but I have to import these into a repeating field, so that might be a little more cumbersome.
Which would suggest that a repeating field is not the optimum design for this data.
Do you need to find a record or a repetition within the repeating field?
If you need only to find the record where at least one repetition stores a matching value, you can go ahead and import into a temp table and use a relationship to match the field with the imported ID to the repeating field. When using a repeating field, you'll get a match if any one of the repetitions matches values--just like using return separated values listed in a single field.
There are also ways to build a list of the imported data from your table and use it in a scripted find to find records. The looping script near the end of the following thread of scripted find examples may provide a few useful clues: Scripted Find Examples