Importing a Car to Cambodia from Abroad: Is it Worth it?

Posted on by Ben Siddons


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Let’s say you’ve been looking around for a vehicle at locally and are getting nowhere. Maybe you have an old girl sitting at home under a tarp that you miss terribly. Maybe on that jaunt home last time you fell in love with that shiny, fast beast parked on theneighbours nature strip.

Whatever the reason, sooner or later most long term expats will consider importing a vehicle from overseas. Is this a good idea?

Some background points:

Generally speaking, Cambodians are real petrol heads. It’s something that I really like about this place.

If you are stuck for conversation in Kampong-wherever with the family, a great way to strike up a conversation is to ask them about their current vehicle, the vehicle they plan to own in the future and why they desire said vehicle. Cars are the first major luxury purchase Khmers who are climbing the economic ladder will make.

How does this national obsession impact your potential import? Well, I have it on good authority that the Royal Government of Cambodia, “wants you to enjoy your life”. According to the government, enjoyment of life is enhanced by lax regulation of alcohol, tobacco and vehicles.

This means that when you import that Chevelle SS 454, there are no emissions rules, no luxury car tax, no oppressive industry protectionism or local compliance rules to contend with. Nice one Iron Man!

However, these positives are potentially undone by the import tax system, which is quite illogical. For example, there is punishing taxation on new city cars, but a brand new 2979CC 740Li (costing $90K in the US) is taxed at a rate lower than a new Toyota Hilux Vigoworkhorse. Why is this?

The Import Tax System:

On the face of it,the import tax system for vehicles in Cambodia is quite simple. The customs boys have been issued with a matrix from the Ministry of Economy and Finance which plots a vehicle’s year of manufacture against its displacement, measured in cubic centimetres. A customs value is derived at the intersection of these two points.

This value must then be multiplied by the prescriptions in the Customs Tariffs of Cambodia bible. This is a percentage figure, comprised of customs duty (CD) + special tax (ST) + VAT.

For example:-

Case study A: A 2001 NB Mazda MX-5/Miata:

These legendary front engine, rear wheel drive cars continued the tradition of the British roadster and even threw in a neo-samurai concept: Jinbaittai, roughly translating as the horse and rider being one.

They are reliable, fun, have a small footprint and there is soon to be a Mazda dealership locally.

These days they can be found for sub-$7k in the US. Let’s call it $7,000 for simplicity.

So:
Customs value (2001, 1839CC) $4,250 x Customs Tariff Schedule (CD+ST+VAT) 115.325% = $4,900

+ Purchase price ($7,000) + Logistics ($1,300) =$13,200 Total.

The MX-5 is punished because the extra 39 CC above the 1800 CC threshold pushes it into a higher tax bracket. If it happened to be say, 1789 CC, you would save $875.

Case study B: A 2002XV30 Toyota Camry:

The Camry is arguably Cambodia’s favourite car. They are solidly built, reliable, fuel efficient and deadly boring.

Good examples of the 2.4 litreversion can be had for about $6,500 in the US.

So:
Customs value (2002, 2362CC) $5,800 x Customs Tariff Schedule (CD+ST+VAT) 115.325% = $6,687
+ Purchase price ($6,500) + Logistics ($1,300) = $14,487 Total.

Case study C: A 2003 Mercedes-Benz W215 CL 600:

Big. Beautiful. Earth shatteringly quick. Hey, there’s no luxury vehicle or emissions taxes and an authorized Mercedes-Benz dealer locally, so why not? Here’s why.

These can be found for about $17,000 in the US.

So:
Customs value (2003, 5513 CC) $23,000 x Customs Tariff Schedule (CD+ST+VAT) 115.325% = $26,519
+ Purchase price($17,000) + Logistics ($1,300)
= $44,819Total.

Simply put, any vehicle with a displacement in excess of 5000 CC can quickly become prohibitively
expensive to import (unless you are from Australia where $45k for a CL 600 is a relative bargain).

Should you do it?

Clearly, the system is heavily weighted against large capacity vehicles (of any age) in favour of smallish to mid-sized engines. Boo.

Keep in mind too, that there is a massive jump in road taxes between 6-cylinder enginesand V8s; in 2012, a C280 set you back 380,000 riel versus an S500 which was about 2,000,000 riel.

Therefore, if you’re cynical, the real message from the Bong Thomsseems to be, “the Cambodian government wants you to enjoy your life…but don’t outshine us”.

In real terms, you need to consider:
1) Do you love your car/s?
2) Servicing realities – in particular, is there a local authorized dealer for your chosen make and/or is the particular model ubiquitous in Cambodia?
3) Do you plan to resell the vehicle?

It is head versus heart stuff. It is very plausible that you would find a mint condition Camry in the States, with a full service history and a little old lady single owner. It is probably cheaper to buy it and land it too, rather than purchasing from a local dealer. This sort of car would undoubtedly save you money in the long run, because the little brown guys haven’t treated it like a 8th-grade science experiment. Satisfies the resale question too.

But if you are a car lover like me and have commitments that ensure you are here for the long term, your love of cars needn’t be forgotten. I don’t even think there is any shame in answering yes, no, no respectively to the three questions above. Everyone needs a hobby. And hey, if you’re not married and don’t have a company you can’t buy land anyway. How else are you going to spend your hard earned dough?

Ben Siddons

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38 Responses to Importing a Car to Cambodia from Abroad: Is it Worth it?

  1. james bong says:

    The logistics quotes are way off… 1300 would barely if even cover the customs clearance cost. Then there is the shipping cost from LA – SHV looking at about 2000 for a 20’container and also the loading cost in LA to secure the car or it will be scrap when it arrives from being thrown around inside the container… loading / delivery / title approval to LA port will be about 1000.
    SO although close its still missing a few key costs so the readers must be informed.

  2. antifa7 says:

    Do you have a copy of this tax matrix? I’d love to get my Trabant here.

  3. Siddo says:

    interesting JB – very different than the feedback i was getting from the local logistics fellas then. The point of the article is more about the matrix itself and the minefield that is used cars locally. Long term expats with a budget of about $15k should seriously consider the sweet spot that exists with 10 year old vehicles with a capacity of up to 2.5 liters. Models fitting that description in the States from quality marques such as Toyota, Ford, Honda or Mazda are ubiquitous, cheap and many will have a service history. The local taxation regime will reward you for importing this type of vehicle.

  4. james bong says:

    yeh, not trying to pick it to pieces as i found it a great article, just wanted to give you a more realistic cost pricing on the logistics, otherwise people will get a bit of a shock when it comes to actually doing it.

    First rule of logistics.. don’t listen to the local fellas when they say “cheap cheap” or “dont worry” …. run! run away fast!

    I just had a meeting with a new customer that was getting ripped off above the normal rate by 1600 every time they imported… it’s rife in this country….

  5. Ghostdog says:

    Your article is not clear about what is actually payable. What does the customs value mean? And how much cash has to be paid on importation?

  6. Jay says:

    Hi Ben,
    You forgot to mention the uncertainty with locally bought cars, top shelf or not, doesn’t matter. If they are comparatively cheap and still fresh from the container, they are probably chopped up or salvage-titled vehicles from the U.S. and put back together here. Buyers beware! So you own import might be the way to go, if you got a good source where the car is coming from.
    I paid $2200 for freight and insurance and $1550 for import handling (terminal handling charge, Camcontrol, import license, etc.) Freight was for a 40′-container with 2 vehicles from Germany. I saved $7,000 in import duty by paying attention to the tax table. The jump from under 3000cc to over 3000cc was exactly that. My vehicle has 2987cc.

    • Siddo says:

      Absolutely spot on Jay – Edmunds to a VIN check which I think is essential for anyone contemplating buying a local car – especially if taking trips to the provinces. You dont want a death trap ontop of the Frogger-esk hazards that riddle the National Highways.

  7. Ryan says:

    Any information regarding Right-Hand drive vehicles. All I seem to get from customs agents is NO, but I see newly imported ones all the time?
    Is there another tariff, etc… ?
    Thanks…

  8. CWS says:

    Great article Ben – I think you put your finger on it with “enjoy your life but don’t outshine us” – a 2 litre MB C Class might be the go, with local servicing, solid build for the Cambodian roads and in the sweet spot for tax.

  9. james bong says:

    Ryan…. i’d listen to the Customs agents if i were you… unless you are a 4 star general then you can import it with impunity!!

    I wouldn’t want a right hand vehicle anyway…. death trap… i always see them and laugh…

  10. Bren says:

    How is the value established for a car that has not been purchased recently? Is there a depreciation factor? I met someone who had recently imported his old pickup from the USA. I’m pretty sure the shipping would have cost more than the value (excluding sentimental of course).

  11. Rob says:

    Good article. Anyone any experience of importing a vespa from vietnam – How do the tax table rates vary for bikes ? Fully restored value of bike 3k. I know you can buy the new models locally but fancy a 60’s original.

  12. RK says:

    I`m trying to start an import car business in Cambodia, does anyone know if it`s possible to ship salvaged(or lemon law) cars from the US to Cambodia? So these would be cars with no titles.

  13. Quincy says:

    RK when find about that let me know or post it up

  14. Quincy says:

    I just got back from Cambodia, but when I was there they have a voting going on so I couldn’t find out anything, restaurant was close, the bar was close , he’ll they didn’t even sell beer those three days I was there

  15. Gary uk says:

    Hi all I am thinking about shipping over a 2003 land rover any idea about import costs Thank’s

  16. nou son says:

    Thank you for import tax in Cambodia .

  17. Rida says:

    Thank so much for your set up this website for car information.
    I would like to ask you a question, my brother wants sale a car ( OD brain, made in Germany), this car will deliver from French to Cambodia, he uses this care for 8 years, he will charge me 2500$, so how much I should pay for all fee ( logistic, taxation…)? which company have I contact with?

    Thank in advance for your kindly feedback to me?

    Rida

  18. leak vebol says:

    Dear all brother,

    i would like to ask that if i want to order Camry 2010 from USA price 17000$. how step that make and how much should i pay for complete all payment.
    i am looking forward to hearing from you soon.

    Best regards

    Vebol

  19. Dey says:

    I would like to import a left hand drive vehicle from Japan to Cambodia. IT is Lexus GS300, 3.5 Liter, 303HP V6. The price is $15000. So how much is the custom value and how much is in total?

    Thanks

  20. alan bashford says:

    Hi Ben
    This is Alan Bashford
    How are you, its been a while

    I need your brain please

    Im wanting to bring in a S430 benz around 2002

    cost say $5500

    what would the tax be mate, my brain does not work to good lately

    AND
    Are diesels cheaper tax ??

  21. OU SOPHAT says:

    I would like to import a left hand drive vehicle from S.Korea to Cambodia for private use. IT is Hyundai Tucson 2011,Engine power 166HP ,Engine volume 2000cc. The price is $14000. So how much is the custom value and how much is in total all that i can use it?
    please reply me fast.
    Thanks

  22. Ben says:

    Hi Alan – good to hear from you mate.

    There’s good news and bad news.

    The W220 S430 with the 4266 cubic centimetre M113 E43 engine puts you firmly in the middle of the 4000 – 4500CC tax bracket. This means depending on year, you can expect to pay either $9,500 (2001) or $13,000 (2002) in import taxes and VAT which means it’s probably prohibitive to import (local market prices for that model and age ranges from about $10,000 – $17,000) unless you get a really good California vehicle with a full service history. There are no discounts for diesel and you dont want a high performance diesel engine in Cambodia anyway because of the high sulphur and water content in the fuel.

    The good news is the W220 S430 is a fairly ubiquitous vehicle in Cambodia so you can procure one locally. Indeed, I own one myself and it is a beautiful vehicle, capable of doing up to 100 mph relatively safely on decent Cambodian roads because of the superb cross drilled brakes and grunty engine.

    You MUST check the suspension on any W220 though, as it’s prone to fail. Suspension on the W220 came standard with AIRMATIC air suspension and I believe a hydraulic syspension system known as ABC was also option.

    Dont go near the ABC – they dont really have the capabilities to fix it locally and it is eye wateringly expensive to repair.

    The AIRMATIC air suspension can be fixed locally however with OEM parts which will do you about $2,000. You can avoid this hopefully with a bit of careful checking prior to purchase:-

    One way to know is the AIRMATIC has failed immeditely is if the car is riding very low on its’shoes. Next, stick your leg out of the driver’s door onto the road and hit the vehicle riser button – the “vehicle rising” will flash up on the Heads Up Display and you’ll be able to detect if the vehicle rises smoothly or not.

    As a final check, stick the car on a ramp and have a look under for signs of “Bilstein” branding on the AIRMATIC shocks. Bilstein branded shocks are a good indicator that the AIRMATIC system has been replaced. Originally I believe they were just branded with the MB star.

    Other than that, engine and gearbox are bullet proof as with all Big Benzes. You’ll want to run a diagnostic prior to purchase and check that all electrical gizmos do what they are supposed to. When you take receipt of the vehicle, replace the sparkplugs (there are 16 of them!), coolant, transmission fluid and gasket and of course oil and filter locally as Khmers have no idea what preventative maintenance means. But costs for maintenance and parts are very,very low in Cambodia, which is good.

    By way of a mechanic, I wouldnt visit anyone else but Touch in Toul Kork with your Mercedes Benz. You can call him on 017 556 670.

    Good luck and happy motoring. There is nothing like a Mercedes Benz S-Class. It has long been labelled the ‘Best Car in the World’ for good reason.

  23. Luc says:

    Any one has an idea on import taxes for an Electric vehicle to Cambodia example Nissan Leaf.
    Thanks.

    Luc

  24. Sarann Man says:

    I don’t quite understand what is the costume value mean? Your explanation will be greatly appreciated

  25. Alan bashford says:

    Hi Ben
    Long time no speak
    Can I get your expert opinion
    A new tata nano auto out of India is $4500 usd
    700cc
    4 door
    Can you tell me what the tax and charges would
    Be
    Thanks mate

  26. SB says:

    Hi all I am brandoing new to the car export. Could someone explain me what are the cost of import car to Cambodia. And what are the paper work or procedure would be like?
    I would be very appreciate! Thanks

  27. Sokhouern lor says:

    Hi all, I want to import a camry car from USA,TX. model 1998, red color. So how much of tax, shipping and other. Because I want to know about amount for me to make decision for import this car to Cambodia.

    Best regards,

  28. Gerry says:

    @james bong, why? Plenty of good quality RHDs in Cambodia, maybe because they’re a lot cheaper than LHD? Plus Thailand, which is a RHD market is right next door.

    I too would prefer a LHD for local use in Cambodia, but having driven a Thai RHD into Cambodia a number of times including to Phnom Penh, it’s quite straightforward after a while. Overtaking requires leaving a bit more space with the vehicle in front but that is irrelevant in the city.

  29. Eric says:

    Hi!

    I have a 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser (230.000 KM) in Phnom Penh on Norwegian plates. I have to chooses.

    1 Sell it in Camboidia. What is the value and customs clearance?
    2 Ship is back to Norway in a container. Does anyone have a shipment contact?

    Thanks for any advice!

    Best Regards
    Eric

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