your guide to importing a car from overseas

your guide to importing a car from overseas

If you're looking for something a bit different or to stand out from the crowd, there is a market for overseas cars which can be imported into the UK. Whether you are after a different look, better performance or spec, or you just want to own a car that is unavailable in the UK, many vehicles can be successfully imported from all over the world.
It can be fraught with issues if you do not know the rules and regulations involved. Aside from finding the right shipping/import company to bring your car into the UK, you will need to be sure that your new vehicle is road legal in the UK. There are also a number of different types of import, and different countries have varying rules, so it’s best to be prepared.

What does grey import mean?

There are two types of vehicle import: parallel imports and grey imports. The former refers to cars that are available to buy in the UK as well as overseas, whereas grey imports are those that are obtained through channels other than the maker's official distribution system. Typically cars imported from Japan will need to have changes made to them as they often do not conform to the UK standards. For example, certain lights and internal instruments will not be allowed so will need to be modified on arrival. Similarly, most Japanese cars do not have an under-seal attached, another thing that will need to be changed before you can use it legally in the UK.

Can foreign cars drive in the UK?

Whether you are importing your car from Europe or further afield, you are legally allowed to drive it as long as it adheres to UK standards. There are a few important steps to take to ensure that this is the case;

  • Tell HMRC of the vehicle’s arrival within 14 days
  • Pay VAT and excise duty (HMRC will tell you if these need to be done)
  • Get approval for the vehicle type - this will prove that it meets all relevant environmental and safety standards
  • Register your car as an imported vehicle and tax it appropriately. This can be done with the DVLA, who will provide a registration number so you can have UK plates made.
  • It would be sensible, as soon as possible, to arrange for the vehicle to have an MOT check
  • You will also need to ensure that you have appropriate insurance in place to cover the vehicle as not all insurers will provide cover for imported vehicles.

With European Whole Vehicle Type Approval, you will not usually have any trouble importing cars from Europe as they will meet the same standard as UK models. It is only with cars from America or grey imports that you will need to check they meet UK regulations for things like emissions, brakes, steering, and safety. Get the specification in writing before you buy.

You should also consider the fact that many vehicles manufactured overseas are left-hand drive so if you are used to driving a vehicle manufactured for the UK this will be a significant change.

How long can you drive in the UK on foreign plates?

Residents of the UK are not allowed to drive cars that are not registered in the UK. You must request a registration number from the DVLA as soon as possible. In order to get this registration, you will need to inform HMRC of the arrival of your car. You must also have the necessary supporting documents available:

  • proof of vehicle approval, form V276 (the declaration of newness)
  • an invoice showing when the car was collected, and the original foreign registration certificate to show the date of manufacture.

Once this is sorted, you will be able to get plates made that correspond with your new registration number. You will need the V5C to have the number plates made, and they must be made by a registered supplier. You will need to show a number of documents to state:

  • Name and address
  • Registration certificate
  • Driving license
  • Rates bill from the past 6 months
  • Bank or building society statement
  • NI card

To prove you are allowed to display your registration number, you will need one of the following:

  • Registration certificate (V5C or V5CNI)
  • Green slip
  • Certificate of entitlement (V750 or V750NI)
  • Retention document (V778)
  • Renewal reminder for vehicle tax or SORN
  • Temporary registration certificate (V379 or V379NI)


There are other documents you can use, details of which you can find on the Gov.UK website.

Is there an import tax from Japan to the UK?

You will normally need to pay VAT and duty when you import a car from overseas. VAT is worked out as the total cost of the vehicle plus the cost of any accessories you may have bought with it, the cost of delivery, and the cost of duty. You will not have to pay duty on your grey import as this only applies to cars bought in from outside the EU. HMRC will inform you of the price you have to pay. You must pay the VAT and duty before the car can be released from customs and registered.

How much does it cost to import a car into the UK?

The price of importing can vary considerably, depending on where you are bringing the car in from and who you choose as your import supplier. The VAT and duty you pay will be directly influenced by the type of car you are buying as these figures are calculated using the car’s value as a parameter.
The cost of shipping the car might also be considerable, and your shipping supplier will also need to be paid. It is possible to import privately - from one owner to another - however, this might be tough without previous know-how on import laws and processes.

One of the most important elements of the whole process is being sure that the car you are importing a reliable vehicle. This means getting a detailed and comprehensive check of the car’s history, it’s equivalent MOT status and full provenance including previous write off or stolen information. You may need to arrange for this to be prepared by the vendor as typically UK vehicle-based lookup services won’t supply this information for imported vehicles until they have more of a UK history. Once they do a check from mycarcheck will help you buy with confidence and enjoy your new foreign car.

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