How to register an imported car in the UK

Once you’ve imported your dream classic, it’s time to register it for use on British roads. Here’s how to navigate your way through an administrative minefield…

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Importing a rare and desirable classic into the UK is a tempting prospect for many car enthusiasts, evidenced by the many thousands who do exactly that each year. Getting the vehicle shipped over and delivered onto the mainland is just part of the process, though, and the registration process once it’s finally here can seem quite daunting – especially if you are unsure of what needs to be done.

An influx of cheap new foreign cars from abroad that could destabilise the local motor industry is clearly undesirable, so the HMRC has gone to considerable lengths to prevent this. However, when it comes to classic cars the rules are slightly different. There’s not much economic risk in allowing a decades-old Ford Mustang to putter around between classic shows, and in light of this there are a number of allowances that make it easier to get your older, freshly imported pride and joy fit for the UK’s roads.

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The procedures are still somewhat onerous, though, so we have taken some of the confusion out of them in our handy registration guide.

Taxes and paperwork

If you have used a shipper to get your car into the country – and it’s quite likely that you have – then they will take care of some of the steps as part of the import process.

Jack Charlesworth of MyCarImport says the company’s speciality is assisting people with registering their cars with HMRC and the DVLA. He explains: ‘The process is frustrating and drawn out if attempted for the first time, as definitive information isn’t available online and the DVLA sends out a complicated import pack full of forms to complete.’

Via its trade organisation, MyCarImport has lobbied the DVLA to have direct-contact, high-volume importer status within the Government body. This gives it an open channel of communication and vastly increased turnaround times, with a dedicated accounts manager for its clients’ imports.

While this is a very helpful service, some aspects such as insurance and bringing the car into line with UK road regulations are generally up to you to sort out. It’s also worth being aware of the various steps required for registration, whether or not you are directly involved.

Will I have to pay import tax?

The first step once your car lands in the UK is to inform HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) of the fact. This should be within 14 days to avoid any penalties, and can be done using the Notification of Vehicles Arrivals (NOVA) online tool. A paper notification option is also available, but there is no reason to go this route unless you enjoy waiting.

The relevant taxes and VAT that need to be paid will then be calculated. If the car was manufactured within the EU, is over six months old and has done more than 3750 miles/6000km, no taxes should be due.

If you are a private individual or are importing the car through a non-VAT-registered business, then you will not be required to fill in the NOVA form. However, don’t get excited just yet, as you will still need to contact the HMRC to find out exactly which alternate forms you will need to fill in.

How to notify DVLA

Once you have made any necessary payments, the HMRC will provide online confirmation that the vehicle can be registered with the DVLA. For this process you will need to apply for a used vehicle import pack or V55/5 form.

According to the Government website portal: ‘You can’t download it because it includes features that can’t be printed.’ Right, so this means you will have to get it posted (UK addresses only) and you may as well include the V355/5 form, which is a guide to help you fill out the V55/5 form.

It’s a good thing, then, that shippers such as MyCarImport can take care of the majority of this procedure on your behalf. Not all of the points below may apply to your particular situation, however, so it’s worth being aware of what may be required even if you outsource the task.

  • You must send in an original non-UK registration document, which won’t be returned. Didn’t get this with the car? Then you must ask the manufacturer for a letter with a dating certificate.
  • Use the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to get a Certificate of insurance.
  • Obtain a new MoT certificate (or SORN notification). Some modifications may also need to be carried out before the car can legally be driven in Britain, such as the fitment of amber indicator lenses – but more on that below.
  • Photocopy evidence of your name and address. A UK driving licence or passport for the former and current utility bill for the latter will be fine. Importing the car through a business? You must provide proof of your business address.
  • Evidence of Type Approval. This means a Certificate of Conformity (for RHD vehicles), Mutual Recognition Certificate (LHD vehicles require this, too) or evidence of previous UK registration (V5C form). Not got any of these forms, or the car was registered outside of the EU? You must have an Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) test done.
  • Vehicle Approval may not be required if your car was first registered or manufactured more than ten years ago.
  • The first registration fee of £55 may need to be paid. This can be sent to the DVLA only via cheque or postal order; frustratingly, there is no online payment system as of yet.
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MoT requirements

The Ministry of Transport requires every new car to be taxed annually and undergo an annual MoT once it reaches its third birthday. At time of writing, if your classic was built after January 1, 1977, it will fall under these regulations, too.

If this 1977-on classic you are buying is a delivery-mileage rarity, destined to be a garage queen or is perhaps a non-running rusty project that only has its matching numbers going for it, you may need to register it as SORN (Statutory Off-Road Notification). This will save you on the annual MoT and tax fees until you are ready to get your precious charge back on the road.

Cars built before December 31, 1976 do not need to be taxed, and starting from May 2018, the annual MoT requirement falls away, too. This rolling exemption will apply to any cars that are 40 years and older. Up until this point, it has only applied to pre-1960 classics.

All cars, regardless of age that are driven on the road do need to be insured, however. This task falls on the owner, and there are a number of classic car insurance specialists such as Hagerty and Footman James that offer bespoke insurance solutions.

What about modified classics?

The DVLA may have questions for you if you are planning to drop a small-block Chevy V8 into an original Fiat 500. However, in this context what we mean by modding are the changes you may need to do to get your classic legal for UK roads. These modifications depend largely on where you are importing your classic from and its age.

MyCarImport’s Jack Charlesworth has a great deal of experience in this field, too, and says that the older the car, the fewer changes it needs. Common modifications include converting km/h speedos to mph readouts; however, this is not required on cars over ten years of age.

Foglamps, too, are not required on pre-1980 cars. The headlight beam pattern needs to be checked, and either an external deflector sticker will need to be applied to the headlight lenses or RHD lenses will have to be installed. According to Jack, these tend to be reasonably priced and generally readily available.

Once all of this has been completed and you have arranged adequate insurance coverage, your classic will be ready to hit the road. Unless you are experienced in the registration process, do not try to be pennywise and avoid the assistance of an accredited shipper. Their experience and help when it comes to the paperwork and regulatory requirements are well worth the additional cost.

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