Importing a car from overseas

Whether you’ve found your dream wheels for a knockdown price in an online auction or you’re moving to the UK, there are many reasons you might want to import a car. Read on for an easy guide to the car import process and its potential costs.

Whether you’ve found your dream wheels for a knockdown price in an online auction or you’re moving to the UK, there are many reasons you might want to import a car. Read on for an easy guide to the car import process and its potential costs.

Written by
Rory Reid
Last Updated
25 AUGUST 2022
4 min read
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How do I import a car?

There are two options when it comes to importing a car into the UK. You can either arrange everything yourself or pay a car import agent to handle it for you. Either way there are pros and cons, so we’ll try to help you make an informed decision.

It is possible to import a car to this country from most places in the world, as long as you follow the rules and regulations to make it road legal in the UK.

How to import a car independently

If you’re bringing a car to this country yourself, you’ll need to be aware of the UK’s strict car import rules.

Follow these steps to get your imported car on the road:

  • Tell HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that you’re importing a car within 14 days of it arriving in the UK. You can do this by completing form C384 and sending it by email. If you don’t, HMRC may issue a late notification penalty.
  • Transport the vehicle (rather than drive) from the port to your home or a storage location.
  • Keep the vehicle off the road until it has been registered, taxed and insured. Even parking it on the street is against the rules.
  • Pay VAT and import duty if you need to. This will depend on several factors, including the age of the car and where it’s coming from.
  • Get vehicle approval to show that the car meets the required safety and environmental standards for UK driving.
  • Register the vehicle with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and pay tax on it. A UK resident must not drive a vehicle displaying foreign registration number plates in the UK. The DVLA will provide you with a registration number so you can get UK number plates for your imported car. If you fancy a private reg, you can purchase that and register it with the DVLA.

Should I use a car import agent?

Bringing a car to the UK independently can be a lengthy and complex process, and it’s easy to make mistakes, so it could be worth hiring an import agent instead.

They will handle all the necessary paperwork for you, from when you buy the car to when you get it delivered. They’ll give you a quote for shipping, taxes and UK registration costs.

The downside is that it will be more expensive than dealing with it yourself as the agent will charge a fee for their services.

Deciding whether to use a car import agent ultimately boils down to your finances and whether you have the time and know-how to arrange the import yourself.

How much does it cost to import a car?

Import costs will vary depending on how much you have to pay for shipping, insurance, UK taxes and duty, testing and registration.

The reasons for the car’s import, its age and where you’re importing it from will also impact the cost.

Once you’ve told HMRC that you’ve imported your car, you might have to pay VAT and duty. They’ll tell you if that’s necessary. Any charges will be based on the total cost of the vehicle, as well as any accessories you’ve bought and delivery or other charges.

If you’re moving to the UK with the car or you’re returning an exported vehicle to the UK, you won’t have to pay VAT or duty if you qualify for relief. If you’re just visiting, you’ll also be exempt from paying VAT and duty. Any other import reasons will incur charges.

The rules on paying VAT and duty for importing a car to Northern Ireland are slightly different as they depend on whether your car was imported from the EU or not.

How much will it cost to insure an imported car? 

Cars imported to the UK are divided into two classes - ‘grey’ and ‘parallel’ imports. You can read about import car insurance in our useful guide

  • Grey imports are vehicles that have been made outside the EU. These might not conform to European regulations and will have to pass safety and environmental standard tests for UK roads before being classified as legal. As these cars have been manufactured abroad and parts could be harder to source, they’ll probably cost you more to insure.
  • Parallel imports will have been built within the EU. As these will already conform to EU standards, they’re likely to be cheaper to insure.

Where can I find insurance for an imported car?

Use our online comparison service to see how much insuring your imported vehicle could cost. If you drive without UK insurance, you could face prosecution. So make sure you have insurance before you get behind the wheel.

Frequently asked questions

How do I import a car from Japan?

Japanese cars are popular because they have a right-hand drive, like those sold in UK. But if you’re planning to bring a car to the UK from Japan, bear in mind that Japanese cars are built under different technical regulations. So before they can be legally driven in this country, they must pass an IVA (individual vehicle approval) test to make sure they meet UK standards.

How do I import a car from the USA?

Importing a car from the USA is a chance to get your hands on an iconic motor like a Mustang or a more affordable vehicle than its UK equivalent. But you’ll need to be confident with a left-hand drive vehicle and the car will need to pass safety and environmental standards for UK driving.

Can I import a modified vehicle?

If a car has been modified in another country and its history is unknown, the DVLA might assign it a Q registration. Alternatively, it might put a marker in your vehicle logbook (V5C) to highlight that it’s been altered or assembled using different parts.

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