Driving in the UK For Ukrainian refugees

Nothing on this page should be taken as professional / legal / road safety advice. Consult with suitable professional experts and the authorities mentioned here where appropriate.

18/07/23: NEWS JUST IN: The Government is finally allowing Ukrainian visa holders to keep their cars without the need to register them onto UK number plates for 3 years. See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/bringing-a-ukrainian-vehicle-into-the-uk-tax-and-registration. This page is updated to reflect the new process.

As this is the first time people fleeing a war zone were able to reach the UK in their own vehicles, not all of the official documents and website links you may come across have been updated to take the Ukrainian situation specifically into account, and no Ukrainian specific end to end guidance currently exists across all departments. The official communications from Government departments has also been conflicting at times. This web page therefore brings together the relevant processes involved for you. Our understanding of some of the details is based on many phone calls and emails to various Government departments, but you should always double check things for yourself.

These are the relevant Government departments referred to in this web page:

  • HMRC (His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) – responsible for collecting any customs charges when importing items, or providing exemptions to these
  • Department for Transport or DfT for short – responsible for all matters transport related
  • DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, part of the DfT) – responsible for issuing drivers’ licences and vehicle registration number plates, and keeping records of these
  • DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, part of the DfT) – responsible for conducting driving tests and vehicle tests known as MOTs to appropriate safety and environmental standards in Great Britain. The equivalent department for Northern Ireland is DVA (Driver and Vehicle Agency) which also covers driver licences but not vehicle registrations (that is still under DVLA).
  • VCA (Vehicle Certification Agency) – used by the DfT to provide robust testing and certification of vehicles to internationally recognised standards.

Other relevant organisations:

  • The AA (Automobile Association) – an organisation that supports motorists
  • The Association of British Insurers (ABI) – provide overall guidance to insurance companies on insurance requirements
  • British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) – membership organisation for insurance brokers who can arrange specialist insurance

Process for importing a vehicle into the UK

Standard permanent import process

We describe the standard permanent import process that would normally apply to anyone wishing to bring a car permanently into the UK, for background information only (the process is no longer applicable to Ukrainians as of 18th July 2023):

  • Step 1: Either getting an exemption from HMRC from paying customs charges, by requesting a ‘Transfer of Residence Relief’ (using the TOR1 form), OR paying the customs charges required
  • Step 2: Assessing and modifying the vehicle as necessary to ensure it meets UK standards for imports according to VCA and DVSA
  • Step 3: Then asking DVLA to register the car with UK number plates, which they can only do provided HMRC are satisfied regarding customs charges, and DVSA are satisfied the vehicle meets UK import standards
  • Step 4: Taking out UK based insurance once the car is on UK plates, as the original home country car insurance will no longer be valid
  • Step 5: If there is a subsequent re-import of the car back to the original country, import duties may need to be paid in that country, as the original country number plates have been relinquished; the car is now on UK number plates, and would be considered a foreign car. Any vehicle modifications made may need to be reversed.

Temporary import process for Ukrainians (from 18th July 2023)

Ukrainians are now granted 3 years duration of stay in the UK where you do not need to inform DVLA that you have brought a vehicle with you, nor register or tax it – see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/bringing-a-ukrainian-vehicle-into-the-uk-tax-and-registration. There are still legal requirements to be adequately insured to drive in the UK and to conform to UK road safety laws from the moment of arrival, i.e. the same laws as for any other driver on UK roads.

The new process is now similar to that applied to other temporary residents, such as overseas students, and overseas workers coming to the UK for a fixed term contract. The process is as follows:

  • Step 1: Getting an exemption from HMRC from paying customs charges for the duration of your stay using the ‘Temporary Admissions’ process (using the C110 form) or using the ‘Transfer of Residence Relief’ process (using the TOR1 form). This needs to be done within 6 months of arriving in the UK.
  • There is no longer any need to undergo the same steps 2, 3, 4 and 5 as for permanent imports i.e. the car does not need to be modified, nor move to UK number plates, for the duration of the Ukrainian visa term. You do need to check if it needs an MOT test.

Timelines of official communications and other updates

We list some important events to be aware of, as you may come across out of date or conflicting information on other websites or social media.

  • April 2022: HMRC’s webpage https://www.gov.uk/guidance/bringing-personal-items-to-the-uk-as-a-ukrainian-refugee initially stated that the process to apply for exemption of customs charges for the full 3 years is via the ‘Transfer of Residence Relief’ or TOR1 form. It is stated that you are still required to register the car with DVLA if you ‘stay longer than 6 months’.
  • Summer 2022: Social media reports that some guests were being told to use the ‘Temporary Admissions’ C110 form, not the TOR1 form, to apply for exemption of duties for the full 3 years. The C110 form is however advised to us as optional by HMRC.
  • August 2022: HMRC’s Temporary Admissions team issue a letter to some guests, stating that they can use the ‘Temporary Admissions’ process to request exemption from customs charges for the full 3 years via the C110 form, as used by overseas students and fixed term contract workers: https://www.gov.uk/importing-vehicles-into-the-uk/temporary-imports. Moreover, they state that there is no requirement to register, tax or insure the car for the duration of the 3 years, causing refugees to stop worrying about these steps and to spread the positive news on social media.
  • 25th October 2022: The web page https://www.gov.uk/guidance/bringing-personal-items-to-the-uk-as-a-ukrainian-refugee is updated to retrospectively add in the C110 form as another way to apply for exemption of duties for the full 3 years, alongside the previous TOR1 (creating confusion as to which is the ‘right’ way).
  • November 2022: Some refugees receive communications from HMRC Temporary Admissions team, saying that provided their UA number plates are legible (which they are), they will not need to register their cars.
  • 17th November 2022: Department for Transport issue ‘Urgent Guidance’ stating the processes for carrying out required modifications to the car and registering it under UK plates are still applicable if the car is currently going to be here longer than 6 months. Refugees are now in a situation where they have run out of time to be compliant, despite it not being their fault that there has been a 4 months gap between this contradictory guidance to HMRC’s August guidance.
  • January 2023: Individual refugees report that Department for Transport is now advising them that they don’t need to surrender their Ukrainian vehicle registration paperwork after all, but are ‘recommended’ to keep it with them after all!
  • January 2023: Car importers such as ShipMyCar and MyCarImport report that DVSA have told them that ‘beam bender’ stickers costing £15 are now acceptable for vehicle approval tests, the same as for MOT tests, rather than having to replace the whole headlight units at a cost of thousands of pounds to be considered ‘compliant’. No official update to the ‘Urgent Guidance’ has been seen. Ukrainians who made the required changes prior to January have therefore spent money unnecessarily.
  • January 2023: HMRC’s Temporary Admissions team send out an incorrect communication to some Ukrainians, misinterpreting their immigration status by stating that provided they are ‘working’ or ‘studying’ in the UK, and can show evidence of this to HMRC, then DVLA will not require them to register their car. However, Ukrainians do not have ‘overseas student’ or ‘overseas worker’ visas (these are the two ‘temporary resident’ categories that are currently officially allowed an exemption from registration to UK plates, whereas ‘Ukrainian visa scheme holder’ here in the UK under ‘temporary protection’ is currently NOT)
  • February 2023: HMRC’s Temporary Admissions team confirm that the comms sent out in January was sent out by mistake, and retract it.
  • Association of British Insurers confirm that vehicles must have valid insurance at all times while they are driven on UK roads (see Insurance). However, some models are not recognised by UK insurer databases and incur high premiums; also there will be a lack of driver history.
  • There also seems to be a lack of consistency with MOT testers as to whether use of ‘beam benders’ are acceptable to pass an MOT test (the MOT guidance states that they should be, but there are reports of MOT tests failing with these).
  • 18th July 2023: Bizarrely, after spending a year insisting Ukrainians must ‘follow the law’ and go through a permanent car import process after 6 months, Department for Transport quietly drop the requirements and publish rules to say that they can keep their cars on Ukrainian number plates for the full 3 years of their visa after all.

Road safety in the UK

The UK has some key road safety laws that might be different to what you are used to in Ukraine. This section also explains why there could be required modifications to headlights, rear foglights and speedometers if you bring your car with you.

  • Here, we drive on the left hand side of the road (with car steering wheels positioned therefore on the ‘right hand side’), which means that cars designed for the UK markets have headlights that point in a different direction to European cars (which will dazzle other drivers if not corrected), and the position of the rear foglight may also be incorrect for UK roads. The issue with headlights must be immediately addressed by the use of ‘beam benders’; these are stickers you can buy to change the beam direction. Look for the ‘EU to UK’ ones, not the ‘UK to EU’ ones!
  • Speed signs are in miles per hour, and speedometers have a gauge in miles, as well as kilometres
  • Vehicles over 3 years old are required to pass an annual safety and environmental test known as an ‘MOT’ test (Ministry of Transport test).
  • Children are required to use appropriate sized car seats (refer to https://www.gov.uk/child-car-seats-the-rules for more details on the types of seats required and when it’s allowed to travel without one)
  • Use of mobile phones and devices while driving is illegal

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list. It is your responsibility to ensure compliance with UK road safety laws at all times.

Insuring your vehicle

You must have valid motor insurance to drive your vehicle on UK roads. Hence, this should be arranged before arriving in the UK with your vehicle.

Check whether your existing Ukrainian car insurance policy already covers you for the legal minimum to drive in the UK, otherwise you will need to purchase motor insurance which does. The Association of British Insurers have provided this advice when contacted by email: “As for driving to the UK with a Ukrainian licence plate, there are two possible avenues. One would be to get a green card issued from a Ukrainian insurer. And the second would be to obtain a frontier insurance policy at a point of entry into the UK (most likely in France).”

Confused.com have a guide to the different types of car insurance:

  • Third party insurance is the legal minimum. This means you’re covered if you have an accident causing damage or injury to any other person, vehicle, animal or property. It does not cover any other costs like repair to your own vehicle.
  • Third party, fire and theft insurance also covers your car if it catches fire or is stolen.
  • Fully comprehensive insurance covers costs to repair your car as well, even if an accident was your fault.

UK motor insurance policies

Generally, UK policies cannot be taken out on non-UK number plated cars. For Ukrainian cars which ended up on UK plates, many people reported that their car models were not recognised by UK car insurance databases, leading to extremely high insurance quotes of thousands of pounds. This is part of the reason why it was important to get the rule changed to allow Ukrainians to keep their cars on UA plates, and to be insured with Ukrainian car insurance policies.

Motor insurance is a competitive market and there are many price comparison sites where you can enter your car’s details and get a number of quotes. Common price comparison sites include: Confused.com, Compare The Market, and Go Compare. If your Ukrainian number plate is not accepted (usually only UK number plates are recognised), you should be able to enter details of your vehicle make and model in order to get a quote. Enter accurate information around for example, previous motor insurance claims you have made or any driving penalties received.

  • Admiral and Marshmallow have been mentioned on social media as two providers that might offer reasonable motor insurance.
  • If you cannot get a reasonable motor insurance quote through the standard providers, you may need to search for specialist insurers that deal with imported vehicle models such as Adrian Flux.
  • Or ring the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) on 0370 950 1790 and ask them to help you find an insurance broker. You can also type ‘Importing Vehicles’ as a search category on the BIBA website to pull up a list of around 120 brokers that you could call. You can try entering a postcode to narrow down the list, but you don’t have to choose a local broker.

You can elect to pay your insurance premiums for a year in advance, or on a monthly basis; however, the monthly option actually involves you taking out a low interest loan (subject to satisfactory financial checks such as checking your credit score) and as such, over a 12 month period, you would pay a bit more than if you paid the full amount upfront.

If you go back to Ukraine within the year, you can request a pro rata refund of your remaining car insurance provided you have not had to make any claims on the policy. Your insurance provider might charge you a cancellation fee.

MOT test

Most vehicles over 3 years old are required to undergo an MOT (Ministry of Transport test) every year to ensure they are roadworthy and meet environmental standards. This is a standard list of required checks and tests, and successful MOTs result in an MOT certificate being issued. A fail means that the vehicle cannot be driven (except to a garage to be fixed and retested).

Fees for the MOT are currently capped at a maximum of around £55 for a car, but garages may do MOTs for less than this, so shop around. It is quite customary to have your vehicle serviced at the same time.

See for example: https://www.halfords.com/mot/faqs/.

If your car is not on UK number plates, the MOT test can be conducted based on a vehicle’s VIN (Vehicle Identity Number); this is how you get an MOT certificate in the first place to then register your ‘foreign’ car in the UK. You may have to ask for this specifically at the MOT garage, as it’s a less common process. For example, Halfords and Kwikfit, two popular chains of garages in the UK, do not support the option of doing an MOT on a non-UK car, but smaller, independent garages may be able to.

We are advising that vehicles driven over from Ukraine are booked in for at least a pre-MOT test inspection soon after arrival, to ensure they are compliant with UK road safety standards. In particular, a long drive across the continent could have reduced your tyre treads to below the legal limits for the UK, which could result in a big fine (see https://www.gov.uk/check-vehicle-safe).

Headlights fitted correctly with ‘beam benders’ or deflectors should not be a reason to fail an MOT. DVSA have informed us (18/01/23):

For MOT, the use of deflectors is permitted. 2A flat top or other alternative headlamp dipped beam pattern is acceptable if all the beam upper edge, including any ‘peak’ is contained within the appropriate tolerance band. It’s acceptable for masks or converter kits to be fitted to right hand dip headlamps to temporarily alter the lamp for use in the UK by removing the beam ‘kick-up’ to the right.”

However, the rear foglight must be in the correct position for driving on UK roads to pass an MOT.

What to do with your Ukrainian vehicle on arrival

We recommend doing these on arrival in the UK:

  • Ensuring your insurance policy covers you to drive in the UK
  • Adjusting your headlights for driving on the left, or adding ‘beam benders’ to ensure your headlights do not dazzle oncoming drivers (see Road safety)
  • Reprogramming your speedometer if possible to display in mph
  • Getting a pre-MOT test health check done to ensure that there are no other significant issues after your long drive and that your car is safe and legal to drive. You could also get a full MOT done, which may require you to modify the position of your rear foglight, but this should not cost too much.
  • See for example: https://www.gov.uk/check-vehicle-safe which tells you what you need to be aware of to ensure your vehicle is safe to drive at all times.

You will not initially need to inform HMRC, if all of the following apply (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/bringing-personal-items-to-the-uk-as-a-ukrainian-refugee):

  • You have arrived in the UK and are coming from Ukraine
  • The vehicle is registered and taxed in its home country
  • You only use the vehicle in the UK for no more than 6 months

You can contact the HMRC ‘Temporary Admissions’ team on 0300 322 7064 (select option 3, then option 1) or email them at citex.temporaryadmissionsteam@hmrc.gov.uk if you have any questions during this time and do not intend to stay longer than 6 months.

What to do with your Ukrainian vehicle if you stay longer than 6 months

As of 18th July 2023, there is no longer a requirement to register or tax your Ukrainian vehicle after 6 months. You can continue to drive it for the duration of your Ukrainian visa, on UA number plates.

Note that apparently no laws were needed to be changed to allow this, despite everything that was previously stated by the Department for Transport, so these rules could have been applied much earlier.

You are still required to apply to HMRC for exemption of import duties. This can be done through the C110 (‘Temporary Admissions’) or TOR (‘Transfer of Residence’ relief) process. The C110 process is probably easier if you are just bringing a vehicle, and not shipping any other goods.

Paying customs charges on a vehicle imported from Ukraine

If you applied for the ‘Transfer of Residence’ relief, but are not eligible, and assuming the vehicle is less than 30 years old, you will need to pay import duty (10%) and VAT (20%) of the vehicle’s value as determined by a sales receipt dated within the last 3 months, or a current valuation of the vehicle from a UK garage or dealership. Online valuations do not count.

From October 2022, you will need to use a Customs Agent to make a declaration for you on the new Customs Declaration System. A register (literally a spreadsheet) of customs agents can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/list-of-customs-agents-and-fast-parcel-operators. Once they have completed the necessary paperwork, you can contact HMRC to get the NOVA number issued, after which you can proceed to register the car with the DVLA as described above.

A car import specialist company like ShipMyCar could help you with the process. However, challenge any such decision from HMRC as Ukrainian visa holders should be granted exemption from customs charges.

Can you simply leave your Ukrainian car ‘off the road’?

If it’s too costly to keep your car insured under your Ukrainian policies, then you do have the option of deciding to park your car or other vehicle on a driveway or garage and not drive it in the UK. See our detailed guide – ‘Laying up your car’ – for more information and tips on how to prepare your car mechanically to be off the road for an extended time period.

However, currently you would need to pay to have it transported back to Ukraine at the end of your stay i.e. it wouldn’t be legal for you to drive it on the road to get back to Europe. In this case, a car shipping company such as ShipMyCar may be able to help.

If your car has already been registered to UK number plates, then you will also need to apply to DVLA for what is called a ‘Statutory Off the Road Notice’ or SORN, in order to keep it off the road officially.

Can you sell your Ukrainian car?

Normally, a condition of HMRC granting exemption from import duties on goods imported is that claimants must not sell the goods within the first year of moving here. However, HMRC advised us via email:“Some of the conditions of TOR (Transfer of Residence) can be waived in exceptional circumstances. This includes the condition that claimants must not lend, hire out or transfer the goods prior to 12 months after moving, which can be waived on request for people moving to the UK due to exceptional political circumstances. HMRC consider that Ukrainian guests who have come to the UK due to the war in Ukraine would be eligible to apply for such a waiver.

To apply for the waiver, HMRC advise (23/03/23):

If a person has already claimed TOR and needs to seek a waiver of a condition, they should email the HMRC team that processes TOR approvals at nch.tor@hmrc.gov.uk to ask for this. It may speed up the process if in the subject header of the email they put – ‘CIC’ and then the unique reference number that is on the letter from HMRC that approved their original claim. (CIC = Change In Circumstance)

We do not yet have any information on what to do if you want to sell your vehicle, if you applied for an exemption of customs charges via the Temporary Admissions C110 form.

However, by selling a vehicle that is still on UA plates, you would be passing on the problem of registering and insuring it to someone else.

What happens to your car when you return to Ukraine?

If you’ve registered your vehicle under UK plates, and you surrendered your original registration paperwork to DVLA, then you may need to re-register it on your return to Ukraine. You may need to pay import duties. The process involves completing the relevant sections of the V5 registration form and returning them to the authorities. See our detailed guidance notes for more information, including contact details of the Ukrainian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, email: zsmfa@mfa.gov.ua. Note that we have not tried this process as yet.

Note: as of January 2023, DVLA are allowing Ukrainians to keep their original vehicle registration paperwork after all so that you can simply reattach your UA plates when you finally leave the UK. In this case, there should be no issues or costs associated with taking your vehicle back.

What to do with your Ukrainian driving licence

See our new dedicated page on driving licences and learning to drive.

Learning to drive and the driving test

See our new dedicated page on driving licences and learning to drive.

Driving someone else’s car in the UK

You should check your licence type covers you to drive the type of vehicle (manual cars for example).

In order to drive someone else’s car in the UK (such as your host’s), you will need to be added to their car insurance as a named driver (as well as be qualified to drive their car type with your driving licence). The Association of British Insurers say: “Hosts may add Ukrainian refugees to their car insurance, subject to individual insurers’ terms and conditions. If a host wishes to add the individual to their car insurance policy as an additional driver, they should contact their insurer directly for information and guidance.”

Your host may not feel comfortable doing this, as even if you are insured, should you cause an accident, this might result in their insurance premiums going up when they come to renew their insurance the following year.

Buying a car in the UK

It’s worth being aware of the market values of cars in the UK, and shopping around. There is a good selection of secondhand cars for sale on Autotrader‘s website. There are some ‘car supermarkets’ such as CarGiant, and car dealerships, but quite often you need a car to get there! If you buy from a private seller, do make sure you check the car thoroughly and it might be less risky to ask through your networks if anyone has a car for sale.

In particular, it can be challenging to buy a good quality, reasonably priced automatic car, as the majority of cars in the UK are manual.

This online video https://youtu.be/puVH1Q3AqI4 explains the kinds of secondhand automatic cars to avoid, as they could be less reliable and have higher running costs. Recommended secondhand automatic cars from this video and our detailed guide include:

  • Mazda 3 or Mazda 6 Petrol Automatic 2007/8
  • Ford Fiesta, Focus or Mondeo 1.6 Petrol Automatic (NOT ‘PowerShift’ or ‘DuraShift’)
  • Kia Ceed, Picanto 1.6 Petrol Automatic 2011
  • Toyota Corolla, RAV 4 1.6 Petrol Automatic (Yaris Mk 1, but NOT Mk 2)
  • VW Golf Mk 4 Automatic (NOT Mk 5 DSG gearbox)
  • Honda Cr-V 2.0i Petrol 2005, Jazz 1.4i Automatic 2005
  • BMW 1 or 3 Series 2006 120i/320i Automatic
  • Vauxhall Astra 1.8 Petrol Automatic 2007

NOTE: If you live in any of the 32 London Boroughs, you should check whether or not the car you are buying is ULEZ compliant.

Driving in London – the ULEZ charge

If you live in any of the 32 London Boroughs, you should check whether or not the car you are buying conforms to the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) emissions standard, as otherwise, you will need to pay a £12.50 ULEZ charge each day to Transport for London (TFL) that you drive your car.

For a vehicle on UK number plates, you can check this by entering the number plate on this tool: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/check-your-vehicle/.

If your car is registered on Ukrainian number plates, unfortunately, you are still eligible to pay the charge if your car is not compliant (which most likely, will not be possible for TFL to know using your UA plate). This link gives details on how to check and register your car as compliant: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/compliance-registration/Non-UK-vehicles-driving-in-London. It says: “You need to register this vehicle with our partner EPC plc if you believe it meets the required emissions standards.”

HMRC, DVSA, DVLA and VCA contact details

Summary of contact details for the departments: