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Insider's Guide To: Importing A Classic Car

After the thrill of the chase of finding the ideal classic car for investment, you will most likely want to bring it back home if purchased abroad. For any car bought within the European Union, this is a simple process, as all you have to do is register the car in the UK and pay the small sum for this process to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

Moving a classic car from one EU country to another comes under the Single Market Rules, so there is no duty or VAT to be paid. You will need to make sure the car is being sold legally in whichever country you buy it and you will need to insure it and sort the MoT in the UK where applicable. You will also need to notify HM Revenues and Customs of the car being brought into the UK, even though there will be nothing to pay. You will have to pay a small Customs Fee for administration, though. Keep all documentation that comes with the car and is collected during the import process to prove your ownership.

Transporting a car within the EU is usually best done by either trailer or dedicated car transporter. There are several companies that specialise in moving classic cars about Europe and they will be able to give competitive rates, although you must remember that for a one-way transport you will also have to pay the cost of the transporter returning home. It's vital to make sure any transport company has sufficient insurance to cover the value of your car.

Shipping a car to the UK from outside the EU can be managed by air freight, but this is extremely costly and usually only reserved for the most expensive cars that spend their lives on the premier concours circuit.

With shipping, there are two options, though both are best done via a shipping agent and prices are generally favourable in the USA. The first is RoRo, or roll-on roll-off, car transporter ferries. This will involve a three-week crossing from the East Cost of the USA to the UK, and there are a number of shipping companies in the USA that will take care of all the paperwork and loading of your car. Remember, your car must be driveable to use a RoRo ferry.

The second shipping option is by sea container, which means the car is more secure during shipping, but it costs more and there is the risk of the car being damaged while being loaded and unloaded from the container. You can reduce the cost of container shipping by sharing the container with another car, but bear in mind you will need to pay to have the car loaded and unloaded.

For those looking to move a car permanently to the UK or Europe, importing to the UK is the best option. As any EU country can act as a gateway to import a car to a member state, it comes down to the local costs; at present the UK is currently the cheapest place to import a car to. If you import a car you don't need to reside in the EU country where the car is imported to as long as you have permanent residency within the EU. You will need to complete a C384 form to establish how much duty and VAT is to be paid.

In most cases, you will have to pay VAT at 20% when you import a car, unless you can prove that the car has a rarity value or historical significance. For classic cars over 50-years-old the VAT rate is reduced to 5%. 

If you import a classic car to one country in the EU and want to move it to another, it’s best to obtain a Single Administrative Document (SAD), which shows all import duties and VAT have been paid at the point of import. Many classic cars are bought for investment and are likely to be sold and moved abroad, os a SAD is important to simplify any subsequent movement from one country to the next.

You might also consider applying for a Binding Tariff Information (BTI) classification. A BTI is a legally binding decision valid in all EU member states that establishes what the vehicle is, and who is entitled to own or sell it, which makes it easier to work out the car’s value for import duty and VAT. A BTI usually lasts for six years, although HMRC can reduce this period at its own discretion. It may also refuse a BTI if the owner doesn’t offer sufficient information to support an application.

Applying for a BTI is free, but HMRC may charge if it has to seek expert advice to be certain that a car is what it’s claimed to be. You can find out more about BTIs at or call the Tariff Classification Service on 01702 366077. To qualify for a BTI, a car must be ‘an item of historical interest’, which generally means a car more than 25-years-old, although younger cars can qualify if deemed rare or important enough. This is an important description as cars that have been modified from their original state will not qualify for a BTI and will be subject to standard import and VAT duties.

The Tariff Classification Service will provide you with the correct form to apply for a BTI. For classic car owners, the BTI classification number you want to achieve is 9705000090, which means you will pay no import duty and VAT at 5%.

If you intend to import a classic car to the UK on a temporary basis, you can use the car in the UK for no more than six months without paying import duty or VAT. The car must be legally registered in the country of origin from where it was imported and have number plates that are recognisable in the UK. If the number plates are not recognisable, you will need to obtain temporary import plates to drive the car on UK roads.

If you buy and import more than one car at a time, be aware that this may require you to convince HMRC you are not dealing in classic cars and intending to sell the cars to make a profit.

By Al Suttie

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