Importing a classic car to the UK


How difficult is it to import a classic car to the UK, and what are the rules? These questions have run through the head of many an ardent enthusiast, browsing the classifieds and dreaming of taking that ‘rrari for a spin around the roundabout mayhem of Milton Keynes. Okay, maybe not quite…

But still, importing a classic car is a common enough occurrence, especially in a world where the motors of yesterday have spread far and wide. Italian Stallions that have never left Italy, LHD Porsches that are sitting in the California sun, all are fair game for the classic car lover willing to put themselves to the trouble. We’ve even heard of cars being shipped over from Australia.

The challenge with any import is understanding the rules, and the inevitable paperwork. We’ve had a look at the broad process and requirements, and what you may need to consider before signing on the dotted line.

What do I legally have to do when importing a car to the UK?

The legal requirements for importing a car to the UK are broadly the same whether it’s a modern car or a classic. However, they can be more complicated for classic cars. The VAT or duty may vary, and classics tend to demand more in the way of vehicle approval.

containers waiting to go

Either way, you should check all the below requirements and plan accordingly before you go ahead with the import.

  • Tell HMRC within 14 days of the car’s arrival
  • Pay VAT and duty, if HMRC tell you to
  • Get vehicle approval to show your vehicle meets safety and environmental standards
  • Register and tax the vehicle with the DVLA
  • Insure your vehicle before you drive it on the road

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How do I tell HMRC that I’ve imported a car?


Inevitably, notifying HMRC of an import can be a bit of a complicated business. There’s a guide on the gov.uk website to help you with the process, if you’re doing it yourself. The current information shows that a private individual will need to use a declaration form called C384, which you can submit via email or post.

A VAT-registered company or individual can use the online NOVA service (Notification of Vehicle Arrivals) to tell HMRC about a vehicle import to the UK. Some transport companies will handle this part on your behalf, if you’re paying for them to bring the vehicle into the UK for you.

What are the VAT and import duty rules?


There are different VAT and duty liabilities depending on where you’re importing a car from. They also vary depending on the age of the car. As of October 2022, cars over 30 years old have a 5% VAT liability, while cars under 30 years old have a 20% VAT liability. But you may not be liable to pay duty if you are a UK citizen returning to the UK and bringing vehicles with you, for example.

The inner workings of HM Customs are a mystery to the vast majority of us, but one thing you can rely on them for is a very comprehensive set of rules. We find the classification for classic cars as a commodity under Heading 9705 of the UK Integrated Online Tariff. Specifically, the category applies to motor vehicles at least 30 years old which are in their original state, ‘preserved and maintained in the historically correct condition’.

How do I register an imported classic car in the UK?


Once you’ve actually brought the car into the country and you’ve done your import tax and duty, HMRC should confirm that you can now register your imported classic car with the DVLA. This is a vital step before you can drive the car on UK roads.

Sometimes your shipping company might help with this, too – you should check when researching transportation providers.

There are a number of potential steps to take before registering your imported car. They’ll depend on the kind of car you’ve imported and whether you plan to drive it straight away.

Typically, you’ll need:

  • A V55/5 form (and the V355/5, which is a guide to filling this in!)
  • The Vehicle Identification Number
  • The non-UK registration document from when the vehicle was first registered
  • A certificate of insurance
  • A new MOT certificate, or SORN notification
  • Evidence of your name and address
  • Evidence of Type Approval

Validating the age of your vehicle may be a sticking point in this process, if the documentation from the country you’re importing from is incomplete or parts of it are missing. An owners’ club can often help in this case.

If the car you’re importing is damaged or a modified vehicle, you might be given a Q registration by DVLA. You could potentially be issued with a new Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

The DVLA may also put a marker in your V5C, or ask for Individual Vehicle Approval, but this last point usually only where the vehicle is newer and has been substantially rebuilt or modified.

pile of docs

What is Individual Vehicle Approval?


The IVA process is to make sure a car is considered safe to drive on the roads. It’s typically needed in cases where a car is rebuilt, a kit car, or radically altered, but some imports would also need to go through this process. It is not usually needed for cars over ten years old, so you might not need to go through this step when importing a classic car – see the gov.uk site’s list of exemptions.


As the above shows, it’s not a simple process to import a car into the UK. Working with a transportation company that can do some of the legwork for you could be helpful, but ultimately the responsibility lies with you as the buyer to make sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. If you’ve got a friend or a fellow car club member who’s done this before, it’s worth talking through their experience with them!

Insuring your imported classic is a critical part of the legal import process, and you won’t be able to drive the car on UK roads without the right cover. If you have questions about insuring a car you’re importing, we’re here to help.  Just call us on 0121 248 9440, email enquiries@nortonib.co.uk, or send us a message below.



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