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How to import the Nintendo 3DS from Japan (and why you'd be mad to do it)

Region locks, import tax and retailers
Product: Nintendo 3DS | Publisher: Nintendo | Format: 3DS
Nintendo 3DS 3DS, thumbnail 1
On February 26th, Nintendo will release its much-anticipated 3DS to gamers in Japan.

That’s right: video game fanatics in the east will get to sample the console’s glasses-free 3D, augmented reality games, and StreetPass communication a whole month before us in North America and the UK.

Normally, we wouldn’t worry. Import retailers, crafty eBay sellers, and region-free software made importing the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP an easy and affordable option. For the 3DS, though, things have changed.

Here’s our handy little guide to grabbing yourself a Japanese 3DS. But don’t blame us if you’ve changed your mind about importing the console by the end of the article. Thank us.

Region Lock

Unlike the DS and PSP, Nintendo’s new handheld is region locked. This means the 3DS will only play games that come from the same region as the console, so Japanese devices will happily play Japanese games, but American and European software won’t function.

Not only will you be condemning yourself to a life of importing games from Japan, but you’ll also have to put up with Japanese text. Games come out in the UK and US later than Japan because publishers need to take longer to translate the instructions, menus, and dialogue - so Japanese software usually only has text in Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana, or Romaji.

If you can’t read the lingo, you’re going to be stumped in a text-heavy game like Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle.

It gets worse. So you’ve got a Japanese 3DS, and a Japanese copy of Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, and you want to fight against your friend who has a UK 3DS and a British copy of Capcom’s signature slugger. Stop right there - if this handheld is anything like the DS, there’s no guarantee that multi-region games will play together.

And finally, just to add insult to injury, if the 3DS’s eShop is the same the DSi’s DSiWare store, you’ll also be stuck browsing the shop of the same region as the console. So your Japanese 3DS will only be able to access the Japanese eShop - all the prices will be in yen, all the text will be unreadable, and American or British-only games will be inaccessible.

Import Tax

Okay, so you don’t care about region locks. You’ll import all your games from Japan, take Japanese reading classes, never play with any friends, and stick to Japanese content from the eShop. Your next problem is import tax.

In Britain, customs duty is a tax charged on imports of goods produced outside the European Union. If you buy something that costs more than £18 from Japan, then Royal Mail and pals can sting you with a hefty bill. When impatient fans imported the DS, they were taxed around £20 to £30.

HM Revenue & Customs says, “the average percentage is between 5 and 9 per cent, but it can be as low as 0 per cent or as high as 85 per cent.” It depends on the product, the country the goods come from and just how vigilante your customs officer is. Sometimes, you won’t get charged at all.


You still want to import a 3DS? You’re going to get your games from Japan, take up Japanese, lose all your friends, and cough up an extra £20 to £30 on import tax. Okay, so here’s where to get it from. You nutter.

Play-Asia, the ultimate one-stop shop for video game imports, has shut off pre-orders to a select group of people who made early reservations.

When it gets more stock in, the price should be around $479 (£295). You’ll also have to pay a fair bit on postage, and the shipping times are painfully long. Game prices aren’t much better: £43.67 each, with a minimum of £2.12 for postage.

YesAsia still has some units in stock, but it wants a ridiculous £326.16 for them. At least international shipping is free. That’s £126 more than ShopTo’s price tag. Games are a little more palatable: £40.61 and, again, free postage.

You can always rely on eBay, of course. Right now, there are sellers in Japan who will line-up in Tokyo, buy 3DS, and ship it to you straight away. You’re still going to be at the mercy of import tax, and the prices are still mad: we’ve seen them from £270 to £300. Same with games, which look to be £40 to £50 each.

If you’re willing to wait a little while, you can skip on import tax by finding someone in the UK who’s already imported one. Modify your search parameters on the auction site to filter out international sellers, and you might find a good deal.

That’s how one Pocket Gamer editor got his DS from America months before its UK debut.

Reviewer photo
Mark Brown 25 February 2011
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