The 1990 Mini is here and registered. It has even gone on a run for pizza. This post will walk you through the steps that I went through to get it here and on the road. Getting the car wasn’t as easy as going’s to your local Dent and Scratch Auto, but I was able to get something interesting for a good bit less than what it probably would have cost me otherwise. The process wasn’t overly difficult if you are able to follow directions and have attention to detail.

  1. First, find a car that you want to import. Luckily, I came across this car that Flavien posted. After some back and forth discussing the condition and export/import info I decided to go ahead with the purchase. Like anything, work with a reputable vendor.
  2. Payment was made via wire transfer. I was sent an invoice detailing the purchase price and conditions. You will need to know routing info for the account, but most banks and credit unions can handle this. I think it cost me $20. This a secure method of transferring funds internationally.
  3. Two things happen concurrently, the seller will find a ship to send your car on. We used the Wallenius Wilhelmsen Don Carlos, a roll on roll off car carrier to ship from Japan to the port of Savannah, Georgia. Shipping was included in the cost of the car. Fun fact: prices in the global shipping market have crashed. Shipping a car from Asia to the US is cheaper than shipping a car from Texas to Atlanta by truck.
  4. While that is happening, and prior to the car being loaded, you need to secure a customs broker on your side. They ensure that all customs documentation is accounted for at the time of shipment and at arrivals. They exchange data with the seller. You will likely need to grant a limited power of attorney so they can file stuff on your behalf with Customs and they will submit the Import Security Filing that gets the car on the boat. To do that they will need the Bill of Laden from the shipping company. This documentation details the shipping method and the specifics of the item being shipped. They also take actions when the ship gets to its destination. This costs around $500. See below for examples.
  5. Within three days of sailing your customs broker submits the ISF and all parties ensure the paperwork is good. This time can be a little tense because important things are happening outside of your control. If you are working with good folks this shouldn’t be an issue.
  6. Your car then gets loaded on a ship and heads out. Cargo ships are not particularly fast and thy make stops on the way. It is fun to watch, but patience is needed. It took a little over 30 days for the car to get from Kobe to Savannah. You can also track the ship on the shippers website using the Bill of Laden number, but that method was not as detailed as some of the others available online. I used the site below.
  7. About three days out from delivery the shipping company will send you a Notice of Arrival. You provide that to your customs broker and they coordinate with Customs.
  8. The ship arrives and the car goes into a Customs impound. For me, the Customs officials decided to do a physical inspection. That added a couple of days before I could get it.
  9. Once it is released by Customs you can go get it. That is a process in itself. I had to drop off my Bill of Lading with the shipper and they verified that all fees were paid and that it was cleared for release.
  10. The port is a secure area and uncredentialed people need a badged escort. There are people who do that for a living. We used a gentleman who had been working with the port for over 40 years. That cost $80 cash.
  11. We arrived at the port, he got us signed in (don’t forget safety glasses and a high vis vest) and took us to the port office. There you fill out more paperwork and pay the port fees. $250
  12. You then go back out and another port employee escorts you, the guy who got you in and your vehicle to where the car is stored. We brought a truck and trailer to haul the car home as it was not registered yet and we didn’t know how it would run. Load up and present your paperwork at the gate and off you go. Ports are large industrial facilities. They are not used to individuals coming in to get their stuff. They expect big trucking companies and such. They were very friendly though and the process went smoothly. It did take about 2 hours. My car was in a huge lot surrounded by new high end European models. In the back corner was the land of misfit toys where oddballs like mine wait. There were 3 or 4 other classic Minis, a couple of Land Rovers, some Japanese micro-vans and a 2CV. It was kind of awesome.
  13. Now the car is in your possession, but it is not registered. I did get it insured at this point just in case something crazy happened. That was $450/year with Hagerty.
  14. The DMV requires a good bit of documentation. Japan does not use a bill of sale for these types of transactions. The export certificate is what is used. That is mostly in Japanese, so it needs to be translated. For Georgia, you have to have the person who does the translation get some documents notarized stating that the translation is accurate. I was lucky enough to have a coworker who is a native Japanese speaker who was willing to do that. You can get pretty close with Google Translate if you don’t need the documentation notarized.
  15. Next, I had to have a police officer come by and do a quick VIN inspection. That is to ensure the car is not stolen. What is interesting is that the car maker assigns a VIN and then when it was imported into Japan they assigned a different VIN to it. I got the car registered using its OEM VIN so I had to explain all that to the officer. She was cool about it.
  16. Finally, you take all that paperwork to the DMV/tag office and get your title and plates. Georgia was kind enough to charge me tax and tag fees ($1100). I will say that I emailed the tag office when the car was headed my way and they told me exactly what was needed and provided PDFs of the docs. They were very helpful. If you want vanity plates then bring the paperwork for those was well, because why not? Easy, right?

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Bill of Lading
Notice of Arrival
Import Security Filing