How to Import a Car to the Solomon Islands
We threw the towel in, sold our old hunk of junk and imported a new car. Worth it? Completely.
Cars that come to Honiara have short lives and frequent visits to the mechanics
We’ve had a mechanic that racked up hundreds of extra kilometres, a mechanic that gave us two flat tyres, a mechanic who kept our car for weeks rather than admit he had no idea how to fix it.
Can we recommend a great mechanic? Nope.
So if you have the money and the patience, importing a car is a great option and relatively easy.
As there is no information online, we have provided you this handy guide to importing a car in the Solomon Islands.
How to Import a car to the Solomons Islands
Pre-step 1: Work for someone/something that gives you tax exempt privilege from customs duties and excise fees e.g. be a diplomat.
If you don’t have this superpower, you will be looking at a hefty 34% extra costs, calculated from the combined price of the vehicle and the cost of freight in order for Solomon Islands customs to release your vehicle from the docks. The heavier your car is, the more you’ll pay to import it – a five door car is a nice-to-have, not a must-have.
Step 1: Do some Online Shopping
Most imported cars here are Japanese and if you want to make life easy for yourself when your car breaks down and needs parts, Japanese cars are your best bet. Toyotas, Hyundais, or Mitsubishis are safe options. Good luck to whoever imported that BMW roadster we’ve seen driving around Honiara.
We used JapaneseVehicles (if you’re reading this JapaneseVehicles, please contact us for details on how you can send us the endorsement money). Other popular Japanese import sites are BeForward, and Autorec judging by all of the bumper stickers you see on cars around town.
Go through the website process, and pay for it using a foreign bank account because most local banks won’t let you transact more than SBD 8,000 per day.
Step 2: Wait
The vehicle company will take some time to arrange the shipping documents for your vehicle and you’ll get a number of papers sent to you during the next two weeks. Once your docs are emailed to you, the vehicle will be packed onboard a ship from Japan braving the Pacific to come to you. Shipping usually takes around 4-6 weeks. For us, it took five weeks from the day we made the payment to the vehicle arriving in Honiara.
While you are waiting…
Step 3: Get a Clearing Agent
You can’t just show up at the dock when your ship arrives and ask for the vehicle. You need to get an authorised clearing agent to do the legwork for you. This clearing agent will visit 3 or 4 different government offices to deal with whatever bureaucratic craziness is required on your behalf. So, find an agent, meet up with him a few days before your ship arrives, and he will tell you the various fees you need to pay to those government offices and harbour services (these are unavoidable fees separate from the 34% import tax).
You would think this information would be easily available so you can do it yourself, but nooooope. The only way to get the info is from a guy whose number you got by asking around the docks. Give your agent the cash and he’ll go sort it out. It’s a lot of forms, but he will give you all the receipts from all the agencies.
If you need to pay the import tax, like us, and unless you have your own cheque book (why would you?) you will need to physically go to the bank yourself as the agency does not accept cash – no, your agent won’t be able to do this for you. Your agent will give you the tax form, you go to the bank, and get a bank cheque (it only took us 2.5 hours this time). Give bank cheque to your agent and he’ll pay it for you.
Our clearing agent, Berry, was recommended to us by a customs officer at the docks. His fee was SBD 500. Contact him on 757 6252. Would use again because he has a cool name.
Step 4: Pick up your Sweet Ride
Once the ship from Japan docks at the harbour, your clearing agent should be able to get it out and on the streets of Honiara within a few days. Ours took a few extra days because a boat of navy mens were blocking the harbour with their boat. Woo new car!
Skip ahead option: You can get your clearing agent to register the vehicle for you but if you want to do it yourself, read on.
Step 5: Register your Vehicle
You don’t want to be driving your car around for too long without a number plate so don’t let this step fester. Registering your vehicle is the best and worst step in this process.
Go to IRD, the blue gated building at the Town Ground roundabout. Go to counter 2 with one of these forms filled out along with your vehicle import documents.
Despite their official opening time of 8:30 am, they won’t open until 9:15 am and at that point you’ll be in line with 50 other people all bonding in the same miserable experience making jokes about the government and people who push in. Expect to wait around an hour until you reach the front of the queue.
Upon production of the filled out form, vehicle import documents, and payment of SBD 200, the officer will assign licence plate numbers to your vehicle, enter them into the Solomon Islands government system, and give you the licence plates to screw onto your front and back bumpers. Helpful if you have a screwdriver handy.
Step 6: Licence (and Insure) your Vehicle
Not to be confused with ‘registering’ your vehicle, licencing your vehicle is the process of getting the Warrant of Fitness and the little card to put on your windshield corner to show it’s roadworthy for another 12 months. Click here to find out how to do this.
After all that, enjoy your fresh set of wheels! Well, enjoy it until the roads in Honiara and mechanics collectively kill it that is, which we estimate to be about three years.