How to import a car from Europe into the UK

Found that perfect classic in mainland Europe? Here’s our step-by-step guide to getting it from the Continent to your door – just in time for the summer

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Importing a classic from Europe can make a lot of sense when fluctuating exchange rates and economic conditions are in your favour. Drier climates and some desirable country-specific models are also good reasons to go car hunting on the continent.

Once you’ve found that perfect classic, there are a number of ways to get it into the UK, from embarking on a cross-country road trip to simply shipping it over. But before you start clearing out the garage for your new acquisition, there are a number of financial considerations and procedural requirements to be aware of.

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Preparing a classic car for shipping

The method of shipping inevitably comes to down to time and cost. The most pleasant way to do it is to take a leisurely road trip back to the UK via the ferry between Calais and Dover.

However, depending on the vehicle and the nature of your trip, this is not always the most cost-effective method. You will need to arrange temporary insurance (specialist classic insurers such as Hagerty can do this), make sure the vehicle is roadworthy and pay any local taxes that apply.

Alternative options require the use of a shipping agent. Of these, air freight is the least common and most expensive option. It’s best used when you’re transporting a priceless classic and time is of the essence.

Shipping the car via a container is the next best thing, and far more cost-effective. Some shippers also allow you to put parts and spares inside your car, so it’s worth enquiring about this especially if the items are bulky or will need fitment once the vehicle lands in the UK. Dedicated containers can also be used, but in general shippers consolidate the containers and pack in two or three cars to minimise costs.

You also have the option of using RORO – roll-on roll-off – shipping. With this method your car is simply driven on to and off a cargo ship. Whichever method you choose, transport insurance is optional but highly recommended for peace of mind. It is usually around two per cent of the vehicle’s value; the percentage can decrease for very expensive cars.

The majority of reputable specialists offer a collection service from most locations around Europe, and unless you’re planning to drive the classic to the shipper yourself, this is the safest method to get your car to the departure point. Some shippers outsource the collection service to transport companies that may not specialise in classic cars, so be sure to enquire about this.

What insurance is needed?

Insurance limits vary between transport companies, so if your vehicle is very high value then make sure your specialist can cover the amount. Spending extra on a closed trailer is well worth the extra expense, too.

If the car has any peculiarities such as a unique starting procedure or maybe a mechanical issue, ensure you inform the shipper first. It is also advisable to have the car fully photographed and its condition recorded before it leaves the seller.

Unless you’re buying a project car, the vehicle should be in roadworthy condition if you intend to drive it on UK roads once it’s shipped over. Certain modifications may also be needed to make it legal for the UK, such as adjusting the headlight beams and converting the speedometer to mph from km/h.

Your car will need to travel with an empty fuel tank; most shippers will drain the excess petrol for you, generally at no cost – but don’t expect the fuel to be poured back in afterwards.

If you’re not going to be driving the car until it reaches the UK, you will not need to register it in Europe or pay any taxes or custom duties. What you will need is the original vehicle title, your passport and a bill of sale, which all need to be submitted to customs for clearance. The process can take up to a week.

Arriving in the UK

Once the car has landed in the UK it will need to be collected from the port and cleared by the local customs agents. Several steps must be followed, and most shippers will be happy to help. This process will cost about £475. Some steps need to be completed by you, so it’s still worth knowing the procedures.

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What taxes need to be paid?

First, within 14 days of the car’s arrival you should inform HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that it’s here. Do this via the online Notification of Vehicles Arrivals (NOVA) tool. A paper notification option is also available, but this method will take a lot longer. Stray over the 14-day limit, and you’ll be penalised daily.

The relevant taxes and VAT owed will then be calculated. If your car was built outside of the EU, the duty will be 10% of the total price and you’ll pay 20% VAT on top.

If the car is over 30 years old, is largely standard and won’t be used daily, duty can be waived and VAT is reduced to five percent. Many high-end classics are imported via the UK because this is currently the EU’s lowest import duty.

How to register your imported car

Once the payment’s been made, HMRC will provide online confirmation that the vehicle can be registered with the DVLA. For this process you must complete the following and send it through to the DVLA:

• Fill out a V55/5 application form.
• Pay the vehicle tax as specified by HMRC.
• Supply an original non-UK registration document (this will not be returned to you). If this document is unavailable you will need a letter with a dating certificate from the manufacturer.
• Obtain a Certificate of insurance using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
• Get a fresh MoT certificate. Some cars may also need to have some modifications carried out – such as fitting amber indicator lights – before they’re allowed to be driven in the UK.
• Photocopies of your name and address are required – a UK driving licence or passport for the name, and a current utility bill for the address, will suffice. If you’re importing the car through a business you will be required to provide proof of your business address.
• Evidence of Type Approval. This can be in the form of a Certificate of Conformity (for rhd vehicles), Mutual Recognition Certificate (lhd vehicles require this as well) or evidence of previous UK registration (V5C form). If none of these forms is available or if the vehicle was registered outside of the EU, then an Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) test will need to be carried out.
• Vehicle Approval may not be required if your car was first registered or manufactured more than 10 years ago.
• The first registration fee may need to be paid. This amounts to £55 and can be paid only via cheque or postal order to the DVLA. An online payment system would have made it all too easy...

Getting your car home

Once this has all been completed, the car will need to be insured, taxed and fitted with UK number plates. Most shippers often have warehouses where they can store your vehicle until you’re ready to collect it, and they can even deliver the car straight to your door – for a fee.

The many forms, weeks of waiting and associated costs will soon fade into the background once you’re finally in possession of your prized classic. Just make sure to follow the steps required and pick a reputable shipping agent.

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