How long to import a car from Japan?

In my post on routes to buying a car imported from Japan, we learned that time is a factor when you import a car from Japan.

In this post I’m going to give you more information on how long the whole process takes, from giving the go-ahead to the day your car arrives.  This post also forms one of my series of detailed posts on the process of importing a car from Japan.  Here is my 10 step guide on how to import a car from Japan.

There is some waiting involved when you import a car from Japan

There is no easy way of putting this: there is definitely some waiting involved when you import a car from Japan.  I enjoy the anticipation, but if you really must have that car right now, I recommend looking for one that has already arrived from Japan.

Your waiting will take several forms.  You’ll likely be waiting:

  • For a suitable car to come up for sale.
  • For a suitable car to come up for sale at your target price.
  • For money transfers.
  • For paperwork.
  • For shipping.
  • For the DVLA to assign a registration number.

Waiting for a suitable car to come up for sale and at your target price

The length of this wait is so variable.  It depends on a few different factors:Picture of a white bosozoku style Toyota Hiace van

  • The type of car you want to buy and the numbers available on the used car market.  It stands to reason that if there are only a few examples of your target car coming up for sale per week, you’ll have a longer wait to find a good one than if there are 20 up for sale per week.
  • How picky you are with specification, colour, condition.  If your car must be a certain colour or must have a pristine bosozoku style bodykit like this Hiace, your search might take a while.
  • How tight you are with your target price for the car.  You might miss out on one or two cars if your budget is set at the middle or lower end of the average price range for your desired car.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to raise your maximum budget, it just means that if you’re at the lower end of the potential selling price range, the search might take longer.
  • Luck!  I’ve put this in because there are other influences on this part of the process too.  You never know how many other people at the auction are going to be bidding on the car you want.

It is really difficult to give an exact idea of how long this wait will be for you.  I think between 1 and 6 weeks is a reasonable estimate.  I’m happy to provide a more detailed estimate for you by email.

Money transfers

These only cause a minor wait when you import a car from Japan – they usually don’t take more than a couple of days.


Once the car has been bought at auction, there is a wait for paperwork to be processed to permit the car to leave the country.  This doesn’t usually take more than 10 days.


Roll on roll off (RORO) boats leave from 4 key ports in Japan.  There are between 3 and 6 sailings per month, depending on the port and the month.  In most cases the wait for a boat shouldn’t be more than a week, but you may be unfortunate and find that all the places on the next boat have already been booked.

The ship has a distance of about 11,000 – 13,000 nautical miles to travel, depending whether it goes East or West.  The sailing time is about 6 weeks.

Collection, preparation and testing

Your car is collected from the port, prepared and tested (MOT or IVA).  For a car needing a MOT test only, all of this could happen in a couple of days.  If your car needs an IVA test, both the preparation for the test and the test itself will take longer.


The DVLA suggest you should allow 10 days for them to allocate a registration mark for an imported vehicle.  They have generally been faster than this in my experience.

Good things come to those who wait: how long will you be waiting to import a car from Japan?

Bringing all of the above together, I think allowing 3-4 months is reasonable in most cases.  If you’re after a really rare car, this time will be extended. Here is an infographic to summarise the whole process for you.Infographic showing an estimate of how long it takes to import a car from Japan

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