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Bringing a car into the UK, whether from the EU or the USA, is no simple task. It’s a journey that requires a solid plan, knowledge of UK import taxes, and assurance that your vehicle complies with UK regulations. This article is your guide, breaking down the process into manageable steps, making your dream of parking that foreign car on your driveway a reality.

Demystifying car import rules in the UK

The first thing you need to grasp when planning how to import a car into the UK is the car import rules specific to the country. The UK has rigorous regulations to ensure road safety and environmental compliance. Imported cars must conform to UK road and safety rules, with necessary alterations made as needed. Additionally, vehicles’ emissions must be within UK standards. This is crucial when importing cars from the USA. While many modifications are illegal, some States are more tolerant, and you may end up with a modified vehicle that doesn’t comply with the UK standards. Registration of the car with the driver and vehicle licensing agency (DVLA) Is also mandatory. Import duties and VAT are payable, with rates depending on the car’s age and origin. For cars over ten years old, the mutual recognition scheme is not applicable, which introduces extra challenges.

Getting ready to ship a car to the UK

Shipping a car to the UK involves several key steps. First, it’s crucial to clean the car, both inside and out, to avoid quarantine due to soil contamination. It’s wise to document the car’s condition, taking note of any scratches or damages with photographic evidence.

Next, picking a trustworthy shipping company is key. Do your homework and find a company with a history of successful vehicle shipments. Some companies offer extra services such as pre-shipment condition reports and door-to-door delivery.

Make sure your vehicle is insured for its journey. Most shipping companies offer basic marine insurance, but it’s smart to think about a more extensive coverage. This insurance should cover any damage or loss during the transit.

Lastly, prepare the necessary paperwork. This includes the original vehicle title, a copy of your passport, and a bill of sale showing ownership. Having these documents ready will simplify the import process.

Understanding UK car import taxes

When importing a car into the UK, one has to understand and navigate the tax implications. The primary taxes include customs duty and Value Added Tax (VAT). If you’re importing a vehicle from the USA, you should expect a 10% customs duty and a 20% VAT. For cars coming from the EU, generally, a 10% customs duty and 20% VAT are charged if there isn’t a zero-tariff trade agreement with the EU at the time.

Customs duty and VAT are calculated based on the vehicle’s total cost, which includes the purchase price, shipping, and insurance fees. These taxes need to be paid before the car is cleared from customs.

You can pay your import VAT and duty through the online platform provided by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Be sure to keep all receipts as they’ll be needed during the registration process with the DVLA. Hiring a customs broker to ensure accurate tax calculations is recommended.

Importing a classic car to the UK: Some special considerations

Importing a classic car to the UK comes with some unique conditions and benefits compared to importing newer vehicles. If a car is over 30 years old and hasn’t been substantially changed or modified in the last three decades, it may qualify for a reduced VAT rate of 5%. This significantly reduces the import costs and brings a slice of automotive history onto UK roads. Importantly, classic cars don’t need to comply with modern emissions standards, which simplifies their import process. However, they must still meet the UK’s safety standards. Even with these conditions, it’s crucial to consult experts and follow the necessary steps to ensure a smooth journey for your classic beauty from its foreign home to your UK garage.

The necessary paperwork for importing car in UK

Importing a car to the UK requires several documents to prove ownership, vehicle details, and compliance with necessary standards. The essential documents include:

  • Vehicle Registration Document: This proves that the car is registered overseas and provides key details such as make, model, and year of manufacture.
  • Purchase Invoice: This confirms the vehicle’s purchase details, which are crucial for calculating import taxes.
  • Shipping Invoice: This shows the cost of shipping and insurance, also necessary for tax calculations.
  • UK Import VAT and Duty Receipts: Proof that UK import taxes have been paid.
  • Certificate of Mutual Recognition or Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA): These certificates show that the car meets UK standards. Mutual Recognition is for cars less than ten years old, while IVA is for older or modified vehicles.
  • Proof of Vehicle’s Date of Arrival: This could be a shipping document or an official letter from the shipping company.
  • Insurance Certificate: Proof of vehicle insurance in the UK.

Having these documents ready and organised is key for a seamless car import process and eventual registration with the DVLA.

Brexit and its effect on importing cars from the EU to the UK

Brexit significantly impacted the process of importing cars from the EU to the UK. Before Brexit, cars could move freely between the UK and EU countries without import duties or extensive documentation. However, post-Brexit, cars imported from the EU are now subject to import duties and VAT, similar to other non-EU countries. Moreover, they must comply with UK vehicle standards, which requires extra documentation and potentially costly modifications, making the process more complex and expensive.

Bringing in cars from the USA to the UK: The specifics

The process of importing cars from the USA to the UK comes with its own specifics. Generally, it’s more costly due to higher shipping costs and potentially substantial modification requirements to meet UK vehicle standards, such as adapting to right-hand driving. The import duty is 10%, and VAT is 20%, calculated on the total cost (purchase, shipping, insurance). Delivery generally takes around 8-10 weeks, depending on the shipping company and method chosen. Challenges may include arranging the shipping, ensuring the vehicle’s compatibility with UK regulations, and managing the administrative duties. Also, make sure your car comes with good quality tyres from an trusted dealer like NeoTires.

The hidden factor: Foreign exchange rates for car import in the UK

Foreign exchange rates significantly influence the overall cost of importing a car to the UK. The purchase price, shipping costs, and import duties are often quoted in the currency of the country of export, such as euros for an EU country or dollars for the USA. As a result, fluctuating exchange rates can significantly affect the overall cost. If the pound weakens against the relevant foreign currency, the cost in pounds can rise considerably, even if the original price in the foreign currency remains unchanged. It’s vital to consider this potential variability when planning your import and budgeting, possibly consulting a financial advisor to reduce the risks of currency fluctuations.

Not to be overlooked in the car importing process are the costs associated with money transfer. Whether you’re buying the vehicle, paying for shipping, or settling import duties, cross-border international currency transfers also incur a fee.

As per Money Transfer Comparison’s UK-USA guide, “International wires in USD have fees ranging $35-$45, among the highest globally. These are based on US-UK online transfers. Offline transfers could cost around $50. Currency brokers like Currencies Direct, Moneycorp, and OFX don’t charge fees, while Wise charges a minimal $4.47.

US banks also charge high FX spreads, the difference between the interbank exchange rate and the client rate. Banks usually charge 2.5%+, but currency brokers and money transfer organizations charge 0.1% – 2%. Online providers like Wise offer a transparent 0.43% spread.”

The same is true for transfers from the EU. Banks and other financial institutions charge for international transfers, and these fees can add up. Moreover, the exchange rates provided by banks may not always be the most favourable. For this reason, you may want to consider using a specialist money transfer service, which could potentially offer better exchange rates and lower fees. However, ensure to check their credibility before proceeding. Planning for these costs in advance can help prevent unexpected hits to your budget and keep your car import process as smooth as possible.

How to register an imported car in the UK?

Registering an imported car in the UK involves several steps:

  • Obtain Vehicle Approval: The car must meet certain safety and environmental standards to be registered in the UK. Secure a Mutual Recognition Certificate for cars less than ten years old or an Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) for older or modified vehicles.
  • Pay VAT and Duty: Import duty and VAT must be paid before the vehicle can be registered. Once paid, you’ll receive a ‘Notice of Vehicle Arrival’ (NOVA) from HMRC.
  • Insure Your Vehicle: Secure a UK insurance policy for your vehicle.
  • Complete Vehicle Registration: Fill out a ‘V55/5’ form for used vehicles to register with the DVLA.
  • Provide Documents: Submit all necessary documents to the DVLA, including proof of vehicle approval, NOVA, insurance certificate, and proof of identity and address.

Estimating the costs of car import in the UK

There’s no straightforward answer to how much it costs to import a car to the UK, as it varies based on numerous factors. However, it’s possible to create a rough estimate using the following considerations:

  • Purchase Price: This forms the baseline of your cost calculation.
  • Shipping Costs: Rates vary depending on the shipping company and the country of origin. You should expect to pay anywhere from £1000 to £2000 for shipping and additional costs for insurance during transit.
  • Import Duty and VAT: These taxes are calculated on the total cost, which includes the purchase price, shipping, and insurance. As a general rule, anticipate a 10% import duty and 20% VAT.
  • Vehicle Modifications: Costs for modifying the vehicle to meet UK road and safety standards can range from a few hundred to several thousand pounds, depending on the extent of the necessary changes.
  • Vehicle Approval: The IVA test costs around £199 for passenger cars. This cost increases if the vehicle fails the first time and requires a retest.
  • Registration: Registering your vehicle with the DVLA costs £55. Plus, you’ll need to secure UK insurance, the cost of which will depend on factors such as the car’s make and model, your location, and driving history.
  • Road Tax: This is an annual tax required for all vehicles driven on UK roads, which varies based on factors like fuel type, engine size, and CO2 emissions.
  • Foreign Exchange Rates: The currency exchange rate will affect the final cost if the vehicle is purchased in a foreign currency.

By adding up these costs, you can get an approximate idea of the total cost of importing a car to the UK.


Importing a car into the UK might seem like a daunting task due to the many steps, strict regulations, and various costs involved. However, with careful planning and thorough understanding of the process, it’s entirely manageable.

Whether you’re bringing in a modern machine or a classic beauty, the key to a successful import lies in getting to grips with the regulations, having all your paperwork in order, understanding the tax implications, and being ready for the necessary expenses.

This guide has provided you with a roadmap to navigate the process. But remember, each import is unique, so be ready to adapt and adjust along the way. And don’t forget to consult with car import specialists or professionals for tailored advice.

Once the process is complete, you can sit back and enjoy the drive, knowing that all the hard work was worth it to have your dream car on UK roads.

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