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Buying and importing a car from overseas

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It can be tempting to search further afield for the car of your dreams. Foreign markets offer a tantalising array of vehicle makes and models unavailable in the UK. And the prospect of finding a bargain can seem irresistible.

Be warned, though: importing a vehicle isn’t a straightforward process. You must deal with customs regulations and import duties and make sure the car you’ve purchased meets UK safety and environmental regulations. 

This article will explore the process of buying a car abroad, bringing it to the UK and insuring it. It will help you decide if importing a car is right for you.

Why import a car?

There are several reasons you might decide to import a car:

  • Better selection: Foreign markets have a wide range of vehicle makes and models that aren’t sold in the UK 
  • Cost savings: Lower-priced automotive markets offer possible savings, even after you’ve paid taxes and shipping costs. In some instances, you can save money on your purchase, despite import expenses
  • Investment potential: Classic vehicles that are available overseas might appreciate in value over time
  • Prestige factor: Unusual foreign cars have undeniable cachet in the UK
  • Living abroad: If you’ve been living in another country, you might decide to bring your vehicle with you when you move back to the UK

Import a car independently

If you handle every step of the import process yourself, you can avoid paying an agent’s fees. But importing a car is a complicated endeavour with no room for error. Here’s your to-do list if you decide to go it alone:

  • Contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC): You must inform HMRC using an import declaration via email that you’ve imported a car. Then, HMRC will make a Notification of Vehicle Arrivals (NOVA) application for you. This is important because you need to be in the NOVA system before you can register your car. If the vehicle has a 48cc engine or less, or a 7.2kw electric engine you can register without telling HMRC
  • Pay applicable taxes: HMRC will tell you whether you have to pay duty and a value-added tax (VAT) for your imported car. The rates you’re charged will depend on what type of car you bought, what age it is and what country you purchased it in. You can use the website to check tax rates for new unregistered cars
  • Move the car: The vehicle must be transported, not driven, upon entry to the country
  • Get your car inspected: Your imported car must pass an inspection to prove it complies with UK safety and environmental regulations. The type of testing varies depending on how old the car is and what country you’re bringing it from 
  • Register the car: You must register your imported car with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Registration numbers will be provided by the DVLA and this must be swapped for the foreign plates.
  • Get insurance: You must obtain insurance – specialised cover may be required because many insurance companies consider imported cars to be non-standard

As you work your way through the import process, any mistakes on your part could increase the time you have to wait before you can legally drive your car. To avoid snafus, you might consider hiring an import agent.

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Import a car using an agent

An import agent can help you throughout every step of the car-importing process:

  • Paperwork: There are mountains of it, which the agent will handle for you
  • Transport: The agent will arrange secure shipping and see that your car clears customs
  • Legal compliance: The agent will make sure your vehicle meets UK safety and environmental standards. If necessary, they will arrange to have your car modified to make it roadworthy

Having to pay an import agent’s fees will increase your total spending. The trade-off is that importing a car will be less stressful for you when an expert takes charge of it for you.

How much will importing a car cost?

Importing a car to the Uk will depend on various factors. Before starting on this endeavour it is best to consider every cost implication:

  • Purchase price: In addition to the sum you’ll pay the seller, factor in how much money you’re likely to spend on repairs if the car is in less-than-perfect condition
  • Shipping: This includes the cost of transporting your car to a UK port of entry and then having it delivered to wherever you’re storing it until it’s registered and insured
  • Storage fees: Your vehicle needs to be safely locked away until it clears customs and all the paperwork is done so you can drive it legally
  • Duty and VAT: You might have to pay both of these taxes
  • Legal compliance: Expenditures include fees for your car inspection and possibly a repair bill if your car needs to be modified to make it street legal
  • Insurance: It’s wise to choose an insurer with extensive experience in handling imported cars, or you could wind up paying through the nose for your policy 

Make sure the total price tag fits your budget before you commit to making a purchase.

How to insure an imported car

Before you drive your imported car in the UK, you must insure it. The cost of insurance will depend on what country your car is from:

Grey imports insurance

  • This type of insurance is for cars made for countries outside the EU. Japan is a popular example of grey car imports
  • Insurance for grey imports can be expensive for a variety of reasons, including difficulty in sourcing parts. However, some firms that specialise in insuring imported vehicles say their grey imports policies don’t cost their customers any more than insurance for UK equivalent vehicles does

Parallel imports insurance

  • This type of insurance is for cars that were imported from EU countries, for instance Germany
  • Parallel imports are usually cheaper to insure than grey imports
  • Insurance for parallel imports usually isn’t much more expensive than insurance for similar car models bought in the UK
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Importing a car FAQs

Some specialist lenders will finance an imported car, but generally only for sale from larger vendors and dealerships. Some lenders will also specify that the car must be stored with them while insurance, tax and registration is completed. 

No. Parallel imports are generally more expensive to insure than comparable car models purchased in the UK. Also, grey imports are usually more expensive to insure than parallel imports.

Nick Jones

Editor in Chief

Nick Jones is a highly experienced consumer journalist and editor, who has been writing and producing content for print and online media for over 25 years.

He has worked at some of the UK’s leading publishers including Future Publishing, Highbury Entertainment, and Imagine Publishing, with publications as diverse as Homebuilding & Renovating, TechRadar, and Creative Bloq, writing and editing content for audiences whose interests include history, computing, gaming, films, and science. He’s also produced a number of podcasts in the technology, science, gaming, and true crime genres.

Nick has also enjoyed a highly successful career in content marketing, working in a variety of topics such as health, technology, and finance, with market-leading global companies including Cisco, Pfizer, Santander, and Virgin Media.

Now the Editor-in-Chief of the Independent Advisor, Nick is involved in all aspects of the site’s content, where his expertise in finance, technology, and home products informs every article that’s published on-site. He takes a hands-on approach with our VPN content, penning a number of the articles himself, and verifying that everything we publish in this topic is accurate.

Whatever the area of interest he’s worked in, Nick has always been a consumer champion, helping people find the best deals and give them the information they need to make an informed buying decision.