Importing Cars to Australia

The old SEVS import regulations are ending with the last import approvals to be issued on 30 March 2022. Read the full update…

We specialise in importing cars to Australia and provide a complete end to end service for Australian buyers.

See How Direct Car Import Works

We also source and ship cars to other countries. Each country has different regulations controlling car import, as well as import taxes and procedures. Restrictions may be based on age, model, rarity, and which side the steering wheel is on.

Before looking for cars to import, it is essential to understand the import restrictions, costs and process for your country to ensure it is possible and cost effective to import the car you want.

For example, New Zealand’s regulations are based on age / special interest criteria, the USA has a 25 Year Rule for right hand drive vehicles, while Canada has a 15 Year Rule for right hand drive vehicles.

The following information deals with the regulations controlling car import to Australia.

For other countries we still provide the same professional service for sourcing and shipping the vehicle to you including all original paperwork – however it will be up to you to handle the clearance and import process in your country and ensure you meet all local requirements.

Our service fee varies according to your needs.

The first thing you need to know is that importing cars to Australia is strictly controlled by the Australian vehicle import regulations – you can’t just import any car you want.

NEW import regulations commenced for Australia on 10 December 2019 with a transition period from old (MVSA) to new (RVS) regulations occurring between 10 Dec 2019 and 1 July 2021.

The vehicle import regulations allow only some cars for import to Australia, and block others – based on age, specialist nature and other criteria.

They apply on ENTRY to Australia, regardless of which country the vehicle came from.

The import regulations can be confusing for the first time car importer as there is a lot more to importing a car than whether it is technically eligible for import.

QUICK TEST – If the SAME vehicle year / model / configuration was SOLD NEW in Australia AND it is younger than 25 years, then IT CANNOT BE IMPORTED.

There are two exceptions – import for race purposes only OR you have owned the vehicle for more than 12 months while living overseas and you are returning home to Australia permanently as an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

So, for people living in Australia and wanting a vehicle for normal road use there are just two (2) options for importing vehicles – the 25 Year Rule for vehicles OVER 25 years old, and SEVS for vehicles YOUNGER than 25 years.

As mentioned above, the other two pathways allow for the import of race cars and personal vehicles owned while living overseas.

All regulations are tightly controlled through the Import Approval process so please be sure to read the further detail about each option below.

Vehicle Import Regulations – four (4) options

25 Year Rule, SEVS, Personal Import Scheme (PIS) and Race / Rally import.

1)  25 Year Rule

Essentially replaces the ‘1988 and older rule’ (although 1988 and older vehicles will continue to be considered for import against slightly more flexible criteria, at least during the 10 Dec 2019 to 1 July 2021 transition period).

There are restrictions on modified cars.

Latest information – How to apply for an Import Approval under the 25 Year Rule and what is considered significantly modified.

Vehicle must be 25 years old or older (to the month of manufacture) at the time of application AND conform to one of the following classifications (no trucks or buses):

(i) Passenger Car (MA);

(ii) Forward-control Passenger Vehicle (MB);

(iii) Off-road Passenger Vehicle (MC);

(iv) Moped – 2 wheels (LA);

(v) Moped – 3 wheels (LB);

(vi) Motor cycle (LC);

(vii) Motor cycle and side-car (LD);

(viii) Motor tricycle (LE);

(ix) Light Goods Vehicle (NA)

Note – the build date used to calculate age is:

(a) the manufacture date; or

(b) if the Minister is satisfied that significant modifications that comply were made to the vehicle after manufacture – the date that the last of the significant modifications were completed. e.g. A 1960 vehicle with upgraded engine, transmission or brakes from a 2000 model vehicle would be eligible for import from 2025.

Over time, many interesting models will become available under this rule that Australia has not previously had access to. However, other markets such as the USA also have their own 25 Year Rule (and Canada has a 15 Year Rule) so competition will be strong for the best classic cars.

Vehicles imported under this rule are subject to minor compliance requirements including fitment of child restraint points for rear seats (if required) and 17-digit VIN plate (for non-European models), as well as an approved engineer’s sign-off. Requirements vary depending on age and type of vehicle and usually cost under $1,000, although there may be additional costs if side intrusion bars or retractable seat belts are required.

Road registration is completely separate to the Import Approval process and is controlled by State and Territory regulations.

Left hand drive (LHD) vehicles are eligble for import under the 25 Year Rule but you should check with the Registration Authority in your State or Territory on the regulations that apply to the registration of LHD and modified vehicles as this varies and may be 30 years or older in some locations.

2)  SEVS

Applies to all vehicle models newer than 25 years where at least 3 months have passed since the model was first made available in another country.

Certain models that were sold here new can still be imported if they are “significantly different” versions of the locally sold model.

Significantly different is defined here

An application must initially be made for each model to be evaluated, approved and added to the RVS eligible list.

View the latest RVS approved models list here

A transition period between the old (MVSA) and new (RVS) regulations applies between 10 Dec 2019 and 1 July 2021. Models eligible for import under MVSA criteria will continue to be handled according to the old regulations while models only eligible for import the new RVS will be evaluated against the new eligibility criteria and added to a new RVS eligible models list, with the actual compliance approvals then processed under the old regulations (compliance package, sample vehicle arrangements) until the new RVS process is fully ready in 2021 (when the system will move to a simpler method using one-off approved model compliance packages that any workshop can purchase ‘off the shelf’).

SEVS has been substantially updated – new import eligibility criteria (big changes), different cost structure, increased monitoring and penalties.

Model information for the most popular SEVS imports to Australia in recent years.

View full list of SEVS Eligible Models

1st eligibility test – the same vehicle model CANNOT have been sold in Australia new (in full volume) by the manufacturer during the same time period.

This blocks many standard models of sedan, people mover and SUV sold new in Australia that you may be familiar with such as BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen, Peugot, Honda, Land Cruiser, Range Rover and so on – ie. if you could have bought the same year, make, model and specification new in Australia, then that vehicle cannot be imported secondhand under SEVS.

There is one interesting exception here – if an overseas model has design characteristics that are ‘significantly different’ to the locally sold model then it may be considered eligible for import as a different variant.

So if the manufacturer decided not to offer all variants for sale in Australia or a special commemorative model, you may be able to import one of those, either new or secondhand.

This will allow the import of a large number of models that have never been possible to import to Australia before.

Differences will be evaluated on a case by case basis, and an application form will need to be submitted to the Govt. together with supporting evidence.

What does significantly different mean ?

For vehicles of 12 tonnes or less (ie. regular passenger vehicles):

(a) the capacity, configuration or induction of an internal combustion engine;

Examples – 2L engine vs 1.8L engine, turbo / super charged vs normally aspirated.

(b) the type of motive power driving the engine or motor;

Examples – plug-in hybrid vehicle vs standard hybrid is considered significantly different, but running on unleaded petrol vs premium unleaded petrol is not.

(c) the transmission or drivetrain system;

Examples – different number of gears such as 6 speed vs 5 speed, manual transmission vs automatic, all wheel drive or rear wheel drive vs front wheel drive.

(d) the body shape;

Examples – different number of doors, coupe or sedan vs hatchback or wagon.

(e) the vehicle category;

(f) where the application is made on the basis of the mobility criterion – features designed to assist people with a disability;

Examples – disabled access vehicles with factory-fitted powered chairs for entry, rear ramps etc.

(g) or any other differences in the discretion of the Minister

A model may also be considered a significantly different variant if it exhibits differences in more than one of the following design characteristics:

– colour, upholstery, trim or other cosmetic features;

– same engine but different engine tuning or software;

– marketing name;

– other differences in the discretion of the Minister

Once a model passes the initial tests above, to be approved for import it must then meet any ONE of the following SIX criteria:

Performance – power to weight threshold

Must produce at least 110 kW/T (kilowatts per Tonne) if manufactured before 1 January 2020, or if manufactured after 1 January 2020 must produce at least 130 kW/T.

Environmental Performance – low emissions, alternate power source to internal combustion (of oil or gas), or micro-car (such as 660cc kei cars):

  • Originally designed and manufactured to use an alternate means of propulsion to internal combustion of gas or oil either exclusively, or in addition to an internal combustion engine, e.g. hybrid or fully electric;

  • Meets or exceeds the national road vehicle emissions standards at the time of application (or as determined by the Minister). This figure will change over time as vehicles generally become more fuel efficient);

  • Micro-car (kei-class car) with less than 660cc / 47kW, and under 3.4m long x 1.48m wide.

This allows a range of hybrid models such as the Toyota Estima hybrid and many kei cars not available to Australia before.

Browse the current hybrid electric import options

Mobility – originally manufactured or fitted from the factory with substantive specialist mobility features to assist people with disabilities. Features would include rear ramps for wheelchair access, lift up and out style powered access seats, and portable wheelchair car seats.

Rarity – total worldwide production of the vehicle ‘Make’ < 3000 units per year; or total worldwide production of the vehicle ‘Model’ < 1000 units per year; or total worldwide production of the vehicle ‘Variant’ < 100 vehicles per year.

*The production number thresholds are based on annual average over the life of the model.

*Left-hand drive vehicles imported under the rarity criterion will not require conversion to right-hand drive BUT will still need to meet relevant State or Territory registration requirements prior to road use (these vary between 0 and 30 years). In some cases this will mean a model can be imported, but can’t be road registered until old enough to meet the relevant LHD regulations for that location.

Left-hand drive – originally manufactured as a left-hand drive vehicle AND not available as an originally manufactured right hand drive vehicle in another world market.

Must be in one of the following vehicle categories:

(i) Passenger Car (MA);

(ii) Off-road Passenger Vehicle (MC);

(iii) Light Goods Vehicle (NA);

(iv) Medium Goods Vehicle (NB);

(v) Heavy Goods Vehicle (NC);

These vehicles will require conversion to right hand drive for safety reasons, at the time of compliance.

Campervans and Motorhomes – originally manufactured as a campervan or motorhome OR suitable for such modifications as would be necessary to convert it into a campervan or motorhome in compliance with the applicable standards determined by the Minister.

3) Personal Import Scheme (PIS)

You cannot use this import option if you are living in Australia.

Personal import” means more than just importing a vehicle yourself.

It is only available to Australian citizens or permanent residents returning home to Australia (permanently) after a period of living overseas AND migrants moving to Australia with a visa (or visa application) which allows permanent residence.

One vehicle is allowed every five years and only individuals can apply – either before entering Australia or within 6 months of entering.

The vehicle must be registered in the individual’s name overseas for more than 12 continuous months prior to the application for import approval.

There are significant restrictions on personal car imports, and full evidence is required when applying.

More information about residency / visa requirements and Personal vehicle import to Australia.

4) Race / Track

Virtually any vehicle can be imported for race use only providing you have a suitable CAMS license and can show a genuine need for the vehicle plus past motorsport participation.  If you are unsure whether you qualify you can query the Govt. directly. Include your reason for needing the car and your race history.

Vehicles imported this way can ONLY be used for racing and never road registered.

Important points to note about the new SEVS from 2019 onward

  • Standard diesel or petrol people movers (Estima, Delica, Elgrand etc.) which are currently imported as campervans are being phased out over a transition period, ending in 2021 / 22. We expect these to be naturally replaced in the market with similar hybrid versions.

  • A model is eligible for addition to the SEVS list once available in another country for 3 months (was previously 18 months). This allows the import of models which were released quite late in Australia, including the R35 GTR (2007 to January 2009 built models) and Nissan Leaf Gen 3 (2017 to 2019).

  • Pre-approved Govt. Model Reports will be used – to make compliance “cheaper, easier and more consistent” – catalytic convertors, new tyres and emissions testing may no longer be required.

  • No compliance quota for workshops.

  • Compliance plates will no longer be physically fitted to the car, instead they will be searchable by VIN on a publicly accessible online register.

  • Independent Authorised Vehicle Verifiers (AVV) to check all imports to ensure that compliance is done correctly, no structural damage / rust, genuine identity, odometer check – operation and consequences of inspection failure yet to be determined, expressions of interest for AVV’s being sought, inspection cost set by the market.

  • AVV Inspection results to be recorded on the National Exchange of Vehicle and Driver Information Services (NEVDIS) and publicly accessible via the PPSR (Personal Property Securities Register).

Not every model listed as eligible has compliance available.

Why ?

Registered Automotive Workshops (RAWs) invest considerable time and expense to add each additional model to their compliance schedule.

Until the system finishes transitioning from MVSA to RVS in July 2021, SEVS works on a quota system to limit the cars coming in, so each workshop can only comply a certain number of cars every year.

Whether compliance is available therefore depends on consumer demand and vehicle availability. Rare or older vehicles for example may be technically eligible for import but there are so few of them that setting up for compliance is not financially viable, or they are about to be available under the 25 Year Rule.

SEVS vehicles must be ‘complied’ to meet Australian Design Rules (ADR’s) by a Registered Automotive Workshop (RAW) before they can be registered and used on the road.

Compliance requirements vary depending on the age and type of vehicle and include items such as child restraint points, noise and emissions testing, and new tyres.

Once you have bought a suitable vehicle overseas, the RAW applies for the Import Approval using the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). This is generally processed by the Govt. with an Import Approval provided by email within 1 to 2 weeks.

The Import Approval is required for Customs clearance on arrival in Australia.

NO approved compliance workshop = NO Import Approval = NO entry

View List of Approved RAWS

Note that structural damage / repair / corrosion of more than 25mm is not acceptable under the SEVS criteria.  This can result in rejection of a vehicle by the compliance workshop meaning it can never be road registered, so you should only source a vehicle through someone you trust.

View the Govt. website for full details of all import options.

Updated Vehicle Import Regulations 2019

After 5 years of talk and political back and forth, the Road Vehicle Standards Bill 2018 was finally passed by the Australian Senate on 27 November 2018 and received Royal Assent on 10 December 2018.

The Road Vehicle Standards Rules 2019 (PDF) under the Road Vehicle Standards Act 2018 controls the day to day operations of the import regulations including import eligibility criteria and how the Registered Automotive Workshop (RAW) and Authorised Vehicle Verifier (AVV) system works.

The associated costs (application fees and other charges) are yet to be provided in a final Cost Recovery Statement – we will provide a further update when available from the Govt.

Proposed processing time for applications is 30 business days.

So what will the 2019 Import Regulation Changes actually mean for the vehicle import industry ?

The import of standard people movers will probably be replaced in time with similar hybrid people movers.

Other models such as hybrid sedans and SUV’s, Kei cars and fully electric cars that fit within the new environmental criteria will become popular imports as fuel prices rise.

Compliance costs should reduce, while import quality should increase thanks to an independent inspection system coupled with reporting via the publicly accessible NEVDIS system.

With the cost of true collector cars that meet the stringent SEVS criteria rising beyond the ability of most people to afford them coupled with a greater global focus on climate change, we expect fuel efficient vehicles to form the bulk of imports to Australia from 2020 and beyond.

There will still be some interesting classic cars available under the new 25 Year Rule, however for some rare or expensive cars where Australians will be competing heavily with other buyers around the world, it will be necessary to plan ahead for pre-purchase before the required age is reached, and factor-in some storage prior to import.

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