This guide was written during our research into importing and registering a motorhome/campervan from Europe (in this case Germany) although the process would be practically identical for a car. In this instance I cover the importing of a new van and thus the TAX/VAT angles, there are some slightly different considerations if you are importing a USED van of course which I will endeavour to cover off at the end of this guide and put a link up here once done.

If you are seriously considering doing so I would recommend ordering a free Import Pack from the DVLA using this link:

Just some of the forms required for importing / registering a camper!

1.) Why would I want to buy from Europe? It seems a lot of hard work!

For me the primary motivation was, as always, saving money. Secondary to that is that I wanted a LHD vehicle since 85% of my travel is done in Europe. The discount that the UK dealer could provide me with for a LHD van was marginal but the equivalent discount by buying direct from a German dealer was significant. In addition, some German brands ‘position’ themselves in the UK as a premium brand and thus have to be seen to charge a higher price than Swift (for example) when in Germany they are mainstream brands. 

Take Bitburg German larger for example positioned as ‘Premium’ brand for £1.59 a bottle in Tesco yet in Germany the same bottle is positioned as an ‘Average’ brand and thus sold for less than 46p! Enough on beer though, or I’ll be here all day.

To give you an idea of the possible saving:

My van in the UK: £37,175 OTR (List). Discount after negotiation without P/X £35,675
Van from Germany £31,105 after UK VAT paid, Road Tax, registration and necessary modifications (more on that later).

A saving of nearly £6,000 on list or nearly £4600 off the ‘best price’. 

In my case the German base vehicle specification’s was slightly different and indeed better specified (such as 120L diesel tank etc, height adjustable passenger seat and heated mirrors). 

2.) LHD? What about the resale value / insurance etc?

You’d be a fool to think that LHD won’t make a vehicle more difficult to sell in the UK and a lot of English dealers won’t touch them or if they do they'll pull your pants down on the price! However don’t rule out selling or part-exchanging the van back to a dealer in Germany - export is easy once the UK VAT has been paid, just fill in the export section on your V5 registration certificate. EU Legislation states that the VAT has to be paid in the country of original registration, so there is no messing about with VAT after this point. The same list of dealers you used to source your van originally can be used to speculatively contact again about purchasing your van from you should you wish to consider that route.

If you do decide to sell in the UK because you have saved several thousand £ off the UK price you can afford to price your van several thousand below similar UK vans, you might just find someone with similar requirements or just out for a bargin and thus willing to accept a LHD van. 

With regards to insurance, there is no 50% excess or other insurance penalties for driving a LHD or at least there certainly wasn’t with Safe Guard insurance who’ve been excellent throughout. 

3.) Finding a Vehicle

In order to import a van, you'll first need to find one! In my case I was ordering a new van so my first port of call was the manufactures websites which lead me to a list of dealers. It is worth considering their location in the country of original, a dealer in Koln, Germany for example will be much more favourable for you than one in Dresden!  The van I eventually found was new but in stock and was found using the German equivalent of Auto Trader located at website is an excellent resource although you could also try eBay Germany at . In both instances Google Translate was excellent in deciphering the full description and specification - 

4.) Talking to the Dealer

As much as I like to embrace a countries native language, it can’t be helped that it’s a great advantage if you can find someone within the dealership to speak to in English. I initially sent out a blanket e-mail to all the dealers listed on the Globecar website with what I required. So replies were very poor, but many excellent and some dealers depending on their size and location have a lot of experience with export although less with export to the UK market because of the RHD/LHD and the other issues explained below.

5.) The Van.

In Europe if you are purchasing a motorhome it is most likely to be based on a Fiat. In this case your warranty / dealer facilities for the van are also valid in the UK and the whole of Europe for that matter. If the van is new or under 2 years old then you will be covered by ‘Fiat Camper Assist’ which also includes roadside recovery. Some builders include a third year of warranty, so check this too. In this case the warranty will be a ‘walk in’ warranty to any main dealer or approved agent Europe wide and no cost to pay regardless of the country you are in, subject to any fault being covered by the warranty of course! 

A greater discount can be achieved by ordering a Citroen based van. Identical to the Fiat but powered by a 2.2 JTD (HDI) engine rather than the 2.3 Iveco engine; they both are 6 speed and produce 120bhp. Interesting is that a lot of Citroen Relay owners claim in excess of 30MPG - some upto 35, something unheard of by 2.3 (120) Fiat drivers. The downside is that Citroen do not provide the same ‘Camper Assist’ style package as Fiat – while warranty is still all inclusive Roadside Recovery is not. As my insurance policy has EU recovery inbuilt then this is of no disadvantage and the cost saving was about 850 euro.

Your warranty repairs on the habitation area should also be covered in the UK, but this is worth checking ideally with the manufacture as a first port of call. In my instance for Globecar both dealers give me a slightly different ‘story’ about central pots of money and so forth. Let’s face it, it is very much in their interest to put you off importing from Europe. The reality is that in Germany, France and Italy motor home are often imported / exported cross borders and the manufactures are well setup to accommodate for this. 

6.) Left or Right Hand Drive?

Understandably there is reluctance among European dealers to provide vehicles in RHD for export since it is quite clearly undermining the dealer network in the UK. Furthermore the discount available is limited since RHD vans are more expensive to purchase due to volume numbers anyway. For me the primary reason for purchasing in Europe was to obtain a LHD van at prices which the UK dealers could not come close to.

7.) I’ve found my VAN, what about the VAT?

If you’re buying a used van, ignore this section.

I had a variety of different explanations on how to deal with the tax both from German dealers and people who I asked about importing on various forum. They ranged from:

a) The dealer will let you take the van without paying tax.
b) Pay the German tax, import, pay the English tax, claim the German tax back.
c) Pay the dealer the German tax, provide proof English tax has been claimed, German dealer refunds tax.
d) Leave a cheque for the tax ‘amount’ with the dealer – then as above.
e) Or, what I proposed (in order to get the VAT at 17.5% before 4th Jan)

  • Pay a deposit to the dealer over the phone with a credit card (insured)
  • Dealer supplies an invoice for the full amount
  • Approach HMRC to pay the VAT and obtain a receipt (VAT 413 form)
  • Send proof that tax has been paid to German dealer
  • Collect the van and purchase ‘netto’.
In the event that the deal goes south (or even the dealer for that matter!) the credit card deposit is insured and I am assured that the tax can be reclaimed from HMRC.

Depending on the route you go down and the agreement you reach with the dealer, you may require a VAT 415 form which is available from the DVLA. This assumes  you have managed to bring the vehicle into the UK without paying VAT (maybe your dealer was dealer 'A' above) and would like to pay it. The DVLA explains the use of the form as:

“Use form VAT 415 when you purchase a new means of transport within the EU and bring it to the UK and you are a private individual or a business which is not registerable for UK VAT.”

You must contact HMRC and request a VAT 413 form on 0845 010 9000 and you must do so within 30 days of bringing the vehicle into the country.

It is possible to haggle (slightly) with the HMRC depending on the exchange rate fluctuation at the time of purchase and if you can prove what percentage of your money order was weighted (a fee paid to the broker) then you might be able to shave a little off. Remember you pay VAT on the actual sterling amount paid and not 15 days after import when the exchange rate as fluctuated a few points in your favour.

8.) How do I pay for my Van when I collect it?

If I'm honest this is an area I'm still investigating so will update this shortly.

9.) How do I get my Vehicle back to the UK?

You will need a set of German Export Plates or ‘Ausfuhrkennzeichen’, if you are purchasing from a dealer they will certainly be able to help you with these as they are very common in Germany. The plates which come with the minimum level of insurance (liability only, otherwise known as third party) for a set period of time (from 3 days to 12mts) and their date of expiry is stamped into the plate. Their cost is about 150 euro for a week but the pro-rata costs reduces if you was to increase the term but it is only real feasible on that basis for a low value camper.

German Export Plates showing the date the vehicle must have
left the country by the date embossed on the right hand side.
Obviously the concern here is effective third party insurance and I've yet to find a UK insurer who will cover a vehicle on Export plates while in Germany.

UPDATE 19th June 2011: I have located a Dutch company would would prepare to cover the vehicle's loss in the advent of an accident en route to the UK. They will only cover the vehicle itself so you still require the export plates third party cover - but it is an avenue worth investigating. 

Sureterm are happy to provide fully comprehensive insurance for a maximum of 30 days on the vehicles VIN number while you are going about registering the vehicle but this cover only starts from when you roll off the ferry in Calais or wherever. Technically you can drive the van for 30 days while on expired export plates, the chances of being pulled are extremely slim but it only takes a jobsworth copper to make things difficult. After all, this guide is already well over 2,000 words so as you can see things are quite complex!

My German dealer has said that he is aware of companies who will provide a fully comprehensive upgrade to this insurance – more details once I find out about it will be posted here.

To me this area is the biggest ‘risk’ in the whole importing scenario unless you can negotiate with the dealer to either meet you in Calais so you only have to worry about liability while on the ferry (fit buoyancy aids) or otherwise delivery the vehicle to the UK. If this sounds like the only option for you in the interest of negotiating the best price I would leave this point to last and use it as the ‘deal closer’! 

10.) Is there anything I need to do before I register the Vehicle in the UK?

There is a bit of a grey area with regards to the Mutual Recognition scheme between the EU and UK specified cars, or at least so I have found. If you are buying a new vehicle you should be issued with a ‘European Certificate Conformity’ - ensure that you have one as you may be asked for it.

When importing a LHD vehicle your first port of call is the self certification form which is not formally recognised by a code as the other forms are. Fortunately it is one of the easier forms throughout the import process (download link below).

As the name would suggest the self certification form only needs you to provide receipt evidence that the items to perform the change were purchased and not necessarily fitted. In my case, I intend to purchased the items and will fit them should I resell the vehicle in the UK. You would of course have no choice but to fit them if the vehicle required an MOT unless you can find a friendly MOT tester.

The requirements which are specifically relevant in this instance are:

1. That the headlamps are of UK specification (headlight beam dips to the left).

For the Fiat Ducato new Headlamps will need to be purchased – often very cheaply on eBay or similar. Beam deflectors are not suitable. 

2. That a speedometer has been fitted which is capable of indicating speed in both miles per 
hour and kilometres per hour, either simultaneously, or by operation of a switch.

The original Fiat speedo can be configured to display MPH or KM in it’s odometer readout, however the Speedo dials will need to be changed. £30 from here:

3. That a rear fog light has been fitted to the off-side (right) of the vehicle.

This will be simply a chase of swapping the left and right lamp clusters in a lot of vehicles – but if necessary an additional fog lamp can be purchased for under £5.

The form needed for this process is here and unfortunately attracts a fee of £70, it is worth checking with the DVLA as per the first page of the document if you need to complete it. 

11.) Registration

Phew! Assuming you’ve not been put off by all the forms, insurance, modifications and so forth you’ll want to register your newly imported vehicle, right? Most likely on the 1st March / September so you can get it on a shiny new registration too and consequently when the DVLA are at their busiest, so be patient! I'd strongly recommend visiting a DVLA office for this process as they will be able to check the forms with you and any mistakes can be rectified on the spot. 

You will need a V55/4 form (for new Vehicles), a £55 fee and supportive paperwork from above as well as some identify documentation and proof of what taxation class the vehicle should reside.

Requirements are:

Appropriate identity documents confirming your name and address (as on the website below)
A current certificate of motor insurance for the Vehicles VIN
The cost of the vehicle licence excise duty (car tax) (ideally the emissions date from the manufacture)
The first registration fee of £55.00
MOT if required
Evidence of type approval, individual approval scheme (IVA), single vehicle approval (SVA), enhanced SVA or motorcycle SVA. The IVA would have been issued as a result of your self certification form or you would have been issued an exception on the basis of your European Certificate of Conformity. 
Declaration of newness (if applicable) – a V267 form available for download below:
Appropriate HM Revenue and Customs form if intend to submit the documentation to pay the VAT at the time of registration (HMRC will contact on on their receipt of the form from the DVLA) failing that you must provide proof that the VAT has been paid.
Foreign registration document or any papers other relating to the vehicle
Evidence showing the date the vehicle was collected

It is worth mentioning that in order to register the vehicle as new it must have only delivery mileage although I can see no point in the process where anyone physically checks this (unless you require an MOT). 

Full information on the Registration Process available here:

And that is it! Get your registration plates made up and affix to the vehicle, notify your insurance company of the registration number and start enjoying your new Motorhome / Camper Van!

To be updated shortly!

If you’re importing a used you will not be required to pay in import duty or VAT duty had been paid when it was originally purchased this would not apply. It might help to have a copy of the original purchase invoice but this is rarely queried. 

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