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Hey everyone! I wanted to share my experience with everyone that is interested in how I imported my 1990 R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R to the United States, LEGALLY!
I have always been a person that loved cars. I think the first time I “saw” a Nissan Skyline was in the very first Gran Turismo game for Playstation. Ever since then I was fascinated with them. But due to laws in the United States, Skylines could not be brought over (as all of you know I’m sure) which made me want one that much more! But recently, this summer I saw an article online stating that it was now legal to start importing the R32 Skylines to the USA because they are now 25 years old. This article put my brain into overdrive and I just had to make my fascination a reality! My dream car needs to be in my garage!
There are a few different way to own a R32 Skyline GT-R in the USA.
- Export the Skyline from Japan using an export company in Japan.
- Import the Skyline using a company in the United States.
- Buy a Skyline already in the United States.
I chose to go with option #1 for a few reasons. First, I wanted to be able to go through the experience of looking for the car myself in the auctions and be able to bid on the car that I wanted. Second, by using an export company in Japan, you sometimes/most of the time can avoid some mark up costs that an Import company in the US charges for convenience of having them do all the leg work finding the car and dealing with shipping and such.
I used a company called Pacific Coast Auto Imports. They are based out of Yokohama, Japan and the owner Derek is an outstanding guy to work with. His company takes much care to make sure all your questions are answered and helps lead you through the entire process from start to finish. They are a smaller export company compared to some others in Japan, but I like that. It feels more personal and getting to actually communicate with an English speaking person in Japan is also a great plus!
So when I first got started I had to make a deposit to the export company of 100,000 Yen. This was to show that I am a serious customer and want to move forward with the process. The deposit gets put toward the purchase of the car in the end. Unless you have Japanese Yen laying around, you’ll have to go through an exchange broker to send the money to the export company. They charge a small fee for transfers under $5000 I believe. The fee was about $10.
After the export company received the deposit I had to sign some terms of agreement papers and such. And then Derek sent me an info sheet on how to use the auction tool to search for vehicles. The auction tool is pretty awesome because it collects data from all the auctions in Japan and puts them into one site.
You then search for a car you want by: Year, Make, Model, Color, Grade, Mileage, Engine Size…etc. You can pick multiple options to narrow down your search.
When you find a car that you might be interested in, you can send the auction sheet to the export company for an English translation. Derek’s company was very good with this and he also provided advice on whether he though the vehicle was a good candidate for bidding or not. Some export companies charge to translate the auction sheets, but Derek includes this with his services.
Derek’s website has all the info and specifics on what his services cover. Feel free to head over to their site and check it out. If you decide you want to use his services, tell him GoodeZilla sent ya (though it won’t get you or me anything extra haha).
Buying The Car…
After I found a Skyline I wanted to bid on, I told Derek at least a day or so ahead of time the auction I wanted to bid and gave him my MAX bid I wanted to spend. He then puts that in to his people at the auction to input for you. See, a person like you and I can’t just go buy a car at a Japanese auction, because you need to be registered stuff. So you have to use an exporter to do this for you.
Something to keep in mind – A lot of people are looking at the R32 Skyline GT-R’s. And they are probably looking at the same ones that you are. Therefore there is a good chance that the export company you’re using has multiple people trying to buy the same car. So the company is only going to put in the person with the highest MAX bid price. For an example…Say you put in a MAX bid of 1,000,000 Yen and another person using the same export company as you puts in a MAX bid of 1,100,000 Yen, even if the car sells for 900,000 Yen, the person that put in the higher MAX bid will win the car because they were willing to pay more. It’s only fair really. So just keep that in mind.
After the auction is over you’ll be notified by the company on whether or not you won the auction. I actually didn’t win the first car I was trying to buy. Which in the end I’m glad, because I like the car I got much more! If you have patience, take your time…it’ll be worth it!
After Winning The Auction…
After you’ve been told that you won the auction, you yell really loud and wake everyone up in your house because most likely it’s night time as Japan is about 13 hour ahead of East Coast USA. After that, you then receive instructions on how to pay for the car. When you pay for the car, the export company will send you an invoice with the car cost + Export company services fee + shipping + any other kind of fee that may be incurred like in-land transportation to get from the auction site to the port of export in Japan. My car didn’t have any extra fees.
At the time of my purchase, my export company, Pacific Coast Auto Imports charges a fee of 100,000 Yen + 5% of any amount over 1,000,000 Yen you paid for the car. For example: Your car’s winning bid was 1,500,000 Yen. The service fee would be 100,000 Yen + 5% of 500,000 Yen = 125,000 Yen. This is subject to change, but that’s what the prices were at the time I bought my car. Please check with your export company for a complete list of service fees and what is included in them. (This is on Pacific Coast’s website).
After you’ve sent the money for the invoice, you will be notified of when your car will be shipped. This is completely random it seems like. But on average there are 2 ships leaving Japan heading to the USA about twice a month. In my case I won the auction for my car Mid-July and it didn’t ship out until the end of August. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
Shipping The Car…
Most of the time your export company will want to use a “RORO” ship transport, which means “Roll On Roll Off”. There are also exporters who only like to use containers. I do not have any experience with container shipping so I can not comment on it. RORO ships are basically big floating parking garages. The shipping company drives your car on the boat, then drives it off the boat. Pretty simple.
After the car is loaded on the ship and leaves the port, the export company will Fedex/DHL you the original documents for your car that will be needed to register your car in the USA.
Pacific Coast Auto is very helpful in the fact that they also set you up with a Customs Broker in the USA to help you import the car and deal with all the paperwork and legal stuff to get the car in to the USA. You may attempt to do this yourself, but I do not recommend it as there can be fees by Customs and Border Protection for not doing things in the right order or at the right times. Put aside about $425-450 for Customs Broker fees.
The shipping company will send an arrival notice to your customs broker tell them/you when the car is due to arrive and what fees are due. The shipping company usually charges extra fees on top of the shipping cost that you pay a couple days before the car arrives. My fees were about $84. Just another way to take advantage of you, as they have you by the proverbial balls at this point. Your car won’t be released from the vessel unless the fees are paid.
This brings me to the next part…
When your car is due to arrive, the customs broker will then send you an invoice for their fees AND Customs Duty Tax. You pay this to the customs broker because they are paying the fees for you. Basically using power of attorney to do stuff for you in your name.
Customs fees are as follows:
- Customs Duty: 2.5% x Commercial Value USD$
- HMF: 0.125% x Commercial Value USD$ (HMF= Harbor Maintenance Fee)
- MPF: 0.3464% x Commercial Value USD$ (MPF=Merchandise Processing Fee)
- Total % = 2.9714
The amount that Customs recognizes that you paid for the car is the FOB (Free on Board) price. This will be listed on the invoice you get from the export company in Japan that you used to buy the car. It’s usually the value of the car + the export company fees.
Preparing To Pick Up The Car…
When you receive the “waybill” from the customs broker, that the shipping company sends, it will tell you where your car can be picked up at. If you plan to have the car picked up and brought to your house, then the customs broker can help setup transportation after it’s arrived in the USA. I did not use this, as I lived close enough to the port and had a truck to pick up the car.
In my experience, this will be IN THE PORT somewhere, and that can create some hassle. Let me explain…
In the case of my car, the Port was Baltimore. In order to gain access to the port you need a “TWIC” card. If you don’t have one, you can not get on the port to get your car. You will need to hire a TWIC “escort”. Basically private security firms that have TWIC access and sell their services to get you to your car. Just another cog in the machine right?!
If you are active military you may be able to use your military ID to get on the port, but you’ll need to speak with the place that will be holding your car and ask them the best way of getting your car off the port.
The customs broker will send you an “entry packet” with all the customs forms and everything you need to get your car from the port.
***IF YOU ARE PICKING THE CAR UP YOURSELF OR HAVING SOMEONE TRANSPORT IT TO YOU, YOU NEEEEEEED TO HAVE THE CUSTOMS FORM 7501 AND OTHER FORMS STAMPED BY CUSTOMS***
In my case the customs office was on the port where I picked up the car and was able to walk in and get my forms stamped. You NEED the forms to be stamped in order to register the car at the DMV.
Registering and Titling Your Car…
Once you’ve either had the car transported to you, or you’ve picked it up and towed it home or drove it home, you will need to get it titled and registered in whatever state you live in. Unless you plan to use it as a race car or something that doesn’t drive on public roads…but who wants that really?
My advice to you is to look up what paperwork you need for your state online and make sure you have all those papers when you go to register.
I just googled “how to register an imported car in Virginia” and the DMV site popped up with everything I needed.
You’ll need the original invoice, export certificate, and translated export certificate from the export company in Japan to prove that you legally bought and own the car. As well as all the forms sent to you by the customs broker that include the forms you had stamped by customs.
The Mother F-in DMV…
So my experience with the DMV was not so great. I had all forms I needed + some extra forms that Virginia didn’t even require (which actually made the situation worse as I’ll explain in a bit).
You might get lucky and get a clerk that knows what the heck they are doing…but I had no such luck. My story goes like this…
I walked in to the DMV around 1pm with all my forms and original documents ready to go. I printed out the dmv site that showed what was required and everything. So I get my ticket and wait for my number to be called. After my number was called, I go up to the desk and explain “Hi, I’d like to title and register a car that I imported from Japan”. The look on this ladies face was that of pure terror. That was my first sign that this was not going to go smoothly, but I must push forward.
After about 45 mins of trying to help the lady locate all the forms in the stack of papers I gave her she was still unsure on what the process was to register a car without an American title.
So, she goes and talks to her manager to get some guidance. Basically they start telling me that I don’t have a title and can’t prove that I own the car. I kindly informed them that the export certificate was the legal “title” in Japan and has been cleared to be exported out of the country. The export cert had the recent owner change to my export company, and then the invoice showing that I purchased the car from them. This shows that I own the car. But they were just not listening.
They then called the title department in Richmond to get “approval” on whether or not they can give me a title for my car. The title department called back asking if Pacific Coast Auto Imports had a dealer number and who authorized them to sell me this car. These people seem to think I bought the car in America for some reason and can’t get it through their head that I bought it in Japan.
Anyway, a long story short (for day #1) I stayed until 5pm when the DMV closed and was sent away with a “priority ticket” to come back the next day and I wouldn’t have to wait in line.
Luckily had extra leave I could use to get out of work. I went back the next day at about 8:30am and got seen right away with my “P” ticket. I got a new clerk, but she seems to at least try to help me more than the other lady from yesterday. She took my forms and tried to understand how everything worked like before, and I was explaining to her along the way. I even took the initiative to write up a letter for them that explained the whole process of me buying the car from an export company in Japan and how the invoice & export cert prove I own the car. This seems to actually help a lot.
After about an hour of waiting for the title department to get back with the clerk, I got fed up and the clerk took down my number and said she’d give me a call when she hears something. Of course they don’t have a number that I can call to check back in. So needless to say I went home for a few hours. After not hearing anything I decided that I’m going to go back to the DMV and if they can’t tell me anything I’m just going to leave and try another DMV location and start over. (I have a buddy in VA who walked in the DMV with his paperwork in Arlington and got seen and they processed his stuff right away no weird questions or looks of disgust). If you’re having a tough time, going to a different DMV might be the answer.
But after I got to the DMV, I was informed that the title department said I need to have my 3461 form stamped by customs. (Remember me telling you that giving them more than the needed paperwork screwed me?!?). The buddy that I mentioned above, didn’t even have this form, so I knew that was a crock of *Bleep*. I informed the clerk that the DMV website clearly states I only need “at least 1 of the customs forms” I had the 7501 stamped by customs and i had the 3461 not stamped. Though I gave the customs officer all of my paperwork and he stamped all the papers he needed to.
After the exchange she then went to talk to the title department on the phone. I sat there for a good hour waiting for the title department to get back with her. So around 4pm she called me back up to the counter and asked me if I could change odometer reading to miles from KM’s and that we were good to go. So I finally was able to give the state of Virginia my hard earned money to own a car I already paid for. Virginia charges a tax for owning vehicles. When you register they charge you 4.05% of the value you purchased the car for + $10 title fee + cost of registration/tags.
So in the end, if you are persistent and/or patient and have all the correct forms and paperwork, it will eventually get done.
Then you’ll have a legal, registered, and titled imported car in the USA! (Even if it takes about 8 hours over 2 days to do it, it’s worth it!)
Insuring Your Import…
I’ve heard various “regular” insurance companies will insure imported vehicles like State Farm. But I used Hagerty collector car insurance and got a really good price with them and the car is fully insured for the value I specified. There are other places to, but check with your current insurance to see if they’ll insure it.
Total Costs & Fees layout…
We’ll use an example of a car (not mine) that was won at auction for 1,500,000 Yen (exchange rate at time of writing: $1 USD = 119.1 JPY / 1 JPY = $0.0083 USD) :
- Cost of car = 1,500,000 Yen / $12,509.38
- Export Company Service fee = 100,000 Yen + 5% of car cost over 1,000,000 Yen = 100,000 + (500,000 * .05) = 125,000 Yen / $1,042.45
- Shipping = About $1200 to West Coast USA, about $1500 to East Coast USA
- Shipping Company Misc Fees = $90
- Customs Broker Fees = $425
- USA Customs Duty Tax (charged for FOB Price which is, Car cost + Export service fee) = $13,551.83 * .029714 = $402.68
- Virginia Registration Fees 4.05% (State Use Tax + Title Fee + Registration) = $13,551.83 * .0405 = $548.85 + $10 + $40.75 = $599.60
- Plus Transportation fees for getting the car to your house if you don’t have a trailer = ???
Total Fees/Charges = $4,059.73
Total Cost in the USA = $16,569.11
Goode luck 😉