Buying Your Own JDM Car Part 4: Papers Please!

Now, let’s discuss the federal side of importing a JDM car.

Whether you get a car through a broker or through an importer there are several forms you should end up getting that will be needed when it comes to registering your Skyline or other JDM vehicle.

First is the Japanese Export Certificate. This is basically a document that states this car was de-registered and cleared for sale and export out of the country. It’s not really a title as American DMVs use but basically serves as one for purposes of registering the car in the US. It will be mostly in Japanese but some areas may have an English translation. You’ll still need an English translation however since only section headings will typically have an English equivalent while answers will mostly be in Japanese. Depending on how you’re getting your car you may get this from the importer or broker or may have to get it done yourself.

A sample Export Certificate complete with all those funny Japanese characters
A sample translation of the sample Export Certificate above - now 100% funny character free

Next up you have the bill of lading (or customs entry summary) and/or bill of sale/invoice. The bill of lading or customs entry summary is a form issued from the port basically showing the car was exported from a port in Japan to this port in the US and entered legally. If the car was brought in through a US port you’ll get this and then if you're buying the car from an importer you should get a bill of sale or invoice. If a car was brought in by land from Canada by the importer you’ll probably only get the bill of sale and/or invoice. These pieces of paper are your proof that the car was legally sold to you and not jacked from a freight train in an organized crime deal gone bad. Very important.
Sample Customs Entry Summary (photo credit: Sean Morris/International Vehicle Importers)

On the DOT and EPA side of things, you’ll end up with Form HS-7 and Form 3520-1.

HS-7 is the Department of Transportation (DOT) exemption form that simply states the car has been allowed in under the 25 year exemption. It’ll have a check in the appropriate box signifying that and a fee will be paid to get this either by you or the broker/importer.

DOT says you must be this old to go on this ride

3520-1 is similar to the HS-7 only this time for the EPA. It has a check box stating the car falls under the 21-year emissions exemption. Another fee is needed for this, same as the HS-7.

EPA says you must be this old instead
All of these papers you’ll then take to your local DMV for what will probably be the most fun part of the importation process (note the heavy dose of sarcasm in that statement).

Of course, you'll only need these papers  if the car is being freshly imported and you're the first US owner. A US titled car should process for ownership transfer just like any regular car through the DMV unless they get all weird on you (which can happen so copies of the documents may still come in handy). If the car is already legally titled and registered here in the US you probably won't need the federal paperwork but it's worth asking if the current owner has copies since it reassures you the car was legally brought in. If he can't furnish these then be cautious about the car's legality especially if it comes from a state with lax regulations about verifying legal importation status (cough, Florida, cough). 
Needless to say, as a JDM car owner you'll want to make copies of these yourself in case you ever resell the car or otherwise transfer ownership (or heck, 'cause you're sentimental like me lol). When you go to your local DMV they will usually take the originals for their records so make copies right away.
Stay tuned for the final post in this series where we discuss wrapping up the whole thing by playing tag with your local DMV. 

UPDATE: I've added a newer article talking about another piece of paperwork you might need to be aware of but isn't really needed for importation and registration. Here's a link: 


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