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  Customs clearance will be required both in the US and in the UK. It takes about a week for US customs to process the title of the vehicle. Most shipping companies will handle the customs clearance at the US end for you.

In general, this means that you must have clear title of the vehicle before you attempt to ship it. In other words - it should be fully paid for.

However, I understand from one user of this document that their bank allowed them to bring a car to the UK even though the car loan was not fully paid up. In this instance I would ensure you have documentation from the bank to prove this as you may need it for customs and/or registration.

In order to avoid duty (10% for cars) and tax (Value Added Tax - VAT - of 17.5%) you must have owned the car for 6 months or more in the US and keep it for 1 year after you arrive in the UK. The Customs and Excise website says:

To prove that you have used your vehicle outside the EC you should bring with you any papers you have, for example:

  • foreign registration papers;
  • police certificate of registration; or
  • insurance policy.
You must also provide proof that you have possessed it outside the EC for at least 6 months.

Beware that the duty is based on 10% of the 'landed value' of the vehicle. This means what you paid, plus the shipping costs including insurance. And they will ask for evidence. The VAT is 17.5% of the sum of the same costs plus the duty paid, which I think is a bit steep! And you'll need paperwork to prove each cost.

Before you say goodbye to your car at the US end it is advisable to complete all the customs forms for the UK end. It's easier and more relaxed this way - though it is possible to complete them when the car arrives in the UK.

You will need form C104A which enables you to clear UK customs.

Next, customs will ask you to complete a form C&E386 or C&E388 plus the Dept of Transport (DOT) Notice PI1 and leaflet V277 which sets out the legal requirements that you must satisfy before you register the vehicle.

Although all this sounds complicated, I found UK customs very easy to deal with and very helpful. They do suggest you make an appointment but that was easy and done at short notice, when I knew the car had arrived.

With my second import, the shippers and their receiving agents handled the paperwork for me for a small fee so I didn't even need to do these forms myself.

Whether you are doing the legwork yourself or getting help from the agent you'll need to 'book in' with the shipping line to collect your car. You'll need to have your customs, duty and VAT sorted first, then on production of the customs forms and some ID you'll be handed the keys to you car and off you go!

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