How to: Buy a Motorcycle in Japan Part 2

You may recall reading the story we published last November detailing Malinda’s purchase of a Honda NSR250 in Japan. Back by popular demand, Malinda has shared her experience with importing the bike home to Canada. Enjoy!

After spending two weeks exploring Japan on my new-to-me Honda NSR250, the time finally came to ship it back to Canada. I had already made the arrangements long before I even set foot in Japan, so it would be fairly straightforward. Or so I thought. In reality, I found myself in a worst-case scenario situation just three days before I was to fly home myself. Seeking clarification to the shipping company’s vague instructions, communication dropped off entirely and I had to start from scratch. Although the process was lengthy and stressful at times, seeing things through from start to finish meant I learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. Hopefully my experience will save others some of the same headaches.

First Things First:
Before you even entertain the thought of purchasing a motorcycle overseas, it is important to do your research to ensure that it can be imported and registered in Canada. This will determine if you are the proud owner of a rare JDM bike that can be ridden and enjoyed or are on the hook to send it back from whence it came.

According to Transport Canada our borders are open to the following:
1. Vehicles that are 15 years of age, or older.
2. Brand new vehicles that comply with all Canadian regulations.
3. Competition vehicles that are designed exclusively for closed course competition and bear all the necessary labels.

The requirements are fairly standard for both cars and motorcycles. A full list is included on the Transport Canada website. It is important to note that if you are importing a motorcycle into Canada from the United States, the Registrar of Imported Vehicles will also need to be involved.

The Logistics:
My initial setback sums up my overall experience. Most shipping companies operated as though they did not want my business. Unanswered questions, emails and phone calls, hours spent waiting on hold listening to eternal loops of bad music; it was enough to drive a person mad. Most shipping companies will work exclusively with commercial exporters and not individuals. The next biggest challenge I faced was finding a company that had experience shipping motorcycles.

Dealing with agents that lack experience in this particular area could send you on a hopeless quest for documentation that is unnecessary or nearly impossible to obtain. For example, I was told by one company that I would need to provide a letter from Honda identifying every recall for the bike since it was first manufactured in Japan. Another told me I would require an official letter from Honda confirming the age, make and model of the motorcycle. If you have ever dealt with a manufacturer before, you know that this is simply not going to happen.

Feeling skeptical, I frantically continued to shop around for another logistics company. Thankfully, I got in touch with Fast Freight Forwarding based in Etobicoke, Ontario. Once I began working with them, everything fell into place effortlessly. With established contacts in over 125 countries, including three in Japan, I received a quote from Leon Parent, the company’s owner, in less than 48 hours. Because the company was well established and had a lot of experience shipping personal items (including motorcycles), I got immediate and helpful responses to all of my questions. This was a welcome relief from my experience up until this point. Evidently, the only documentation that was required to clear customs in Japan was a copy of the ownership and bill of sale! Had I not shopped around, the bike would still be sitting in Japan and I would be would slowly going out of my mind while waiting on hold with Honda.

Preparing the Shipment (Crating):
I found it surprising that despite the large number of car exporters in Japan, none of the ones I contacted were equipped to deal with motorcycles. In addition to purging the bike, preparing it for export is a much more manual process. The bike will also need to be crated before being placed in a container via forklift, whereas a car can simply be rolled in and strapped down.

Crating a motorcycle can get very expensive, but viable less expensive options are available. In order to be admitted into Canada, wooden crates must be built using treated wood that bears an “IPPC” stamp, an international standard to protect plant resources from the spread of invasive pests. I had my bike crated independently which delayed the process as the entire crate must be taken into an IPPC approved facility and heat treated as one unit.

Malinda’s crated NSR250.

Plywood, particle board or fibre board are much easier to find and significantly less expensive. These materials are treated which make them exempt from the regulation. No trip to an IPPC facility required. Do yourself a massive favor and have a crate built out of plywood and take out insurance. You will save yourself a big headache and a lot of money. My initial quote for an IPPC crate was in the ballpark of $1,100 CAD. That is significantly more than what I paid for the plywood crate and insurance combined.

Leon also shared a few suggestions that cut down on crating costs. If purchasing the motorcycle through a dealership, ask if they have an additional crate to spare. As motorcycles are commonly delivered in crates, you may be able to get a crate that will otherwise be discarded. If you are able to coordinate a shipment of 10 bikes, they will be strapped down in a 20-foot container rather than crated. You and your friends will save the entire crating expense and can divide the costs of the shipment.

The Fees
The cost to ship the motorcycle from Yokohama to Vancouver by ship and Vancouver to Ontario by rail came to roughly $2,400 CAD. This covered export customs clearance in Japan, terminal handling charges, ocean freight charges, fuel and security charges.
Insurance can be purchased for an additional 3.5 per cent of the declared value. If there were damages to the crate and the bike, the cargo will be deemed mishandled and the value of the contents will be covered. However, if the bike was damaged due to being improperly crated, you are on your own.

Clearing Customs in Canada
You must act fast as soon as you are notified by the Freight Forwarder that the bike has arrived in Canada. There is a good chance that the bike will not be released on the same day, as the VIN will likely need to be verified and a soil test conducted. You are only given a few days to pick up the shipment before you start incurring storage expenses from the warehouse. The expenses are determined by the size of the shipment and the number of days it sits in the warehouse (including weekends). Luckily the CBSA is open 21 hours a day every day of the week.

Clearing Customs in Canada was easy if you are prepared and arrive with the appropriate documentation. This includes:
• Passport
• Original bill of sale
• Ownership (original copy)
• Arrival notice (which is provided by the Freight Forwarder)

After going through your documentation, you will be required to pay HST on the value of the bike. The CBSA agent will then prepare a stamped release form, which you will then take to the warehouse to pick up your shipment. Note that it will not be uncrated for you there, so you must ensure that your truck or trailer has enough clearance to fit the entire crate. The warehouse employees will forklift the crate into your truck or trailer, but after that you are on your own to remove the crate from the premises and discard once you unpack the motorcycle.

Loading up and headed for home.

Finding a good forwarder to work with truly is the difference between a quick, simple process and a daunting, overwhelming task. It took me months to find an experienced freight forwarder that I trusted to get the job done. However, once I did, things moved along seamlessly. It took 32 days for my bike to arrive from Japan to Ontario and once I started dealing with Fast Freight Forwarding, the process was largely hands-off, allowing me to focus my efforts on the fun stuff – like shopping for new aftermarket parts and planning where to ride!

32 days later, Malinda is reunited with her bike. Time to ride!


  1. Hi!

    Nice article. From where did you chose your motorcycle. Can you share the website of Japanese Motorcycle exporters to Canada.


  2. I can totally understand how you like the NSR. Back in around 1995, I did a group ride with someone who had a NSR 250 PGM4, at the time I was just licensed. We have no idea how that guy were able to registered the bike, but man, it was such a performer. All we could do was follow him and smell the smokey exhaust. I would love to have one in Vancouver. Even a CBR400 RR would be nice. Now with your experience in this area, you can set something up and help people to import them over, in B.C. there is a large Asian population.

  3. Well done Ms. Peck. What an adventure and I love your choice in bike. Hope you have lots of years of fun and safe riding. Cam

  4. I would have chosen a bike from a local shelter. There are many fine motorcycles in every community that need forever homes. Nobody really needs a purebred.

Join the conversation!