Importing a car to Portugal from UK or indeed any other EU country can be an expensive business, as the cost of matriculating a car can be high even running into tens of thousands of Euro’s depending upon your car.
However, based on where you plan to live, having a car will be a godsend as public transport in Portugal can be very limited and taxis are expensive. For So, in Vilamoura, where we live, there aren’t many bus services and the nearest train station is a €10 cab ride away. In my opinion having a car is a ‘must have’ not a ‘nice to have’.
registering a UK car in Portugal – is it worth it?
Several people advised us to just sell the car we had and to buy another one in Portugal rather than go through the (admittedly painful!) process of importing it. Whilst this may be good advice if your car doesn’t qualify for the tax-free process, it is worth knowing that used cars in Portugal can be more expensive to buy than in the UK.
In the case of our car, a Mini Roadster John Cooper Works, it wasn’t even possible to find the same model in Portugal. We knew we’d never again be able to afford to buy a car like that, especially now we’d packed in our corporate jobs. Additionally, the fact it was convertible was finally going to be a big plus – in the UK we’d hardly ever had the chance to put the hood down – to sell it now we were moving to a sunny country seemed crazy.
in order to decide if importing your car to Portugal is right for you, you need to know two things:
whether you and your car qualify for the tax free process
if not, how much the import tax will be
who can qualify for the tax-free process?
This guide from the British Embassy outlines the rules in detail but essentially you need to be over 18; have been resident of the country from where you are transferring for at least 6 months; and have owned the vehicle for more than 6 months prior to bringing it to Portugal.
A key point to be aware of is that you are supposed to register your intent to import your car within 20 days of your arrival in Portugal with your local Customs Office.
don’t get caught out
However you don’t need to register your intention to stay in Portugal until you’ve been here for 90 days. Then, you have another 30 days to register at the Câmara Municipal (Town Hall) where you will be provided with a Registration Certificate.
The reason this is so important is this:- if you want to import your car tax-free you will need to prove that you were living away from Portugal, in the same country the car is registered, for the 12 months prior to the date your residency status was granted and you received your Registration Certificate. This means having utility bills in your name with usage and bank / credit card statements showing purchase activity in your home country.
Of course, many people spend their time between their home country and Portugal for a few months before they settle so this is not usually a problem. However it’s worth being aware that if you are planning on bringing your car over you’ll need to work to a different set of guidelines and timings (note this also applies to motorbikes and scooters).
If you can, decide before you move to Portugal whether you intend to import your car. If you fit the qualification criteria – ie. how long you’ve been resident in your previous country and how long you’ve had the car – prepare all your documentation before you set off. It will make things easier and avoid the risk of a hefty tax bill.
using an import agent to import a car into Portugal
We’d already had our ‘oh sh*t’ moment when we did the import tax calculation – it was about €6k, which was definitely more than we could afford.
We really didn’t want to get it wrong and end up having to pay the import tax or, even worse, sell the car so we decided to use an Import Agent to navigate the process on our behalf.
This can be especially helpful if:- a) your Portuguese isn’t great and b) you don’t fancy queuing up at various Portuguese offices and c) if there are any ‘gaps’ in the 12 month’s history you’re required to provide proving you were living outside of Portugal. In our case for 3 months prior to leaving the UK we’d been living with family in Scotland so had no utility bills. Additionally we weren’t spending much and when we did it was mainly cash, so our bank statements suddenly looked very sparse.
Our neighbour recommended a company called GB in Portugal. We dealt with a very energetic and proactive lady called Gracy Biss. We paid €1500 plus various costs and charges so the total was about €1800. I’m not sure if it is possible to get it cheaper than this – we preferred to go with a recommendation but if you’re happy to speak to a few different agents for quotes then it may be possible to get it done for less.
there’s still a lot of paperwork
Despite using an Import Agent there is still quite a lot of paperwork.
This is a list of all the paperwork / information we needed:-
- 12 months history of utility bills and bank statements / credit cards;
- As we were living with my husband’s mum for the final 3 months before we moved to Portugal, she also had to provide a letter to state that we were living with her and hence not paying any bills; she also had to provide a signed copy of her passport and utility bills for the period we were there (to prove she was paying the bills)
- a Certificate of Conformity for the car to prove it hadn’t been changed in any way since we’d purchased it – this can take ages to get hold of – eg when we wrote to BMW for ours we got an auto-reply telling us they had a 3 month backlog so we ended up having to buy one via a company on the internet (there are lots – just google ‘obtaining a COC’) which cost us about £200;
- the car’s registration certificate and car insurance details.
and a few visits
- the British Embassy (in Portimao for the Algarve) to obtain a Consular Certificate to prove that prior to the date when we registered in Portugal we were resident in the UK. This involved providing a sworn statement in front of a Consular Official that the information I’d provided was the truth.
- the IMT (Portuguese Technical Centre) to obtain an Inspection Certificate – this is like an enhanced MOT where they check all the information on the car against the COC and also make sure the car is roadworthy. For this you’ll need to make sure that your headlights are pointing in the right direction – ours changed automatically based on GPS but otherwise you’ll need to go to a garage to get them changed.
Because we’d been unable to provide 12 months of utility bills (because we’d been living with family for the last 3 months) we were summoned to the Customs Office in Faro for a meeting with a Customs Official. Before they would approve our application they wanted more detail about the transactions on our bank statements. This meant going through our last 3 months of bank statements and credit card transactions and providing detail on each item – eg Pret a Manger – sandwich shop, iTunes – music purchase etc etc. It was a nail biting time but fortunately our love for buying sandwiches and music saved the day and our application was approved!!!! Mini was about to become Portuguese!
importing a car into Portugal – the DIY way
If you’d prefer to go through the process yourself then you will need to follow the steps as outlined in the guide posted above from the British Embassy. Here it is again.
Most of the posts I’ve read on the internet recommend using an import agent as it isn’t a straightforward process and is time consuming. Importantly if you get it wrong you’ll end up having to either pay the tax or selling your car.
But if you are determined and have time and patience then you will obviously save money by doing it yourself. This is probably the best post I can find from someone who did it themselves – and well done to them for succeeding!
Working out how much tax you’ll have to pay
One benefit of paying the tax is avoiding the tax-free process which, as you have probably realised, is incredibly bureaucratic and can take several weeks, even months, whereas choosing to pay the tax means you’ll get your Portuguese plates in just a few days. Our Import Agent even recommended that we pay the Import Tax rather than go through the tax-free process if the tax calculator quoted less than €5k! So even for an Import Agent the tax free process must be so painful they would rather avoid it in all but the most expensive cases!
using the Portugal car import tax calculator
Whether you don’t qualify for the tax-free process or, you just prefer to pay the tax to avoid the hassle, use this tax calculator from the Portuguese Customs to find out how much it will cost to import your car. Here are some helpful tips to help you fill in the information as it’s all in Portuguese:-
For section 1 – PAÍS DA MATRÍCULA DO VEÍCULO (country where vehicle was matriculated)
– select ‘Estado-Membro da União Europeia’ for any of the EU countries or ‘País Terceiro’ for everywhere else
For section 2 – TIPO DE VEÍCULO (type of vehicle)
– there are a lot of options here – most standard petrol or diesel cars will fit into the first category – ‘Automóvel ligeiro de passageiros ou automóvel ligeiro de utilização mista’
– loosely translated as ‘light passenger automobile or light automobile for mixed use’. If you have other vehicle types then I can try and help with the translation – message me in the comments field.
For section 3 DATA DA PRIMEIRA MATRÍCULA ((date of initial registration)
Choose Novo (if the car is new) or Usado (if the car is second hand). It asks you for the date the car was first registered (or matriculated). You should be able to find this on your Car Registration documentation.
For section 4 VEÍCULO AUTOMÓVEL
You’ll need the CC and CO2 emissions from when the car was first registered. Again you should find this in your Car Registration documentation – or you can check the manufacturer website for your car.
‘Tipo do Combustivel’ – means the fuel type – ‘gasolina’ is petrol and ‘gasóleo’ is diesel.
Before you press the button
Now’s the moment to pour yourself a VERY stiff drink.
Don’t press the ‘Calcular Imposto’ – Calculate Tax – button until you’ve drunk at least half of it!!!
The number you see will help you decide whether you can afford to import your car into Portugal or whether it’s back to it’s previous home to sell it.
If you’re moving to Portugal from any other European country and want to import your car then, as long as you get your timings right and you’ve owned your car for more than 6 months you should have no problem importing it into Portugal tax-free. Even if you do end up having to pay the tax, it may still be worth doing – the tax you will pay will be dependent on how old the car is along with the engine size and CO2 emissions.
Should you be in any doubt at all as to whether your circumstances qualify you for the tax-free process then it’s definitely worth consulting an Import Agent. They have a lot of experience in knowing what can pass and what can’t. Additionally, they’re adept at navigating the various offices, forms and procedures and can make the whole process a lot less stressful even if you have a straightforward case.