Understanding customs regulations is very important to doing business in Japan. Having a local representative in Japan that understands customs regulations and/or working with a freight forwarder or customs specialist can be extremely helpful. The Japan Customs website, especially the Customs Answer FAQ, is also a good source of information.
Any person wishing to import goods must declare them to the Director-General of Customs, obtain an import permit (after examination by the authorities), and pay Customs duty and excise tax, if any. Nearly all customs difficulties result from first-time applications. Japanese customs officials are generally helpful when it comes to explaining procedures and regulations to overcome these issues. Employing an import agent or customs broker may be necessary to help facilitate customs entry.
All importers must file a declaration with Japan Customs. For most goods, the declaration must be made after the goods have been taken into a bonded customs (hozei) area or other designated place; items requiring approval by the Director-General of Customs can be declared before they are taken to the hozei area. The declaration must include details of the quantity and value of the goods to be imported as well as an invoice, a packing list, freight account, insurance certificate, and certificate of origin (for, inter alia, preferential tariff rates), where applicable. Additional documentation may be required, for example, for goods requiring an import license or health certificate. Once the documentation is verified by Customs, an import permit is issued.
Imports are valued according to their c.i.f. (cost, insurance + freight) value, which is taken to be the transaction value of the imports. Customs duty can be paid through a multi-payment network system, which connects teller institutions (government authorities) with financial institutions. No fee is charged by the government for the use of this system; however, the financial institutions involved may collect variable fees. The system is managed by the Japan Multi-Payment Network Management Organization (JAMMO), a non-profit organization established by major financial institutions in Japan.
Only institutions that participate in the organization may use the system. Written advance rulings are issued at the written request of importers and other parties concerned. These rulings can be published on the Customs website with the applicants’ consent. See more information on Japan’s Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) program.
The typical time between arrival of goods and the granting of import permission is between two and three days for sea cargo and about a day for air cargo (including time required under the “immediate import permission system upon arrival”). However, under the “immediate import permission system upon arrival,” import permission may be granted as soon as cargo entry is confirmed. To be eligible for this system, importers must file a preliminary declaration online (through the Nippon Automated Cargo Clearance System (NACCS) submitted before cargo entry and provides the results of the examination.
Complaints against a Japan Customs’ decision may be made to the Director-General of Customs within two months of the decision. Further appeals may be lodged with the Minister of Finance within one month of the decision by the Director-General of Customs.
Telephone contacts for Customs Counselors throughout Japan can be found through Japan Customs.