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How to import cars 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 into the country.

Read our easy guide on how to import cars into the UK and the 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 into the country.

Read our easy guide on how to import cars into the UK and the potential costs.

Written by
Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
Last Updated
3 JULY 2023
5 min read
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How do you import cars to the UK?

There are two options when it comes to importing a car to 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 cars to this country from most places in the world, as long as you follow the rules and regulations to make your imported vehicle road legal in the UK.

Importing a car into the UK 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 & 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’s 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.
  • Insure your vehicle. You’ll need valid car insurance to drive legally on UK roads.

You can see more detail about the steps involved on importing a vehicle into the UK on GOV.UK.

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’ll 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 the cost to register a foreign car in the UK.

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 importing a car into the UK cost?

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. HMRC doesn’t have a UK car import duty calculator. However, you can contact its helpline to check rates.

If you’re moving to the UK with the car, you won’t have to pay VAT or duty if you qualify for relief. The same goes for when you’re re-importing a previously exported vehicle to the UK. 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. They depend on whether you’re importing your car from Europe (or, more specifically, 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:

  • Grey imports are vehicles that have been made outside the EU. For example, if you import a car from Japan to the UK, it’s considered a grey import. 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. So, for instance, if you import a car from Germany to the UK, it will already conform to EU standards. This makes imports likely to be cheaper to insure. 

Find out more in our guide to imported car insurance.

Where can I find insurance for an imported car?

Use our online car insurance comparison service to see how much insurance for imported cars 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

What are the pitfalls of buying an imported car?

There are some possible issues you may come across with buying an imported car, especially if it’s a ‘grey’ import:

  • Imported car insurance costs are likely to be higher
  • Servicing and repairs could be problematic if specific parts aren’t easily sourced in the UK
  • The car’s history and recorded mileage might not be guaranteed
  • It may not be covered under the manufacturer’s car warranty here in the UK
  • Its value may depreciate more quickly than a UK model
  • It might be more difficult to re-sell.

How do I import a car from Japan to the UK?

The process for importing a car from Japan to the UK is similar to that involving EU cars, with one exception. Since Japanese cars are built under different technical regulations, they must pass an IVA (individual vehicle approval) test to make sure they meet UK standards.

Can you import cars that have been modified?

Yes, you can import a modified car to the UK. However, If a car has been modified in another country and its history is unknown, the DVLA might assign it a Q registration. Alternatively, a marker may be put in your vehicle log book (V5C) to highlight that it’s been altered or assembled using different parts.

How long can you drive on foreign plates in the UK?

You can drive on foreign plates in the UK for up to six months, as long as the vehicle is registered and taxed in its home country.

After that, the vehicle must be taxed and registered with the DVLA, and the foreign registration plate must be replaced with a UK one.

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