Importing our Bongo Friendee Camper Van from Japan

With two kids now – getting out of the house for adventures has become a bit more challenging…more people, more stuff, more time, more crazy! I was brainstorming ways to make it easier for us to get out…and so I asked Cam what he thought about a camper van.

We had considered one a few years ago – but the expense didn’t seem worth it at the time. Now, it was more of an investment in our adventure sanity…so we thought we’d do some research.

Our first thought was a Westfalia. We researched the best years to buy on the site and began to look for a used one locally. Unfortunately, when Cam went to test drive one, he realized he could barely fit in the driver’s seat. Westy’s aren’t made for 6’5 people!

That dream died quickly!

Then, we looked at some old retro chevy van’s that had been kitted out – but they weren’t so pretty on the eyes and most of them within our price range were going to need a major reno. As much as we like projects…we had to be honest with ourselves. Packing up for a trip these days seemed a bit overwhelming…so a reno project was probably out of the question. We considered a Eurovan…but man, they were expensive!!!

There had to be an alternative!

And then, one night…Cam found it.

The Mazda Bongo Friendee.

How had I never heard of this vehicle before? Why is it not a “thing”!

Turns out it is – just not here in Canada.

So the Mazda Bongo friendee is an 8 passenger van modeled off of the Mazda MPV. The exciting thing is that some of them have an “Auto Free Top” – which allows the vehicle to sleep 4 people. Plus, it’s called a “Bongo Friendee”…we had to have one!

We found a few used ones in Canada. There was one in Calgary, one in Toronto and one Vancouver. We sent Cam’s bro to go test drive the one in Vancouver (to make sure Cam would fit) and then we started researching how to import one ourselves.

Here’s the details on how we brought the vehicle into Canada from Japan:

Step 1. Committing. We set up an account on the JPC trade website in Japan. We figured out the bidding system, read a bunch of reviews, decided it was legit and put down a $1000 deposit. We watched for a few weeks and then bid on about 3 or 4 vehicles before we won our Bongo in the middle of February.

Step 2. Winning & Payment. We won the vehicle for 445,000 JPY (About $5500CAN). We had to pay for shipping fee + an auction fee which ended up being 761,750 JPY ($8600 CAN). We were a bit surprised at the cost of shipping…but figured we were still well under the amount of money we would have had to spend on VW Eurovan. We transferred the money and sent JPC Trade a bunch of shipping information. The vehicle was set to ship and arrive on April 10th. In the meantime, we were sent a key, the vehicle manual (in Japanese) and a bunch of other documents.

Step 3. Shipping & Arrival. We got an email from WWL Vehicle Services on April 19th with some instructions and a bunch of documents that were required to clear our vehicle. This is where things got a bit complicated. The Bongo was set to arrive the following day and we had 11 days to get it…or we would be charged a $50 a day storage fee. Yikes!

Step 4. Paperwork. I had to endorse the back of our Original Bill of Lading (that was sent to us by JPC Trade) and mail it in to get a Steamship Release. Then I had to fax a completed Soil Agricultural Inspection Request for Release Approval Form to the Canadia Border Services Agency. This was all straightforward…as long as you read the instructions provided carefully.

Then it got complicated. The instructions stated to “Get in contact with the CBSA by visiting them at their office….”in Vancouver. So I needed to get the vehicle released by customs in order to get a temporary port Authorization to pick up the vehicle. But the port authorization took 2 days. So I was going to have to go to Vancouver and then wait two days to get the port auth to get the vehicle. This seemed ridiculous.

I went down to the Border Services Agency office here in Victoria, but they wouldn’t release the vehicle…because it wasn’t here. In the meantime, I went to the insurance office (because I was going to need temp insurance to pick up the car) and they were SURE that the border services had released cars here in the past. Anyway…no one was going to help me in Victoria…and time was of the essence. Cam and I had taken the day off on Friday to pick up the car and it was Wednesday!

Finally – when returning to the CBSA for the second time that day…they mentioned I could hire a broker to get the vehicle released. I was like SERIOUSLY! Why didn’t someone mention that to me this morning! I wasted an entire day running around like a crazy person trying to get this figured out.

So I google vehicle import brokers and found Davidson & Sons. They had a 5 star review on google – so I gave them a call. I worked with Al and he was amazing! He got on the case right away, took the papers down before the office closed and we had our vehicle released the next day…in time for pick up on Friday! He was a super-hero! Yiooot!

Step 5. Temp Insurance. In order to pick up the vehicle, we had to get some temp insurance for it. They required all of our paperwork (original bill of sale, import documents etc.). We had to give them the address of where we were picking it up and where we were dropping it off for an inspection) At this point, we still had the wild idea that we’d get to go camping in it that weekend…

Step 6. Vehicle Pick up. Cam and I took the 9am ferry over, in hopes we could pick up the vehicle on Annacis Island and be able to catch the 1pm ferry back to the Island. We were about 10 minutes from the Port when we realized…WE DIDN’T BRING THE BONGO KEY!

After a moment or two of freaking out…I decided that there had to be a key in the vehicle. They didn’t crane the vehicles around. I was pretty sure the vehicle was driven on and off the ship. Fingers Crossed.

Turns out…I was right. Thank goodness. We showed all our paperwork at a desk in the WWL building and went out to the parking lot to find our Bongo!

Step 6. Inspection Got the vehicle to the island successfully – but couldn’t get it in anywhere for an inspection before everything closed. So we parked it in the driveway for the weekend and cleaned it out. Took it in on Monday morning and half expected we’d have it back that night. Nope! Turns out in order for the vehicle to pass the provincial inspection…everything has to be more or less perfect. So over the course of the next week and a half we had to put on two new (used) tires, do the breaks, rotors and have the calipers serviced. We also needed to add a few reflectors on the side. And then the big one was the front headlights. In Japan they drive on the other side of the road, so the lights are angled in the opposite direction. They couldn’t find a simple reflector kit in time so they ended up having to take the headlights out and put an old style headlight in. Anyway – it doesn’t look perfect – but it passed the inspection. Another $1500 later, we had our Bongo Friendee and we were almost ready to hit the road!

Step 7. Registration and Insurance At this point, I had been in to visit and knew all the paperwork I needed to get the vehicle insured and registered. The only thing to note is that they needed to have a certified translator translate the Export Certificate. So – that could take an extra few days if you hadn’t planned ahead. Luckily, we already had it done. So about an hour later – we were ready to BONGO (Bongo is now a verb in our family).

All in all – we spent about $12,000 to get our 2000 Mazda Bongo Friendee imported, registered and ready for the road. Not all that bad considering it only had 116,000 Km on it!

Works great as a wind-break on those windy-waterfront camp sites!

Took her easy on the logging roads!

The “reading nook” when the weather isn’t great. Also doubles as bedroom #1.

Bedroom #2 – upstairs!




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