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Do you need import car insurance?

Written by Kasey Cassells, Senior content editor

22 September 2020

Find out about the different types of imported car and how much they cost to insure

Car insurance for imported cars | Import car insurance

About import car insurance

Many drivers are choosing to buy imported cars, whether to save money or to get hold of a rare car with modifications not available in the UK.

Insuring an imported car can be more expensive because insurers will need to spend more time when calculating how risky they are. 

If your car is imported you will need to shop around for specialist car insurance.

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Imported cars and car insurance – key facts

  • There are added complications compared to cars designed for use and registered in the UK 

  • There are different types of import and this will affect the cost of your premium

  • Regular car insurance providers may increase premiums or excesses for imported cars

  • You may be able to find cheaper car insurance premiums by shopping around or using specialist import car insurance

Is import car insurance more expensive than regular car insurance?

The effect on your insurance costs may only be minimal depending on the car’s origin and how it is imported. 

It depends what type of car import you have – there are three different types of import: grey imports, parallel imports, and personal imports.

Grey imports and import car insurance

Grey imports are cars that have never been available as standard in the UK, and often don’t conform to EU standards. 

The most popular grey imports are high-spec American or Japanese models. 

Grey imports are often the most difficult to insure:

  • They cost more to repair as parts are more difficult to get hold of

  • There’s a higher risk of theft as the cars are sought after

When you bought your grey import car, you shopped around and did your research, most likely buying your import car though a specialist dealer. The same should apply when you are looking for car insurance.

What is a grey import?

Grey imports are usually models that don’t have an equivalent model with the same specifications available in the UK market. 

A foreign car with an identical or similar UK model is known as a parallel import, more about these later

Grey imports typically come from outside the EU

This means they may not conform to the UK’s safety or emissions standards. 

They may also have a higher specification, with more powerful engines than those available in the UK. Popular grey imports include Japanese and American cars.

Grey imports often need to be modified

As grey imports sometimes don’t conform to EU standards, they may need to be modified to be made suitable for UK roads. 

  • If you’re buying a grey import from a reputable dealer, they should have already made any modifications to ensure the car is legal to drive in the UK 

  • If you’re carrying out your own personal import, this is something you will have to bear in mind. 

How do grey imports affect car insurance?

Grey imports are the most expensive form of car import to insure. 

  • They are often more powerful than standard UK models

  • Insurers see grey imports as more of a risk on the roads

  • Grey imports can also be more expensive and time consuming to repair

  • Parts may be difficult to source. 

How much does grey import car insurance cost?

When calculating your premium, insurers will take into account how much it would cost to repair or replace your car. 

This will cost more while sourcing parts and the because of the duration of any courtesy car hire if your car off the road for an extended period.

Grey imports are more of a theft risk

Insurers may also raise your premium if they feel there is an enhanced risk of theft. 

Grey imports may be more desirable to thieves than standard models as they are rare and often more powerful than other cars on the market.

How to save on Japanese and American car import insurance

There are things you can do to make reduce the cost of insuring your grey import.

Security and your grey import

As with all cars, insurers will be able to give you a better deal if you can prove your car is safe. This is even more important with grey imports as insurers consider them a higher theft risk. 

Keep your car in a locked garage or secure driveway overnight rather than parking it on the road.

Safer driving and your grey import

Installing a telematics device, also known as a black box, can help reduce the cost of your car insurance:

  • if your car has a particularly powerful engine insurers consider you at a higher risk of driving dangerously and being involved in an accident. 

  • a telematics box will track your driving so you can prove that you act responsibly on the roads

  • it can also act as a tracker, which can deter thieves and make it easier to recover your car if it is stolen

Shop around for grey import car insurance

The easiest way to save money on car insurance for imported vehicles is to shop around and compare several different car insurance providers — some of the big-name insurers won’t be willing to cover grey imports, but there are several providers that specialise in grey imports and specifically Japanese or American car insurance.

Parallel car imports

Parallel imports are often cars that have an equivalent UK model. They are normally not as expensive to insure as grey imports:

  • buying an imported car can work out cheaper than one intended for the UK market, and parallel imports are becoming a fairly common sight on UK roads

  • these cars are generally imported from the EU, so comply with UK regulations. 

Import car insurance and parallel car imports

There are deals to be had on parallel imports, and the impact on car insurance prices can be minimal. 

They may still have some non-standard features that may cause insurers to 'load' your premium, for example if the car is imported from elsewhere in Europe and is left-hand drive. 

How much does it cost to insure a parallel car import?

When it comes to imported vehicles, parallel imports are the most similar type of car import to standard UK cars.

  • A parallel import is usually a European version of a car that has an identical or very similar UK equivalent. 

  • Examples include Opel models, which are identical to their counterparts offered in the UK by Vauxhall – for example the Opel/Vauxhall Zafira or the Opel/Vauxhall Astra

Parallel car imports and UK models

Although the car’s specifications may be almost identical to a UK model, some parallel imports can have differences, this can include:

  • subtle differences – such as variations in trim

  • obvious differences – such as being configured for left-hand drive

It might not be immediately clear that a car is a parallel import, for example if the badges have been changed. 

Check whether your car is a parallel import

If you’re looking to buy a car and suspect it’s been imported you can ask the seller, or if you own the car and still don’t know whether it’s been imported you can check the V5 document to see its origin.

How does a parallel import affect the cost of car insurance?

Car insurance costs for parallel imports may be higher than standard UK models, especially in the case of left-hand drive vehicles or those with other non-standard features. 

  • Parallel imports can be cheaper to insure than grey imports - the price difference may only be minimal compared to standard UK models

  • Parallel imports are manufactured to the same minimum standards as UK models -  insurers see them as less of a risk on the road as high-spec grey imports 

  • Some insurers are wary of imported vehicles – so they may raise premium prices or refuse to provide cover altogether

How can I save on car insurance for a parallel import?

Insurance hikes may only be minimal for parallel imports, but there are ways to save further.

All car insurance premiums are based on risk; not only the risk of an accident, but also risk of theft or vandalism. 

  • Insurers will see parallel imports as less of a theft risk as they are typically more common and affordable models

  • Show your car is safe by keeping it in a secure garage or driveway if possible. 

  • Consider a niche provider — larger insurance companies may be unable to give you a competitive quote. 

  • Compare specialist providers for your imported vehicle’s car insurance

Personal imports 

Personal imports are vehicles brought into the UK by an individual, rather than a dealership. Depending on its model and background, a personal import car can either be a grey import or parallel import 

The cost of your car insurance will depend on which of these categories the car fits into.

How do I buy a personal import?

The most common way to buy a personal import is from a private seller who has previously imported the vehicle. 

  • If you’re buying a car that was brought into the country as a personal import it’s very similar to buying from a private seller 

  • The car will likely already be registered in the UK and all you will have to take care of is the tax and insurance, as you usually would when buying a car

  • If you’re a UK resident planning to import a car into the country yourself, you will need to register the vehicle in the UK before it is driven

  • If you’re registering and insuring the car in the UK the car will have to be tested under the Individual Vehicle Approval scheme to ensure the car is suitable for use on UK roads 

  • Your imported car will also need to hold a British certificate of insurance before being driven — many standard insurers will be wary of insuring imported cars before they are registered

  • There are many specialist insurers that deal with personal imports regularly and will be able to provide cover for your vehicle while it’s being registered.

Personal imports and import car insurance

If you import a vehicle yourself — whether it’s a grey import or parallel import the car must be insured before it is driven in the UK. 

There are unique issues with insuring a personally imported car. 

  • If you are a non-UK resident and wish to bring a car to the UK when you come here to visit, live or study, you will need to be insured to drive on UK roads

  • You must tell your insurer if your car is an imported model — if you’re not sure, check the V5 document 

How to save on personal import car insurance

The cost of car insurance for a personal import will depend on many factors, including whether the car is a grey or parallel import. 

A grey import is likely to cost more to insure as it may not meet UK standards for safety, emissions and braking.

Consider a specialist insurer

Many larger insurers are wary of imported vehicles, especially personal imports that have not come through trusted manufacturers, so you may need to source specialist car insurance 

Increase your car’s security 

As imported cars are rarer than standard models they are more likely to be targeted by thieves. Keep your car in a locked garage or secure driveway rather than on the road. Consider also installing alarms and trackers.

Limited use

If your imported car is going to be a second vehicle for occasional use, having a policy that reflects your limited annual mileage could save you money

Join a club

There are deals too for members of owners clubs who could save up to 15% on specialist car insurance.

Advanced driving 

You may even qualify for a discount if you have previous experience of driving performance models. Consider taking an advanced driving qualification (link to advanced driving piece)

Not owning a car

You don’t need to own a car to get car insurance. Unlike a full car insurance policy, you won’t build up a no claims bonus, but it does mean you can drive someone else’s car, as long as you have their permission. 

If you are only planning on borrowing a car you can also compare quotes for short-term or temporary car insurance

Shop around and consider multi car insurance

When you start looking for car insurance make sure you shop around for cheaper new driver car insurance.

If your family own several cars it may be better to insure them via a multi-car insurance policy

Multi insurance might also be suitable:

  • if you own more than one car

  • if you’re a family with more than one driver

  • if you’re a couple with more than one vehicle 

Get a car insurance quote

See a range of car insurance quotes in just a few minutes when you compare with Uswitch