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UK in the USA

London 17:56, 04 Oct 2011
Washington, DC 12:56, 04 Oct 2011

Cars and driving

Can I bring my car into the UK?

These notes provide guidelines and sources of information on the importation of automobiles (including motorized caravans) and motorcycles (including motor scooters and mopeds) into the United Kingdom from outside the European Community for private use. The following guidelines apply.

Temporary Importation of a Motor Vehicle
Visitors may temporarily import their vehicles into the UK. Vehicles do not need to be registered in the UK if the following criteria are met:

  • The vehicle will not be in the UK for more than six months.
  • You hold a valid foreign registration permit.
  • The vehicle displays a foreign registration plate bearing letters or numbers that can be identified in the UK.

Regulations pertaining to insurance requirements, exemptions from customs and duty payments, as well as further information on the registering and licensing of vehicles in the United Kingdom can be found on the following internet site:

HM Customs and Excise Customs Notice 3: Bringing belongings and private vehicle to UK from outside EC.

An informative, unofficial guide to the temporary importation of a motor vehicle may be found at

Permanent Importation of a Motor Vehicle
The following internet sites provide comprehensive information on the permanent importation of vehicles into the UK:

1. Department for Transport
How to import a vehicle permanently into Great Britain. (This publication explains the procedures for importing, licensing, and registering vehicles purchased outside Great Britain).

2. General Guidelines for importing a motor vehicle
Most USA and Canadian design and construction standards will be accepted as being equivalent to Single Vehicle Approval standards. There are, however, two important exceptions in addition to the above lefthand traffic requirements.

  • Most North American cars follow a different convention for the color of their external lights. Front side lights, and all turning indicators are likely to require modification - including the addition of frontside repeater turn indicators.
  • There are no standards on external projections in North America. Beware of vehicles with features such as "bull bars," non-retracting mascots, and protruding exhaust pipes. Modifications may be necessary for use in Britain.

The following is general guidance on the most common problems you are likely to encounter. It is not exhaustive and you should always seek the manufacturer's advice in relation to individual models.

1. Lefthand Traffic
If your vehicle is left hand drive, it will probably need to be modified or adjusted for use in left hand traffic. In particular:

  • Headlamps will need to be replaced or adjusted to produce the required dipped beam for left-hand traffic. The alignment requirement must be met without the use of masks, beam converters or adapters unless they are an integral part of an approved headlamp.
  • For vehicles first used on or after April 1, 1980, at least one rear fog light must be fitted on the center-line or the offside of the vehicle.
  • Rear view mirrors must give the required field of view for use in left hand traffic.

2. Speedometer
Great Britain uses English imperial (mph) as opposed to metric units (kph) for speed measurement. The law requires that speedometers must include a miles-per-hour display. Please note in particular that any modified display must be visible in daylight and in darkness.

3. Emissions
Vehicles must meet European emissions standards. Please note that gas-fuelled cars manufactured after August 1992 are required to meet standards that can currently only be achieved by a catalytic converter.

Please note: the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs cannot advise on whether a particular vehicle is suitable for use in Britain. You should always consult the manufacturer or his agent for advice, especially about whether any modifications are necessary and whether they can be made. You should give the manufacturer as much information as possible about the origin of the vehicle so that he can give appropriate help. Ideally, this should include the Vehicle Identification Number - usually 17 characters - stamped on the chassis.

If you are importing or buying a vehicle which has not been type-approved - e.g., one built for a non-European market such as Japan or North America - you are advised to check (before purchasing) with the person or company supplying it that the warranty, servicing arrangements, availability of spare parts, product liability and recall arrangements satisfy your needs. You are also advised to check that your vehicle insurance is valid in such circumstances. This applies in particular to vehicles which have been subject to Single Vehicle Approval (SVA) and imports from outside the European Union, which are unlikely to have been type-approved.

Further information is available from the Department for Transport

4. Customs Duty and Tax
Motor vehicles imported into the United Kingdom are normally liable to customs duty and Value Added Tax (VAT). Customs duty is 10% for automobiles and between 6% and 8% for motorized caravans, motorcycles, motor scooters and mopeds. The VAT rate on all goods is 17.5%. Detailed information on customs regulations, as well as specific criteria for receiving exemptions from customs and VAT payments, is available from HM Revenue and Customs Notice 3: Bringing belongings and private vehicle to UK from outside EC.