There are plenty of great cars of all shapes and sizes right here on our doorstep, but every now and then you may feel the need to own a specific model that may not be available in the UK.
Whether that is a new model or a valuable old classic, there are a number of rules and regulations that may affect what you can and cannot bring in to the UK. Importing cars is generally thought of as an arduous process filled with financial pitfalls and uncertainties. While this may be true of any relatively complex procedure tackled without the required knowledge, in the case of car imports, the process is not quite as tricky as some might have you believe.
We cover some of the most important aspects you should consider during all stages of the importing process and armed with this knowledge you should find it all a lot less daunting.
The essential guide to importing a car into the UK
First things first
The steps required to bring a car in to the UK can seem quite daunting at first, there are many documents to fill out, procedures to adhere to and these can and do change on a regular basis.
There are many auto importers who specialize in bringing thousands of cars into the UK each year and employing the services of a reputable company is well worth the extra expense.
When to buy
Despite the expenses associated with bringing a car into the country, there are times when it can be a financially savvy move.
If there is big demand for specific model in the UK but it is unloved in its home market then you could pick one up at a favourable price. Fluctuating exchange rates can also work in your favour.
Finding a car to import
Your first step is the rather obvious one of finding the car you have set your heart on. There are a variety of places to look and it is worth doing your homework first as the last thing you want to do is import a lemon.
Always either view the car in person or send an assessor to carry out a visual inspection. Each country has its own unique challenges but the following points are worth knowing beforehand regardless of where you are buying from.
Private sales tend to offer the cheapest prices but your recourse should the car not be as described are limited. Make sure you don’t rely on the description of the seller and a few emailed images alone. Car clubs are a good place to look too.
Auction sites are big business and they can offer a broad variety of cars as well some added security over a private sale. Your shipper may have an agent that deals with specific auction houses in the country of your choosing.
This is especially useful in countries like Japan where the language barrier and auctioning methods can make things even trickier.
Each country has laws in place to protect their motor industry, in the UK this means that new car imports will often face steep taxes to dissuade shoppers from bringing them in.
If your car was built outside of the EU then the duty will be 10% of the total price and you will pay 20% VAT on top of that figure.
If you are importing a used car from within the EU you may not have to pay VAT if it has already been paid in another EU country.
It will also have to have been in use for at least 6 months and the mileage needs to be showing at least 3,728-miles to be considered a used car. It may not always be financially viable to import low-value used cars.
If the car is over 30-years of age, is largely standard and will not be used as a daily driver then the duty can be waived and the VAT portion goes down to 5%.
A large number of classic cars are imported through the UK from all over the world because this is currently the lowest import duty in the EU.
There are also other instances where you may be able to claim your VAT portion back. These can include situations where you are moving to the UK with your vehicles, are returning an exported vehicle back to the UK.
Collection and transport
Once the car has been purchased it will need to be transported to the shipper. Not every car transport company offers the correct type of insurance (especially in the case of high value classics) so make sure you are adequately covered.
If you are buying the car from a European source you may just want to collect the car yourself, however if it is from further afield then you have a number of other alternatives.
Shipping – RoRo
Often the cheapest way is shipping via the RoRo (Roll-on Roll-off method). With this method, your car is simply driven on to and off of the ship. It will be exposed to the elements and there is a chance that it can get scratched or damaged in transit.
Shipping – Container
Container shipping is a very popular option as it is generally not much more expensive than RoRo and may even come in cheaper if you use a consolidated container (sharing a container with other cars going to the same destination).
Your car gets put into a 40-foot metal container, the kind you see stacked up around harbours and airports, and some shippers will even let you pack your car with parts and spares.
Shipping – Air Freight
If speed is of the essence and costs are a secondary concern then you can have your car flown instead. This method can cost multiple times as much as using a container but travel time from most places is cut down to a couple of days instead of weeks.
Whichever method you choose be sure to have the car insured, budget on around 2% of the vehicle’s total value as an estimate.
Before shipping you will need to have the original vehicle title, your passport and a bill of sale which all need to be submitted to customs for clearance. The fuel tank should be as close to empty as possible.
Arriving in the UK - HMRC and forms
Once the car has arrived in the UK you will need to inform HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that the vehicle is in the UK within 14 days.
You can do this using the Notification of Vehicles Arrivals (NOVA) tool. Once the relevant taxes have been paid, the car will need to then be cleared by the local customs agents.
The DVLA and more forms
There are a number of forms and procedures to follow here and your shipper should be able to help you through the various steps.
In a nutshell you will need to fill out a V55/5 application form, supply an original vehicle registration document, get a certificate of insurance using the VIN number and the car will need to conform with UK road regulations. This may mean modifications to lights and other components too.
Once the car has been taxed, cleared, registered and insured you will be able to collect it. Some shippers offer a door-to-door delivery service while others can store your car for you until you are ready to collect it.
Follow the steps, avoid shortcuts and make sure to employ the services of a reputable shipping agent and your car import experience will be far less arduous than you might think. Budget on between 45 to 60 days for the entire process.
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