How to Buy Cars from Japan

Buying cars from Japan can be a great opportunity for anyone interested in getting a used car for themselves, or for used car dealers or importers who want great quality cars with low mileage for their clients. But if you have never done this before, you may be wondering how you can buy cars from Japan when you live nowhere near there and don’t even know anyone there either.

Our motto is to make buying cars from Japan’s car auctions stress-free and smooth, but we know that not everyone will end up using our services, so read on to find out how you can buy cars from Japan successfully and avoid the pitfalls.

Stage 1: Preparation before you buy

The firs stage for anyone thinking of buying cars from Japan is the preparation stage, and there are three areas in which you need to do your homework before you go any further:

  1. Check local pricing of equivalent used cars and compare with those in Japan
  2. Check your country’s import and car registration regulations
  3. Find a good supplier in Japan

1. Checking local pricing

The first of these preparation points is obvious, but I thought it would bear mentioning anyway: Why go to a lot of trouble to buy used cars from Japan if they are going to end up more expensive by the time you have imported them?

The best way to get a good idea of how much it will probably cost to buy a car from Japan is to contact a car exporter in Japan like Integrity Exports. Now, make sure you are ready with a detailed description of the car you want. If you are still not sure what models you might want, then you are not ready to even begin the process. Just saying, “I’m interested in Toyotas” is not going to be specific enough.

You need to be prepared with a detailed description like this: Subaru Legacy Outback, 2500cc engine, grade 4 or better with 60 to 80k KM on the odometer. This will then allow the exporter to give you a good idea of current prices in Japan. Once you know the price (remembering to factor in shipping and import costs as well), only then can you say whether it is going to be worthwhile to buy this car from Japan or not.

2. Checking import rules and fees

Let’s assume you have gone through that first stage of your research and you have decided that it looks like buying a used car from Japan might well work for you economically, the next thing to discover is whether you are even allowed to do it and how much your government will charge you for the privilege if they do let you.

There are not many countries that would ban imports of used Japanese cars completely, however different countries have different rules concerning what cars you can bring in. For example, at the time of writing, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have a 5-year age limit on imported used cars – in other words they have to be five years old or younger. On the other hand the same rule for Canada is that cars imported there must be 5 years old or older. New Zealand takes a different approach by only permitting cars that adhere to certain emissions requirements. It is vital that you find out the current rules for your country.

Whatever the rules are for importing into your country, remember that the used cars you are buying from Japan will need to be registered to drive on the road, and this often means additional fees and taxes. Make sure you know what these rules are and how much complying with them will cost before you try doing any importing.

3. Finding a good supplier in Japan

You are probably expecting me to go ahead and just recommend Integrity Exports (which, of course, I am happy to do), but I know that there is no one-size-fits-all and there will be some people for whom a different supplier may work better.

The first thing you need to do is to decide whether you want to buy directly from the Japanese car auctions, or whether you prefer to buy from an exporter’s stock. I won’t go into all the details here, but there are compelling reasons to buy from the auctions, which you can read in much more detail here, if you are interested.

Having been in the business for over 5 years now, it is my opinion that there are two factors you need to be looking for:

  • Professional work and excellent communication
  • Complete integrity and trustworthiness

Now, you maybe thinking that costs are another factor. Well, to be honest, there is not a huge difference between the cheapest and most expensive car exporters – nothing like the gap between the price of a Kia and a Bugatti Veyron, for example – so with the amounts of money that are at stake, I think it is much more important to find a company you can trust who will do a good job for you.

Although you will probably want to spend some time researching this, checking things like JUMVEA membership, here is an effective way to quickly weed out bad options: Simply write an email to your potential partner in Japan asking them if they will alter invoices with lower figures than the real costs to help you keep your customs and tax costs down.

To be honest, I think you will be surprised at how many companies are quite happy to do that for you. And you should run as fast as you can in the opposite direction for a very simple reason: If they are happy to make up figures to deceive someone else (your government), how can you be sure that they will deal honestly with you? Of course you won’t.

Not only will emailing this question to potential suppliers give you a very good idea about who is honest and who is not, but also a quick, clear and professional reply will give you a positive impression of that Japanese car exporter’s professionalism.

If you are looking at buying cars from Japan’s car auctions, then you should see if your potential supplier can give you access to these online car auctions so you can familiarize yourself with them.

Stage 2: Buying cars from Japan

As I mentioned above, there are many good reasons to buy cars from Japan’s car auctions, so I will assume that this is what you are going to do. So how does the process work?

Well, the first thing you need to do is to find cars of the model, year, KM and general specification that you might want to enter bids for. There is often a simple interface for doing this, and you can get an idea about how this works by watching this video of Integrity Exports’ online car auction system in action here.

Once you have picked out the cars you are interested in, the next thing you must do is to get a translation of the auction inspector’s report. The reason you must always get good, professional translations is that although the car grading system is very useful, each grade is a broad band of quality, but to really understand the details of the car you are looking at you really need to know exactly what the written comments say.

When the translations come back, you will then be down to a few cars. For these you will need to calculate how much you want to bid. In our online system, you can either enter the raw auction bid price, or you can enter the maximum FOB price (in other words, the cost of the car plus all Japan-side charges) and then we will calculate from there back to your maximum bid price. Of course, you need to remember that you will also need to factor in your shipping costs and the costs associated with importing and registering the car at your end  as well.

Then it is up to your car exporter partner to do the bidding for you. Any cars that he wins for you at auction will then be transported to the port, deregistered and booked for shipping. If your destination country requires additional paperwork, such as a JEVIC test certificate, this will also be done at this time.

Stage 3: After the cars leave Japan

A few days after the cars you bought have left Japan by ship, your supplier in Japan will receive the Bill of Lading. He will then send these to you, along with an invoice, the deregistration document and any other documents your country requires.

The voyage may take anything from a week or two to a couple of months, depending on where you are in the world. When the ship arrives, you will take the paperwork and go to receive your cars. You will need to follow the import and registration procedures you have researched in stage 1 above, but that is OK – you have done your homework and so there are no surprises for you!

This has been a quick overview of how to buy cars from Japan. As you can see by the relative lengths of the three stages above, the preparation phase is absolutely crucial to make sure you have a good experience and get good vehicles. So if you do have any questions or if you have any comments about this article, please feel free to contact me here and I will be happy to help.