May 14 2018

How To Buy A Classic Car From Overseas

The market for classic cars is competitive. That’s why buyers can pay hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds to bag the car of their dreams.

But choice (and preferable exchange rates) mean that coveted motor may not be on your home turf.

That’s where our definitive how-to guide to buying classic cars from overseas comes in…

Shop Online

The internet opens up the marketplace for classic car enthusiasts, allowing you to peruse rare, special and interesting classics from all over the globe.

If you spot a motor you like, it’s a good idea to research what’s on offer and how the price compares.

This will ensure you’re not paying over the odds for a car and gives you an indication of what you can get for your money.

Knowing the going price of similar vehicles will also help you spot those “too good to be true” offers that, more often than not, are just that.

Scammers can often use bargain prices to draw in buyers and get you to hand over your hard-earned cash even when the car doesn’t exist.

Contact International Car Clubs

Having an ally on the ground is priceless if you’re in the business of buying a classic car from abroad.

This is where getting in touch with an international car club could really come in handy.

Join the online communities; reach out to people and make friends; ask for advice and tell people what you’re looking for.

Members typically take these things seriously and can be incredibly helpful in helping you find your next motor.

Be Sure of the Costs

A bargain price is fantastic, but once you’ve factored in the cost of shipping your new purchase home, is it really that worthwhile?

Be sure to find out how much shipping is, weigh up the import duties and VAT and look at any additional costs that could bump up the final total.


If you’re buying your car from mainland Europe, it’s probably cheaper to drive it back yourself than it is to pay someone else.

However, if you’re concerned about the mileage and don’t have the right kind of transport, there are some other options.

According to estimates, going with a service that uses a multi-car transporter will cost between £800 and £1,000 to get it back from Europe.

Inevitably these costs will go up once Britain leaves the EU, but until the details are finalised, no one really knows what the costs will be after March 2019.

If you're buying a car from further afield, shipping is usually the most cost-effective way of transporting a classic car from a far-flung location. And there are a couple of options:

  • Roll-on, roll-off (RORO) - RoRo ships are designed to carry wheeled cargo that can be driven on board
  • Container shipment - Having the vehicle packed within a container is the best way to transport back a car that needs work and cannot be driven

Typically, putting the car in a container is significantly more costly than the RoRo process. For instance, RoRo shipping can cost around £1,500 from the USA, whereas it could reach up to four times as much with container shipping.

Regardless of how you’re transporting your new love home, make sure you clarify with the vendor how the car will arrive at the docks or with the transportation provider.

Added Costs

Duty on classic cars arriving in Britain is 10% of the price of the car and shipping costs.

The current rate of VAT is 20% which is payable on the total figure of all expenses, including the purchase price, transport costs, and insurance.

However, if you’re buying a vintage car that more than 30 years of age and it has not undergone any “substantial changes”, then this is classed as a vehicle of “historical interest”, under the 9705 ‘Goods of Historical Interest’ clause, and is exempt from duty, paying just 5% VAT.

If your car comes under this clause, then you’ll need to apply to HM Customs for a Binding Tariff Information (BTI) certificate that confirms its classification.

The Process

Once your car arrives in the UK, you will need to register it.

You do this by completing a form V55/5 and paying a £55 first registration fee.

You will need to present all the official paperwork from the country you’re buying your classic from, confirming the make, model, its registration date and its spec.

All being well, the DVLA will then send your V5C registration certificate within a few weeks.

Before your classic hits the roads, it will need to be taxed, insured and have a valid MOT certificate.

Depending on its age, it could be classed under UK law as a historical vehicle and therefore exempt from MOT and road tax.

You can find out more about the MOT exemption by reading our article MOT Exemption for Modified Classics.

Regardless of whether your car is MOT exempt, you will need to ensure that the car is roadworthy and meets UK regulations, particularly when it comes to lighting.

Once you've completed all these steps, you'll be ready the hit the UK roads with your new pride & joy.


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