September 5, 2017

1112 words 6 mins read

How to import a car without import tax

How to import a car without import tax

I am a big fan of Japanese cars and the ones I like the most are slowly becoming classics. So when I heard about the possibility to ship a car (or any other goods) from Japan to Germany without import costs made me really excited. I had this on my mind when I decided to do my internship for a whole year. I could have decided to do a 6 months stay and finish my degree quickly. Instead this way I can evaluate this beautiful country for even longer commitments.

Staying for a year would also allow me to import a car to Germany without import fees. I will explain how this works. But before doing that, be aware that this applies to people with the German nationality and may or may not be possible for other countries. And it works for almost everything non-commercial, be it vacuum cleaners, books, cars, yachts, helicopters or airplanes. The requirements are strict though, so in order to ship the items you would need to keep the receipts as proof.

The whole thing is called “Übersiedlungsgut” and works in theory like this:

  1. You live abroad for 1 year or you initially planned to stay for 1 year.
  2. The items you want to bring with you have to be in your possession for at least 6 months.
  3. Being back in Germany, the items are not allowed to be sold, rented, gifted, borrowed or anything like that.

One year stay

If you have stayed for a whole year, it is easy to proof. You show your passport with the entry stamps and your visa etc. and it should be okay. Germany also considered a worse case scenario of some sorts. If you intended to stay at least 1 whole year as part of university enrollment or job but have to return to Germany before that, the customs would also allow this. Of course, I assume the second rule limits the lower boundary to 6 months. That being said, this will not work if you go there for a single semester (or the summer holidays). The idea is, that you lived in a foreign country long enough before relocating “home”.

Six month of ownership

The second requirement prevents misusage of this privilege. Shortly you can’t just move back to Germany and decide to buy all the cool things the night before you leave and not pay import and other taxes. You have to proof that those items belong to you. So you have to have bought it 6 months before you move back in. This means: do not throw away your purchase receipts. I have a notebook where I stick or staple the receipts of items that are candidates. A work colleague who exported a car himself told me that cars (and maybe other vehicles too) are dealt differently. Instead of owning the cars, you have to proof that you used them for 6 months. This can be done by registering the car. I wonder how it works with cars that can’t be driven legally on the roads. So buying a project car that couldn’t be registered would not be possible? I guess we need insight on this from a customs personnel.

Twelve months ban

Congratulations. Your belongings and maybe even a beloved car are rolling of a ship in a port somewhere in Germany. What follows is a ban of 12 months: no selling, renting, borrowing, giving away, etc. If I would bring my dream car to Germany, this would not be a problem at all. But for other goods like rice cookers etc. it is tempting to do so. I have been told that the customs would visit you on the last day to check if you still have the items. If not you have to pay the import and consumption taxes in post. For a car this can mean 29% of the cars value. This is a lot, so just don’t do it. Just remember, the whole thing is for items that you use for a living before and after you move back.

Is it worth it?

For cars, the import and consumption taxes add up to 29% of the cars value. And this doesn’t take into account the shipping costs, which may consist of the shipment (charting a container for example), imports handling fees, agency fees, opening of container and parking in the port. The latter is no problem if you pick your stuff right on arrival, but if you pick them up a week later this will cost you precious money. What I want to say is that the 29% is definitely saved by doing this. For classic cars the import taxes are a mere 7% (classics don’t have consumption taxes). So if you want to get a car make it a classic if you can and decide on doing the import route. If you can do the shipment as an Übersiedlungsgut, then you won’t need to pay 7% import taxes or 29% import and consumption taxes anyway.

On the other hand you have to take into account the amount of money you have to pay to register the car in Japan. Everything after the initial purchase of the car may consist of the Shaken (car inspection), renting a parking lot, drivers license, registering the car and the parking lot, insurances and taxes. As I have to do all this for my own car and experience the steps first hand, I intend to write guides for you and your enjoyment.

The car I have bought is over 30 years old. This makes it a classic. Theoretically this car would cost me 7% of import taxes and that way the costs of running the car in Japan would be more expensive than the 7% import taxes. But I don’t really know how they evaluate if the car is a classic or not. In Germany, in order to receive a classic “H” license plate, the car has to be periodic. This means the car can be modified but the tuning and mods must be from the same period. My car has a few modern aftermarket parts. Would that mean I need to pay 29%? Maybe the modifications aren’t relevant for this process? I didn’t want to take the chance. Plus I can drive my car in Japan which is super fun.

As the shipment would be one of the last steps of my dream car journey, I can not write my experiences yet. But I wanted to create awareness about this rule and explain my goals. If you want to know how this plays out for me, please subscribe to my blog and enjoy the show.

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