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Importing a car from USA to Australia

I’m sure you have seen the bargains on eBay.  With the sheer number of classic cars in the United States, I know that I have been tempted many times. (just ask my wife).  Since I have been through this process more than once,  people have asked for advice and costs of importing  car from the USA.

Is it worth it ?                 What are the pitfalls ?                  How much does it cost ?

Let’s look at the entire process of importing and registering a car in Australia.

Find a car

Finding a car is easy.  Finding a good one, which suits everything you need and is in sound condition (ie no rust) is much more difficult.

The first step here is to really define exactly what you are looking for.   In this article, I will only focus on pre-1989 cars as they fall under a particular Australian Government scheme.  Importing newer cars is possible under more strict regulations – and it is not my focus here.

So, let’s look for a car build before January 1989, in sound condition and worth the process of importing.  For this example, let’s look at this Porsche 912 that I have chosen for this article.

It is for sale at Porche North Houston and the ad copy reads like this.

“The Porsche 912 is powered by a 1,582 cc Flat Four Cylinder engine producing 102 hp through a Rear Wheel Drive and a 5-Speed Manual Transmission. Original Steering Wheel and Blaupunkt Radio in full working condition. This Porsche 912 was purchased by the original owner in Germany. He was a US military serviceman who had the car imported shortly after purchasing it from the factory. The 912 was then purchased in 1969 by its second owner that kept the car until 2010.

This Porsche 912 was well maintained by the 2nd owner since 1969 up until 1990 when the car was fully restored. At this time all the black vinyl  was upgraded to full leather. Everything that is black on the interior was converted to leather (Dash, Door Panels, etc.) This 912 was fully repainted as part of the restoration in the original special order color. After 1990 the 912 lived its life in Laguna Beach until 2010 when the owner had passed away.

Original features of this 912 include excellent chrome trim throughout, correct engine grille with blacked out background on deckled, interior of doors also backed out behind door panel.

The engine and transmission were removed, disassembled, cleaned and inspected. The service work to the engine consisted of new piston rings, full re-seal of engine gaskets, carburetor rebuild, distributor rebuild, replacement of all tune up items, and full cosmetic sorting. The transmission was cleaned and re-sealed with new gaskets. All hoses were replaced and a full restoration of the fuel system was done. All drivetrain on this car is in excellent condition.”

It would be on my shortlist if I was in the market right now (perhaps I am ?)

Let’s assume the car sell for $75,000 USD.   I won’t even start to comment if that is under/over/good pricing.  Porsche prices are following an upwards trajectory these days – and nobody seems to understand where they are heading.  Anyway, let’s presume $75,000 USD.   If you decided to send the International Transfer through your local bank, the $75,000 would cost you $104,800 at today’s rate.  However, choosing a specialist FX company like Instant Global Payments, that same $75,000 USD would only cost you $99,615.

TIP # 1 Use a third party for funds transfer and keep the savings for other expenses.

Engage an importer

So you have paid for the car…..and it is sitting in the holding area of the dealer.  Now what ?  Although it is possible to work through the import process yourself, I know from experience that it is SO much easier to use a specialist importer.  They import hundreds of cars each year, they have the networks and contacts at each end of the deal, and they understand which boxes need to be ticked to make things quicker.  I have no ties with them, but highly recommend UsaToAus.com. All they do is send cars, bikes, boats, tractors etc to and from USA and Australia.  They have their network in the USA to get the car to the docks, get it packed in a container and ensure it arrives in Australia.

So, engage an importer and give them access to everything they need.  In this case, they would do the following

  • Collect the car from the dealer
  • Transport the car to the nearest port
  • Clean and pack the car into the container
  • Complete all export documentation from the USA
  • Complete all import documentation to Australia
  • Deal with Australian Customs in relation to import fees and taxes.

Tip # 2 Engage a specialist importer to handle car from depot to depot

Wait what seems like a long time

Apart from waiting and waiting, most importers will be able to tell you which ship your new purchase has been packed into.  This is great and terrible at the same time.  It means that you can see the progress of your car, yet it means that you will spend each morning, and maybe multiple times each day, checking on the movement of the ship, watching for cyclone warnings and realising just how slow a ship move in context with the size of an ocean.  So, after what might be up to 4 months, an invoice will arrive from the importer which will causes your eyes to burn.

Let’s see how it works.

 

So, you have spent $135,000 and your car is now located in a storage facility in Australia.So the $99,615 AUD purchase price then has approximately $5,000 import fees (transport, cleaning, packing, marine insurance etc).  Then Australian Customs takes another $3,000 for their time and effort. GST will add around $10,000 and finally, Luxury Car Tax will add another $16,468.  So our $99,615 car has now cost almost $135,000.   A few extra fees could be incurred here but they will only be in the hundreds of dollars (ie AQIS Cleaning Fee between $150 and $900 depending on how dirty they think the car is).

Tip #3 Ensure you declare the value of the car accurately with Australian Customs as they have access into your international transactions.  They also have google and can see what your car was sold for on the web.  Underprice and you will be penalised severely.

 

Perform compliance work

Compliance work depends greatly on the year of the car.  For a 1962 car recently imported, the rear tail-lights needed to be changed to be red and orange, yet it did not need seatbelts installed.  So, the compliance items are often more government driven rather than safety or common sense.

In this instance, without seeing the car, the obvious items needing changing are the headlights and tail-lights.

The headlights are designed for cars driving on the right side of the road, hence the lights shine to the right.  Here in Australia, we drive on the left, so the lights need to shine left.  For a genuine pair of Hella or Bosch lights, expect to pay $1,000 or more (for all the components).  For a cheap VW Beetle pair, expect to pay $99 for both.

Tail-lights in the USA are often all red.  In Australia, red is required for stop lights and amber is required for indicators.  Allow up to $100 for these.

Each state will require different things at different times.  For example, in Queensland the speedometer must be changed to show kph instead of mph.   In NSW, it can remain as mph.

Next step is the required registration documents.   For older cars, it is possible to register these cars as historic, or limited use.   This gives you HUGE savings in insurance and registration costs.   For example, in NSW, annual registration and CTP on full registration is close to $1,000.   On limited use (60 day log book) the annual cost is $46.  Almost 22 times cheaper.   Your insurance will reduce by around 35-50% also.

The whole compliance process could cost $5,000 depending on exactly what you need to do (note : the year of manufactur eof the car is very important to the amount of work required.  Generally, older cars need less work for compliance.)

Tip #4 Make sure your compliance mechanic is aware of the current regulations in your state.

Drive it

So you’ve got the car in your garage.   The car which you saw on the web for $75,000 USD ended up costing you close to $140,000 to get it on the road for a drive.  So beware of so called “bargains” which might end up costing you more than a locally sourced car.

Tip #5 Look for “special” or rare variants which never made it to Australia new, or look for one with a point of difference (original factory paint, race history etc).

Now, tell me your stories of importing.

 

Note : This article is not legal or customs advice.  It is based on my experience of how it worked when I went through it

Comments 2

  1. Thanks Chris.. that is perhaps one of the most helpful articles on this topic I have read. Incidentally, when I got my LHD 914 complianced here in Brisbane, they said the MPH speedo was ok.. go figure….

    1. Post
      Author

      Yes, it can be confusing. A lot of mis-information exists, but it is actually quite simple once you get into it. Just play by the rules and everyone is happy.

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