With the Australian dollar high and bargains to be found around the world it's no surprise many Australian's are attempting to import a used car.
It seems that oil - not blood - runs in the veins of many Australians. Up until recently we've enjoyed a thriving car industry which has produced some excellent cars. There's also a huge number of us who love and appreciate commercially available European, American and Asian cars.
How do I import my car?
1. Do your due diligence.
A quick scan of the multiple forums dedicated to this topic show a lot of heartbreak and frustration from would-be importers. Rust which has been painted over, dialed-back odometers and more are just some of the issues you'll have to battle with and that's before you reach the reams of red tape.
What are my import options?
You'll need to import your vehicle under a specific option. There are a number of options, not all of which apply to those wanting to import a car as a daily driver.
Some of the options are:
- Vehicles made before 1 January 1989. You can import a vehicle made before this date, which many car enthusiasts will use to import classic cars, older Japanese imports and more.
- Personal imports. This applies to those moving to Australia who want to bring their cars with them. You must have owned the vehicle for 12 months, it must've been garaged at a location close to your home and you must have held a valid driver's licence in the country.
- Cars exported from Australia but re-imported. If you exported a car from Australia, for example for an extended overseas trip, you can bring it back into Australia under this option.
- Cars not available in Australia. As part of the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme (SEVS) you can import vehicles not officially sold here. Each car is subject to approval and must be listed on the SEVS Register.
What are the costs involved?
There are many charges associated with importing a vehicle from overseas. To give you an idea, a $30,000 car made before 1 January 1989 leaving from Los Angeles and being delivered to Port Kembla in Sydney could cost approximately $4,400 excluding taxes, duties, GST and vehicle compliance and registration. Regular charges include:
- Shipping and customs costs. Shipping costs include the costs of customs both in the country you're exporting from and in Australia, quarantine inspection fees, cleaning, international freight and port service charges.
- Taxes and duties. These include the luxury car tax of 33% on vehicles with a value greater than $60,316 ($75,375 for fuel-efficient vehicles) and GST. You'll also pay duty for the vehicle, which depends on the type and age of the vehicle. A vehicle under 30 years old will incur 5% duty and 10% GST.
- Compliance costs. Many cars will need modifications to make them roadworthy in Australia. This can include new light globes and disabling or re gassing the air conditioner.
- Registration and insurance. Just like with any car you'll need to get this registered once it's compliant and ready to drive. You'll also need to pay stamp duty and pay for insurance.
You'll also need to consider the documentation needed for an import, the time frames needed to receive permits, the requirements of each government agency involved along the way and whether or not the car you're importing will need modifications carried out to make it legal to drive in Australia.
If the car you are buying from overseas isn't for sale in Australian currency, then minimising the costs here could be of benefit to you. Using a low cost international money transfer option, such as OFX, could save you a considerable amount of money.
Compare different international payment options below
If you are buying and selling a car in foreign currency, it could be worth your while to check out the below companies. They offer services to trade in international currencies.
2. Applying for import approval
The next step is crucial for the importing process. You must have approval to bring a vehicle to our shores, so here you'll decide from the options listed above and the others listed on the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development website.
You'll then need to fill out the application form and an addendum for the relevant option either online or by printing them out and mailing them in. If the Department requires extra information they'll email you so regularly check your account incase.
3. Get import approval
Once you've received approval you'll receive a hard copy of the approval along with any conditions.
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4. Arrange for your car to be shipped over
Now the expensive part begins. The costs of shipping begin before the car is even at the port. You'll need to have the car steam cleaned to reduce quarantine risks and you'll have to remove air-conditioning gas if this will be a problem.
Next, you'll need to pay for the above-mentioned shipping costs and have the vehicle delivered to Australia.
5. Get cleared by Customs
Once the shipping process begins you need to lodge an importation declaration with Customs. You can do this electronically, at an Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Branch, or through a customs broker.
When the car arrives you'll need to put your hand in your pocket again. This time for Customs duty, GST and Luxury Car Tax (if applicable).
6. Satisfy quarantine requirements
You'll then need to lodge a quarantine entry and arrange an inspection time.
The inspection will take into account every aspect of the car.
If it doesn't pass the inspection, Quarantine will make you clean it again and organise another inspection at your own cost.
7. Satisfy import approval conditions
You may have to modify your vehicle for it to be compliant, as mentioned above. This can include but isn't limited to:
- Giving the car a complete service
- Replacing brake fluid
- Fitting new brake pads if necessary
- Removing gas headlights and replacing them with halogen lights
- Replacing seat belts
- Testing the car to make sure it's roadworthy
- Changing the car from left-hand drive to right-hand drive.
You'll also need to arrange identification plate approval.
8. Register the vehicle
Once this is done all you need to do is register the car and insure it and it's all yours to drive.
Getting outside help
If the above process sounds long and arduous that's because it is. Our government wants to protect the public, industry and the environment from the impacts imported vehicles can have, so has introduced the steps above to ensure dangerous vehicles don't enter the country.
To make things easier many companies are available to act as an agent in the event that you wish to bring a car to Australia from overseas. They'll take care of all the groundwork for you until it arrives in Australia.
Popular among the Japanese and American car import scene are buyer's agents who will also source the car on your behalf, send you correspondence and then arrange for the required steps to bring the car if you're happy with the car.
If you're going to choose one of these companies ensure you research them first. Browse the forums for your particular car and learn from others' experiences.
Some popular forums include:
- Skyline Australia. This is more skewed towards Japanese cars, but has a wealth of information about the importing experiences of others.
- USMuscle. As the name suggests, this has a number of posts and threads about importing cars from the USA.
- Britzinoz and PomsinOz. These are both expat forums for those arriving to Australia from the land of the Poms. Many of them have imported their cars to Australia and so there's a bunch of information on the topic.
- Whirlpool. There's nothing that isn't written on the Whirlpool forums, including a number of threads about car buying and importing.
- Might car mods. This forum is a resource for car enthusiasts and also has a number of threads on the topic of car importing.
Other resources you need to look at before importing your dream set of wheels include:
The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. These guys have the final say on whether or not you can bring a vehicle into Australia, so you'll want to intimately know how the legal requirements work.
Redbook. Redbook is a free resource which lists the prices for a huge range of cars. This can help you decide whether or not it's worth importing a car as opposed to buying it in Australia and will tell you how much your car should be worth.
Importing a luxury car to Australia
It's no secret that luxury cars in Australia are sometimes much more expensive than their European, Asian or American equivalents.
This is largely due to the Luxury Car Tax (LCT), which is a tax of 33% on any luxury vehicle worth over $60,316 or $75,375 if your car doesn't use more than 7 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres.
A recent report into the inflated prices we're charged for luxury cars by Drive found that for a BMW M3 Coupe, Australians pay almost three times as much ($59,000 vs $168,000).
Similarly, a Porsche 911 costs $239,660 here but only $77,140 in America, $107,240 in the UK and $134,000 in Japan.
If you're thinking about importing a brand new Porsche 911 and paying a fraction of the price you're not alone.
Unfortunately if the car is supplied in full volume it's not possible to import it into Australia unless it's a personal import and therefore satisfies the criteria outlined at the beginning of this guide.
Why would I want to import a car?
There are many reasons why you may want to bring a car from overseas to your doorstep:
- You want to import a car not available for purchase in Australia
- You've recently moved to Australia and want to bring your car over
- You want to import a car which you've seen available cheaper overseas
The benefits for these reasons include:
- You can pay much less than buying the same car in Australia
- You can drive a car not often seen on our streets
- You can save money not having to sell your car overseas only to buy the same model in Australia
However, there are some disadvantages of importing a car too. It may be a struggle to source parts for your car if you're having any mechanical problems and experience long waiting times - so there may be a period when you can't get from point A to point B.
The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development lists eight steps which need to be carried out before you can drive your pride and joy on our roads.
If you've read through this guide you're ready to start the next phase of car importation: research. Using the resources we've listed, start assembling all of the information you can. Investigate and learn about any potential problems you may have specific to the car and country you're importing from.
Doing this will save you money, ensure you don't get ripped off and above all see you reunited with your wheels.