Importing Japanese Cars into the UK: An Overview

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

PopularityJapan is a top destination for UK car imports due to unique models and high quality.
Pros & ConsBenefits include cost savings and access to rare models. Challenges include potential modifications and higher insurance costs.
Import ProcessSteps involve vehicle purchase, shipping, paperwork, DVLA registration, and UK road preparation.
Popular ModelsToyota Prius, Subaru Impreza STi, Nissan Skyline GT-R, among others, are favored in the UK.
CostsInvolves shipping fees, import duty, VAT, DVLA inspection, and additional UK side costs.
RegulationsVehicles over 10 years old are easier to MOT; customs clearance agents are required for import.
DocumentationIncludes Commercial Invoice, Japanese Export Certificate, and Bill of Lading.
Clearance and NOVAVehicle clearance typically within a few hours; NOVA required for DVLA registration.

Understanding the Appeal of Japanese Imports

Japan, known for its exceptional automotive industry, is a leading source of imported vehicles in the UK. This popularity stems from Japan’s reputation for manufacturing high-quality and distinctive car models, which are often not available in other markets. For car enthusiasts and collectors, Japanese imports offer an opportunity to own something unique and often more advanced than what’s available locally.

The allure of importing classic Japanese cars lies in several advantages. Firstly, the cost. In many cases, even after accounting for shipping and import duties, these vehicles can be more affordable than their UK equivalents. Then there’s the access to exotic and unusual models – cars that make a statement and stand out from the usual offerings on UK roads. For those who value individuality and performance, this is a significant draw.

However, the process is not without its challenges. One of the main considerations is the difference in vehicle specifications. Cars manufactured for the Japanese market may not immediately meet UK and European standards, necessitating modifications and testing, which can add to the overall cost. There’s also the complexity of the import process, involving a fair amount of paperwork and logistics, which can be daunting for first-timers. Furthermore, owning a rare or exotic model might lead to higher insurance premiums and potential difficulties in sourcing parts or servicing the vehicle.

Datsun 240z Restored and shot from the front

The Step-by-Step Guide to Importing

1. Select and Purchase the Vehicle

The first step in importing a Japanese car is to find and purchase the vehicle. This often involves browsing through auctions or dealerships in Japan. The key is to find a reliable source that can provide a detailed history and condition report of the car. Once you’ve selected a vehicle, the purchase process involves negotiating the price and finalizing the sale, which can typically be handled by an exporting agent or directly through the dealership. You can read more about how to import a Japanese car to the UK here.

2. Choose a Car Shipping Specialist

After purchasing your Japanese car, the next crucial step is to ship it to the UK. This is where a car shipping specialist comes into play. These professionals handle the logistics of getting your vehicle from Japan to the UK, dealing with the necessary paperwork and ensuring safe transit. It’s important to choose a reputable shipping company that has experience in transporting vehicles internationally, as they will be familiar with the specific requirements and regulations for importing cars into the UK.

3. Sort Out Paperwork

Paperwork is a significant part of the import process. Essential documents include the Commercial Invoice, Japanese Export Certificate, and its English translation, along with the Bill of Lading. These documents are necessary for customs clearance and registration purposes. Ensuring that all paperwork is accurately completed and in order is crucial to avoid any delays or issues with customs upon arrival in the UK.

4. Register with DVLA

Once your imported car arrives in the UK, the next step is to register it with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). This is a mandatory process for all imported vehicles, ensuring they are legally recognized and allowed to be driven on UK roads. Registration involves submitting the necessary documents, including proof of ownership and the vehicle’s import paperwork. The DVLA will then issue a registration number for the car, which is essential for getting number plates and legally driving the vehicle in the UK.

5. Prepare for UK Roads

Before your Japanese import can be driven on UK roads, it might need certain modifications to comply with UK standards. This may include adding a rear fog light, converting the speedometer to miles per hour, and ensuring the vehicle meets emissions standards. Additionally, an MOT test is required for vehicles over three years old to certify roadworthiness. For cars under ten years old, an Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) test might be necessary, assessing the car’s design and construction against UK and EU safety and environmental standards.

Nissan R34 GTR Skyline from the rear

In the UK, several Japanese car models have gained popularity among enthusiasts and collectors. These include the Toyota Prius, known for its hybrid technology and efficiency, and the Subaru Impreza STi, celebrated for its performance and rally heritage. The Nissan Skyline GT-R, another favorite, is revered for its advanced technology and motorsport pedigree. Other sought-after models include the Honda NSX, known for its supercar status, the Toyota Supra RZ-S for its iconic design, the Mazda Eunos for its classic roadster experience, the Mitsubishi Evo for its rally dominance, and the Mazda RX-7, famous for its rotary engine. Each of these models holds a special place in the hearts of car enthusiasts for their unique characteristics and performance capabilities.

Understanding the Costs Involved

When importing a car from Japan, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the associated costs. These not only include the purchase price of the vehicle but also several additional expenses:

  • Shipping Agency Fees: This is the fee charged by the shipping company to transport your vehicle from Japan to the UK. The cost can start from around £1,000 and varies based on the car’s value and the shipping method used.
  • Import Duty and VAT: Once the car arrives in the UK, import duty and VAT are applicable. Import duty is generally around 10% of the car’s value, while VAT is charged at 20%.
  • DVSA Inspection Fee: If your car is under ten years old, it may require an IVA test, for which the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) charges a fee ranging from £199 to £294.
  • Additional UK Side Costs: Additional expenses include terminal handling, documentation, and customs clearance fees in the UK. These costs can vary but are essential parts of the import process.
NC2 MX5 Driving away

Understanding and adhering to the UK’s import regulations is key to a successful vehicle import. For classic Japanese cars, the process is often smoother if the vehicle is over 10 years old, as it is then easier to pass the Ministry of Transport (MOT) test. Regular shipments via Roll-on/Roll-off (RORO) services to various UK ports make the transport process relatively straightforward. However, employing a customs clearance agent in the UK is mandatory to navigate the import process efficiently.

Working with experienced customs agents, such as Penguin Shipping, can minimize import costs and ensure compliance with all regulations. These agents assist with all aspects of customs clearance and provide up-to-date information on the import details. For businesses, having an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number is crucial for importing cargo into the UK. Private individuals and non-VAT registered traders benefit from services like the Notification of Vehicle Arrivals (NOVA), completed by HMRC on their behalf, which is essential for DVLA registration. The entire clearance process is usually swift, with most vehicles cleared within hours of vessel arrival, and collection typically possible the next working day.

Additional Considerations


Proper documentation is a cornerstone of the import process. From the Japanese side, necessary documents include the Commercial Invoice, Japanese Export Certificate, its English translation, and the Bill of Lading. These are crucial for customs clearance in the UK and for registering the vehicle with the DVLA. Ensuring that these documents are accurate and complete is essential for a smooth import experience.

Clearance and NOVA

The clearance process for imported vehicles in the UK is generally efficient, with most vehicles cleared within a few hours of arrival. Following clearance, a NOVA (Notification of Vehicle Arrivals) application is necessary. This process, which takes around two weeks, is essential for registering the vehicle with the DVLA. For VAT registered companies, completing the NOVA is a responsibility that can be outsourced to shipping agents for a fee.

MOT and Registration

After the vehicle clears customs and the NOVA is complete, the next step is to ensure it passes the MOT test, confirming its roadworthiness. This is particularly crucial for vehicles over three years old. Once the car passes the MOT test, it can be registered with the DVLA, making it legal to drive on UK roads. The registration process involves submitting the required documents, including proof of MOT and insurance, to the DVLA, which then issues a registration number for the vehicle.


Importing a classic Japanese car into the UK is a journey that blends passion with practicality. While it offers an opportunity to own a unique piece of automotive history, it also requires careful planning and attention to detail, particularly regarding regulations, costs, and documentation. Understanding each step of the process ensures a smoother experience, from selecting the perfect vehicle in Japan to driving it on UK roads. For car enthusiasts, the effort and investment involved in importing a classic Japanese car are often outweighed by the joy and satisfaction of owning a rare and distinctive vehicle.

Stanced Honda Civic

Embracing the Passion for Japanese Automotive Culture

The journey of importing a classic Japanese car is more than just a transaction—it’s an embrace of a rich automotive culture renowned for innovation, quality, and distinctiveness. Japanese cars, especially classics, are not merely vehicles but symbols of a deep-rooted passion for automotive excellence and individuality. The UK, with its diverse car culture, offers an appreciative environment for these imports, where they are not just driven but celebrated.

The Reward of Ownership

For many enthusiasts, the reward of owning a classic Japanese car lies in its uniqueness and the statement it makes. These cars often come with a story, a history that adds to their charm. They represent a connection to a different era of automotive design and technology, often featuring specifications and designs that are rare or no longer in production. The sense of exclusivity and pride that comes with owning such a vehicle is unmatched.

Community and Events

Importing a classic Japanese car also opens doors to a vibrant community of like-minded enthusiasts. In the UK, numerous clubs, events, and shows celebrate Japanese car culture, offering opportunities to meet other collectors, share experiences, and showcase these unique vehicles. Participating in these events can enhance the ownership experience, providing a platform to display your vehicle and engage with a community that shares your passion.

Maintenance and Care

Owning a classic Japanese car comes with the responsibility of maintenance and care. Due to their age and rarity, these cars may require more attention compared to modern vehicles. Finding parts and specialists who can service and maintain these imports is crucial. While this can be a challenge, it is also part of the appeal, as it involves a deeper engagement with the vehicle and an opportunity to learn and appreciate its intricacies.

The Investment Perspective

Beyond the passion and enthusiasm, importing classic Japanese cars can also be seen from an investment perspective. Many classic models have appreciated in value over the years, making them not just a source of joy but also a potential financial asset. However, it’s important to research and understand the market trends, as not all models will increase in value. The key is to balance the emotional appeal with a pragmatic approach to investment.

Slammed Lexus on Air ride

Final Thoughts

The process of importing a classic Japanese car into the UK is a journey that combines passion, dedication, and attention to detail. From understanding the import process and regulations to embracing the culture and community that comes with these vehicles, it’s a rewarding experience for any car enthusiast. While there are challenges and costs involved, the joy and satisfaction of owning a unique piece of automotive history make it a worthwhile endeavor for many. As you embark on this journey, remember to enjoy every moment, from the initial search to the first drive on UK roads, as you become a part of the vibrant and rich world of classic Japanese car ownership.

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