Re-import of vehicles to the UK.


When a UK registered vehicle is taken out of the UK for more than a year the DVLA treat it as having been permanently exported. They expect the vehicle to be registered in another country but this is clearly impossible for a traveller. Once a vehicle has been deemed as permanently exported there is no liability to pay the Road Fund Licence, to have it SORNed or to have the vehicle MOTed. However the vehicle is still retained on DVLA records and this can be checked on the DVLA website.

Temporary export.

The maximum period is 12 months. While abroad the vehicle must comply with UK on the road regulations. That means the vehicle must have a current MOT, and Road Fund Licence. Insurance is in accordance with local requirements. It is technically illegal to declare a SORN if the vehicle is on the road in a foreign country.

It is only possible to temporarily export a vehicle for a period of 6 months in any 12 month period within the EU. When returning to the UK by ferry from France note that the French authorities may report unlicensed British vehicles to the DVLA.

Permanent Export.

If you intend to take your vehicle out of the UK for more than 12 months it is deemed to be permanently exported. You should notify the DVLA of the date of permanent export on section V5C/4 of the V5 log book. You can either do this when the vehicle leaves the country or if you only temporarily export the vehicle and you change your mind then notify them at that time.

For practical purposes it may be convenient to declare a SORN for any period while abroad and not notify the DVLA of permanent export. However DVLA Booklet V100 (Registering and Licensing your Motor Vehicle) specifically states "do not make a SORN if you have sold, scrapped or exported your vehicle". The legalities of this must be a grey area as the vehicle is out of British jurisdiction.

For more information see DVLA Leaflet V526.


It is unlikely you will meet any problems returning to the EU overland as long as you have the V5 log book however long the vehicle has been out of the EU.

Vehicles that have been out of the country for more than 12 months on a SORN (possibly illegally) should have no problem returning to the UK. See notes on driving from the port in Re-registration below. When returning to the UK by ferry from France, note that the French authorities may report unlicensed British vehicles to the DVLA.

A vehicle that has been out of the country for more than one year and has been declared as permanently exported needs to face several hurdles in order to return to the UK.

Import duties.

It is essential that Customs and Excise are satisfied that all duties on the vehicle were paid in the UK before export so that it can be brought back into the country without further payment. The following documentary evidence should be adequate.

  1. Original bill of sale showing VAT paid if any.
  2. Original V5 (logbook).
  3. Carnet de Passage. Make sure this is stamped by Customs before leaving the UK. They will stamp the top right hand (exit) box and the left hand (entry) box will be cancelled.
  4. Bill of Lading or Waybill for outward voyage if vehicle is shipped by sea (but not by ferry).

As long as evidence can be produced then the vehicle will be cleared for re-import to the UK without any payment. Check Section 8 of C & E Notice no 3, available on the web.

Procedure for vehicles re-imported from outside the EU - accompanied or unaccompanied vehicles shipped other than by ferry

There are two procedural systems in force in the UK. The undernoted system is used at Tilbury, Felixstowe and Liverpool. The other system is used at Southampton. I have no information about the other system or which system is used by other ports.

When the ship docks, the Customs Drug detection team will board the ship. They will question you about where you have been, what people have asked you to bring stuff to the UK and so on. Then they will check your cabin using a sniffer dog followed by a similar check on your vehicle. If you are not accompanying the vehicle, your vehicle will be checked anyway before it is unloaded.

For passengers accompanying their vehicles, Immigration will have been notified by the Captain if they are due to land at the port. If Immigration wishes to see anyone they will board the ship.

Once cleared by the Drug detection team it is necessary to clear the vehicle for duty. Make sure you visit the Port Customs Office if you accompany the vehicle.

Customs will assign the clearance of the vehicle to one of several routes. The relevant ones are

Route 1 - Vehicle with Documentary Evidence
Route 2 - Vehicle requiring a Vehicle ID Check
Route 3 - Vehicle with Documentary Evidence and with delayed clearing
Route 6 - Documentary Evidence not required.

Your vehicle will also be given an Entry No. in the format 1234567890F. The date this number is allocated is also important and may not be the same date your vehicle was disembarked from the ship.

Once Port Customs procedures are completed you should be given Gate Passes as appropriate for each person and your vehicle to allow exit from the docks.

A fee of £30 is payable to Customs for administration. If you use an import agent (often the shipping agent), they will collect this fee. They will probably make their own charge unless the fee is included in the shipping costs. An agent is almost essential if you do not accompany your vehicle as it will probably be put on Route 3.

Port Customs will send all information to HM Customs and Excise Central Office in Salfords - the so called Hub for clearance. The Hub Helpdesk can be contacted on 0161 2615518. They will always need the Entry No and its date of issue. Once clearance has been given, your agents remit would seem to come to an end. You should not have to pay any Customs Duty, Excise Tax or VAT.

The Customs Hub Entry Team will then send the file to the Car Team who can be contacted on the same phone number. The Car Team will issue the approval documents to you. In order to do this they require:

  1. Customs form C88.
  2. Entry Acceptance Advice E2.
  3. Copy of V5 Log Book.

Although this should all happen automatically you may be able to progress the matter more quickly by faxing the documents directly to the Car Team on 0800 4960699.

The Car Team will also send duplicates of the approval documents to the DVLA.

Procedure for vehicles re-imported from outside the EU - accompanied vehicles shipped by ferry.

On arrival at the UK port you will have a choice of using the Red Channel (Goods to Declare or the Green Channel, No Goods to Declare). Go to the Red Channel and declare the vehicle for re-import. You should then be put on Route 1 above or similar and the appropriate action taken as above except you won't have an import agent to help you. The Documentary Evidence above will be required.


  1. You must have valid vehicle insurance. This can often be arranged on the Internet or by phone if you are not in the UK at the time.
  2. Road Fund Licence and MOT. You will have neither of these. The best option is to take the vehicle for a prearranged MOT with a suitable garage for the date the vehicle is taken out of the port and ideally one which can make repairs in the event of a failure. You are permitted to drive to a prearranged MOT test without an existing MOT or current Road Fund Licence. Curiously there is no limitation on the distance to be driven.

    Note that there may be a waiting list for MOTs. At Government testing stations run by VOSA this may be as long as 6 weeks. If your camper van is Class IV make sure that the MOT station has facilities to accept its weight. Class IV facilities are normally only for vehicles up to 3.5 tons weight

    All MOT stations have a computer link to the DVLA database. As your vehicle is being re-imported you may find that it does not appear on the database. In this case the tester should issue a certificate using the VIN (or chassis) no. instead of the registration number

You will need to obtain form V55/5 by contacting the Enquiry Office of the DVLA on 0870 240 0010 (for delivery by post) or visit a Local Office (to collect by hand). Obtaining the form can be done in advance of your return to save time. It will be supplied with a pack of information.

When you receive the form don't be put off by the details you have to complete such as CO2 emissions in gms/km! Just complete the form with the same information given on the V5 (logbook) and leave the rest blank except for dates. Also put in the Registration Number you had before the vehicle was exported (even though the Guidance Notes tell you not to). Unusually, you can request either a 6 month or 12 month licence plus part of a month if you need it.

You will now have to post the following to a Local Office of the DVLA (addresses in the back of the booklet enclosed with Form V55/5).

Evidence of ID e.g.:

  1. Counterpart Driving Licence.
  2. Recent Bank Statement.

Vehicle Documents:

  1. Application Form V55/5 completed in accordance with DVLA enquiry office advice.
  2. Original V5 registration document.
  3. Current MOT certificate.
  4. Current Certificate of Insurance.
  5. A cheque for appropriate amount made payable to DVLA.

Note that the V55/5 includes a Customs Form on the checklist. The DVLA do not require this form as they take the V5 log book as sufficient evidence that all taxes have been paid even though they receive the information from the Customs Hub. Keep copies of everything you send. Delivery of the Licence disk should take 7 - 10 days. On receipt of the Licence disk you will also have a Number Plate Authorisation Certificate V948. This enables you to get number plates for the vehicle (should these be needed) without the new V5 logbook which will be sent by the DVLA at a later date.

Of course if you are going to keep the vehicle off the road immediately you will need to declare a SORN in which case 5, 6 and 7 above will not be needed and you will should substitute Form V890 (from the Post Office) to do this.

Summary (returning by ship).

  1. Arrange Vehicle Insurance before the vehicle is landed in the UK.
  2. Arrange an appointment for an MOT in advance for the day the vehicle is removed from the Port so you can drive it legally to your home area.
  3. Get Form V55/5 from the DVLA before returning to the UK.
  4. Deal with the Customs paperwork at the Port with the aid of an Agent usually the Shipping Company.
  5. After the MOT is passed, send off the V55/5 and other documents including evidence of ID to your Local Office of the DVLA. When the licence disk is received the vehicle can be driven on the road legally.
  6. Make sure you receive the Customs confirmation from the Hub to confirm a tax free import.

Based entirely on my own experiences!
Clive Barker.

Home - This page last changed on 2007-08-06.