How to ship your bike to Japan the hard way

I know the two people reading this blog^W^W^W^W^W^Weveryone is dying to hear about motorbiking shenanigans, so instead I’m going to write about how to import your bike into Japan: mostly because I wrote most of this post on a train two weeks ago and have been too lazy to finish it off. Shenanigans, and there are some good ones, later. Perhaps tomorrow.

How to ship your bike to Japan the hard way
(ie. without a customs agent and not speaking any Japanese, ie. don’t do this unless you’re a crazy person)

This may actually be useful if you’re shipping a bike to Japan; you can save a bit of money ($250?) by doing it yourself, and it’s perfectly possible. Whether $250 is worth 2-3 days of hard effort, vs 5-6 days of sitting in a hotel waiting for some bored customs agent to forward emails, I don’t know.

If you have no interest in shipping a bike to Japan, this post may not be useful to you.

I shipped my bike to Osaka, Japan from Fremantle, Western Australia. I used Tradelanes Global Solutions/Aussie Bike Shipping on the Australian end; it was a complete disaster and I ended up having to do it myself in Japan per below. Worked out ok, but save yourself the grief and use someone else.

Most shipping-related companies in Japan speak English. Customs speaks a little English. For everything else, the usual trick of Charades, lots of smiling, Google Translate and thankyou fills the gap. Writing down what you need is often helpful, as written English is generally excellent.

You will need

  • Carnet de Passage en Douane (RAC in Australia)
  • Passport
  • International Driving Permit (RAC in Australia)
  • Australian bike registration papers (DL-sized receipt from DoT in WA seems to be accepted)
  • Packing List (write this when you pack the crate, items and values)
  • Bill of Lading (Australian shipping agent)
  • Declaration of Unaccompanied Baggage (Japanese customs, when you enter the country ie. the airport)
  • Carnet Authentication papers (x2, JAF)
  • Japanese third-party insurance + sticker (Japanese insurance company, $100 for 12 months)
  • Arrival Notice (Japanese shipping agent, after the crate arrives)
  • Delivery Notice (Japanese shipping agent, after you pay the fee on the arrival notice)
  • Customs movement permit (Customs, after they have your Delivery Notice)

Costs in AUD – $2299.60, $1099.60 not including the Carnet

  • Crate – $100
  • Carnet – $1200, depending on bike value
  • Australian shipping, customs charges – $384.15
  • Truck hire, Perth (Budget), one day – $113.20
  • Japanese compulsory third-party insurance – $101.81
  • Japanese shipping charges (arrival notice) – $193.26
  • Truck hire, Osaka (Orix), two days – $193.19
  • Japanese warehouse fee – $13.99
  • Japanese Customs duty – $0 (if all items in your crate are deemed “used”)

People you will deal with

  • Australian shipping agent (may be several companies)
  • Japanese delivery agent (marked on the Bill of Lading)
  • Japanese shipping agent (holds your bike in their warehouse)
  • Japanese Customs
  • RAC in Australia
  • Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) in Japan
  • Japanese Insurance company

Our scene opens with the motorbike in Australia, and the prepared yet naive owner eager to set off on exciting motorbike holidays. Little does he know what awaits.

  1. Obtain a Carnet de Passage en Douane for your bike. This is an inexplicably large, heavy document that costs an eyewatering amount of money. Available from your friendly RAC, if you can manage to convince them they even know what it is. Do so, because noone else can provide it to you. In addition to your motorbike, list various tools and spare parts on the Carnet. You can list as much as you want, but bear in mind that when you enter/leave countries you must always be carrying the inventory you provide: consumable items should not be listed.
  2. Pack your bike and Carnet-listed tools and spares into a crate, available from your local dealer for some under-the-counter cash. Create a packing list of everything in the crate along with its value. Do not under any circumstances trust the advice of your shipping company and pack additional consumable items into the crate to save on airline luggage charges. Only foolish people do this. If you are a foolish person, proceed to the next step.
  3. Give your Carnet to your Australian shipping agent. They will take it to Customs in Australia who will scrawl all over it and return it to you. Knowing nothing about customs law, you sincerely hope that all the right scrawls have been scrawled and you are not about to consign $10,000 worth of equipment to International Limbo.
  4. Consign the bike to the shipping company. This sounds fancy, but involves taking the crate to the docks in a very large and terrifying hired truck and giving it to a man called “Steve” with a forklift. When you ask for a receipt for the $10,000 worth of gear in the crate, Steve looks confused.
  5. Request daily updates on the progress of finding a customs agent in Japan from your Australian agent. Despite promising that they have “international offices” it turns out your freight company is a dude in Sydney. Who for the purposes of this exercise we will also call Steve.
  6. Unfortunately, no Japanese customs agent will want to touch you because you are foolish and have packed non-Carnet items in your crate, see step two. Non-Carnet items Break The System. Because your only alternative at this point is to consign your crate to a watery grave, pester Steve-in-Sydney to find a new Japanese agent and ensure your crate is not delayed. Question your sanity when it gets delayed regardless.
  7. Eagerly fly to Japan. On entry to the country, make sure you fill in, get stamped and retain a “declaration of unaccompanied baggage” card at Customs, in addition to the standard drugs-what-drugs-no-drugs-here-declaration. This covers all the non-Carnet items you put in the crate and means you don’t have to pay import duty, even if some items are classified as new. Because you are foolish (see step two), you fail to complete this.
  8. After waiting for your ship to arrive, allow two *business* days for the crate to be de-containerised by the Shipping Agent and moved to a warehouse.
  9. Visit the JAF with your Carnet to get it Authenticated. They will give you two flimsy bits of paper (one for import customs to keep, one for them to stamp and return). They will also give you a Japanese explanation of what a Carnet is, to provide to any confused constabulary you happen to meet.
  10. Visit a number of bike shops looking for compulsory third-party insurance. Some will point you to convenience stores – these will only sell you insurance for bikes under 250cc. Eventually, someone will take pity on you and tell you where to go to find a real insurance company. Get the bike shop to write out exactly what you need (compulsory third party insurance for a bike >250cc) in Japanese. Visit the insurance company, who will likely not speak English. Be a friendly but slightly witless foreigner and they will also take pity on you. You may need to come back the next day, and the cost is about Y10,000 for 12 months (the shortest period available). They give you a sticker which goes on your license plate.
  11. Pester Steve-in-Sydney to give you a copy of the Bill of Lading. This will list who the Delivery Agent and Shipping Agent are in Japan. The Shipping Agent has your crate.
  12. Call the Shipping Agent and Delivery Agent to ask where the bike is stored, as you must visit the nearest customs branch to the warehouse. They will laugh at you and hang up.
  13. Visit Customs HQ. Be a friendly but slightly witless foreigner until someone takes pity on you. Customs will ask where the crate is being stored; say you don’t know and give them the phone number of the Delivery Agent. When Customs calls, suddenly they are forthcoming with the location of your crate. Ask the nice customs man to write the address in English and Japanese; you will need the latter to program your truck’s satnav.
  14. Visit the customs branch nearest the bike. They will want your Carnet, Carnet Authentication papers, passport and packing list. Four customs agents will gather around and despair at your foolishness by including non-Carnet items in your crate: but the problem is solvable! Two customs claims will need to be submitted. Nod and smile and sign things as they pull wads of new forms out of folders. Everything will be slowly and painfully explained three times. It will take forever. There is nothing you can say that will speed things up. Continue nodding, smiling and signing.
  15. Customs will ask you for the Arrival Notice. Tell them you have not received it. They will call your Delivery Agent and hit them with the Customs-bat again. Ask the agent to fax the Arrival notice direct to Customs while you wait. After being hit with the Customs-bat twice in an hour, the document flies out of the fax machine before you put down the phone.
  16. Take the Arrival Notice to the appropriate bank (check with the shipping company) and pay the amount stated into the account on the notice. You’ll need to use an ATM in Japanese; the bank staff will likely be confused by their own ATMs but will be eager to assist, though ironclad bank rules state that they cannot touch the ATM, leading to the slightly hilarious workaround of them pointing at the appropriate, incomprehensible Japanese button to press and you doing the pressing. Keep the receipt.
  17. Fax the Arrival Notice and receipt back to the shipping company at your local convenience store. Once the payment has gone through, the Delivery Agent will give you a Delivery Notice. Call to confirm and ask that they fax the Delivery Notice to Customs.
  18. Return to Customs. Customs has received your delivery notice! Everyone is pleased. Customs agents are excited about exploring heretofore unseen corners of Japanese Customs Law. Fill in more forms. Sign things. Everything you own will be enthusiastically photocopied several times, even if unrelated to your bike. Eventually, they will tell you to come back tomorrow to give you an Import Permit and inspect your crate.
  19. Call your Delivery Agent and ask them to again confirm the address of the Japanese Shipping Agent, who is still refusing to talk to you. They will say “but you need an import permit!” to which you can now reply “I have one!”. They will be incredulous but confirm the address of the warehouse.
  20. Scope out (on foot) the warehouse you will need to visit tomorrow. Work out where the gates and offices are, and where you can park. You’ll still get lost, but at least it fills an afternoon.
  21. Rent a small truck to carry your crate. Get satnav. Get all the insurance; driving trucks in Japan is terrifying.  The satnav may claim to have an English menu, but it probably won’t let you program destinations. The purpose of a satnav menu that cannot program destinations is left as an exercise for the reader.
  22. Visit the Customs office first thing on the morning with your hired truck, using the Japanese address you had someone write to program the satnav. They will issue you a Movement Permit to move your crate from the warehouse to the customs inspection office.
  23. Visit the warehouse and locate the office for your Delivery Agent through trial and error, as the one warehouse is shared between multiple companies. Give them the Delivery Notice and Movement Permit. Pay a small fee (Y1200). They will give you a document and tell you to be at a certain loading dock at a certain time, giving you a few minutes to explore the vending machines downstairs. Head to the loading dock, hand them the document from the office and receive your crate! Do not under any circumstances open it; you have already been sufficiently foolish. Take it straight to Customs.
  24. Customs will inspect the crate. They’re basically looking for anything in the crate not on your packing list. You fervently hope that you didn’t forget anything when you hastily put it together two months prior.
  25. Customs is happy! More forms must be filled, and your Carnet stamped. This takes longer and is done by yet another department. After an eternity, you are set loose in Japan with your bike. Revel in the $250 you just saved yourself.

So there you have it. 25 easy steps.


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