The title says it all, this article is about importing a motorhome from Germany. We detail what we did, the processes we followed and the sources of information used. The motorhome was not for me, but for a friend. However, I was involved in the process from start to finish. One tip is to buy a German dictionary – there will be some words that Google can’t help with – Oxford Essential German Dictionary – from Amazon.
I emphasise that this article relates to importing a NEW motorhome, rather than importing a USED one. The process for importing a used motorhome is similar, but UK VAT might not be payable if the used motorhome meets certain criteria, such as age and mileage.
Importing a motorhome from Germany – preparation and paperwork.
The first thing to do, if you are considering importing a motorhome from Germany, is to contact the DVLA at Swansea and request an “import pack”. This will provide you with some useful information and also the documents that you will require when the time comes to register the motorhome in the UK. Order an import pack by clicking here. (You will be directed to the DVLA/GOV UK website). Some of the documents within the import pack consist of more than once page/carbon set hence these cannot be downloaded. We think it is better to order everything online and let the postie do his finest. Order the paperwork well in advance – it took about seven days to arrive.
Researching your new motorhome.
After reading the information within the DVLA import pack for a new vehicle, and if you are not put off, then the next thing to do is to locate your new motorhome. You may already have a model in mind. If this is the case, have you seen the actual model anywhere, or just had a read of the brochure? We would recommend seeing the exact model. Noteworthy of a mention, specifications between UK and Germany vary. For example a ‘van destined for the UK market may have an oven as standard, where as a ‘van ready for sale in Germany may not have an oven. You may wish to consider specification differentials when importing a motorhome from Germany.
My friend had a couple of models in mind – a Burstner Elegance and a Knaus SUN I. Using the “Mobile.de” website, we were able to locate dealers that had physical stock of both vehicles. The downside – we were in Italy and the motorhomes were at least 350 miles away in Germany! Prior to making any journey, we established contact with the dealers by telephone. This seemed important as emails received a slow response, but once telephone contact had been made, negotiations began. We asked for a “best price” and compared various dealers. In the end, we chose to drive to Freiburg and paid a visit to Sud Caravans. The location of this dealer was good too – close to the motorway and also at the “UK side” of Germany. Consequently, this gave an easier journey to the channel port when required.
Importing a motorhome from Germany – doing the deal
We arrived at the dealership on a Friday morning, complete with the Kon-tiki. We had arranged to night-stop at the dealership – many German dealerships seem to offer night-stop facilities. The Knaus motorhome was in stock and available to view. We had a good – and I mean good – look around the motorhome, and then the sales deal was done. Don’t be frightened to haggle a bit. After ordering, we were provided with the dealership’s bank details so we could send a bank transfer for the deposit. Your bank in the UK will be able to do this for you. Alternatively, there are various companies offering an online funds transfer service. You may wish to shop around for the best exchange rate. If you have two bank accounts, check the exchange rate offered by both banks.
It is easier if you speak German of course, but most German dealers have someone there who speaks English. We were very lucky in this respect and there was no language barrier at all. We dealt with two members of staff, one from sales and one from service.
During the order process, we arranged for a couple of “optional extras” (these being a trio of extra 230v power sockets and an oven) to be fitted to the ‘van. Furthermore, the German dealer arranged that the headlights would be “adjusted” to comply with UK legal requirements. The Knaus was of course built for the German market, so is left hand drive and with continental specification head lamps. The “UK spec headlights” are a requirement to get the register the ‘van in the UK. Other “crucial” items are a speedometer that shows MPH and also a rear fog light that is positioned to comply with UK regulations. Details of these legal requirements are covered on the UK GOV website.
A few days prior to collection, the outstanding balance was sent to the dealership’s bankers by telegraphic transfer. The price paid to the German dealer included German VAT at 19%. UK VAT has not been paid at this stage. You might find a German dealer who will sell the motorhome to you nett of VAT or take a forward dated cheque to cover the VAT. Once you have registered the motorhome in the UK, and provided evidence this, and proof of payment of the UK VAT, the German dealer will refund the German VAT if you have paid it. Likewise, he will “destroy the forward dated cheque”. Finding a dealer that will sell nett or take a cheque may be tricky though!
We arrived at the dealership early in the morning. After a coffee and a chat, we went through all the features of the motorhome in what even I would describe as a very thorough handover. We had arranged to stay the night at the dealer’s premises – “just in case” we had any further queries. We thoroughly tested everything and the only niggle to arise related to the Alde heating system that looked low on fluid. This was readily topped up.
Importing a motorhome from Germany – insurance
When importing a motorhome from Germany, the dealer will provide you with “export plates” and also third-party insurance. The export plates are easily identifiable by the red markings to the right. There is a charge for these items.
We were unable to find a UK-based broker that would insure the ‘van, until the motorhome was at the channel port. Shop around – you may have more success than us. We did however find a company in Holland that would provide comprehensive cover to the vehicle but NOT third-party cover.
When registering the vehicle in the UK, you will need a lot of information to be taken from the vehicle’s certificate of conformity. Ensure that the dealer provides you with the certificate of conformity. The certificate of conformity may well be in German, but if you take the V55/4 with you to Germany, the dealer may assist in completing it. (The V55/4, the form required to tax and register a new vehicle was among other documents in the import pack.)
Journey to the channel port.
In a small convoy, the Kon-tiki led, whilst the “import” followed on. If you are driving on third party insurance only, take extra care! A pleasant stop over in Belgium is at Neufchateau – click here for our review.
Importing a motorhome from Germany – paying the UK VAT
You must inform Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that you have imported a vehicle. Thus must be done with fourteen days of the vehicle’s arrival into the UK. You can be fined if you are “late” informing HMRC of this. Don’t be worried about contacting the HMRC – it is very simple and straight forward. HMRC operate a scheme called “NOVA”. This is “notification Of Vehicle Arrivals”. You complete an online form, available here on the GOV website. This informs HMRC that your new ‘van has arrived in the UK.
UK VAT, currently 20% is charged on the base price of the motorhome plus any extras. The HMRC use a set exchange rate. This exchange rate changes once per month. The actual exchange rates used in the past by HMRC can be viewed here. The NOVA online form was duly completed by us and within two days we had a call requesting clarification of the cost of the motorhome. We simply emailed a copy of the dealer’s invoice. The next day, we received a “bill” for the amount of VAT payable. This amount is then sent by bank transfer.
Preparing to register the motorhome in the UK
In order to register an imported vehicle, the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) must be satisfied that the motorhome complies with UK regulations. Read this page and then download the document. You will also require the VCA payment form – you’ve guessed –it’s here!
The German dealer had “sorted out” the headlights. The Knaus SUN I has twin rear fog lights, so that is compliant with the UK requirements. The third item was the speedo. The VCA states “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 speedo on the imported Knaus was only showing kilometers per hour.
In order to rectify the speedometer, we ordered a speedo overlay from Lockwood International at Leeds. This is their website. You can order your speedo overlay online. Ours arrived the next day in a secure package. The next part of the process is done by a Fiat dealership. They “opened up the dashboard” on the motorhome, removed the existing overlay on the speedometer and replaced it with our new UK compliant version. It might be possible for a competent DIY-er to do this – that ruled us out then!
The motorhome was then taken to a MOT test centre who were able to physically check that all the UK requirements of the VCA were done. The vehicle was inspected, lights checked and the speedometer checked. The MOT test station provided us with an invoice, as below.
“To whom it may concern.
Reference: Inspection of motorhome, chassis number (enter your chassis number here)
We have today inspected the motorhome as described above and confirm that:
1) The vehicle has rear fog lights fitted as standard to both the left and right hand side of the rear of the vehicle
2) The headlights fitted to the vehicle are left dipping headlights. As such, there comply with the requirements of the UK. (We are advised that this was done by the German motorhome dealer)
3) The speedometer within the vehicle is dual marked. Primarily in miles per hour and also in kilometres per hour”.
Once we had the invoice from the MOT station (note – the invoice MUST itself comply with certain criteria, the exact detail is contained within this link), we were able to apply for “type approval” for the motorhome. This involves completing the VCA paperwork and paying a £100 fee. If you are in a hurry, you will probably wish to avoid the “pay by cheque” option and use postal orders or a credit card instead.
The information below, in italics, refers to the criteria that the garage/workshop carrying out the modifications must adhere to/their letter comply with:
A few days later – and it was fairly quick – the V5 document, also known as the log book arrived. This document details the motorhome registration number. At this point you are able to arrange for registration plates to be made. You must also provide the registration number to the UK insurer.
As mentioned earlier, you must then provide the Germany dealer with evidence that the UK VAT has been [aid and also confirmation of the UK registration. The dealer will then refund the monies you paid for the German VAT.
Importing a motorhome from Germany – a summary
- Order a vehicle import pack from the DVLA
- Do your research and select a model you intend to buy
- Communicate with the German dealer
- Visit the German dealer
- Place an order
- Pay the deposit
- Pay the balance
- Collect the ‘van (we strongly suggest a couple of nights with the dealership, iron out any niggles)
- Physically take the van to the UK
- Notify HMRC using the NOVA scheme
- Await a bill from the HMRC for the UK VAT
- Pay the UK VAT
- Arrange remedial work to ensure the ‘van complies with UK laws
- Arrange to collect documentary evidence that the ‘van complies with UK laws
- Complete the VCA application and pay the appropriate fee
- Upon receipt of the “type approval number”, complete forms V267 (declaration that a vehicle is new) and V55/4 (application for first vehicle tax and registration of a new motor vehicle). These documents are available in the import pack
- Receive log book
- Make up number plates
- Contact the German dealer to arrange a refund of the German VAT
Importing a motorhome from Germany – the pros and cons
- Higher specification
- Lower price
- Subject to exchange rate fluctuations although you can protect yourself from rate movements by booking a “forward contract”.
- Left hand drive (this is either a pro or a con depending on your point of view). A dealer we spoke to was able to source RHD. This cost 2500 euro more than the LHD variant
- The process may seem daunting
- Check with insurance companies that they are happy to cover you for a “personal import”
- Two lots of VAT to pay – you are out of pocket until the refund arrives. Note – you may make a profit or loss on the amount refunded depending upon the prevailing exchange rates
Are you importing a motorhome from Germany? Has this article helped? Do you need more help with the import process – drop us an email and see if we can help!