Import Car USA to UK

How to Import a Car to the UK from the USA

Import Car USA to UK


There are two main ways to ship a car from the US to the UK; in a container or not in a container. The difference for me was $6,600 vs $1,200 so clearly I went with the non container method. This is normally referred to as ‘roll-on, roll-off’ or RORO for short. My $1,200 got the car collected from my home in Austin, put on a huge transporter lorry to Florida, through US customs, onto the ship and I collected it at Southampton. I thought this was reasonable value at the time. Though It excluded shipping insurance, which was 1.5% of the car’s value.

I am told that most car manufacturers export cars using RORO so there should not be a problem with this method. Some people have told me that they got a containerised shipment for a little extra. And one of the shippers I list, boasts container shipments for RORO prices – check it out. I must admit I would have paid a bit more for the container but not at the prices I was quoted. There is a risk of theft using RORO – my licence plates dissappeared en-route for example!

I had several quotes for shipping. You need to look up ‘freight forwarders’ in the US yellow pages and there are several on the web. I used Vantage International Shipping, who responded quickly by phone and email with a competitive quote (& got the job, by the way – but have since closed down, sadly). The second time I used Allworld Removals in Boston, who were fine.

Allstates Worldwide had an impressive web site but did not even respond to their web form. One personal importer told me they did a terrible job for him, damaged his car and refused to talk to him – best avoided.

Ghedi International in Austin, TX, provided a quote, and shipped a colleague’s car a few years ago.

I recently discovered American Car Imports based in London and Miami and talked to them about conversions. They were far too expensive but have a web site and may be useful for shipping or other matters.

The other option is to look at a UK based shipper. Autoshippers for example, are based near Bristol and have a handy guide to importing cars from the USA to the UK. Their details are below and are worth contacting.

When the car is ready to go, it should have a quarter of a gallon of petrol. Any less and if it runs out during transit, the shipping authorities will charge you. Any more and they can take away the excess and charge for that too. Shame really since petrol is somewhat cheaper in the US and it is tempting to fill it right up – don’t!

Your shipper will need the vehicle Title or if it’s new and untitled they will want the Certificate of Origin. They need originals so make copies for yourself.

If you are buying new, for immediate export then it is possible to buy the car without US Sales Tax. However, finding a US Dealer that understands the question is a little tough. For example in the Boston area I tried about a dozen dealers before Quirk Ford told me they could do that and had sold several cars to private exporters. The reality was a little frustrating but perseverance paid off and I got it tax free.

Bear in mind that buying new, sometimes attracts manufacturers rebates, which are available for US residents only. So if you have a US address and Social Security number, pay the tax, and Title the vehicle you could get a hefty rebate (applied as an up front discount in the Ford case). I could have got $3,000 off the Expedition. However, the Title process would have added up to 4-6 weeks and the dealer was worried that when the car hit Customs and was scanned out of the country, Ford would claw back the $3,000 from the Dealer. It sounded a reasonable concern so in the end we did it without the rebate but minus tax and they made up the difference with a bit more discount, so I got the car there and then.

​One surprise I had when I collected the car in Southampton, was there was an additional £40 (about $60) handling fee for the UK agent of the shippers. They were fairly efficient and helpful but I was not expecting this charge. It covers the removal of the car from the ship, storage and handling all the paperwork. So have a bunch of spare cash to avoid embarrassing situations. In fact, you should ask your US shipper who their UK receiving agent is and call them to get their exact costs ahead of time.

The process of collecting the car was like an adventure game. I lost track of all the people we spoke to on the day, but as long as you have all the paperwork and manage to hand the relevant pieces of paper to all the people in the chain, after about 30 minutes you are driving your new baby away from the docks, with a big grin on your face! In 2017 I have been warned that it is no longer possible to simply drive the car away from the dock before conversion and the rest of the process. But my shipping agent friends tell me that’s not true and as long as it’s insured can be driven straight home or to the conversion garage. Best to check with your own shippers to avoid breaking the law or embarrassment.

Shipping Insurance

Shipping insurance costs seem to be coming down and often bundled up into the overall price. The rule here is to shop around, though it will generally be provided by your shipper at about 1.5% of the car’s cost. You need to make sure you are insured from where you say goodbye to your car – to when you see it again. This may be door to door or dock to dock or a combination – make sure it’s covered at all times. Car’s do fall into the sea!

Read the small print and exclusions in particular. Make sure you know what is included and what is not. Typically if you put anything loose inside the car then don’t expect it to be there at the other end and don’t expect it to be covered by the insurance. I do know people who have filled the car up with belongings that have made it to the UK – but frankly, they were lucky. I wouldn’t risk it.

I covered the front seats with plastic sheeting that my local garage gave me for free and did the same with the steering wheel and front carpets. When I collected the car in Southampton this plan seemed to have paid off, since everything was filthy with oil. Luckily I could just throw out the protective covers and the everything underneath was spotless!

My only loss was the licence plate which had been stolen – so make sure you remove anything that is easy to take off and cover anything that big oily boots are likely to touch!


You will need to pay 20% VAT and customs duty of 10% unless you have owned the car for more than 6 months (and can prove it) and if you are intending keeping it for your own use for at least a year after entering the country. These days you also need to show that you have lived in the US for those 6 months too and the car has been driven. licenced and insured during that time. This is to catch all the scammers that pretend all this in order to avoid the duty and tax. I think Customs have closed the loopholes.​

For cars of “historical interest” you may get away with paying a combined duty and VAT cost of only 5% but that has to agreed by HMRC’s car team in Ireland. People do get caught out by declaring that their import qualifies, paying 5% and then getting a big bill when HMRC rules that the car does not qualify. The tip here is to get that agreed with them – they will issue a “Binding Tariff” via the BTI process before it even leaves the US (or wherever you are buying it).

Another tip – some folks have tried to hide motorbikes or small cars in containers, thinking they can avoid duty, VAT and other costs. However, even if you get away with that part – you won’t get a NOVA number and therefore will never be able to register the vehicle.

Useful contacts

A1 Auto Transport Shippers for 25 years

9032 Soquel Drive #200


CA 95003

Tel: 1-800-452-2880



​Allworld Removals Shippers

434 Chelsea Street

East Boston

MA 02182

Tel: 1-617-569-0696 (Metro Boston)

Fax: 1-617-569-0696



Autoshippers Shippers

Worthy Road

Chittening Industrial Estate



BS11 0YB

Freephone: 0800 3890784

Tel: +44 117 9828123

Fax: +44 117 9822229



Car Shipping Made Simple Instant Quote Online

101 New London Road



UK Free Phone: 0800 009 3763



First Base Freight

Unit B, Lanhilleth Industrial Estate


Blaenau Gwent

NP13 2RX


Tel: +44 (0)1495 320540



Ghedi International Shippers

8002 Burleson Road


Texas 78744

Tel: 1-512-385-3706

Fax: 1-512-385-8300



Import / Export Links from Autopedia


KWL Logistics Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was shipped by them 🙂

11-15 Schneider Close

Carr Road Commercial Centre



IP11 3SS

Tel.: +44 1394 675750

Fax: +44 1394 675032



Ship My Car Container shipping for a Roll-on/Roll-off price

Unit 20/24 Tanners Drive


Milton Keynes

MK14 5BN


Tel: 00 (44) 1908 887 917

Fax: 00 (44) 1908 810 242



Shipping International Shippers

1161 Mission Street

San Francisco

CA 94103-1514

Tel: 1-800-962-4715

Tel: 1-415-255-1892

Fax: 1-415-626-7443



Supreme Freight Shippers

160 Millbrook Road East


SO15 1JR


Tel: 44-238-033-7778

Fax: 44-0238-033-7779



YFT Logistics Ltd Recommended by a reader


Moorhill Road

West End


SO30 3AW

Tel: +44 2380 472696

FAX: +44 2380051228