Guide to Importing Cars from the UK

Up to date as of 27 June 2023 (following advice from The Revenue Commissioners)

The final exit of the UK from the European Union means that there are some massive changes to the rules for importing a used (or new, for that matter) car from Great Britain or Northern Ireland.

In 2020, we already had a big shakeup - the introduction of the new additional charge based on the NOx emissions of a car either being bought new or imported as a used car.

The charge - referred to as the NOx levy - works on a sliding scale and is calculated on the emissions of NOx (oxides of nitrogen, the gases that cause respiratory illnesses, and which have been at the heart of the 2015-on diesel emissions scandal) as measured in milligrams (mg) per kilometre (km). So, up to 60mg/km, you'll pay €5 per mg (that adds up to €300). From 61mg/km to 80mg/km you'll pay €15 per mg (which adds another €285). Above 85mg/km, you'll pay a whopping €25 per mg.

Now, for new cars and for most relatively recent imports, that's not going to be a major problem. For new cars, the average NOx emissions stand at around 43mg/km, so you'll only pay on average an extra €215 for your new car. Diesel cars are always worse off than petrol cars when it comes to NOx, and this tax is clearly aimed at discouraging people from bringing older, more polluting diesel models in from the UK.

The effect is stark on older models, right enough, with many popular cars attracting NOx tax charges of more than €2,000. There is a maximum limit for NOx tax, but it's a huge €4,850 for diesel-engined cars (and just €600 for petrol or hybrid models). Don't forget - the NOx levy is on top of the normal VRT charge, not instead of it. It has made importing older diesel cars hugely expensive, but then that's kind of the point.

How VRT is calculated has also changed. Instead of Bands A-to-G, there are now 20 bands, stretched across a broader spread of CO2 emissions. The lowest rate has come down to seven per cent, while the top rate was swelled to 37 per cent. This is based, as ever, on the OMSP - the Open Market Selling Price, or in other words, what the Revenue Commissioners judge the Irish market value of your car to be. So, if you're importing a car, you're not paying the VRT on the price you paid, but on the price you would have paid had you bought the car in Ireland. Or rather, what Revenue reckons you would have paid. If you disagree, you can appeal, but only after you've actually paid the amount demanded.

A major change came into place from 1 January 2021. The NEDC CO2 rating of imported used cars is '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 uplifted 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.

Those VRT rates (up to the end of 2021) are:
Band 1: 0 - 50g/km - 7% of OMSP
Band 2: 51 - 80g/km - 9% of OMSP
Band 3: 81 - 85g/km - 9.75% of OMSP
Band 4: 86 - 90g/km - 10.5% of OMSP
Band 5: 91 - 95g/km - 11.25% of OMSP
Band 6: 96 - 100g/km - 12% of OMSP
Band 7: 101 - 105g/km - 12.75% of OMSP
Band 8: 106 - 110g/km - 13.5% of OMSP
Band 9: 111 - 115g/km - 14.25% of OMSP
Band 10: 116 - 120g/km - 15% of OMSP
Band 11: 121 - 125g/km - 15.75% of OMSP
Band 12: 126 - 130g/km - 16.5% of OMSP
Band 13: 131 - 135g/km - 17.25% of OMSP
Band 14: 136 - 140g/km - 18% of OMSP
Band 15: 141 - 145g/km - 19.5% of OMSP
Band 16: 146 - 150g/km - 21% of OMSP
Band 17: 151 - 155g/km - 23.5% of OMSP
Band 18: 156 - 170g/km - 26% of OMSP
Band 19: 171 - 190g/km - 31% of OMSP
Band 20: greater than 191g/km - 37% of OMSP

The VRT bands changed from 1st January 2022 to the following (from Band 9 up there are increases):

Band 1: 0 - 50g/km - 7% of OMSP
Band 2: 51 - 80g/km - 9% of OMSP
Band 3: 81 - 85g/km - 9.75% of OMSP
Band 4: 86 - 90g/km - 10.5% of OMSP
Band 5: 91 - 95g/km - 11.25% of OMSP
Band 6: 96 - 100g/km - 12% of OMSP
Band 7: 101 - 105g/km - 12.75% of OMSP
Band 8: 106 - 110g/km - 13.5% of OMSP
Band 9: 111 - 115g/km - 15.25% of OMSP
Band 10: 116 - 120g/km - 16% of OMSP
Band 11: 121 - 125g/km - 16.75% of OMSP
Band 12: 126 - 130g/km - 17.5% of OMSP
Band 13: 131 - 135g/km - 19.25% of OMSP
Band 14: 136 - 140g/km - 20% of OMSP
Band 15: 141 - 145g/km - 21.5% of OMSP
Band 16: 146 - 150g/km - 25% of OMSP
Band 17: 151 - 155g/km - 27.5% of OMSP
Band 18: 156 - 170g/km - 30% of OMSP
Band 19: 171 - 190g/km - 35% of OMSP
Band 20: greater than 191g/km - 41% of OMSP

All of that was in place before January 1, 2023, the date on which the UK actually, finally, came to the end of its transition period and, for good or ill, left the EU in full. With that being the case, the UK is now, for the first time since 1974, a 'Third Country' when it comes to dealing with imports, and that has changed - in a fairly major way - how much it costs to import a car from the UK to Ireland.

There are now three new steps in the import process. Before you even bring your imported car into the State, you'll have to fill out a Customs Declaration Form. That done, you can then arrange for the carriage of your car from the UK to Ireland, and book your VRT inspection at your nearest NCT centre (as before, you have a week from the date of arrival to make that booking, and 30 days from the date of arrival to complete the process, although there may be some leniency in that right now given the delays getting appointments at NCT centres in recent years).

So, you get the inspection done, and then pay your VRT and NOx levy as before. There are, however, two added charges to pay, and they will likely upend the market for imported cars.

The first is a ten per cent import duty (sometimes called customs duty). That's calculated on the price you paid for the car, plus the costs of bringing it into the country.

The second, much bigger charge, is VAT. Previously, you only paid VAT on new cars, or cars that were less than six months old, or had fewer than 6,000km on the clock. Now, if you're importing from Great Britain (and that's a distinction we'll come back to in a minute) you pay 23 per cent on ALL imported cars, regardless of age or mileage.

There are some exceptions. That ten per cent import duty can be avoided if the car you're importing is substantially built in the UK, but the rules are incredibly complex. This is direct from the Revenue Commissioners: "The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) eliminated tariff duties for trade between the EU and Great Britain where the relevant rules of origin are met. This means that if vehicles which are of UK origin are imported, then a zero per cent duty applies, whereas duty of ten per cent applies to vehicles which are not of UK origin. In certain instances, Returned Goods Relief may apply where the vehicles were originally exported from the EU and have not been altered and are re-imported within three years of export from the EU. In specific circumstances, relief from VAT may also apply where the goods are re-imported into the EU by the same economic entity that originally exported the goods out of the EU."

Import duty will also apply to cars built in the EU, but sold in the first instance into the UK, unless that car has 55 per cent of its value originating in the UK (which is unlikely).

Initially, there was a major exception - if you were importing a car from Northern Ireland. At first, that allowed you to avoid the ten per cent import duty altogether, and the VAT payment reverted to the old system - you'd only pay it on new or nearly new cars.

However, following the introduction of the Windsor Framework, which sought to iron out issues surrounding Northern Ireland and its half-in, half-out position with the EU, there have been changes to the system, and there's now a cutoff date if you want to import a car from Northern Ireland that's both VAT and import duty-free.

According to Revenue: "The length of time a car is in Northern Ireland is not a determining factor as to whether VAT and customs duty, if applicable, are due when the car is imported into the State. Cars already registered in Northern Ireland prior to 31 December 2020 and cars properly and validly imported and registered for the first time in Northern Ireland can be imported into the State without customs formalities i.e. the process remains exactly as it was prior to 1 January 2021."

If the car you're looking at was brought into Northern Ireland after January 1, 2021, it will now be necessary to pay both VAT and import duties when the car comes into Ireland.

There is some potential relief, though. The UK has recently announced that car buyers shopping in the UK market and exporting their cars to the EU will be able to claw back some of the original UK VAT - this is called the Second-Hand Motor Vehicle Payment Scheme (SHMVPS). The paperwork for this is pretty complex, and it's really aimed more at car dealers than individual buyers, but it should alleviate at least some of the cost of importing a car. It's estimated that the first VAT repayments will be made in August 2023.

According to Revenue: "The new scheme allows car dealers who are VAT registered in Northern Ireland and other member states to reclaim the VAT element of the vehicle cost if the vehicle is purchased in Great Britain and removed or exported from there by the purchaser or by the Great Britain dealer. This means that Irish car dealers will now be in the same position as Northern Irish car dealers when purchasing a qualifying vehicle from Great Britain."

Now, it's worth remembering that Revenue constantly reviews and updates the regulations surrounding imported cars, so make sure you look at the Revenue website for the most up-to-date guidance if you're thinking of importing a used car. It's worth ringing the Revenue helpline for specific advice too, just to make sure that you know where you stand before making any purchase.

Further reading

How Much VRT is Paid in Ireland?
Guide to Importing a Car From Northern Ireland
Motor Road Tax Prices in Ireland Explained
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