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Guide to Importing Cars from the UK

Up to date as of 13 October 2020 (following the Budget 2021 announcement)

After several years of increasing numbers of used car imports to Ireland from the UK, it looks like the tide has turned. The NOx levy implemented in 2020 made it uneconomic to import an older diesel and major changes in Budget 2021 meant significantly increased VRT costs.

But what is involved in buying a car from the UK? What are the procedures and costs and where are the inexperienced likely to be tripped up? Well, take our hands as CompleteCar.ie guides you through the ups and downs of importing your car from the UK, covering everything from the initial search to finally applying an Irish registration plate to your new pride and joy.

Find your car in the UK

The first thing to do is draw up your shortlist of models, taking into account that the cheaper a car is in Ireland the less likely you will make a saving by importing from the UK. The rule of thumb is that a pricier, more premium model will offer bigger savings, and you'll find more of them in the UK market (proportionally) than you will in the Irish market. More affordable, more mainstream models will offer a less substantial saving, which makes you doing your homework and legwork that much more important.

During your search you are likely to become intimately familiar with two websites - the VRT section of Revenue.ie and Autotrader.co.uk (the Citizen's Information page on importing a car into Ireland is also required reading). There are other classifieds websites in the UK, but Auto Trader has the largest selection and unless you are searching for something specialist it is more than likely going to have it listed.

Two things to note though: the figures on Revenue.ie should only be used as a guideline. Sometimes the site will not have the exact model you are looking for listed, so when you come to buying the car you will need to get onto the Revenue office in Rosslare to get a final VRT figure, which may be more or less than the one quoted on the website.

Also, Autotrader.co.uk needs a UK post code before you can commence searching. To those of us who do not spend a lot of time across the channel this can seem daunting, but thankfully Auto Trader has listed the post code for its UK office at the bottom of the page, so you just need to input that, set your distance to 'National' and begin your search.

When looking at the prices online it can get very tempting to accept the Sterling asking price for face value, but that is forgetting the currency conversion. You can use currency conversion websites like XE.com to give you a rough guideline, but these are likely to differ from the actual exchange rate you get in your bank. It is also worth shopping around for your currency exchange rather than just relying on your local bank, as the difference can be a few hundred Euro. Another thing to note is that credit card companies charge fees for currency exchange. The norm is 1.75 per cent of a transaction, which is not a lot, but if you are using your credit card to leave a deposit on a car it can rack up. Currency transfer sites, such as TransferWise, can offer significant savings compared to the high street banks when converting to Sterling, but you'll either need a Sterling bank account of your own, or know the bank details of the person you're sending the money to.

Get a history check

Hopefully at this stage you have found a car you are interested in and roughly calculated both the VRT and Euro cost of the car; now it is time to find out if it is the car for you. Recent Cartell.ie reports have shown that UK imports are more likely to be clocked (more than double the Irish average) or damaged and put back on the road so best to invest in some peace of mind.

A Cartell.ie check will set you back as little as €10 (but there are graduations of check, and more expensive versions will give you more detail) and will show you details on any outstanding finance, whether or not the car has been stolen or written off, confirm that the mileage tallies with what the advert says (within reason) and a host of other safeguards. After that it is time to get the car inspected. Both the AA and the RAC offer comprehensive inspections and while the price can be the equivalent of more than €400 (slightly less if you are a member), it is worthwhile paying for the most expensive inspection there is as it could mean the difference between replacing worn out suspension components or getting the dealer to do them for you.

Bring your car home to Ireland

At this stage you will have already spoken with the dealer and arranged the inspection, so now it is time to close the deal. Using your credit card to cover yourself against fraud, pay an agreed deposit and talk nicely to them and arrange for them to pick you up from a convenient airport.

An airport that you will now book flights to via a 'low cost airline'. The cost of flights will increase closer to the date you are flying so unless you are willing to wait three months forget about flying to the UK for 50c; factor for €150 one way for the earliest flight you can get. A similar price will need to be factored in for the ferry home, ideally on the latest sailing to allow you time to get there, as any money spent on hotels is cutting into your margin.

Flights and ferries booked, time to hit the bank for a bank draft for the remaining pounds you have to pay for the car. Hopefully you haggled a bit and got some money knocked off for a cash sale or the fact that you do not need the 12-month dealer warranty the car was offered with (manufacturer warranties are honoured Europe-wide, but dealer warranties are not).

Before catching your flight, call the VRO (Vehicle Registration Office) with the chassis number of the car to get a definitive price for the VRT and also have the UK registration number handy so you can call your insurer and get them to temporarily transfer your insurance.

If you have been dealing with a nice salesperson, your car will be clean and fully fuelled when you arrive, and they will have the all-important V5 form ready. This is the piece of paper you will need when you present yourself at the Vehicle Registration Office to get your Irish plates.

NCT, VRT, CO2 and NOx levy

Once you've landed the car here in Ireland, you need to book an inspection with your local National Car Test Service centre (NCTS). This isn't necessarily to get an NCT performed (you will have the grace period of any remaining time the car has to run on an equivalent EU roadworthiness certificate, such as the UK's MOT, unless it's more than four years old, in which case you'll need an immediate NCT), but the NCTS handles the inspections to evaluate the VRT payable. That needs to be booked within seven days of arrival, and completed within 30 days of arrival. You'll need the electronic version of the car's Certificate of Conformity form (the CoC - basically a birth cert for the car that confirms its CO2 and NOx emissions among other things). If you only have the paper CoC, you'll have to manually input the data into the Revenue system.

You'll also need your Personal Public Service Number (PPSN), proof of identity (for example your passport or driving licence) and other specified documents in order to register and pay the VRT. There is a list of the documents required on Revenue.ie. You must also be able to locate the chassis number for the vehicle inspector when presenting the vehicle for inspection.

You can then pay the assessed amount of VRT to the NCTS (cheque, credit card, or bank order are all accepted). This figure is worked out on the Open Market Selling Price (OMSP) of the vehicle and not the price you paid in the UK. The OMSP is determined by the Revenue Commissioners so there is little point in trying to second guess it. If you believe the OMSP is way off you can appeal the figure, but you have to pay the VRT before the appeal, with any refunds coming afterwards.

A major change was announced in the 2021 Budget, to be implemented from 1 January 2021. The NEDC CO2 rating of imported used cars will be 'uplifted' to make them equivalent to the newer WLTP regime. That has a considerable effect on the VRT band the car sits in and therefore the rate of VRT to be paid. For a petrol car, the new CO2 rating = (old NEDC CO2 rating x 0.9227) + 34.554g/km. For a diesel car, the new CO2 rating = (old NEDC CO2 rating x 1.1405) + 12.858g/km. Full details of the VRT calculations can be found in our How Much VRT is Paid in Ireland? feature.

Now, of course, there's also the extra charge to pay in the new VRT Environmental Health (NOx) Surcharge (or 'NOx levy'), which, from 1 January 2021 is charged at €5 per mg/km for the first 40mg/km, €15 per mg/km for NOx emissions from 41-80mg/km, and €25 per mg/km for the balance above 80mg/km. Finding NOx emissions figures for some older models can be tricky, but the UK government's Vehicle Certification Agency is a good source, albeit not always a complete one. The NOx tax charge should only amount to a few hundred Euro extra on the VRT bill for a relatively recent car, one that conforms to Euro 6 emissions regulations. For older cars, those with NOx emissions well above the 80mg/km line, it starts to get very, very expensive so make sure you do your homework before deciding.

After you have paid the VRT you will be given a receipt showing the registration number assigned to your car so best to head off to the local motor factor and drop €20 on getting some new plates made up before heading to the tax office with the Form RF 100 that also came with the receipt to tax your car for the first time. You can pay that online at motortax.ie.

Once this is paid, your car is legal, above board and you have joined the thousands of people who have gone through the process of importing a car from the UK. Enjoy.

But is it all worth it?

BUT! Before you go, there are a couple of things worth considering. One is that there are some very good car finding services that will find the car you want (right down to spec and colour) and either have it ready for you to collect, or even deliver it to Ireland for you. It's costly, but it can save you a huge amount of time and effort.

Equally, because of the flood of imports, Irish dealers have upped their second-hand game, offering better prices and improved (and longer) warranties on second-hand cars, so it's really well worth having a good local shop around before you make a final decision on shopping in the UK. As one dealer put it to us: "We'll stand over any car we sell. A UK dealer won't bother."

If you'd like to discuss any aspect of this with us in more depth - or you have any questions at all - get in touch via our Ask us Anything page.

Further reading

How Much VRT is Paid in Ireland?
Motor Road Tax Prices in Ireland Explained
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