How to Import Cars From UK – Costs, Processes, and Crucial Tips

Choosing the Right Car to Drive Across Country

There’s no denying that foreign cars have always held an element fascination for the general American consumer. And there’s even less to argue against British manufacturers making some of the most luxurious, intriguing, reliable, and fast cars on the market.

Take Jaguar, for example. It was hard to sell a Jaguar decades ago when first introduced to the general public. But now, it’s part of the most recognizable luxury vehicle brands worldwide.

Plenty of people want to import cars from UK manufacturers, whether old or new. The problem is that the process isn’t always as smooth as buying a car directly from a dealership. If you want to import your dream car, there’s a lot of information you need to know.

How to Import Cars From UK

Legislation You Need to Know

Three key pieces of legislation dictate the majority of standards to which imported cars must adhere, including many import cars from UK.

National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966

This is the legislation that dictates the safety standards for vehicles and road safety in the US. An addition was made in 1988 with the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act.

The two acts now outline all import standards regarding shipping cars from overseas.

Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972

This act contains legislation covering penalties against manufacturers that could be violating specific fuel economy standards that apply on US soil, including for imported vehicles.

Clear Air Act of 1968

This act was amended twice, in 1977 and again in 1990. It makes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responsible for setting national emission standards for all sources of air pollution, like motor vehicles.

Therefore, import cars from UK must adhere to these standards for you to ship them overseas and drive them on American soil. Of course, some exclusions may apply to some UK-manufactured vehicles.

It’s essential to familiarize yourself with these acts and the standards set by the government and other responsible authorities or agencies. Many vehicles made outside the US and not for US distribution could very well violate some standards and require substantial modifications.

Exemptions Worth Considering

Generally, the US wants to restrict consumers from buying imported cars under a certain age. More specifically, it targets cars manufactured less than 25 years prior to the customs clearance date.

This makes shipping cars from the UK, Japan, New Zealand, and others slightly more complicated.

However, there are exemptions you can take advantage of. For example, you could import cars from UK if they are over 21 years old and still have their original engines. This can give you an EPA exemption, which is a benefit. But it might not be enough to meet other import standards.

If the car is older than 25 years, it should already meet Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements.

Nonconforming cars might be exempt from many regulations if you’re re-importing them. For example, shipping a car from USA to UK might make it eligible for importing it back with less hassle even if it was modified to make it eligible in the UK.

Another way to get your hands on a vehicle from UK locations is by importing as an individual with diplomatic status or a member of foreign armed services. Alternatively, the import process might be easier if the car is imported for personal use that won’t exceed 12 months.

Under special circumstances, you can ship a nonconforming car from the UK if you commit to making modifications. But this can be costly, especially if you’re not there to oversee the process. Still, some DOT-registered motor vehicle importers can handle this for you to ensure you get your dream UK car.

The US State Department has its own list of exceptions that allow newer and nonconforming vehicles to easily clear customs. For instance, racing vehicles, exhibition cars, and demonstration and testing motor vehicles can be easier to import compared to everyday cars.

Importing new models is definitely difficult if you want a right-handed vehicle (RHD) in a country that uses left-handed hand driving (LHD). With that said, classic or vintage cars shipped from across the pond are unlikely to be seized by customs, impounded, or sent back.

Documents Needed at CustomsDocuments Needed at Customs

Whether shipping a car from USA to UK or the other way around, you’ll still need to fill out extensive customs paperwork.

Conforming vehicles coming from the UK should have a manufacturer’s label that proves compliance with active emissions standards. They must also have a safety certification label that confirms compliance with theft prevention, bumper, and other safety standards.

In addition, customs agents will want to inspect the following documents:

  • EPA form 3520-1
  • DOT form HS-7
  • Bill of lading
  • Bill of sale
  • Foreign registration
  • Other relevant documents

The shipping company representative usually passes these documents to the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent or inspector.

Vehicle Shipping Costs

Many factors determine the total shipping cost of conforming and nonconforming vehicles. Dimensions, travel distance, shipping service, transportation type, and even the distance between the origin and destination ports affect the pricing.

But note that shipping costs are separate from destination fees, taxes, and customs duties.

Auto duty rates are around 2.5% in the US for foreign-made vehicles. It usually doesn’t matter if the car is intended for sale, commercial, or personal use.

Some customs monetary exemptions may apply to expats or exchange students returning home should the vehicle be the same one you left with or you’re importing it for personal use. But despite possible deductions, modifications might still be necessary to make the vehicle compliant after clearing customs.

How Much to Ship a Car From USA to UK

Here’s an interesting thing about dealing with foreign-made cars and shipping a car from USA to UK. Cost estimates, at least conservative ones, indicate a starting price of $850.

This is for a service that can take up to 28 days to complete and doesn’t include customs duties, import taxes, and potential modifications.

How Much to Ship a Car From UK to USA

Car shipping to UK as opposed to bringing import cars from UK is cheaper. The baseline price for getting a car across the ocean and into the US starts at around $1,850.

Of course, these prices vary between vehicle carriers and are affected by several factors. However, it’s almost always more expensive to import cars from UK than to ship an American car across the pond via ocean freight.

Granted, these estimates are subject to change at any given time due to the ever-changing automotive shipping industry and its governing policies.

Picking the Right Service

You must know about the different shipping methods available when you want to import cars from UK. This will ensure you minimize your costs while maximizing the protection of your vehicle based on its value.

The roll-on and roll-off method (RO-RO) is often the most popular. This involves shipping cars across the ocean on what are essentially floating parking lots. Your car will be stored in the same cargo area as other vehicles.

Another method is the shared container service. In theory, the shared container service could be cheaper and safer because there are fewer cars next to each other. In addition, each vehicle is often crated and heavily strapped.

But unlike the previous service, the shared container option can have additional service costs. While they’re shared among multiple vehicle owners, they aren’t guaranteed to be cheap. And containers don’t leave until they reach full loads, which can hamper your schedule.

The full container load is a premium way to ship your vehicle. It stands for one car per container, meaning it has a shorter wait time at the expense of extra handling fees. But since your car gets the luxury treatment, it could be the ideal choice for fragile, vintage, and expensive vehicles.

Crucial Tips to Know

You must keep a few things in mind before and after you import cars from UK sellers, dealers, or collectors, or bring your personal vehicle to American soil.

Tip No. 1 – Ensure the Undercarriage Is Spotless

This may not seem like a big deal. Why does the car need a thorough cleaning if it’s going to end up in a container that might not be as clean?

That’s not usually the case.

Some countries have strict customs laws regarding foreign soil. This is the same whether you’re coming back from a UK vacation, a backpacking trip through Germany, etc.

Imported cars must not contain foreign soil samples. This law was passed in an attempt to minimize or eliminate the introduction of foreign contaminants like fungi, microorganisms, plants, etc.

A thorough wash and steam cleaning are recommended for the vehicle exterior, undercarriage, and wheels.

The interior doesn’t need the same treatment, especially since the long trip can breed mold due to excess moisture.

Tip No. 2 – Identify the Shipper’s Foreign List of Services

You need a shipper to handle the paperwork on both sides of the border, coordinate with the freight operators, and everyone else in the logistics chain.

That said, you may need a lot of prep work to make your dream UK car eligible for importing on the North American Continent.

What kind of prep work can a shipper provide?

  • Documentation
  • Finding a pickup destination to port transporter
  • Ensuring the proper equipment is used to load and unload the car
  • Finding storage in case of a delayed departure
  • Locating a reputable cleaner
  • Determining the car’s import eligibility
  • Finding exemptions that apply to your car
  • Making necessary modifications to clear customs
  • Paying taxes and customs duties on your behalf
  • Providing storage in the event of a delayed pickup

There’s a lot that DOT-registered international shipping companies can do for you to easily import cars from UK locations.

Tip No. 3 – Contact the DMV

Once your car gets stateside, you’ll likely want to drive it. But getting all the certifications can be overwhelming and take too long if left to the last minute.

Contact the DMV in your state early and make inquiries about license plates, car-related documents, and other paperwork you must present to drive the car immediately.

Tip No. 4 – Strongly Consider Steering Wheel Modifications

If you buy an old enough car, you may be able to drive it as is. You won’t have to change the pedal, steering wheel position, or odometer. Look at some US-made cars like postal vans or RHD Jeep models.

Sure, an RHD vintage car from a luxury UK brand can be a sweet conversation starter. Yet consider the challenges of driving in an LHD-specific infrastructure.

Visibility will always be an issue. Overtaking other cars, signaling, switching lanes, and pretty much every maneuver other than driving in a straight line will put you at a disadvantage.

If you’re going to this much trouble to import cars from UK sources, you probably want to drive them often. But just because it’s legal to drive an RHD vehicle in the US doesn’t make it a solid choice for everyday cars.

Tip No. 5 – Set Aside Money for Modifications

Car conversion kits can be very expensive. Remember this when shopping for a nonconforming, newer UK car you want to drive on American soil.

Even meeting road safety and air pollution emissions standards can be tricky and require professional intervention.

Work With Experienced Shippers

Pretty much any car can be imported from overseas as long as it complies with US laws, DOT, and EPA regulations, or you modify it to be compliant.

Plenty of exemptions can enable you to buy your dream UK-manufactured car and disregard various modifications. But regarding the best course of action, few can advise you better than experienced international shippers.

You need someone who consistently deals with customs inspectors, handles the logistics, and navigates the customs and legal paperwork for you. Given the right circumstances, you can even have your car in your driveway within two to three weeks.

For more information on shipping British cars or a direct quote, don’t hesitate to contact Shipvehicles.