Info & Resources

Importing a Motor Vehicle

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Written by John Casey

Last month I related my experience of buying a car in Jamaica. This month I looked at an alternative. If you have a love relationship with your present vehicle, you might want to bring it to Jamaica with you along with all your household goods. After reading this article you can come to terms with just how serious that love affair is. What you are about to read is the story of a friend who imported his 2006 Ford Freestyle from Florida and information from the Sunday Observer Automotive section dated February 17th, 2008.

The first thing Robert did was contact the Jamaican Trade Board to obtain the paperwork that included guidelines and requirements of importing a vehicle. The best way to obtain this information is on their website, www.tradeboard.gov.jm. If you purchase the motor vehicle import license online it costs less than applying in person. The online fee is slightly more than US $50.00 and nearly $5.00 more than if you apply in person.

Then Robert had to find a freight forwarder to ship the car from Florida to Montego Bay via Kingston. It is my understanding that freighters go to Kingston first as most foreign ports with service to Jamaica don’t carry enough goods destined for Montego Bay. Montego Bay receives one freighter from Kingston per week which is made up from all the ships with a Jamaican destination.

Right from the beginning, Robert had a slight problem. His vehicle was too big to fit in a container, thus it had to be driven on the ship and secured. Had he been able to fit it in a container, he could have included other goods along with it. Before any vehicle is loaded on a ship it has to be x-rayed for the same reason your luggage is x-rayed at the airport. This tends to eliminate smuggling of guns or anything else into Jamaica.

Either through your freight forwarder or on your own, you have to acquire the services of a custom broker in Jamaica. Everything being shipped to Jamaica worth $5,000 US or more is required by law to have a custom broker. This broker acts as your agent when dealing with the custom agents at the dock. Their expertise is vital in negotiating a fair deal on the associated fees.

One important factor that must be addressed before dealing with customs is to obtain a TRN(Tax Registration Number). This is an easy process which can be done in a few minutes and is free of charge. However, this can only be done in person at one of the many Inland Revenue offices on the island. All you need to obtain a temporary TRN is a valid passport. The permanent TRN can be picked up on a subsequent trip to the island. No government fees can be accepted without this card.

“Import tariffs affixed to motor vehicles are linked primarily to the engine’s CC rating and tonnage, in the case of trucks. According to the Trade Board figures, motor cars, including station wagons, under 1,000cc, attract a duty of 67% of the value of the vehicle. Cars exceeding 1,000cc, but under 1,500cc, attract 83% duty. For cars above 1,500cc rating but under 2,000cc the duty is 94%, while those above 2,000cc but not exceeding 3,000cc attract a 121% duties. Cars exceeding 3,000cc(gasoline) or 3,200cc(diesel) attract 180% duty.”

This explains the fee structure which is used to establish what it will cost you based on the value of your vehicle. This is where your custom broker negotiates the best deal possible for you. The broker takes your notarized bill of sale and presents it to the custom agent. The custom agent then checks the blue book and other books to determine the appropriate book value of the vehicle. The agent can either accept your bill of sale or demand the book value. This is when the negotiations begin. An experienced custom broker, like a good defense attorney, can make a case for your lower bill of sale. But in the end, you are at the mercy of the customs agent. If you don’t agree with the agent’s assessment, your only course of action is to send the vehicle back, a rather costly alternative.

What can I ship into Jamaica? Any new car of course, but a used car can’t be older than three years and four years for a commercial vehicle. One stipulation is you can’t sell the vehicle for three years. This will be clearly noted on the title. You are also limited to importing two vehicles every three years. Caution: failure to obtain a proper import license can cause you to be fined “three times the value of the vehicle plus suffer the seizure of the vehicle!”

Now that Robert’s car has been cleared by customs, he is free to drive it away. He did not turn in his motor vehicle plates in Florida because he knew he was allowed a few days to drive with them in Jamaica. Before he could drive on the roads, he first had to obtain car insurance. His first stop after leaving the wharf was to go to the Inland Revenue office to pay for a “fitness” test. From there, it was a 3-4 mile drive to the only inspection station in Montego Bay. It was there that Robert encountered a problem. His Ford Freestyle was designed for driving only on the right side of the road. Hence, his headlights were pointed somewhat to the right which kept the beams from shining into the eyes of oncoming drivers. Normally a quick trip to a repair garage to adjust the lights to the left is all that would be required. In Robert’s case, he owns one of the few vehicles that cannot be adjusted. On returning to the inspection station, the inspector reluctantly passed the car’s fitness test. Someone, somewhere, in the process neglected to take note of the fixed lights on this make and model car. This vehicle never should have been allowed in Jamaica.

From there the next stop was to get an “engineer’s” report otherwise called a valuation report. This is required by the insurance company to establish a rate. My insurance company requires one every two years to assure them of the condition of the car. This is done to protect them in case I was in an accident and neither reported it or fixed the damage and later had a reported accident requiring the insurance company to total the vehicle. It really wouldn’t be worth the full value at that point.

In the four years I have been writing these articles I have neglected to mention one very important thing for prospective drivers in Jamaica. You must have a written, notarized letter from your insurance company stating your driving record for the past 3 years. Without this, you would have to pay the highest premium for your coverage.

Now that you know most of what is involved in importing a vehicle you can make some calculations on your own vehicle based on Jamaican requirements. Keep in mind these calculations are only for the vehicle’s tariff. You would still have to add the fees for the freight forwarder, custom broker, licensing and inspection, and insurance. Now with all this knowledge you can determine the love affair with your present vehicle. Most people think it is cheaper to buy in Jamaica than to import. What do you say?

About the author

John Casey