Thanks to incredibly high import duties and restrictions placed upon used cars by neighboring Nigeria and other West African nations, the importation of used cars has been big business in Benin. As a result, this country has attracted the attention of importer / exporters from around the globe, including those operating out of the United States. To be sure, there is money to be made by getting involved in Benin’s exploding used car market, but there are also things to know and potential risks, too.
Below, we’re going to review everything you need to know in terms of buying a used or salvage car in the United States and then importing it into Benin. We’ll discuss why online car auctions are the best way to get your hands on a used or salvage car in the United States. We’ll discuss what’s required in terms of shipping your vehicle (or vehicles) and how you’ll need to clear customs on both sides of the ocean. And then finally, we’ll discuss what you need to know about the Beninese used car market and what the potential advantages and risks are.
Purchasing Used or Salvage Cars at U.S. Auctions
When it comes to buying used or salvage vehicles in the United States, the best option is undoubtedly online used car auctions. There are a number of websites that provide this service, and each allows you to gain access to used and salvage car auctions that would only have previously been available to individuals or businesses possessing dealer’s licenses.
Getting started with an online car auction site is as simple as it gets. You need only create an account and then make an initial deposit. The deposit is necessary to establish your bidding power and will typically represent 10% of what your maximum bid can be. So, if you were to create an account and then deposit $200, you would then be able to bid up to $2,000 on U.S. used and salvage vehicles!
As far as bidding is concerned, everything is as simple as bidding on other consumer products online. To make things even easier, though, you’ll have access to an auction agent or broker who can assist with everything from establishing a maximum bid for a particular vehicle to accessing auctions that cannot be displayed through the auction website’s public databases.
When looking through these auctions to find vehicles, remember this important fact about importing used and salvage vehicles into Benin: This country, unlike many others, has no restrictions pertaining to the age of vehicles that are permissible for importation. Therefore, you’ll be able to cast a much wider net than you would be if you were looking to import U.S. used or salvage vehicles to a country other than Benin.
Shipping a Used or Salvage U.S. Vehicle to Benin
When it comes to shipping vehicles purchased at U.S. used and salvage car auctions to Benin, you’ll have plenty of options. As the chief exporter of both new and used vehicles to Benin, there are plenty of options when it comes to arranging for a departure port out of the United States for your vehicle. In addition, you’ll also have the choice of choosing between traditional container shipping and something known as RORO shipping when exporting your used or salvage vehicle to Benin.
Given that the Beninese (and Western African) market has a preference for low-cost vehicles, RORO shipping, which stands for “roll-on roll-off” may be particularly attractive. With this shipping method, your vehicle or vehicles will literally be rolled onto the ship at the departure port and then rolled off of the ship at the arrival port of Cotonou. Because there are no containers or cranes involved, this form of shipping is decidedly cheaper and more convenient. That said, RORO shipping to Benin may not be available at the most convenient U.S. port for you. Also, shipping a vehicle outside of a container does increase the chance of that vehicle becoming damaged during transit.
Ultimately the shipping method is entirely up to you and depends upon your budget and financial goals. If you are interested in this method, though, we’d advise looking into your options at the following U.S. ports:
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Bayonne, New Jersey
- Galveston, Texas
- Jacksonville, Florida
- Portsmouth, Virginia
- Savannah, Georgia
All shipments, both container and RORO, are handled by the Port of Cotonou in Benin, one of the busiest ports in Western Africa. Clearance at this port is handled by the Cotonou Import Export Service. For more information about this and the port itself, you can visit the Port of Cotonou’s official website here.
Getting Your Used or Salvage Car Through U.S. Customs
Once purchased, getting your vehicle through U.S. Customs and Border Protection is relatively straightforward. At least 72 hours in advance, you will need to present your vehicle to customs along with the vehicle’s Original Certificate of Title and two complete copies or one certified copy. In order to find out where in the port you will need to present the vehicle and documentation to U.S. Customs, simply contact the Port Director.
The vehicle will then be thoroughly checked to ensure that there’s no contraband stowed away inside nor any illicit substances. In addition, the Original Certificate and its copy or copies will be checked against one another and will also be checked against the car, ensuring that the engine numbers and the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) correspond. Provided that everything is fine, the vehicle will then be cleared for loading onto the ship. Be sure that you receive documentation of this pre-export inspection, as it will be required at port in Benin.
Should you have any additional questions regarding clearing your used or salvage vehicle through U.S. customs, consult this website. There you’ll also find information regarding clearing customs with a vehicle that has a foreign title or does not have one.
Getting Your Used or Salvage Car Through Beninese Customs
Aside from the favorable taxes and duties that make Benin a popular import destination for used and salvage automobiles in Western Africa, there is also the fact that clearing Beninese customs is much more straightforward than it is elsewhere. As you’ll discover, there is relatively little required in port when seeking clearance for your vehicle.
As far as documentation is concerned, you will need to present the following to Beninese customs:
- Original Certificate of Title
- Original Vehicle Registration
- Original Bill of Landing
- Commercial Invoice or
- Purchase Invoice
- Your Passport and / or Visa
- Freight Invoice
- Proof of Pre-Import Inspection
- Non-Sale Certificate (Attestation Reservation de Cale)
Note that the final piece of documentation is only necessary if applicable. As discussed below, import duties and taxes vary depending upon whether the vehicle is being imported for personal use or for sale. For lower duties and taxes, a Non-Sale Certificate (which attests that the vehicle is purely for personal use) is required. Do NOT attempt to falsify this certification, as doing so could have serious legal ramifications.
Be sure that you have a separate Original Bill of Landing for your vehicle (if it was shipped with other items in a container), and that you have separate Bills of Landing for each car (if multiple vehicles were shipped). In addition, please ensure that the following information is clearly marked on the Original Bill of Landing for each vehicle in your shipment:
- Weight of Vehicle in Kilograms
- Engine Number
- Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
- Engine Displacement
- Year of Manufacture
For a detailed guide to every process involved in clearing Beninese customs with your imported U.S. used or salvage automobile, please consult this website. To consult the agency responsible for handling customs clearance in Benin, the Société d’Exploitation du Guichet Unique du Bénin (SEGUB), you can visit their website here.
Import Duties and Sales Tax for U.S. Vehicles Imported into Benin
Compared to neighboring countries, most particularly Nigeria, import duties and taxes are incredible inexpensive in Benin. However, there are some things you need to know about these duties as they pertain to vehicles that will be sold after import rather than used for personal purposes.
For new, used and salvage vehicles that are being imported into Benin for personal use, the import duty is 5.85% of the vehicle’s CIF (Cost, Insurance, Freight) value. In order for your vehicle to be considered a “personal use” vehicle, though, you will need to fill out a Non-Sale Certificate when clearing Beninese customs.
If you plan on selling the used or salvage vehicle imported into Benin, then you will likewise need to declare your intention. In these cases, the tariff is 50% of the vehicle’s CIF value. Note that if you are importing multiple vehicles at once, then you will not be able to declare that they are for personal use and will be subject to the 50% CIF tariff.
Whether taking advantage of the personal-use exemption or not, there is a 3.65% tax levied on all imports, including on new and used U.S. vehicles. Note that additional taxes may apply depending upon the size, weight and engine displacement of the vehicle (or vehicles) being imported.
For more information about duties and taxes, you can consult Benin’s customs authority, Douanes Beninoises, at this website. In addition, you may also wish to consult Benin’s Ministry of Finance here.
The Used Car Market in Benin
As mentioned already, the protectionist trade policies of neighboring Nigeria, particularly with respect to used automobiles, have led to an explosion in the used car market of Benin. However, there have been some headwinds to that market in recent years as new car imports have risen dramatically in the country as well. According to data provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the United States is the chief exporter of cars to Benin, owning 60% of the total market. In second place is Europe, with Belgium-Luxembourg and Germany accounting for 33.3% market share together.
According to BBC News, imports of both new and used cars rose dramatically between 2010 and present, from an estimated 200,000 per year to over 340,000. Of note, though, is that these imports are largely not intended for the Beninese market. Instead, the majority of these imports will find their way into the car markets of neighboring countries, something that presents an opportunity to an importer / exporter and also a number a risks.
Due to the Beninese’s reliance on neighboring countries to bolster its used car import market, the preference for vehicles is the same here as it is for neighbors. Vehicles that can be cheaply and easily repaired are, generally speaking, preferable to those that cannot. As a result, Asian automobiles, and particular those originating in Japan, are among the most popular. On the flip side, luxury automobiles are often a tough sell.
Potential Problems and Dangers in the Benin Used Car Market
While the used car market in Benin is decidedly booming, there are a number of problems and dangers that the would-be exporter / importer must be aware of. Speaking on a macrocosmic level, the flood of cars coming into Benin has depressed prices for cars that will actually be sold in Benin. Coupled with the high taxes for imported vehicles without Non-Sale Certificates, this fact does present some financial risk, particularly given the high demand for low-cost vehicles and the relative lack of demand for higher-margin luxury vehicles.
Further, government oversight of the used car market is decidedly lax in places. While it is definitely advised that you follow all the rules and regulations pertaining to importing used cars and then selling them or exporting them elsewhere, that doesn’t mean everyone else is doing likewise. Corruption is definitely present in the used car market, and this has led to both grey and black markets for used cars in the country.
Given the holes in government oversight and the potential for quick profits presented by opportunities to skirt import / export laws, there is some risk with respect to violence and the Beninese used car market. The BBC News report mentioned earlier discusses how the roads between Cotonou and Benin’s borders have frequently become the sites of armed robberies as criminal elements look to profit off of the used car trade in Western Africa. While not necessarily something you need be concerned with, it’s definitely something of which to be aware.
The risks notwithstanding, Benin is still an attractive place to which one can import cars into Western Africa. Unlike other neighboring nations, the government in this country is incredibly stable, and it does possess trade agreements with the United States that make the import of used cars into Benin much easier than it might be elsewhere.