Small in Size, Big in Possibilities: A Guide to Kei Truck Imports

A Guide to Kei Truck Imports-Japan's compact yet versatile vehicles

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As the global economy transforms the world into one giant marketplace, it is becoming possible to buy virtually anything from almost anywhere. Americans are proving just how small the world is by setting their sights on importing small, light-duty vehicles called Kei trucks from Japan where they are manufactured.

Despite their almost cartoon-like proportions and engine capacity restrictions, these trucks are popular workhorses in many Japanese industries, including agriculture, construction, retail delivery services, and small businesses. They are versatile, often used domestically for camping and family day trips, and are a common sight on roads throughout Japan.

Their popularity extends beyond their stocky resilience – the trucks are easy to navigate on the narrow streets of Japan, are exceptionally fuel-efficient, and their maintenance is low-cost. Add to that their capacity to hold more cargo than similarly priced vehicles,
while still taking up very little space on congested streets, and it’s clear why their popularity has persisted in Japan and is growing in the US.

Fueling this desire to import Kei trucks into America is the increasingly unaffordable cost of used cars. With a similarly stacked truck costing about $30,000 on average (without interest costs if you take out a loan) in the US, Kei trucks – with an imported cost of between $6,000 – $14,000 – are an appealing alternative to economically wary Americans.

If you are one of those people whose interest has been piqued by this unique solution to driving affordability, keep reading to find out how to go about importing a Kei truck from Japan.

Some Things To Know Before You Start

There are a few important laws and regulations about the importation of vehicles into the US to consider before you decide what type of Kei truck to buy and if you will even be able to drive one in your state. For example:

  • Vehicle Importation Standards: The US has particular standards for importing vehicles. Some of these are related to ‘eco’ or ‘green’ concerns such as the vehicle’s emissions, while others are related to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) which lays out the minimum performance requirements for vehicles in the US. Some Kei trucks, due to their small size and unique specifications, may not meet all the requirements to be imported to the US as roadworthy
  • Off-Road Use Only: In those cases, Kei trucks can be imported for off-road or utility use only and would be limited to private property or designated off-road areas. This is not an ideal use for these vehicles, so unless this is your specific intent, it is preferable to ensure that the truck you choose meets all the vehicle importation standards.
  • 25-Year Import Rule: Kei trucks that are less than 25 years old are unlikely to meet the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. However, once a Kei truck reaches 25 years of age, it can be imported under the “25-year rule” as a “classic” vehicle, and won’t be subject to these same restrictions. That’s why Kei trucks manufactured over 25 years ago account for most of these types of vehicles imported to the US.
  • Modifications and Compliance: Should you wish to get a newer model you may have to make substantial modifications to the truck to comply with U.S. regulations. These modifications may include changing headlights, altering emissions systems, and adding safety features, and could become expensive and overly complex.
  • Individual State Regulations: While federal regulations apply to vehicle importation, individual states in the USA may have their own rules regarding Kei trucks or non-compliant vehicles. It’s essential to research the specific regulations in your state to determine if Kei trucks can be used legally. For example in Pennsylvania, they can only be registered as off-road vehicles, and in California, they are difficult to register at all.

It’s important that you know exactly what type of Kei truck you are importing and that you are completely transparent about its manufacturing date and any other test results or specifications. Customs has the right to detain anything for inspection but can actually seize and take ownership of the truck if there is an administrative or criminal violation. For example, if you assert that the truck was manufactured in July 1990 but there is evidence somewhere else that does not line up with that (like a seatbelt tag or engine label) then your vehicle can be seized.

What is the Process?

All of the laws, requirements and logistics surrounding importing a truck into the US can make it seem like a daunting task. But, the truth is, that if you work through the process systematically and make use of the right resources, importing a single vehicle for personal use can actually be rather simple.


Step 1: Hire a freight forwarder

Arranging for your vehicle to get onboard a ship to the US is not a step you want to try and do by yourself. It takes a lot of experience and connections to different logistics partners in Japan to get that done. A freight forwarder will liaise with different carriers to get your vehicle from the seller to the port, and loaded onto the right cargo ship for the best price. In addition to the ship that will make the journey from Japan to the US, you might need to use a truck or rail (maybe even an airplane) in Japan itself, and this is not something you can arrange efficiently on your own.

Step 2: Buy your vehicle

Bearing in mind all the issues discussed above, choose the Kei truck you want to import. You will obviously want to take into account the basics such as price, condition, and mileage, but you will also want to check how old the truck is too. Keep in mind the 25-year import rule discussed above so that you’ll know what to expect based on the age of your truck.

Step 3: Obtain customs and port clearance

There are two ways you can go about getting customs and port clearance – either hire a customs broker to do all the paperwork for you, or handle it on your own. Unlike freight forwarding, processing customs documentation can be done yourself, and it is an opportunity to save yourself several hundred dollars. Services such as EezyImport walk you through the submission process and make it simple and easy to do.

It’s important to get this step right to avoid costly delays and other penalties, but this simply requires an organized, thorough approach with the right resources at hand.

Step 4: Register the vehicle in the US

Now it starts to get exciting! Once you have navigated the import process it is time to register your Kei truck with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). You will need to submit the following documents (and maybe some extras depending on your state):

  • Original Bill of Lading (BOL)
  • CBP Form 7501
  • Japan Export Certificate
  • Vehicle Title or Proof of
  • Ownership
  • Proof of Insurance
  • Trip Permit


Once your registration is complete and you have paid the necessary DMV fees, you are ready to drive your Kei truck.

Step 5: Collect it from the inbound port

You will receive a notice of arrival and freight invoice from the shipping line that will also specify where your truck will be unloaded. It’s always advisable to call the port and speak with the import specialist there to confirm whether your truck has arrived and is ready for pick-up. . If there is no hold they will discharge the truck for you and you can go and collect it.

Join the Kei Truck Party - It's Easier Than You Think

Just the thought of importing a Kei truck from Japan can initially feel overwhelming, but with the right guidance and partners, it is a relatively simple process.

By conducting thorough research, following the necessary steps, and complying with import regulations, you can successfully bring a Kei truck to the US and become part of this growing trend.

EezyImport is the right partner to help you navigate the complex world of customs clearance. We make it easy to do yourself with our easy-to-use, innovative customs solutions. Create a free account and learn more!

Learn more on how to import japanese cars
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eezyimport is an online platform and is not a licensed customs broker. However, we work closely with a third-party licensed customs broker who can assist with any entry-related issues.

eezyimport is an online platform and is not a licensed customs broker. However, we work closely with a third-party licensed customs broker who can assist with any entry-related issues.

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