Ellie Allen

Why import a car from Japan?

5 min read


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You might reasonably ask why anyone would want to import a car to the UK - shipping it halfway across the world - when there are so many makes and models available here. And why import a car from Japan in particular?

Well, when it comes to Japan, there are three huge reasons, which are:

  1. They drive on the left. Unlike almost 70 percent of countries, just like the UK and much of the rest of Asia, Japanese cars are outfitted as right- hand drive vehicles. Yes, that means that the steering wheel is on the right and you won't have to pay for an expensive re-fit in order to drive it on UK roads. This is a big plus point when it comes to importing a car.
  2. There is a big range of quality vehicles for sale for at great prices. Some people insist that there's nothing quite like a Japanese car in terms of quality, technical design and reliability. Furthermore, they say the cars made by Japanese companies abroad (think Nissan, Toyota, Honda etc.) are of a lesser standard compared to those manufactured for the demanding domestic market (known in car importing terminology as the JDM, or Japanese Domestic Market). JDM cars are known for their durability, efficiency and reliability. This is born out by looking at warranty list data: Japanese brands are consistently seen to be the most reliable. No doubt this is due to the stringent quality control checks they have to pass before they are allowed out of the factory gate.
  3. Second hand cars are usually of a very high quality. While many people wishing to import a car are only interested in the latest brand new model, there is a thriving second-hand car market in Japan, with many vehicles destined for export. The main driver of this phenomenon is the fact that cars in Japan depreciate in value quickly due to the rigorous vehicle testing standards imposed there. Often, it is cheaper for a Japanese person to simply buy a new in-warranty car every couple of years rather than pay for a demanding and expensive vehicle inspection.

This has created a huge market in second hand cars in Japan, many of which are exported to Australia and New Zealand, where they also drive on the left. The Japanese government encourages this, as it acts as a stimulus to the important domestic motor manufacturing sector.


The first thing to realise is that if you want to ship a vehicle from Japan to the UK there will be a lot of paperwork involved. It is for this reason that brokers and agents have sprung up to assist you - for a fee of course! However, if you'd like to know the basic process, with a view of trying it for yourself, then read on.

Naturally, the first thing you will need to do is select and purchase the car you'd like to import. With popular brands such as Toyota, Mitsubishi and Mazda to choose from there's no shortage of choice. Find a reputable online dealer or Japanese car auction with a good selection of vehicles and take it from there. Of course, you could always make a car-purchasing holiday of it and pay Japan a flying visit ...

Next, once you have purchased your car and arranged shipping (to your nearest car import terminal, be it Bristol, Tilbury, Southampton, Liverpool or Newcastle) you will need to inform HMRC. You can do this after it arrives, as long as it is within 14 days, but it's not possible to register it before then. This step can be skipped if it's an electric car, which are free of duty.


Before you can leave the port with your Japanese import car you'll need to present a number of documents to Customs. Briefly, these include the following:

  • Bill of Lading. This is a receipt issued by the carrier (in this case a ship's captain) acknowledging delivery of the cargo.
  • Proof of vehicle ownership. Usually a purchase invoice.
  • Driving license issued by the DVLA, or other official photo ID such as a passport.
  • Deregistration Certificate. This is the export certificate that will have been sent to you by the seller/auction house.
  • Proof of address. Usually a utility bill will suffice.
  • Motor insurance documents. You will need to have the correct motor insurance in order to drive on UK roads as you leave the port.


When you ship a car from Japan to the UK you will need to pay the required import duties and taxes. The import duty is 10 percent of the price you paid plus the shipping fee. Furthermore, the VAT is calculated as 20 percent of the car's value plus any fees.

While this duty and VAT can sound hefty, remember that you are still likely bagging a bargain, even with shipping and other costs added on.


The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) will need to examine your car and issue a certificate to state that it conforms with the necessary UK safety standards for use on public roads. This is known as the Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) test. There are several DVSA test centres dotted around the country, so you should select the closest one and book your car in. Note that if the car you are importing is older than three years it will also need to pass a standard MOT test in addition to the IVA.


Once all of the above has been carried out you are free to register your Japanese car. To do this, get hold of a V55/5 form from the DVLA and submit it with the requisite documentation regarding proof of purchase, IVA test, insurance, MOT certificate etc.

Should everything all go to plan (and we hope it will), within six weeks you will receive a registration document, making your imported Japanese car fully legal and registered for use on UK roads. Your car will also be given a UK registration number for the plates.

It's important to note that you will not be allowed to immediately sell the vehicle, and it may only be used for personal and private use. This period ends six months after you have registered the car, at which point you may re-sell it.


So, if a Hilux or Nissan Skyline has caught your eye you fancy getting hold of a new car, perhaps you should consider importing one from Japan. Remember, you can save money by using the services of a reputable currency provider like Currency Solutions when you need to send money for big purchases - just drop us a line to find out your options!

Please note, this article is for general interest only. Even though to the best of our knowledge the information presented was correct at the time of publishing, rules and procedures can and do change. Currency Solutions advises that you always check with the relevant authorities and organisations for the most up-to-date information before committing to importing a car from Japan.

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