Disclaimer: I am not a forwarding agent, and I do not provide any vehicle importation or exportation services. The information below is for educational purposes only. My goal to give you an overview of what is required for shipping your car to Australia, not to provide specific advice.
My goal with this post is to provide you with all the information you need to decide if shipping your car to Australia is the best choice for you. But before all of that, you need to know if you are eligible to ship your car.
After you read this post and decide that you want to continue with the process, read through my post that lists all the documents you'll need.
This Post Covers Personal Vehicle Importation for Australia
Before we get in too deep here, I think it’s a good idea to go over what I’m going to cover and what I’m not going to cover. I also have a strong feeling that this is a work in progress with many updates to come because it’s pretty complicated. I’m certain that you’ll have questions specific to your situation.
After you read through the information below and decide that you want to ship your car to Australia, I recommend contacting Iron Lady Imports. Kristian Appelt, the owner of Iron Lady Imports, is very helpful and recommended to me by several Sydney Moving Guide readers. He also has stellar reviews online.
Kristian can answer more specific questions about the importation process. He can also explain the different importation options if you aren't eligible for the Personal Import Option.
Personal Vehicle Import Only
I’m only covering information for those moving to Australia who want to ship a car they purchased while living overseas. So no information on shipping a car owned by a company, even if it’s your company that owns the car.
I’ll get into what visa you have to have in a second, but I need to make a few more clarifications first.
Classic or Collector Car Import Not Included
There are two different importation options for classic, historic cars or collector cars. One is for cars that were manufactured before January 1st, 1989 and another is for cars that are least 25 years old.
One of the things you need to be aware of if you're thinking of importing a classic or collector car is asbestos. Asbestos was banned Australia-wide in late 2003.
You'll need to test older car parts to ensure that you don't import any parts that may contain asbestos. Yes, they do test, especially cars that were manufactured in 1989 or before.
Common car parts with asbestos are insulation, brake pads and shoes, seals, gaskets, bonnet (hood of a car) liners, valve rings, heater, and air conditioner housings. That's the shortlist. For a more complete list and the process for testing for asbestos read this.
If you're shipping an older or classic car from the UK to Australia, then you should know that asbestos in car parts was banned in the UK in 1999 “with the exception that pre-1973 vehicles could continue to be fitted with asbestos-containing brake shoes until 2004.”
I'm not going to get into any more detail on importing an older car here, but those links should be enough to start with your research. Also, do a quick search for any car clubs in Australia for your specific model. A car enthusiast will be a much better resource than me.
Tourist or Temporary Import Not Included
Yes, it’s possible to temporarily import a car or larger vehicle for a year on a tourist or temporary visitor visa. You'll also need to export the vehicle after that year expires. This is the Carnet De Passages en Douane (CPD carnet) import option. With this option, travelers can temporarily import campervans, caravans, and trailers.
I will not be covering that in this post either.
“Wait. What if I import my car on a tourist visa then switch to a permanent residency visa? Can I keep my car?”
Yes, it's possible, but…
First, the whole visa switcheroo could take longer than a year.
Second, you'll have to pay the total amount of tax and duty on the car that you would've had to pay when you originally imported the car.
Third, suppose you're moving to Australia on a tourist visa while waiting for your visa application to be approved. In that case, the Personal Import Option is still the best option for you, if you're eligible. I get into all of that below.
Importing Australian Plated Vehicles Not Included Either
If you are importing an Australian car that you have previously exported, then there is another importation option for you. Under that option, you’ll need to prove that it’s the same vehicle previously exported.
Ok, since you’re still reading this, I’m going to assume that you don’t have a visitors visa, and you’re not shipping a car that was manufactured over 25 years ago.
Before we go any further, we need to address if you can ship your car to Australia.
But First, Before You Ship Your Car to Australia…
A few major mistakes and misconceptions people make, simply because no one told them or explained the process, and it’s a lengthy process. It's entirely do-able, but you'll need to be on top of it and well-organized.
You must apply for importation approval before shipping your car to Australia.
Ensure your application, attached addendum, and supporting documents are as complete as possible and done as soon as possible, or your application approval will take longer.
The Department of Infrastructure website states that importation approval takes 20 working days, but it has taken much longer for most Sydney Moving Guide readers.
How much longer? Expect it to take around six weeks. If you get approval sooner, that’s fantastic, but don’t count on it.
No, that’s not the time it takes for your car to be shipped to Australia.
That’s just for the “ok” that you CAN ship your car. Again, this is a lengthy process.
In most cases, you’ll need to have your importation approval before a reputable shipping company comes to collect your car for shipment. I say in most cases because you can ask the shipping company to hold your car for you ahead of shipping it, but I'll get to that more below.
Suppose you plan on shipping your car in a 40-foot container with your household belongings. In that case, you'll want that approval before shipping your container.
I should also note here that shipping your car with your household might not be the most cost-effective way. I know it seems like it would be because everything is all together and sent at once, but that might not be the case.
Get separate shipping quotes.
One for just your household belongings. Another for your household with your car. And then a third from a car export company for just your car. In other words, not the same shipping company for your household, even though they'll tell you that they can ship your car. What they won't tell you is that they'll charge you more than a car export company. It might not be more to ship the car to Australia, but more when it arrives.
I know this sounds like a pain, getting separate quotes, but it can save you money and time in the end.
Can the shipping company apply for vehicle importation approval on my behalf?
Yes, they can, but in the end, it's your car and your responsibility. You can authorize the shipping company to handle the approval application for you.
There are two ways this works.
One, you register for an account with the Vehicle Import System. Once you've set up your account, you'll see a My Agents tab. Enter the details of the shipping company, and then they can take it from there.
NOTE: The agent or shipping company needs to be registered first for this way to work.
The second way is to draft a letter of authorization that provides the Department of Infrastructure and Transportation all the details they need for the shipping company to act on your behalf.
The Department of Infrastructure has a sample authorization letter here.
One advantage of setting up an account first then nominating an agent is you'll know that you're working with a registered agent who has done this before.
You can also nominate a forwarding agent to act on your behalf when your car arrives in Australia.
I highly recommend working with a forwarding agent when your car arrives and have a couple of recommendations here. I would even start with the forwarding agent in Australia then work backward. Meaning, contact them first about shipping your car and get recommendations from the forwarding agent for shipping companies or car export companies back home.
Some forwarding agents in Australia will coordinate with the shipping company that is transporting your household belongings.
Don’t assume the shipping company is going to apply for importation approval for you.
If you get a quote from a shipping company, and they don’t mention anything about the importation approval process or requirements, but simply nod their heads yes and say that it won’t be a problem, don’t believe them. Instead, go with the company that has the specifics down, even if they cost more, because, in the long run, it will cost you less.
Even if you nominate an agent to handle your car's shipment to Australia, take the time to familiarize yourself with the process and all the documents you'll need to submit.
If there's a document that the shipping company hasn't asked you to sign and send back to them, make sure you ask them about it.
Again, it's your car, and any missing documents can cause delays in your Vehicle Importation Approval.
Be sure you ask about ALL fees and charges.
I’ve included a list below but recommend that you ask for a detailed, itemized list of what's included and what's not, as I may have missed something.
Many shipping quotes will only include the shipping and insurance, conveniently leaving out all the other charges to make their quote lower. This also goes for anything else you're shipping to Australia. I have another series of posts where I go through our shipping quote for Australia. In that series, I outline everything included and not included when we shipped our furniture to Sydney.
The Most Expensive Mistake We Made When Moving to Australia Was Shipping Our Stella Motor Scooter.
No, we didn't ship our car with us when we moved to Sydney. But we did ship our Stella motor scooter – think Vespa – because we thought it would be fun to have for exploring the city.
Our reasoning was, it wasn't a car, so it shouldn't cost that much. And we didn't have to worry about that whole left-hand drive to right-hand drive conversion hassle. As a complete afterthought, we decided why not send it along.
Oh, how we regretted shipping our scooter to Sydney!
The first mistake we made was not doing any research beforehand. Instead, we simply called the shipping company and asked if we could have it sent along with all of our other stuff. You know, if there's room for it.
They said sure and swung by to pick it up and added it to our shipment.
No mention of Vehicle Importation Approval or additional paperwork.
No mention of extra charges when our shipment arrived.
Not even mention of the extra cost to add it to our overall shipment.
Our shipment arrived and separated at the port with our household belongings going to one place for quarantine inspection and customs and the scooter going to another.
We got an email from the forwarding agent who handled the scooter asking us about our Vehicle Importation Approval and other paperwork. More accurately, asking us where the heck was it.
The fines started adding up from that day until we were finally back in possession of the scooter.
How much did it end up costing us to ship our scooter to Australia?
Let's just say that we could've purchased two new Vespas in Sydney for the amount. One with a sidecar.
Each day it was delayed, we paid for storage at a premium.
Then there was the quarantine inspection charge for the scooter, separate from our household shipment quarantine inspection.
Then there was Australian Customs and sorting out the scooter's value, which took longer than anyone would have guessed because the Stella brand wasn't a brand of scooter in Australia at the time. Because of this, they had a hard time finding a comparative valve.
Oh, and the Electronic Entry Fee.
And Importation GST.
And the Port Handling Charge just for the scooter.
And Destination GST.
The list of fees kept going. Many of them seemed to be fees we were paying twice. Once for our main shipment, then again for just the scooter. They had us over a barrel, so we paid.
The whole process took FOREVER.
Our shipment arrived in Australia in early May, shipped at the end of February. We didn't get our scooter back until the end of September.
And that was a scooter! Only two wheels.
Be prepared before you ship your car.
Sit down and make a list of all the documents you'll need and a list of fees and charges for your car's shipment, including when it arrives at the port in Australia.
And go with a shipping company with experience shipping cars, scooters, or motorcycles to Australia. That was our first mistake that caused all the other expensive dominos to fall.
Who Can Ship Their Car to Australia?
Even though you want to ship your car, you might not be able to under the Personal Vehicle Importation Option.
Visa and Citizenship Requirements for Shipping a Car to Australia
To ship your car to Australia, you must be one of the following.
- An Australian citizen or have applied to become an Australian citizen.
- An Australian permanent resident with a valid permanent residency visa or have recently applied for a permanent residency visa and waiting for approval.
- Have a visa that allows you to apply for a permanent residency visa such as a 309 Partner Visa or a 482 TSS Visa.
- A New Zealand citizen.
Suppose you have a tourist visa, student visa, or a working holiday visa. In that case, you cannot import a car under the Personal Vehicle Importation Option. Other temporary visitors such as diplomatic personnel and military personnel cannot import their car under this option.
The key here is you’re moving to Australia with the intent to stay permanently and have a visa or citizenship that allows you the option to do so.
Qualifying Period Requirements for Shipping a Car to Australia
You'll need to meet both of these requirements.
- You have lived in one or more foreign countries for a minimum of 12 months before you arrive in Australia.
- You have owned and had access to legally drive the car at any time for an uninterrupted period of at least 12 months.
Yes, they check, and yes, you'll need to provide documents proving ownership and use. You'll need to explain any travel outside the country where the car is registered. I have a separate post here that lists all the documents you'll need for vehicle importation approval.
How Many Personal Use Vehicles Can You Import?
Under the Personal Imports Option, only one vehicle every five years per applicant.
Have more than one? Since it's per applicant, then you might be able to import more than one. For example, your spouse's car or motorcycle, but they will need to meet all the requirements for personal importation.
You'll also need to provide proof of your relationship, so a marriage certificate.
The addresses listed on the applications need to all match up too. By match up, I mean your spouse's driver's license address, the address and name on the vehicle registration, and the address listed for where the vehicle is usually parked need to match up.
Submit Your Vehicle Importation Approval Application Before You Move to Australia or Six Months Afterwards.
You have six months after you've moved to Australia to import your car. This is a little confusing. Many think that the six months after arriving in Australia are included in the 12 months of ownership and use. Bad news, it's not.
For example, you bought your car in January 2020, and you're moving in September 2021, but you didn't get your application done in time.
In this case, you can leave it at mom's house or a friend's or ask if the shipping company can store it for you while you wait for your importation approval. Once you get your approval, the shipping company can pick up your car and schedule shipment.
So let's say your application takes six weeks to be approved, and the shipping company can't pick it up for a week after you let them know. Then it takes them a week to schedule the shipment of the car. After the ship leaves port, it takes about five to six weeks until it arrives. That's over three months until your car even arrives in Australia. Still within the six months time frame.
Now let's say you bought your car in January 2021, and you're moving in September 2021. You reckon that from application approval to your car arriving in Australia will take at least three months; therefore, you'll have owned the car for the minimum of 12 months.
This won't work because it has to be an uninterrupted period of 12 months minimum from the date you submit your approval application.
How Long Does It Take to Ship a Car to Australia?
Since it depends on where you're shipping your car from, it's hard for me to give you an accurate time frame. But if you're ok with a broad approximation, keep reading.
So let's say you're shipping your car from the UK to Sydney.
It'll take about 40 days for your car to arrive at the port in Sydney. That's approximately from pick up at your house to the port.
How long does it take for a car to clear customs in Australia?
Once your car arrives in Sydney, it will take about two weeks to clear Australian Customs, Quarantine Inspection, and cleaning. Since we're talking about a car, you can pretty much bank on it having to be cleaned by Australian Quarantine for about $450. That doesn't include the inspection fee.
When can you drive your car again in Australia?
The car then needs to be registered for road use in Australia after Australian Customs and Quarantine. This process can take three weeks, depending on which state or territory you're registering your car in.
If everything goes smoothly, you're looking at about three months. Don't forget about the time it will take for your Vehicle Importation Approval.
Need your car asap in Australia?
You can ship your car ahead of your household shipment as long as you meet all of the requirements. Yet another reason to look into getting a separate shipping quote for your car.
Many Sydney Moving Guide readers ship out everything before they travel themselves then stay with family or friends that last month back home. Another option is to join one of the car-sharing services like GoGet until your car arrives in Australia.
List of Fees and Charges When Shipping a Car to Australia
Ok, here's the list of fees and charges I promised.
Big Disclaimer: I cannot guarantee that this list includes everything or that you'll be charged everything on this list. I've included this list as a guide for when you get your shipping quote.
Be sure to ask the shipping company for a list from them as well as estimate costs. Also, be aware that some of the charges are called different things by different people. Some charges might be bundled together, like Customs and Duty in Australia, by the shipping company when they give you their quote.
Shipping Your Car to Australia: List of Fees and Charges
- Shipping Cost
- Marine Shipping Insurance
- Vehicle Import Approval – $50 non-refundable
- Origin Port Fees – the port your car is shipped from.
- Port Charges in Australia
- Australian Duty and Entry Fees
- Transport of you container to the depot
- Container unpacking and depot charges
- Quarantine Inspection
- Quarantine Cleaning
- Customs Valuation
- Customs Clearance Fee
- GST in Australia
- Luxury Car Tax (LCT)
- Personal Import Plate
- Transportation to mechanic or auto shop for road ready alterations.
- Getting your car road ready charges. Includes any alterations that need to be made to the car like changing the speedometer from mph to kph, child safety restraint points, seat belts, or side mirrors.
- Roadworthy safety test before the car can be registered.
- Blue Slip for registration in New South Wales. Moving to a different state or territory in Australia? You'll need to look up how to register an imported car in that state specifically as it's different in every state or territory.
- Annual Car Registration
- Driver's Insurance
- Vehicle License Plates
- Stamp Duty – yes, this is in addition to the Australian Duty and Entry Fee I listed above.
- Delivery to you in Australia.
Still Want to Ship Your Car to Australia? Next Steps.
In this post, I've covered:
- Requirements for shipping a car to Australia.
- List of fees and charges.
- How long it will take to ship your car to Australia.
- Our big, expensive mistake when shipping our Stella motor scooter to Australia.
I've covered a lot in this post. However, there's still more to go over, like all the documents you'll need for your Vehicle Importation Approval. Instead of continuing here, I've separated that information in another post, List of Documents You'll Need to Ship Your Car to Australia as a Personal Import.
Ready to Get Started with Your Move to Australia?
Australia Moving Checklist
39 pages, packed full of resources you need to kick start your move to Australia. Plus invite-only access to my Private Facebook Group with over 2,200 members. The group is a great place to get answers to all your questions, from visa applications to moving with pets and schools. Join us!
Lock-In Your Exchange Rate
Did you know the Australian dollar is a commodity currency? This means the value of the Australian dollar is linked to the price of iron ore and other Australian exports. It also means that it's HIGHLY VOLATILE! When a good rate comes along, you need to be ready to jump on it and lock-in that exchange rate.
Have You Started Packing Yet?
No, not yet? Still got several months to go? Ok, but have you at least started thinking about what you're taking? Maybe even started a list? The truth is you don’t need to know what's going with you before getting your shipping quote. Why? Scheduling a shipment to Australia can take as long as 6 months.
Open Your Bank Account
In 5 minutes or less, you can open both a checking and savings account BEFORE you move to Australia. There are only 3 things you need to get started.
1. Your passport and visa details.
2. Know where you're going to live.
3. Be arriving within the next 3 months.
*This link will take you to Commonwealth Bank of Australia's special accounts for newly arriving expats and migrants. Commonwealth Bank is a sponsoring partner of Sydney Moving Guide.