Importing a car from Japan? Here’s what to look for

Since the arrival of the Fast and Furious in the early 2000s, those who live in the United States have been obsessed with tasting this forbidden Japanese fruit. Probably nothing more than the legendary Nissan Skyline.

Originally produced in 1957, it wasn’t until the eighth generation R32 that it would take the United States by storm with the introduction of the internet and Japanese culture to teenage America. However, after the introduction of the 25-year ban rule imposed on all imported vehicles in 1989, American teenagers had to wait until 2014 before legally acquiring an R32 Skyline.

Although gray market importers have been able to circumvent the law through registered importer status and have been the first to bring these JDM icons to America’s shores, it takes millions of dollars to get the title of Registered Importer because of the extensive crash testing needed to show NHTSA these cars were safe enough for American roads.

Fortunately, the 25-year mark has passed, raising the question: how much does it really cost to import a Skyline from Japan?

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How the 25-year ban came about

But before we dive into the costs associated with a car imported by JDM, it’s important to know how the rule came about. Because before 1989, Americans were free to import any vehicle their red, white, and blue hearts desired.

Enter Douglas DeBoard, an American expat living in southern Germany, land of Mercedes-Benz. Douglas realized in the early 80’s the desire of his fellow Americans to own the most powerful and beautiful European specification MBs.

Advertising his gray market cars on Autoweek, DeBoard quickly made a killing by importing cars thanks to the growing stagflation in the United States. In 1984, it was reported that importers were costing Mercedes’ American arms around $300 million in sales. Of course, this was deemed unacceptable and in 1989 all gray market imports ceased with the passage of the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act in Congress, also known as the 25 year ban.

NHTSA states that “A motor vehicle that is at least 25 years old may be legally imported into the United States whether or not it meets all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. You should also note that the period of 25 years runs from the date of manufacture of the vehicle.”

However, it doesn’t end there, because if you happen to be an unlucky individual who doesn’t have a tag permanently affixed to the vehicle by the manufacturer, NHTSA states that to establish age” you must have documents such as an invoice showing the date the vehicle was first sold or a registration document showing that the vehicle was registered at least 25 years ago.

Auction house or DIY?

Although the passing of the 25-year ban brought the import business to a screeching halt, it was resurrected after the introduction of the internet and the car culture films mentioned earlier.

Because even though it is possible to import a car yourself, the resulting headaches compared to the fixed fees that most professional import companies charge are not worth it. Due to the growing popularity, the price of Skylines has skyrocketed over the past 10 years. A quick search of Japanese auction houses shows that Skylines start at remarkably low prices, but tend to fetch well over $20,000 once the hammer falls.

Save for the long list of fees associated with getting the car from said auction house to your driveway. Auction house fees to even submit a bid can cost close to $1,000, not to mention another $300 in auction fees after you buy the car.

RELATED: How the Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R Got Its Legendary “Godzilla” Nickname

Fees on fees

But it doesn’t stop there, as it takes $150 just for someone to deliver the car to the boat where it will cost $1,000 to arrange a transport ship. Once the boat arrives on US soil, you will need to pay an additional $400 to clear the vehicle and around $200 to go through the customs terminal during customs clearance. Finally, $100 for a company to escort you through the maze-like US port once the car passes inspection.

For the sake of brevity, let’s say you’re able to score an R32 GTST for around $16,000. This means that to legally own and register the car, it will take another $3,000, for a total of $19,000. For those with less time to devote to the long and arduous process, reputable JDM dealers are available nationwide. Those diligent enough should have no problem finding a similarly packaged GTST for under $20,000 and having it shipped to your door for under $1,000.


Is the extra $1,000 worth it to avoid the headache of language barrier, bureaucracy and scammers? We certainly think so.