Importing a Car from the U.K. to the U.S.

Importing a Car from the U.K. To the U.S.

Breeze Customs Blog


f you are in the market for a new car, you may be considering importing one from the United Kingdom. And, if you are looking for something exotic or rare, there is a good chance that you will find exactly what you want in the U.K., where these types of cars are more common than they are here in America (where people tend to prefer big SUVs).

The variety to choose from and the process of importing a car from the U.K. can seem daunting at first, but it is much easier than you might think. In this blog post, we will answer some common questions and walk you through the process of importing a car from the U.K. to the U.S.

What cars is the U.K. most famous for?

Although the war on Ukraine has disturbed car production in 2020 and 2021, the U.K.’s automotive industry has quickly recovered in 2022, with a 23% increase in new cars sold in January and February versus the same period last year. From practical, affordable cars to top-of-the-line, luxury cars, the U.K. is home to many car brands that include:

  • Vauxhall
  • Land Rover
  • Range Rover
  • Aston Martin
  • Jaguar
  • Bentley
  • Rolls Royce
  • MINI

If your car of choice is a classic and older than 25 years, it can be imported under the 25-year-rule without having to comply with DOT requirements. On the other hand, newer cars will have to pass strict DOT and EPA import regulations.

Can I drive a right-hand drive car in the U.S.?

U.K. cars are right-hand drive (RHD), meaning they have their controls on the right side of the vehicle, not on the left side like most American cars. This can make learning how to drive them more difficult, especially if you’re used to driving on the left side of the road.

But don’t let that deter you. It’s legal to drive a right-hand drive car in the United States if it conforms to the rules and regulations of the EPA and DOT.

Can British cars be imported into the U.S.?

British cars can be imported into the U.S., provided they meet certain requirements. As with car imports from other countries, eligibility for imported cars from the U.K. is based on whether your car conforms with the rules and regulations set forth by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and given that it does not violate emissions regulations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That will ensure it can pass through customs with no problem.

In many cases, the vehicle you wish to import may be non-conforming. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines a nonconforming vehicle as “a vehicle that does not meet safety standards set by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) (as per the Motor Vehicle Safety Act) or that has been altered from its original design.” The definition also refers to vehicles not built to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

Nonconforming cars can be imported into the United States by certification or exemption.

1. Certification

A nonconforming car can be imported if modified, tested, and certified by an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI).

2. Exemption

The EPA and CBSA allow for the temporary importation of nonconforming vehicles – with EPA’s pre-approval – if they are imported for the following purposes:

  • Testing
  • Display
  • Repair or alteration
  • Non-residents
  • Competition/Racing

The vehicle must be imported under a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) bond if it qualifies for EPA exemption.

How are cars transported from the U.K. to the U.S.?

The most common methods of transporting imported vehicles from the U.K. are:

  • Air Freight – This is the most expensive method of importing a motor vehicle, but it only takes several days to arrive at the destination.
  • Ocean Freight – This container shipping method is the most common means of importing motor vehicles from the U.K. into the U.S. It can take up to two months for cars to arrive by Ocean.

What are the steps to import a car from the U.K. to the U.S.?

1. Determine your car’s eligibility

The first step in importing a car from the U.K. is finding out whether your vehicle qualifies for importation under U.S. regulations (both federal and state).

The United States has a very strict set of rules and regulations regarding the import of motor vehicles. For a vehicle to be able to enter the country, it must meet all of the safety standards set by the NHTSA. When importing a car from the U.K., you must ensure that it meets these safety standards before shipping it to America.

Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determines whether or not an imported vehicle meets an acceptable level of emissions control for use on U.S. roads (known as “conformity” requirements).

If you are importing a new car, it must meet all applicable federal standards. If it was manufactured before the year your state’s emissions standards and laws took effect, it might not be legal in your state unless the manufacturer can prove that it meets emissions standards.

If you are importing a used car, it must have an EPA certificate of conformity. All used cars manufactured after 1976 must have an EPA certificate of conformity if they have not been certified as having passed California emissions standards testing or were never registered in California during their first 10 years of life (or 2nd 10 years if they were originally sold in California).

2. Hire a customs broker

Once you’ve determined that your British car is eligible for import into the United States, find a customs broker to help you with the import process. A customs broker is a CBP-certified individual or company that specializes in importing cars and other goods into the United States from foreign countries.

We recommend working with a customs broker because they know all the import rules and regulations, have experience dealing with importing vehicles and can help you navigate any potential pitfalls along the way. Once you find a broker that meets your criteria, read reviews and ask them questions before signing any contract.

3. Ship your car from the U.K. to the U.S.A.

Next, you will need to find a shipping company that can handle the transportation of your car from the U.K. to the U.S. If you do not have an established relationship with a U.K. auto shipper, consider using an agent or customs broker who has experience in the field. This will help ensure that your vehicle arrives in good condition and that there are no delays along the way.

You will also need to choose a port of entry. There are more than 300 land, air, and sea ports in the United States. It is best to choose a port of entry that handles vehicles and is closest to your destination state. This interactive port of entry map provides detailed information about each port and its requirements. We recommend speaking to a customs broker to simplify the process and help you choose the most suitable port of entry.

4. Prepare your documentation

Now that you’ve determined your shipping method and port of entry, you’ll need to prepare your import documentation. The documents required to import a car from the U.K. to the United States is as follows:

  1. A U.S. Customs Proforma Invoice
  2. The carrier’s Bill of Lading (BoL)
  3. A Bill of Sale showing VIN
  4. Foreign Registration
  5. An EPA form 3520-1
  6. A DOT form HS-7
  7. Your Importer Security Filing (ISF)
  8. A Letter of Recall and Conformity from the manufacturer (if applicable)

You can either submit these documents to CBP yourself or have your customs broker file them on your behalf.

5. Pay duties and fees

Imported cars in the United States are subject to customs duty. The amount of duty you will need to pay depends on the value of your car. All foreign and U.K. vehicles are dutiable at the following rates:

  • 2.5% for cars
  • 25% for trucks
  • Either free or 2.4% for motorcycles

6. Obtain insurance for your vehicle

You will need to purchase insurance for your imported car. The insurance cost varies based on the age and make of your car, where you live, how safe you drive and what kind of discounts you qualify for. In general, it will cost more to insure a British car than an American one. Insurance companies usually consider the following factors when calculating premiums:

  • The make and model of your car. Some cars are more expensive to insure than others. For example, a small, practical car costs less than a large, luxurious car.
  • Your driving records. Expect to pay more for insurance if you’ve had multiple accidents or speeding tickets.
  • Where you live. Some states have higher rates than others due to traffic congestion, the cost of living in the area, and other factors.

You’ll also need insurance on your vehicle while it’s being shipped from the U.K. to the U.S. Your customs broker can help arrange this in advance. Otherwise, you may have trouble getting coverage after arriving home with your newly purchased car.

7. Register your vehicle

Once you’ve submitted your import documentation and passed an inspection, you can register your vehicle with your state’s DMV and acquire license plates and permits.

For registration purposes, your responsibility as an importer is to establish that the imported vehicle conforms to import rules and regulations. You can do so by contacting the vehicle’s manufacturer and asking for a certificate of compliance with U.S. standards. Most manufacturers are already aware of the regulations and will issue a certificate of conformity when requested. You will need to have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on hand when speaking to the manufacturer since vehicles and their attributes are tracked with this number.

When U.S. Customs verifies that your vehicle conforms with EPA and DOT requirements, an informal entry (Customs Form 368) must be completed and submitted to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for registration. The process of acquiring plates and permits may be different from state to state, but in general, you will need to:

  1. Apply for a permanent vehicle registration
  2. Provide proof of insurance for your vehicle
  3. Pay any applicable taxes and fees associated with registering a new vehicle (these vary by state)
  4. Obtain license plates, which may be purchased from your local DMV location
  5. Obtain any necessary permits, such as a license plate sticker or emissions test certificate

How much does it cost to import a car from the U.K.?

Importing a vehicle into the United States is not as expensive as you might think, but it’s not cheap either. There are several costs to consider when importing a vehicle from the U.K. to the U.S., including:

  • Import Duties: Importing a car from the U.K. to the United States means paying duties and fees. The amount depends on the type of vehicle, its value, and its age. The import duty for cars is 2.5%
  • Customs Bond: A customs entry bond is required for every imported vehicle. You can obtain a Single-Entry Bond (for one-time imports) or a Continuous Bond (for multiple imports within 12 months).
  • DOT Bond (for nonconforming vehicles): If your vehicle does not have a DOT certification label, it must be imported as a nonconforming vehicle, and you must then register with a DOT-Registered Importer (RI) and post a DOT bond. The value of the bond must be 1.5 times the vehicle’s dutiable value.
  • Gas-Guzzler Tax: Certain imported automobiles may be subject to the Gas-Guzzler Tax. The amount of the tax is based on a combined fuel-economy rating assigned by the EPA for gas-guzzler tax purposes. The higher the fuel economy, the lower the tax. No tax is imposed on vehicles with a combined fuel-economy rating of at least 22.5 miles per gallon.
  • Insurance: Once you import your vehicle, you will want to purchase an insurance policy because, to drive in most states legally, you’ll need to meet minimum vehicle insurance requirements set by the state. If you’re shipping your vehicle from abroad, it’s best to have an insurance policy covering the shipping process.
  • Brokerage fees: If you work with a customs broker, be prepared to pay a small fee for their services. Most car importers prefer to work with a customs broker to streamline the importation process.
  • Shipping fees: Cars from the U.K. are usually imported by ocean freight, and the shipping cost depends on the size of your vehicle and the carrier you choose. If you have an auto broker or shipping company handle the shipping process for you, they can estimate shipping costs before making any commitments with them. If you work with a customs broker, they can help you find the perfect shipping partner.
  • Licensing and registration: You may also have other expenses related to the licensing and registration of your vehicle when it arrives in the U.S. This usually depends on the state where you will be registering your car.

How Breeze Customs can help you import a car from U.K.

At Breeze Customs, we’ve helped hundreds of importers bring their vehicles into the United States every year without hassle. Starting with the process of checking your vehicle’s admissibility and ending with customs clearance, we’ll take all the work off your shoulders. Read our guide on importing a car into the US or Book a meeting with one of our Breeze Customs Concierges and we’ll take it from there.