Importing Kei Trucks From Japan For Small Businesses in the United States

Bringing a Kei truck home from Japan is simpler than one might imagine; it just takes good research and a careful attention to the necessary steps.

What other papers do you need? Among other documents necessary for clearance (the establishment of legitimate title) is the manufacturing date of your vehicle. Tell ‘em I said it’s important to give that exactly right, ’cause Customs can detail [detain] your car for any administrative violation and they can seize it for criminal violation.


Buying and shipping a Kei Truck from Japan, while it is definitely cheaper than a full-size truck, can add up quickly.

Auction fees will be required and additional costs for shipping (Ro-Ro or container) to and from the motherland, as well as duty charges may be imposed. These are critical considerations.

When it’s driven into the US, it’s shipped to the designated port of entry, and you might have to pick it up yourself at a warehouse before getting clearance from US customs and taking it to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to register it for road use. This is complicated, and you need to know your responsibilities as an owner.

The DMV may have specific rules or regulations pertaining to safety, emissions and other requirements for kei trucks. You definitely want to have a professional inspect your vehicle and avoid making modifications that don’t comply with existing rules. More likely, you’ll hop online and post questions in one of the kei owner forums where there is a strong community of techy fellows that type out helpful guidance on a daily basis. Or you might browse one of the dozens of new US-registered kei Facebook groups, where similarly confused kei owners can ask questions and get feedback from similarly confused kei owners.


Kei trucks are very durable and can last an incredibly long time. In fact, several current models, made by some of the major manufacturers like Suzuki (their Carry) and Toyota (their Acty), have been on the market for multiple decades. Due to their dimensions – their overall lengths are only 3.4 metres, less than a third of the length of a normal sports utility vehicle – they’re perfect for various small business ventures or even one’s personal lifestyle, but these petite vehicles can travel up to 75 mph on rural roads and, because regulations for their construction and use are not onerous, they are easy to maintain and extremely cost-effective.

Such vehicles can be shipped to the US by RoRo or container. Let us assume that this will take 8-10 weeks. They arrive at a US port and are stored in a warehouse. When cleared you will receive a Bill of Lading and export certificate.

At that point, your Kei is considered to be imported, and you’ll be able to make arrangements to register the vehicle for use on US roads. This can depend on the state you live in, but generally will consist of sending in paperwork and paying the applicable fees, plus making some modifications to meet local safety and emissions standards.

Shipping options

You’ll generally buy a Kei truck by importing it directly from Japan. This process takes about 8-10 weeks, and you end up waiting for a bit before your vehicle finally comes over to the US , but the upside is that your vehicle will be relatively clean, and you’ll know the parts you need in order to keep it running will still be available. It will have been inspected many times over, and it will have been maintained.

To import a Japanese Kei truck, you have to jump a few hurdles. It’s not easy, but not that hard, if you know what you’re doing. First, you have to find an honest exporter who’ll guide you through the myriad murky but necessary twists of U.S import-regulation proceedings, and equally murky but necessary twists of the shipping-industry yarn. A few forms will be proffered to you by your local DMV and dutifully filed. All this means that there won’t be a walk-up window where you can hand over a few furuncu and swerve away in your new ride. You’ll have to wait a while.


Even if a Kei truck passed a Loveday’s cow test, it wouldn’t necessarily make it past US streets rights-of-way, small-business owners. Loveday cites Kei trucks as the tree cullers’ transport of choice in the US – if they could only be made street-legal. Still, many Kei vehicles aren’t street-legal in any state and are often restricted to off-road or utility use only. They aren’t subject to DOT or EPA standards, but some are subject to speed limits and other restrictions.

Importing a used Kei truck is usually more straightforward than one might initially think, although it can be challenging if you are not well-supported by people who understand your budget and can direct you toward the right resources and partners. My best advice is to find a legitimate dealer in Japan who is willing to put the truck into your custody and provide you with an original Bill of Lading and export certificate, as well as RoRo (roll-on/roll-off) or container shipping.

Once the transaction is done, the seller will arrange for the vehicle to be loaded on a ship and sent to the US. You must submit an ISF 10+2 declaration to the port of origin through your customs broker at this time.

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