to put you in touch with a suitable customs clearance agent, who will deal with payment of Duty and VAT.

Organise SVA Preparation and Test

    This may take a little bit more work, but there are some dealers and garages who will undertake the preparation required to make your vehicle UK compliant and therefore pass the SVA test (Click here for more details on the SVA process).

Be Patient!

    Whilst your Japanese dealer searches for the vehicle you want. If you have specified lots of features you thought you just can't live without, then why not re-assess your criteria and perhaps make certain items "optional" rather than "mandatory".

Contact DVLA for Registration/Import Pack

    In readiness for you actually registering your import, contact the DVLA on 0870 - 240 - 0010, or your local VRO, to order an Imported Vehicle Information Pack, which should contain everything you need to register your vehicle, especially the form V55/5. The V55/5 is an appalling form, which is not easy to work out which parts you need to complete. Contact the DVLA for any assistance you may require, I found them quite helpful, once you get past their recorded messages.

Get Insurance Quote.

    You've probably done this earlier in the process, to get an idea for your budget. When you know what vehicle you're actually getting you will need to provide the company with the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to insure the vehicle to begin with.

Purchase Vehicle

Just send the final instalment, if not fully paid up-front, and your vehicle should be on its way to you. Your dealer in Japan will then despatch documentation to you, which will include:

  • Bill of Lading (original and duplicate)
  • Japanese De-registration document
  • English translation of Japanese De-registration document
  • Customs Invoice (in sterling)

Liaise/Pay Freight and Customs Clearance Agents.

The Freight agent will need the original Bill of Lading from you, and the Customs Clearance agent will need:

  • Japanese De-registration document
  • English translation of Japanese De-registration document
  • Customs Invoice (in sterling)
  • Proof of UK residence e.g. copy of Drivers Licence

You will obviously have to wait for them to invoice you, then check with them on what is the best method of payment, as if you pay by personal cheque, they would hold the vehicle until the cheque has been cleared. I decided to visit their offices and pay cash, old-fashioned maybe, but it's quick! You will need to collect the appropriate customs clearance form on completion.

SVA Preparation and Test.

    If your vehicle meets the specified criteria (click here for details) then you must arrange for it to undergo a SVA Test. Before it can do that however, you must get some modifications completed to the vehicle. For a Toyota Estima these may include fitting of a rear fog light and switch, removing the external parking mirror (although this may be refitted after the SVA test!), heater control knobs etc. on the "X" grade will need to be replaced with smaller ones. This list is not definitive as what is required may well vary from vehicle to vehicle. Your vehicle is then ready to undergo the SVA test itself. You will need to collect the appropriate test certificate on completion.

Can I Drive Without Number Plates?

    Yes you can, under special circumstances. See the following extract from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions' document "How to Import a Vehicle into Great Britain (PI-4)":

    "Section 3

    Registration and Licensing Procedures

    A vehicle imported into GB for use on the public road must be licensed and registered immediately after arrival. The vehicle must be in this country and available for inspection before you make the application. After arrival the only circumstances in which you can drive the vehicle before completing these formalities are from the port of entry to your home address/first destination, to and from a pre-arranged SVA/MoT test and to and from a garage for remedial work following failure to pass the tests. Thereafter the vehicle must be kept off road until the licensing and registration formalities have been completed."


    Normal MoT rules apply, i.e. if your vehicle is three years or older it will have to pass a MoT test. Please note that some SVA test centres can carry out a MoT test at the same time as a SVA test, as both tests are carried out under the auspices of the Vehicle Inspectorate.

Register Vehicle at a VRO

Once your vehicle has passed all its relevant tests, you are now able to register it. These are the documents you will need:

  • Completed application form V55/5.
  • 25 registration fees (if applicable).
  • The required fee for the licence.
  • A current British Certificate of Insurance.
  • Foreign registration (de-registration) document and any other papers you have relating to the vehicle.
  • Evidence showing the date the vehicle was collected (normally the invoice from the supplier).
  • Evidence of type approval
  • A Minister’s Approval Certificate (MAC) under SVA is issued when the examiner is satisfied that the vehicle would meet the requirements of the regulation in relation to the design and construction of the vehicle.
  • The appropriate Customs and Excise form, i.e. one of the following, but I would think the C&E 388 would be appropriate for most people:
  • C&E 386 - This form is issued by HM Customs for a vehicle of any age personally imported from outside the EU.
  • C&E 388 - This form is issued by HM Customs for a Customs restricted vehicle of any age personally imported from outside the EU.
  • C&E 389 - This is a self-declaration form which should be used by VAT registered traders for commercial imports from outside the EU.
  • A current British MoT test certificate (if applicable).
  • A Declaration of Newness (only for new vehicles).

 Number Plates

    Get your Number Plates made up, and affix them to your vehicle. Remember that the size for a Japanese plate is 33 x 16.5 cms, so unless you can get the same size you will probably be left with an unsightly gap around your number plate and bumper. I used a company called UK Auto Plates, I ordered them on one day, and they arrived first thing the next morning, excellent service, I recommend them.

It's All Yours to Drive!

Drive safely now, remember work out what the different bits and pieces do and don't do BEFORE you drive away, perhaps buy an Owner's Manual to assist with this. Also why not send me some pictures for the Owner's Gallery so we can all see your new pride and joy.


Disclaimer: Please note the above is intended as an informal guide only and to the best of my knowledge is correct, however I accept no responsibility for anything arising from possible inaccuracies.