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Guide to importing a car into Singapore

With the Singapore dollar high and bargains to be found around the world, it's no surprise many Singaporeans are attempting to import a used car.

It seems that oil – not blood – runs in the veins of many Singaporeans. While we have a wide range of cars available in Singapore, there are also many of us who love and appreciate certain American or continental cars that are unavailable in Singapore. This guide will show you how you can import those cars into Singapore yourself, as well as save a sizeable sum for your time and effort.

Read the details of LTA’s self-importation and registration guidelines here

To prevent any unnecessary delays, ensure that you will have all the necessary documentation on hand for import clearance. Refer to the list of documents listed on Step 3 and retrieve them from the manuafacturer before shipping the car to Singapore.

What costs are involved?

There are many charges associated with importing a vehicle from overseas. Charges include:

  • Shipping and customs costs. Shipping costs include the costs of customs both in the country you’re exporting from and in Singapore, quarantine inspection fees, cleaning, international freight, port service charges and insurance for the shipment.
  • Used car surcharge. If you import a used vehicle (up to a maximum of 3 years of age), a used car surcharge of $10,000 will be payable.
  • Excise duty. For all passenger and classic cars, there will be a 20% excise duty levied on the customs value of the vehicle.
  • Goods and services tax (GST). Depending on the party declaring the payment permit, a GST of 7% will either be levied on the sum of the vehicle’s customs value and duties payable, or the sum of the last selling price and duties payable.
  • Compliance costs. The cars may need minor modifications to make them roadworthy in Singapore. This can include disabling unapproved light globes, sunshades, tinted films and spoilers.
  • Registration and insurance. Just as with any car you’ll need to get this registered once it’s compliant and ready to drive. So you’ll need to pay for registration fee (RF), additional registration fee (ARF) and bid for a Certificate of Entitlement (COE). It’s also mandatory for your vehicle to be covered by third-party insurance as a minimum.
  • Vehicle Emissions Scheme (VES). Depending on your car’s emissions tier, VES may either not affect you, provide a rebate or require you to pay a surcharge.

You’ll need to consider the documentation needed for an import, the timeframes needed to receive permits, the requirements of each government agency involved and whether or not the car you’re importing will need modifications carried out to make it legal to drive in Singapore.

If the car you’re buying from overseas isn’t for sale in Singapore currency, then minimising the costs on foreign exchange and international transfer could be of benefit to you. Using a low cost international money transfer option, such as OFX, could save you a considerable amount of money.

2. Arrange for your car to be shipped over

Now the expensive part begins. You can either import a car to Singapore using sea or air freight. Bear in mind that it is always cheaper to ship by sea even though this option will take a little bit longer. The easiest way to get this done is through a reputable shipping agent who will help you with the finer details.

Next, you’ll need to pay for the above-mentioned shipping costs and have the vehicle delivered to Singapore.

3. Applying for an assessment of the vehicle’s customs value by Singapore Customs

Once the vehicle has been purchased and shipped to Singapore, you may apply for an assessment of the vehicle’s customs value. To do so, you’ll need to ensure that the car meets all the criteria listed above and have the following documents ready (if applicable):

  • Commercial invoice
  • Bill of lading
  • Freight and insurance invoices
  • Bills/receipts relating to incidental charges incurred during shipment
  • Payment documents for the purchase (e.g. telegraphic transfer slip)
  • Manufacturer’s letter confirming the date of vehicle’s manufacture
  • Registration/De-registration documents from the country of exportation
  • Full manufacturer’s specification card (a listing of standard and optional equipment on the vehicle, unique for every vehicle)
  • Completion Inspection Certificate (CIC) Paper
  • Clear photos of the odometer (displaying mileage), interior, exterior and engine/chassis number (for used vehicles)

You’ll then need to fill out the application form and submit it along with the documents listed above by printing them out and mailing them in. If the customs require extra information, they’ll most likely email or contact you directly. If you have yet to hear from them after a week, give the Singapore Customs a call and check on the status of your application.

Once the application is approved, the Singapore Customs will send you an approval letter from containing details of the vehicle, such as unit price and incoterms.

4. Obtain an Inward Cargo Permit

Upon receiving the approval letter, arrange with your shipping agent to obtain an Inward Cargo Clearance Permit. Your freight forwarder will have to submit an In-Payment (Duty and GST) permit through Singapore Customs’ TradeNet® system. At this stage, the fees applicable are the permit and processing fee, Excise Duty and Goods and Services Tax (GST). These fees will be payable to the Singapore Customs through inter-bank GIRO.

5. Clearance and registration of the car

Once the In-payment (Duty and GST) permit is approved, the car will be allowed to dock on land awaiting registration. For registration, you will have to prepare all the importation documents for verification and registration of the car with LTA.

You can decide if you want to register the car yourself or arrange for a dealer to register the car on your behalf. For more details on how to register the car for usage on public roads, you may refer to the guide on ONE.MOTORING’s website.

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How to find assistance with your import

If the above process sounds long and arduous, it’s because it is. Our government wants to protect the public, industry and the environment from the impacts that imported vehicles can have, so has introduced the steps above to ensure that vehicles that don’t comply with safety and environmental standards can’t enter the country. If you need assistance with your import, consider the following:

  • Import agent. Many companies are available to act as an agent in the event that you wish to bring a car to Singapore from overseas. The company take care of all the groundwork for you until it arrives in Singapore.
  • Buyer’s agent. These agents can source the car on your behalf, send you correspondence and then arrange for the required steps to bring the car if you’re happy with the car.
  • Online forum. You can get advice and find out about other people’s experiences by heading to an online forum. Popular forums include MyCarForum and HardwareZone.
  • Singapore Customs. These guys have the final say on whether or not you can bring a vehicle into Singapore, so you’ll want to intimately know how the legal requirements work.
  • sgCarMart. sgCarMart is a platform for both new and used cars that lists the prices for a huge range of cars. This can help you decide whether or not it’s worth importing a car as opposed to buying it in Singapore and will tell you how much your car should be worth.

Why would I want to import a car?

There are many reasons why you may want to bring a car from overseas to your doorstep:

  • You want to import a car not available for purchase in Singapore
  • You’ve recently moved to Singapore and want to bring your car over
  • You want to import a car which you’ve seen available cheaper overseas

The benefits for these reasons include:

  • You can pay much less than buying the same car in Singapore
  • You can drive a car not commonly seen on our streets
  • You can save money not having to sell your car overseas only to buy the same model in Singapore

However, there are some disadvantages of importing a car too. It may be a struggle to source parts for your car if you’re having any mechanical problems and experience long waiting times – so there may be a period when you can’t get from point A to point B.

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