Import and registration of vehicles in the UK

When arriving in the UK you might want to bring your own motor vehicle or motorcycle with you. To do this you will have to import and register your motor vehicle or motorcycle.

If you plan to import a motor vehicle or motorcycle, either temporarily or permanently, first make sure that you’re aware of the latest regulations. Obtain a copy of Notice 3 (Bringing your Belongings and Private Motor Vehicle to the United Kingdom From Outside the European Union) or PI1 (Permanent Import of Motor Vehicles into Great Britain) from Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise, Thomas Paine House, Angel Square, Torrens Street, London EC1V 1TA (0845-0109000, ). You must complete customs form C104F if you’re importing your private vehicle for no more than six months in a 12-month period. If you’re setting up home in the UK, you must complete form C104A. Forms are available from shipping agents or from the above address. Information is also available from motoring organisations. The regulations also apply to the importation of boats and aircraft.

You should check whether you’re able to register and licence a particular vehicle in the UK and whether it can, if necessary, be modified to comply with British standards of construction, i.e. receive National Type Approval. Check with the manufacturer’s export department, the British importers or the vehicle licensing authority in the UK that the vehicle you’re planning to import meets the latest regulations. For further information, obtain a copy of leaflet P11 from HM Customs and Excise at the above address. If you wish to import a car (except as a visitor), inform the customs staff on arrival in the UK. Whether you’re required to pay import duty and car tax depends on how long you’ve owned the car and how long you’ve lived abroad. Duty is 10 per cent on cars, 8 per cent on motorcycles below 250cc and 6 per cent on those above 250cc, plus value added tax (VAT) at 17.5 per cent. There’s a reduced rate of duty for vehicles imported from some countries.

A vehicle purchased abroad duty and tax-free may be imported and used in the UK only by a diplomat, a member of an officially recognised international organisation, a member of NATO or British forces or the civilian staff accompanying them. Importing some exotic foreign cars (most American cars) isn’t advisable, as you may have problems with servicing and spares; and, if it’s a monster, manoeuvring and parking on the UK’s narrow roads can be difficult or impossible. All cars registered in the UK over three years old must undergo an annual serviceability test.

Vehicle Registration in the UK

A vehicle registration document (V5) shows the registered keeper (the person who keeps the vehicle on public roads and not necessarily the legal owner) of a vehicle. It gives the keeper’s name and address, the registration mark (number) and other details about the vehicle. A new registration document must be issued each time there’s a change in the details printed on it, e.g. a change in the address of the keeper.

When you import a vehicle into the UK (either free of tax and duty or when duty and tax have been paid on importation) you’re given a Customs and Excise clearance form C&E 386. You also receive a Department for Transport notice PI1 Permanent Import of Motor Vehicles into Great Britain and leaflet V277, explaining the legal requirements you must satisfy in order to register a vehicle in the UK. Leaflet V100 contains notes about registering and licensing a motor vehicle and leaflet V355 tells you what you need to know about registering and licensing motor vehicles that haven’t previously been registered in the UK. Both are available from post offices. If you wish to import a vehicle permanently, after bringing it into the UK temporarily (e.g. as a visitor), you must contact your nearest Customs and Excise office. If you import a car on arrival or at a later date, you require the following documents:

  • The invoice, receipt or bill of sale or transfer for the vehicle, made out in your name;
  • The foreign registration document (either full or temporary) for the vehicle, made out in your name;
  • A green card or international insurance certificate, made out in your name;
  • If you’ve owned the vehicle longer than six months and wish to import it free of duty and tax, you require proof of how long you’ve owned it.

When you’ve received customs clearance, you’re given form C&E 386, which you must take to the nearest Vehicle Registration Office (VRO) to get your vehicle registered and licensed. You also need the following documents:

A British insurance certificate or cover note. A foreign insurance certificate, with or without a green card, isn’t valid for a car registered in the UK and kept by someone resident in the UK. You can drive on foreign registration plates with valid foreign insurance until you’ve applied for British registration. If your foreign insurance isn’t valid in the UK, you must obtain temporary insurance through an office of the Automobile Association (AA) or the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) at your port of arrival or, if this isn’t possible, you must visit a local insurance office before driving in the UK.

  • A current British test certificate if your vehicle is over three years old or a declaration of exemption. If your vehicle isn’t old enough to require testing or is exempt, you need an exemption certificate.
  • The road tax fee for 6 or 12 months. The VRO provides you with the tax disc on payment of the fee (cheques are accepted).
  • If the vehicle was previously registered in Germany, the VRO wants to see evidence that the German number plates have been invalidated. Ask at a VRO for information.
  • A completed form V55/5 (Application for a First Licence for a Motor Vehicle and Declaration for Registration), available from a post office or VRO.

The VRO allocates you a registration number (corresponding to the year of manufacture of your vehicle) which you take to a garage to have British registration plates made and fitted to your vehicle. When the plates have been fitted, you must display your road tax disc inside your car windscreen. Your vehicle registration document (V5) is sent to you direct by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) a few weeks later. If your vehicle has been admitted without duty and tax being paid, the vehicle registration document is endorsed with the words ‘Customs Restricted Until (date)’. This can be exchanged for a standard registration document when you’ve paid the duty or tax or after the one-year restriction period has expired. A useful website dedicated to the subject is Car Importing ( ).

If you buy a new car from a garage in the UK, they apply for a registration number on your behalf and fit registration plates. When you buy a used vehicle in the UK, you should always be given the registration document. However, the document doesn’t prove legal ownership and you should satisfy yourself that the seller either owns the vehicle or is entitled to offer it for sale. You should ask to see a bill of sale in the seller’s name or other evidence, such as a hire purchase discharge document. If you have any doubts about the ownership of a vehicle, you shouldn’t buy it: for example, if you’re buying privately and the address on the registration document doesn’t tally with the seller’s address.

When you buy a used vehicle, you must complete the back of the registration document (‘Notification of Changes’) and send it to the DVLA.

New British registration numbers are released twice a year by the Department for Transport, when a new two-digit year identifier is issued. Thus you can (usually) tell the age of a car from its registration number, which normally remains with it throughout its life. From 1999, there have been two number plate changes a year on 1st March and 1st September (introduced to eliminate the August rush when changes were made once a year). It’s absolutely vital for some people to be seen driving a car with the latest registration, which leads to a mad scramble for new cars in March and September each year (although this isn’t simply snob appeal, as the registration of a second-hand car affects its resale price).

If you want to give someone who has everything a present, you could consider buying him a personalised registration number. The ultimate ‘one-upmanship’ is to have your initials or name on your car number plate. Most of the best numbers (A1, RU12, FU2) were snapped up years ago and are virtually priceless, but there are still hundreds for sale each week in publications such as The Sunday Times, Exchange & Mart and car magazines. A number of companies enjoy a lucrative business selling registration numbers, which can cost thousands of pounds even for the most obscure numbers (the prices are ludicrous to the uninitiated). Numbers are also sold by auction. When you change cars (or buy a new number), you can have the registration number transferred to your new car.

The DVLA (which issues licence numbers) also cashes in on this profitable business and allows motorists to create their own number when registering a new vehicle, for a hefty fee. Call the DVLA enquiry line (0870-240 0010, ) for information. It is optional for motorists to display the euro symbol on number plates - you can still drive in Europe with the oval ‘GB’ sticker on your vehicle.

This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.

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