So we have an idea of how your car gets to America physically, but what about customs? This is the part everyone is afraid of, but thankfully you don’t have to do it alone. Your Japanese exporter will take care of their side, and a customs broker will take care of your side, but here’s what you need to know.
Chapter 4: Passing Customs
The Japanese customs process is relatively seamless compared to America’s. Japan has become very efficient at exporting vehicles from their island, and because of that you really don’t have to do anything. Your exporter will handle all the paperwork to get your car out of the country. The most important thing you’ll need from them (and this is really important) is the export certificate/title. Other documents that will most likely be sent are a translation of the export certificate and breakdown invoices. If you don’t end up using Integrity Exports, but still find an exporter you trust, ask them what documents they’ll send you. The export certificate is the equivalent of the Japanese title. It’s an official document that looks like a title, but essentially states the car is no longer registered in Japan and can be registered elsewhere. When you go to the DMV and they ask for the title, this is what you’ll give them. Without it, you’re going to have a really hard time doing anything stateside.
All paperwork for your vehicle will be sent separately from the vehicle, and will arrive before the vehicle (most likely). You’ll probably have all the documents in digital form, but there’s only one official copy of the export certificate, so keep it safe.
US Customs Brokers
A good customs broker is vital. Of course, it’s possible to deal with customs paperwork yourself, but God help you if you try that. The importance of a customs broker is this: They know what to do legally. For the most part, any good customs broker will be able to handle the paperwork to bring in a vehicle. You’ll want to clear it with them before you even start bidding, but customs brokers are good at what they do. I’ll share some examples of the paperwork you’ll still have to fill out (it’s not hard, trust me), but overall your customs broker will handle the paperwork and ask you any questions they need.
Where do you find a good customs broker? Good question! The answer is Anywhere. Thankfully, custom brokerage doesn’t need to be local, but it is smart to have your customs broker near the port to which you’re shipping (mine’s in Savannah because that’s where I have my vehicles delivered). All you have to do is send some emails or make some calls to make a contact. Here are the most important requirements when finding a customs broker:
All of this can be confirmed just through couple emails or calls, but when your car is sailing over the ocean you need to have that piece of mind before it hits the port. On the next page are examples of the type of documentation you’ll have to fill out yourself. Don’t be frightened by all the words, the only real information you’ll need is vehicle information. On top of this, your customs broker will easily be able to help you make sure all the documentation is correct.
You have your invoices, you filled out the paperwork and sent it to your broker, your broker takes care of the ISF filing (this is the big thing that needs to happen, and why you pay a customs broker), you send your broker his fees and the customs fees, you have your export certificate, and now America has control.
Assuming your broker did everything correctly, here’s how the port/customs process goes:
EPA Form Example
DOT Form Example