Should you even consider bringing a car to the UK? Or should you just buy one when you arrive?
This is the first question you should ask yourself. The main reasons that people end up deciding to go for the import option are:
- You already own a car in the US
- You like it
- You will lose a lot of money if you sell it in the US
- You cannot get that make/model in the UK
- You want to drive an unusual car in the UK
- You like a challenge!
And the reasons why you might not:
These are all valid concerns. The purpose of this site is to help you draw up your own list of pros and cons so that you can make an informed decision before you commit yourself.
- Too much hassle
- Not cost justified
- May be liable for 17.5% tax
- May be liable for 10% duty or more
- Don't want to drive a LHD car in a RHD country
- Worried about fuel costs
- Worried about insurance costs
- Worried about the maintenance of a non standard car
- Concerned about the SVA test and requirements
- It's easier to have a company bring one in for you
Let's take a look at the considerations:
Your existing US car. In my case I had owned a 2 year old Ford Explorer from new. It was in excellent condition, I liked it a lot, it was paid for and I would have a lost a lot of money selling it in the US and starting again in the UK. These were the original reasons I looked at bringing it with me to the UK. The second time around I just wanted a US car that was not available in Europe and bought it new.
If your car is old, not worth much and nothing special you might consider saying a sad farewell and leaving it behind. If, like me, you have good reasons to hang onto it then consider bringing it over to the UK.
The length of time you have owned the car is also a factor. If you are bringing in a new car then you will probably be liable to 17.5% Value Added Tax (VAT) and at least 10% duty. You can avoid both of these things if you have owned the car in the US for 6 months and will keep the car for a year after arriving in the UK. If you have to pay VAT and duty then they will seriously affect the maths, by making it a much more costly excercise. By the way - the most common question here is how to avoid paying duty and VAT. The answer is unless you can show you have lived in the US and owned the car for more than 6 months - you can't! Customs are well aware of the scams and have to power to take the vehicle off you - you have been warned!
Shipping. The first thing is shipping. You need to find a shipper, choose a shipping method, price it up and add to the cost of getting the car to the shipper (or them collecting it), insurance, duty, VAT and other handling charges.
Driving on the wrong side of the car. This has proved to be a non problem for us. We have a RHD Jeep and a LHD Explorer. It did not take long to get used to driving both cars. In fact we don't even think about it any more. It probably helps that the Explorer is quite tall as we can see over most other cars on the road. The only 'problem' has been taking tickets at the entrance to car parks and paying the man on the way out. We solved that quite simply by buying one of those long arm things in Boots, intended to help disabled people pick things up. I added a small plastic pot to the top to collect the change from the car park man!! Always makes them smile!
Conversions. Now that the SVA test has been introduced across Europe, the lights conversion is a more strict affair. I have heard from one private importer that this was a nightmare - the SVA centre insisted that all sorts of things were changed at great cost. On the other hand, one private importer who followed the instructions here told me it was a doddle. You may want to use a specialist to handle this part - there are several listed later in this guide.
Insurance. Being a Brit I was relieved to get back home as Insurance is terribly expensive in the US. However, if you are an American then you may find the insurance expensive here initially, unless you can prove your 'no claims' situation. You should definitely bring proof of your 'no claims' period as some companies will accept this. They did for me. I list the insurers who have provided the best deals for me in the last 6 years. Also, be prepared to have to work harder to insure an import car - and tell each insurer you call that it is a US import before you waste too long on the phone with them!
Maintenance. General maintenance of the car once here, is something to consider. It won't be too hard to get an oil change or new plugs but anything else may need a bit more research. In the maintenance section I have listed some specialist companies that I have used to solve everything that has happened so far. Don't expect your local Halfords to be of much use!
Before you go any further I strongly advise you to call the DVLA and ask for their 'Car Import Pack'. They will send it to you free and it includes a useful booklet and all the forms you'll need. It also has lots of useful reference info that you'll find handy as you go through the process. Their number is 0870-850-0007.