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:
And the reasons why you might not:
And that’s just for a “new” car – if you are looking to bring in a classic car, a car of historical interest or a bag of bits then there are a whole other set of considerations and rules to follow. I’ll mention some of those as we go. There's also a nice guide to importing classic cars from the chaps at Auto Shippers.
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.
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. Same the third time.
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 20% 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, lived in the US for the last 12 months (and can prove it) 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 prove the three things I just metnioned, you can’t! Customs are well aware of the scams and have the 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 had 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 IVA test has been introduced, the lights conversion is a more strict affair. I have heard from one private importer that this was a nightmare – the IVA 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 contact the DVLA and ask for their ‘Vehicle Import Pack’. They will send it to you free and it includes a useful booklet and all the forms you’ll need. A link is listed later in this guide.
Can’t face all this? How about just buying a US car that’s already here? 🙂
David Boatwright Partnership US Car Sales, Service, IVA & Parts