Importing a car from the US to the UK: a how-to guide

Gert Svaiko

Have your eye on a new car, but it’s in the US? Or perhaps you’ve already bought a new set of wheels over in the States, and need to import it into the UK.

Whichever is the case, read on. We’ve put together a helpful guide covering everything you need to know about how to import cars from the US to the UK. It’s a process that will be new to most people, so it’s useful to have some information on the procedures and paperwork.

We’ll cover it step by step below, along with details of how to register your vehicle with the DVLA once it arrives in the UK.

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Pros and cons of importing a car from the US

So, why buy a car from overseas, rather than here in the UK? And are there any pitfalls to watch out for? Here are some pros and cons to consider.


  • It could be cheaper than buying in the UK, even with taxes and customs charges
  • Access to particular models you can’t find here in the UK
  • The chance to own an unusual or exotic car.


  • The steering wheel could be on the wrong side for driving on UK roads
  • It can cost a lot in taxes and customs duties
  • The hassle - there’s a certain amount of inconvenience and paperwork involved in importing a vehicle into the UK from outside Europe.

Can you import and register a car from the US to the UK?

Yes, you can import a car from the US, but there are some rules you should be aware of before starting the process.

Firstly, you’ll need to make sure the vehicle you’re importing meets the UK’s environmental and safety regulations. For any vehicle not registered in the EU, you’ll need to apply to the DVLA for Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA).¹

There are some exemptions to this rule, such as for some vehicles manufactured over 10 years ago.¹ You can check the list of exemptions here, to see if any apply in your case.

Also, if the car you’re buying is classed as ‘seriously damaged’ (i.e it cannot be repaired and will need to be written off) then you won’t be able to register it in the UK.¹

How to import a car from the US to the UK?

Here’s how to import a car from the US to the UK:

  1. Find a vehicle and make the purchase
  2. Look for a car shipping specialist
  3. Get the paperwork sorted for the car
  4. Register your imported vehicle with DVLA
  5. Prepare your vehicle for UK roads

Now, let’s delve a bit deeper into these different steps, as it can be a slightly complicated process.

1. Find a vehicle and make the purchase

The first step is to find a car you want to buy. If you’re physically in the US, this shouldn’t be too difficult. You can visit new and used car dealerships, or buy a second-hand car from a private seller. It’s important to physically inspect the car before committing to the purchase. You should also make sure you have your finances in order, and set a budget so you don’t exceed your spending limit.

But if you’re based in the UK and are shopping online for a car to buy in the US, you’ll need to be much more careful.

To avoid being scammed, it’s critical to do your due diligence on the seller, making sure they’re legitimate. If possible, arrange for someone to physically inspect or even test drive the car on your behalf. You should also make sure to read the small print and uncover any hidden fees before sending over funds.

And when you do pay a deposit or the full balance, look for a secure way to transfer your money, like with Wise. You can send large sums securely with Wise, with no hidden fees and fair, mid-market exchange rates for converting your GBP to USD. It could be much cheaper than using your bank.

Please see the Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise fees & pricing for the most up-to-date information on pricing and fees.

💡Read more: What bank details are needed for an international bank transfer from the UK?

What are the most popular cars imported from the US to the UK?

Classic American cars tend to be the most popular choice for UK buyers. This includes models such as the Ford Mustang, Ford Thunderbird, Chevrolet Corvette and Austin-Healey 3000.²

Other commonly imported models include the Porsche 911, Jaguar E-Type and Chevrolet Camaro.²

2. Look for a car shipping specialist

With your dream car purchased, it’s time to think about shipping. It’s tempting to simply choose the cheapest, but this could be a mistake. It’s more important for your car to arrive in the UK safely, quickly and with all the paperwork in order.

So, look for a car shipping agency which:

  • Specialises in international vehicle shipping
  • Is fully insured
  • Makes details of all fees and charges available upfront
  • Is well reviewed and rated by previous customers.

You might also want to look for shipping firms which offer tracking services, or tools to simplify the UK customs clearance process.

Take your time choosing a shipping firm. Go for just the cheapest option without doing any research, and you could face any number of problems. For example, your car could be damaged en route, and the firm’s insurance won’t cover the repairs. It could also arrive late, or rack up reams of extra paperwork because the customs clearance process has been improperly handled.

Options for shipping

There are a few different ways you can ship your newly purchased car from the US to the UK:³

  • Roll on/roll-off. This is where cars are simply driven into a ship’s cargo area, along with other vehicles. It’s one of the cheapest options, but only suitable for working/driveable vehicles.

  • Shared container service. This is where your car is shipped with other vehicles inside a shipping container. The costs are shared between everyone using the container. It can be more secure, and is a good option for non-functioning cars, but it can take longer. This is because you’ll need to wait until the container is filled before it can be loaded and shipped.

  • Full container load. With this method, you’ll get the shipping container all to yourself. It’s the most expensive option, as you’ll be responsible for all charges. However, it can be quicker as the container can be shipped at any time.

What to do before your vehicle is picked up overseas?

Before your car sets off on its journey across the Atlantic, it’s a good idea to take some photos (or arrange for someone else to take them).

Focus on key areas such as side skirts, axles and wheels, or any other points of contact where the car will be secured. You should also take photos when the car arrives. This way, you’ll be able to identify and claim for any damage caused during the journey.

You should also check out insurance options, both for the journey and for when the car arrives in the UK.

3. Get the paperwork sorted for the car

One of the most complex parts of importing a vehicle into the UK is clearing customs, then registering the vehicle. Here’s the paperwork you need to have ready:⁴

DocumentWhere to get it?
Import declarationThe Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system - although your shipping agency can handle this for you
Invoice or bill of sale for your vehicle (needed for the import declaration)The seller/dealer
Shipping note and bill of lading (for customs clearance)Your shipping agency
Vehicle registration certificate or the vin/chassis numberThe seller/dealer
Proof of Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA)DVLA

You’re also likely to need a form of photo ID, such as your passport.

💡Read more: What is cash against documents?

4. Register your imported vehicle with DVLA

Once your vehicle has cleared UK customs, there are two key things you need to do. The first is to tell HMRC within 14 days of the car arriving.⁴ Only once you’ve done this, and paid VAT and duties if required, can you do the second task. This is to register the car with the DVLA.

Registering involves filling in some forms and providing supporting documents. DVLA may also ask to inspect the vehicle. Once you’ve submitted your application, it can take up to 6 weeks to receive your V5C registration certificate.⁵

Which documents do you need for registering an imported car?

You should prepare the following documents before registering your imported car with the DVLA:⁵

  • Proof of Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA)
  • Form V267 (for new vehicles)
  • Original foreign registration certificate (or letter from the manufacturer if unavailable)
  • Invoice from the supplier/seller.

5. Prepare your vehicle for UK roads

Lastly, you’ll need to get your US car ready and road legal before you can drive it. This includes getting a UK number plate, insurance and paying Vehicle Excise Duty (VED).

For certain US cars, you might need to make other adjustments. For example, getting your car fitted with amber indicator lenses, which some US vehicle models might not have.

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

Now to look at the important part - the cost of importing a car from the US to the UK. It varies depending on all kinds of factors, including the shipping agency you use and whether you have to pay VAT and duties.

Here’s a rough guide to some of the costs you can expect:

Shipping agency feesStarting from £521 ($650 USD)³
Import duty (if applicable)10%³
VAT (if applicable)20%³
DVSA inspection fee for Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA)£199 to £294⁶

Use this UK import duty calculator to add up the customs charges.

If you’re paying any of these fees in USD, pause before using your bank. Take a look at the Wise account instead, as it could save you money.

You can send money worldwide with Wise for low fees and fair exchange rates. It’s convenient, secure and speedy, even for large transfers. So, you can get your new car on its way to the UK quickly.


Please see the Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise fees & pricing for the most up-to-date information on pricing and fees.

After reading this guide, you should have a better idea of the process of importing a car from the US to the UK.

This includes the documents you’ll need, what order to do things in, and how much it costs. You’ll be hitting the road in no time.

Sources used:

  1. - Importing vehicles into the UK - Vehicle approval
  2. West Coast Shipping - Top 10 most popular classic cars imported to the UK
  3. CFR Classic - Car shipping from USA to UK
  4. - Importing vehicles into the UK - Telling HMRC
  5. - Importing vehicles into the UK - Registering an imported vehicle
  6. - IVA inspection fees

Sources last checked on date: 02-May-2023

*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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