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Importing Cars: How to Import Cars to Australia

Maybe it’s the TV or movie car you’ve always dreamed of. Perhaps it’s a particular type of car that does it for you? Then go out and buy one, right?

Well, what if that very same make and model was never officially sold in Australia? If there are none around to buy, it looks like you’re back to Plan B. Or maybe not…

See, it is possible to privately import a car just for you. Yes, there are plenty of hoops to jump through and a potential mountain of paperwork, but if it’s the only way to get the car you want, then it’s the only way. So how does it work?

First up, you need a budget. Japanese car imports Australia wide are likely to rush you between $5000 and $10,000 and that’s just the shipping and logistical arrangement. American car imports can cost even more thanks to the greater distance and greater demand on containers and places on freight ships. Don’t forget that car shipping by sea involves risks, so make sure your precious cargo is insured, too.

A few years ago, importing vehicles into Australia was a much looser arrangement. In fact, there weren’t really too many rules at all. But in an attempt to protect the official importers that represent car-makers, and have billions tied up in their Australia operations, the government changed all that in the late 1980s to a much stricter process with its own set of fairly rigid guidelines and regulations. So, before you even begin to scan the overseas classifieds for your dream car, know that you’ll be dealing with a Federal Government agency (in this case, the Department of Infrastructure) and that, while there’s professional help from third party operators available, you’ll pay for it every step of the way.

Step 1

Importing cars to Australia starts with one very simple, but very important step. To protect those official importers and distributors, the government drew up a list of cars you can legally import to Australia. The idea was to exclude makes and models that were already on sale here through official channels. As such, the list is a huge one and is almost more notable for what’s not on it, rather than what is. You can check it out here: https://rvcs.infrastructure.gov.au/sevs/sevsindex.htm

This list is a long one and includes everything from motorhomes to importing motorcycles and it covers vehicles from any destination, regardless of whether you’re importing from USA or importing cars from UK to Australia. The popular JDM imports of Jspec cars are also covered by this list and the same legislation. In fact, anything that fell under the banner of what we used to (and still do) call a grey import vehicle falls under this umbrella set of rules and guidelines. The vehicles you won’t find on the list as eligible for private importation will mostly be the models that are already on sale here or have previously been sold here through official channels.

Step 2

Having figured out that – in principle – the car you want to import is allowable, the next step is to apply to the government for an import approval. You should probably allow about two months for this process to be completed, but it’s often less than that. There’s just no hard and fast rule on how long it will take.

You can apply for this approval online, but there’s a fee to be paid, and you’ll need to provide all the relevant details such as the vehicle’s VIN and a receipt or bill of sale proving you own the car and how much you paid for it.

The big warning here is to never buy a car that’s already in Australia but doesn’t have import approval. You could easily find yourself tied up in years of legal back-and-forth with the government and still not be able to register the car.

Step 3

Now the waiting begins as the approval process is conducted. This can be pretty frustrating on the basis that you already own the car, but you shouldn’t start looking at shipping or logistics until you have the approval form in your hands.

Step 4

With the approval granted and the paperwork done, you can move on to the process of actually getting the car shipped to Australia. There are plenty of forwarding companies that can help you, and most have an English-speaking help desk to talk you through things. There’s also a very good chance that the company that sold you the car is an exporting specialist and might be able to hook you up with the freight people you need to know.

The other option is to allow an Australian-based company that imports cars to do all this leg work for you. You’ll pay for the privilege, but at least you’ll be using somebody who knows the ropes when it comes to the paperwork and rubber-stamping process. There are actually companies here that will take care of the whole process for you, right down to sourcing the car in the first place.

This step is also where you need to make sure the vehicle is safe to transport, including ensuring that it is scrupulously clean and not carrying any dust, soil, seeds or bugs that might pose a quarantine risk. You also need to have the air-conditioning system de-gassed and remove any asbestos in the car in the form of things like brake linings and clutch plates.

Step 5

This is where you get the customs clearance, a process that starts with lodging an import declaration. You also need to pay the customs duty at this point as well as any GST and Luxury Car tax if it applies. You’ll also need to prove there’s no asbestos on board. When it comes to import duty Australia has a flat five per cent rate based on the customs value of the car or four-wheel-drive. But the GST is worked out as 10 per cent of that same value, plus the freight and insurance costs, plus the customs duty. You’ll find an import duty calculator on various online sites, but none of them are too simple at first glance, purely because the process itself is a tangle of calculations and percentages. Some freight companies will also be able to help with this calculation.

Step 6

Now you’re ready to lodge a quarantine entry with the Agriculture, Water and the Environment Department. In some cases, you’ll be required to have the vehicle steam cleaned at your expense and you may also be required to be present when the inspection is carried out.

Step 7

Now the job turns to making the car legal and roadworthy for Australia roads. You’ll need to make arrangements to have any relevant modifications made, typically to stuff like seat-belts, windscreens and child-seat anchor-points. Then it’s off to have those mods tested and approved if that’s deemed necessary in your case.

Step 8

And finally, finally, you’re ready to register the vehicle and drive it home. This now falls to your home state or territory, so the rules vary and you check with your particular registration body to manage this process. Of course, even if you don’t plan to use the car on the road, you still need to cover off all the previous seven steps, even if the vehicle is a race-car and won’t be used on the roads, or even if it’s simply a display car for your business or man cave.

The full story of how this all works is on the department’s website at: https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/infrastructure-transport-vehicles/vehicles/importing-road-vehicle-australia/8-steps-importing-vehicle

By David Morley

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