How to import a car into the UK from South Africa

Bringing a car to Britain from the sunny south needn’t be complex, but a specialist’s guiding hand will make the process a lot easier. Here’s how to do it

South Africa has long been a desirable destination for English holidaymakers, thanks to its great weather and favourable exchange rates. These two factors also make it a great source of classic cars.

Even older vehicles that have lived out their lives in the coastal cities do not succumb to rust as readily as similar examples would in the UK, so when it comes to well preserved classics, South Africa is a prime location. Importing a car from the sunny south does involve a fair amount of paperwork and procedure, however, so we’ve attempted to shed some light on this process to make it as problem free as possible.

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Preparing and collecting the vehicle for shipping

Once you’ve located and purchased your classic, the next step is to get it to a port for shipping. In the unlikely event that you will want to drive the vehicle to the shipping collection point, you will need to have it registered for use within South Africa. Curiously, car insurance is not compulsory – but driving uninsured is not advisable.

The best method is to contact a local shipping agent and have it take care of the overland transport. African Overlanders is located in Cape Town, and can inspect, collect and prepare your car for export. Company owner Duncan Johnson says prices vary depending on where the car is located; for example, it is around £325 if the car needs to be collected from Johannesburg or Durban.

Transport company insurance limits vary, and it’s worth finding out whether their insurance covers the car’s value if the vehicle is particularly expensive. Enclosed trailers can be worth the additional expense to avoid any unintentional damage.

If your motor has any specific oddities such as an unusual starting procedure or maybe a mechanical issue, do tell the shipper and/or transport company first. We’d also advise that you have the car fully photographed and its condition recorded prior to collection. As your car cannot travel with tank full of fuel, take advantage of the drainage service most shippers offer at the port.

When a car is sold in South Africa to a foreign individual or organisation, the sale price will still include the local 15 percent VAT (it has recently increased from 14 percent). This can, however, be reclaimed from the South African Revenue Service. Anyone exporting a vehicle will also need to be registered with customs and excise as an in-bond transporter, a remover of goods and an exporter. This is a difficult task if you are not resident in South Africa or don’t own a business there, so it’s best to employ the services of a shipper for this.

What you will need to do is obtain a SARPCCO Vehicle Clearance Certificate at a clearance office; your ID and passport as well as additional documentation may be required. A police clearance certificate will also be required, and then you will have to apply for an export permit from ITAC (International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa). You’ll then need to submit the whole lot to Customs and Excise, but do not get discouraged just yet as your shipper will be able to assist you with these processes.

Shipping the vehicle

If you ship your vehicle by sea then you can choose between a consolidated container (with other cars heading to the same destination), your own container or via RoRo (Roll-on Roll-off). RoRo is generally the cheapest method, but your car will need to be roadworthy and there is a greater risk of damage while it’s in transit.

Sharing a consolidated container is the next best option, and depending on the port your car leaves from it may not cost very much more, especially considering the added benefit of being able to pack parts and spares (within reason) into your car. African Overlanders specialises in this method of shipping to the UK from South Africa, and Duncan says that prices per car are around £2000. This includes both departure and destination port fees, and can vary depending on how many cars share the 40ft container (usually two).

If you aren’t too concerned about the costs, then air freight is the quickest way to get your car into the UK. Not every shipper offers this option, and quotes vary greatly, but expect to pay a huge premium over a sea-bound container option. Don’t forget to get transport insurance whichever method you choose, the average cost of which is usually around two percent of the vehicle’s value. This figure can be lower on very high-value cars.

Landing in the UK

When the car arrives in Britain, you’ll need to clear it with the local customs agents and collect it from the port. If this process isn’t part of the shipping fees, budget on spending an extra £475. Most shippers will assist you with this although certain aspects need to be completed by you, and we have outlined the process as it is worth knowing what is required in case there are any issues along the way.

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The HMRC

The first thing to do once your car arrives in the UK is to inform HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) of the fact. This should be done within 14 days to avoid any penalties, and can be done using the Notification of Vehicles Arrivals (NOVA) online tool. There is a paper notification option, but this method will only delay the release of your car.

The relevant taxes and VAT will then be calculated. If the car was manufactured within the EU, is over six months old and has done over 3750 miles/6000km, no taxes will be due. If your car was built outside of the EU (this may be the more likely option in this case) then the duty will be ten percent of the total – and you’ll pay 20 percent VAT on top of that.

If the car’s over three decades old, its mechanicals are predominantly standard and it won’t be driven daily, the duty can be waived and VAT comes down to five percent. Depending on whether the vehicle is being imported privately or through a business, the NOVA form may not need to be completed. However, there will still be other forms to fill out; it’s best to contact the HMRC directly to find out which ones apply to you.

The DVLA

Once any applicable payments have been made, the HMRC will let you know digitally that you can register the vehicle with the DVLA. For this process you must apply for a used vehicle import pack or V55/5 form.

It can be a daunting task to wade through all of the paperwork if this is your first time. However, the good news is that the older your car, is the less onerous the requirements. In light of this, not all the steps below may apply in your particular case, especially if your vehicle falls into the ‘40 years and older’ category.

  • Your first job will be to supply an original non-UK registration document (note that you will not get this back). Is this unavailable? Then you’ll need a manufacturer’s letter and dating certificate.
  • Obtain a certificate of insurance utilising the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number).
  • Cars over 40 years old do not need to be taxed, and starting from May 2018 the annual MoT requirement also falls away with this rolling exemption. Up until now, the latter has applied only to pre-1960 classics.
  • You can also register your car as SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) if it’s a non-runner, as this’ll save you on the annual MoT and tax fees until you’re ready to get it back on the road again.
  • You must provide photocopies of your name and address; use a UK driving licence or passport for the former, and a current utility bill for the latter. You must provide proof of your business address if you’re importing the car via a business.
  • 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, an Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) test will need to be carried out – although this is not always a requirement on cars that are more than ten years old.
  • All cars, regardless of age, that are going to be used on the UK’s roads must be insured. This should be arranged by the owner, who will find that specialist classic car insurers such as Hagerty and Footman James can offer bespoke solutions.
  • The first registration fee of £55 may need to be paid – only possible via cheque or postal order to the DVLA.
  • You may need to convert your car to comply with UK laws. Common modifications include converting km/h speedos to mph readouts although this is generally not required on cars over ten years of age. Foglights, too, are not required on pre-1980 cars, and the headlight beam pattern should be fine, as South African cars are also RHD.

Getting your car home

You will then be able to finally drive your ‘new’ classic car on UK roads. The process is laborious, and the additional paperwork on the South African side adds to the complexity, but many thousands of cars are imported into the UK each year and this is a routine process for shippers.

Depending on your needs, you can either collect your car directly from the port, have it stored on site or get it delivered straight to your front door. Additional costs will apply of course, but once you are finally behind the wheel of your gleaming classic all of these issues will soon be a distant memory. Just make sure to employ the services of a reputable shipper.

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