What are foreign registered vehicles when can they be seized?

Driving to the UK on holiday is pretty simple for most foreign motorists. You remind yourself to stick left, check you’re covered by insurance, and off you go!
But what if you’re planning a longer trip? Or you’re actually moving to the UK – or returning, if you’re an expat?
In those cases, different laws come into play concerning car registration, and falling foul of them could land you in a spot of legal bother. It could even lead to your car being seized and impounded.
So to help you avoid that, we’ve put together a quick guide to driving foreign registered cars in the UK. And if your vehicle does get seized, we can help you out by arranging impounded car insurance, too.


What is car registration in the UK?

This seems like a simple question – and usually, it is! It’s the official system that allocates each vehicle a unique number plate, and links it to the owner.
If you live in the UK and buy a car here, you’ll simply register yourself as the owner by contacting  the DVLA and filling in some paperwork.
You’re then liable to pay vehicle excise duty, or car tax, every year, unless your car falls into an exemption category. Electric vehicles, for example, are exempt from car tax – though they do still need to be registered.
Owning a UK-registered vehicle means you need to get it through the MOT test of roadworthiness every year, unless your car is exempt.
Alternatively, if you’re not going to park or drive on public roads in the UK, you can make a Statutory Off-Road Notice (SORN) declaration.
Other countries have similar registration schemes, so no matter where you live and drive, your car can always be connected to you.
This is essential for the police when trying to link vehicles to accidents or crime scenes, and also means you can prove ownership if your vehicle is stolen.
The authorities across the world share relevant information, so you’re free to drive your vehicle abroad, so long as it complies with motoring regulations in that country.

Registering a foreign car in the UK

If you live abroad, your car is registered in that country, and you’re visiting the UK for less than six months, you don’t need to register your vehicle here. Enjoy your holiday – remember to pack for rain!
Make sure you’re aware of the cut-off point though, as after six months, you need to switch registration so that your car is officially on the UK’s system. You also need to make the switch if you’re taking several smaller trips that add up to more than six months within one 12-month period.
And if you’re moving to the UK – that is, you’re planning on becoming an official resident here – then you should register your vehicle immediately, without waiting six months. That applies to foreign citizens and returning UK expats alike, though you might be exempt if you’re a foreign student or temporary worker.
When you register your car with the DVLA, you’ll be given new UK-style registration plates. You’ll also probably have to start paying vehicle excise duty, or car tax, and getting your car MOTed every year – see above for exemptions.
According to the DVLA, car tax evasion costs the Treasury £94 million every year. So you can see why they are keen to clamp down on untaxed cars, including those that are registered abroad!
And if your car is classified as untaxed, that could also affect the validity of your insurance, potentially leading to even more trouble for you.
Failure to register and pay tax could see your car seized by the police, which would be a miserable way to start your life in the UK! However, the team at Insurance Factory can arrange impounded car cover to help reunite you with your vehicle.
Similar registration rules apply in other countries, so do check them out if you’re a UK driver moving abroad.

Audi TT
When can foreign registered vehicles get seized?

If you use a foreign registered car on public roads in the UK and fail to comply with the above regulations, you risk having it seized by police or the local authorities as an untaxed vehicle.
It could happen at any time, but is most likely during a police clampdown on untaxed or uninsured drivers. These happen on a regular basis.
Plus, of course, there’s a whole range of other reasons which apply to both foreign and UK registered vehicles. These include the following offences or situations:
  • Driving or parking on public roads after declaring a Statutory Off-Road Notice (SORN) for your vehicle.
  • Driving while unlicensed or uninsured.
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Careless driving, if they have already been warned to stop.
  • Failing to stop for a uniformed police officer.
  • Causing an obstruction or danger to other road users, e.g. parking in a hazardous way.
  • Burned out, corroded and abandoned where it’s potentially hazardous.
  • If police need the vehicle as evidence at a crime scene.
Hopefully, none of those will happen to you and your vehicle. But if they do, read on to find out what steps you must take next.

What to do if your car is seized

Getting reunited with your impounded vehicle is a hassle, and can be costly, too.
You’ll need to find out which car pound it’s been taken to: the address will be on any notice of seizure that you’re given. Otherwise, call the police on the non-emergency number, 101. You could also contact the parking enforcement company, NSL, on 0343 224 1999.
You’ll have to provide various pieces of documentation to prove the vehicle is yours. There are likely to be fines and a release fee on top of that, plus a storage fee which increases every day – so it’s worth acting fast!
You might well have to buy specialist insurance for your impounded car, as many standard policies will not cover you for collecting your vehicle from a pound. This is usually valid for one month, giving you enough time to sort out longer term cover.
If your car was seized because it was illegally registered abroad and you hadn’t paid car tax, you will need to pay vehicle excise duty or a surety (a type of deposit) before your vehicle is released. You’re likely to have to stump up back payments, too.
If you don’t pay your vehicle tax within 24 hours, it could be seized again! So it really is essential to make sure your vehicle is above board.

Peugeot car

What happens if I don’t reclaim my vehicle?

You have seven days in which to present the necessary documents to reclaim your car, plus a further seven days in which to recover it, e.g. if you need to arrange for it to be collected or scrapped. 
If it’s unclaimed, the police can discard it. If it’s in good condition, they’ll auction it, but if it’s in poor condition, they’ll scrap it.
You can claim the proceeds of any sale within a year. However, you’re also liable for accumulated fees, e.g. storage, recovery and fines, so these will be subtracted from any profits before they’re handed over to you.
Given that cars are usually sold at auction for far less than they’re worth, you’re unlikely to make any money. And the authorities will chase you for those costs!

Does Brexit mean I can no longer use my driving licence abroad?

The UK’s departure from the European Union has concerned many motorists who are accustomed to driving freely around the continent. However, it seems there won’t be too many changes.
For tourists on trips of less than six months, you can still drive in the EU with your UK driving licence, assuming you have a modern photocard version. If you’ve got an old paper one, check to see if you need to get an international driving permit (IDP): you can buy one cheaply at a post office.
You also need to display a UK sticker on your car; carry your V5C log book or car hire documents with you; and check your insurance policy to make sure you’re covered abroad.
For UK citizens resident in the EU, the rules vary slightly from country to country. However, initial fears that you would have to retake your test in your adopted country have not come to pass. In the vast majority of cases, you can either continue to drive on your UK licence until it expires (when you’re 70) or simply exchange it for a local one. The same applies for EU citizens living in the UK.

Contact Insurance Factory today

The rules around registration can seem bewildering, and if your car is impounded, it’s a highly stressful situation.
Fortunately, at Insurance Factory, we like to make it as simple as possible for you to be reunited with your vehicle. We arrange impounded car insurance for 30 or 365 days, enabling you to prove you’re covered on the UK’s public roads when you collect your car from the pound.
Get a quote from us today.