So you want to import a Land Rover Defender
If you reached this page, you’re probably sitting in front of your computer or on your mobile device, thinking about importing a Defender from the UK or Europe. You’ve dreamed of owning one for years but find the prices in the US to be a touch expensive. You’re not wrong.
Defenders already located in the US are typically more expensive for a reason – sourcing costs, repair costs, import costs, title costs, etc. By the time someone has put the hours into importing a Defender and sorting out the neglected maintenance, you can’t blame them for trying to make a few dollars.
Yes, you can import a Defender from the UK or the rest of Europe and save a little bit of money, but you can also waste a lot of time and encounter many expensive obstacles during this process. I was like you many years ago when I imported my first Defender. This guide shares some of my experiences and offers advice for those looking to go this route alone.
But before you go too far down this rabbit hole – the real advice I would give you guys: hire us to do it for you. That’s not a sales pitch, just sound advice.
We recently stopped (for the most part) offering entry-level Defenders for sale but have been trying to figure out a way to continue to help people through the process of getting their dream vehicles. Our solution was to develop a reasonably priced service that can handle the sourcing and/or importing service for you. Trust us when we say it will be cheaper for you to pay us to do it for you – and way less stressful.
We’ve created a reliable importing system and have figured out ways to avoid potential mistakes. But for those of you still interested in how to import a Defender, please continue ….
What to know if you’re thinking about importing a classic Land Rover Defender
This is my story. I had always wanted to import my own classic Land Rover Defender 90 or Land Rover Defender 110. The process scared me, as I had read many horror stories about the process. I imported my first Defender through a British ex-pat living in the states and had owned my 1988 Land Rover Defender 90 for a couple years when I came up with the idea to make a series of short films about her: the places she could go, and the lifestyle that comes with owning a classic “go anywhere” Defender.
PAUSE: CAUTION + WARNING (SUMMER 2022 UPDATE):
If you’re planning on importing a vehicle you’ve purchased overseas (UK, in particular) without seeing it, meeting the seller, or knowing the true history of their business, you’re at great risk of being scammed. There is a family of businesses that trade under different names every year and continue the same scam/grift as long as there are unsuspecting buyers willing to fall for the low prices and picture friendly builds.
No matter how many times we’ve tried to warn people about this, it continues – even with people we’ve had detailed conversations with. We have had countless calls and emails asking for our help when people are taken by these scams. Some people purchased multiple Defenders for re-sale, only to have to spend around $10,000 each after they import them to make them drive-able. You have been warned. Ok, back to the good stuff.
IMPORTING GUIDE CONTINUES:
As the last Defenders rolled off the line at the Solihull factory in the UK, an emptiness was left in the market. North American (NAS) spec 90’s and 110’s were well beyond my price range, with most of them restored to museum quality, making them impractical to use for anything other than going to Whole Foods or the Yacht Club. Yes, I’m poking fun at people who spend over $150k for an “off-road” vehicle that will never see dirt.
Before you continue reading, please read this article first.
The Feds Just Seized 40 Land Rovers Imported To The U.S.
Importing a Land Rover Defender to the USA
After months (and months) of research, scouring message boards, government documents, forms, regulations, specs, and seeking advice from a new friend in the UK (who also loves these Landy’s), I decided to give importing a try. This would become the centerpiece of my documentary series (more on that later).
Note: Once you calculate for the time, risk, expenses, and potential pitfalls, individuals looking to import a Defender on their own will not likely realize the savings they were hoping for. Many times we have to rescue folks from terrible transactions and it breaks our hearts.
The rules for importing a classic vehicle were pretty straightforward, even if getting the information wasn’t as easy as I anticipated.
- Must be 25 years old to import to the USA (22 for EPA regulations, 25 to pass DOT rules)
- Must have a matching VIN number on chassis and VIN tag.
- Must have original spec motor (the motor she was born with at the factory – or same spec replacement).
- Must have valid V5 (UK title and log book) with matching information.
- Not be reported stolen (this can be a problem).
The issue is that very few sellers in the UK and EU are familiar with the rules and paperwork. Complicating matters more is that very few of these 25+-year-old vehicles come with much history. Motor swaps are common, as is chassis repair. Knowing when the cut-off is for each year’s motor-body combination takes quite a bit of patience, as well.
There are also a few sellers in the UK that are very familiar with the process. You should, however, read their reviews extensively. We know of 3 vendors in the UK that always have fairly priced Defenders for sale – targeted at the US market – but none of these Defenders are up to the standards of anyone I know. Most of them have a quick paint job, a few Land Rover County Wagon stickers running down the side, and that’s about it. The chassis is all rusted, and the motors are all tired and worn out. We’ve seen at least 4 trucks from the same group of folks come into our shop for rescue missions. We hate it when we see them.
My Selection Criteria for Importing Land Rover Defender
When I imported my first batch of Defenders, after owning one for a couple years, I narrowed in my search for the following (this was many years ago):
- Defender 90/110
- 2.5 Turbo Diesel
- 1986 – 1991 (ensuring she was 25 by the time she got to the port)
- Starts & Stops
- Limited Rust & Corrosion (this is a big problem with imports)
- Valid V5 with matching information (this can be an issue with motor and color swaps)
- Reasonably Priced
- Good communication from current owners/sellers
I found many options, but few that checked every box (ensuring I could legally import her). Once I narrowed my selections, I pulled the trigger on the three below. I checked each of them, performed an inspection, and transferred funds (I will post an entire advice column on this issue alone).
My First Land Rover 110 and Land Rover 90 Adoptions
- 1989 Land Rover Defender 110 – Green – 2.5L TD
- 1990 Land Rover Defender 90 – Blue 2.5L TD
- 1989 Land Rover Defender 110 – Silver – Turbo Diesel (more on this later)
Process for Actual Importing of Land Rover Defender
While I thought this first stage (finding eligible USA Export eligible Defenders) would be the hardest, it was fairly straightforward.
The next stage proved to be the most difficult–and where little mistakes can come back to hurt you. Some owners were better at communicating than others and some were more honest than others. Getting inspections is always recommended, keeping in mind that a 25+-year-old car is going to have issues. Try to find out as much as you can about a vehicle first-hand, as an owner/seller that hides major issues can prove to cost you way more than you can imagine and even prevent your investment from being certified for export.
Arranging the transport of 3 Defenders from 3 different locations across the UK proved difficult to coordinate. I wanted to get them all on the same Bill of Lading meaning I had a 48-hour window to get them all to the port in Southhampton, UK. Getting them past port inspection was just the beginning. The next stages would be: arranging UK shipping, insurance, customs payments, paperwork, transport tracking, filings, US customs paperwork, power of attorney documents, more paperwork, more insurance, customs clearance, shipping brokerage, delivery, and final inspection.
I found an exceptional UK shipper that helped me pick up all 3 vehicles – including a return trip back to one of them when the port refused it the first time for a broken brake line. He was originally contracted to pick up just one, but when I had difficulty getting others that could handle the port drop-off, I stuck with what I knew and trusted.
Side story: I was going in for dental surgery when the Green 110 was turned away at the port. As the gas mask was being put on, my driver saved the day for me, earning life-long loyalty. If you ever need good UK transport to drop me a line and I’ll introduce you.
After delivering them to the port, they were all loaded on a Ro-Ro (Roll-On Roll-Off) car shipping boat called Horizon Highway. I will admit I compulsively tracked the boat via an online shipping line tracking app, that pings the GPS coordinates all the way from port to port.
As of the Summer of 2022, the shipping of vehicles has become increasingly complicated. There are about 25% of the shipping options available these days – due to increased port congestion and diesel prices. There is now about a 2-month wait for a booking, whereas before weekly boats were leaving the UK port.
it would take 10 days for her to cross the ocean and a few more days for the cars to clear customs. Having completed all the steps properly, 3 new Land Rover Defenders now called America home.
Investment Calculations for Importing Land Rover Defender 110’s and 90’s
As this post started by profiling the typical instance where you might want to import a Defender yourself, I’ve combined a list of things you will need to handle on your own if you decide to go solo. Below is a checklist of things to consider if you want to import a Land Rover Defender from the UK or EU:
- Time (research, research, research)
- Negotiating with sellers
- Pre-purchase inspection
- UK ground transport to port
- Shipping deposit (confirming spot on the boat)
- Shipping paperwork & fees (paying for spot on the boat)
- Shipping insurance (to cover if your car falls off the boat — or is damaged)
- US customs brokerage assistance
- TWIC card (allows for you to go to the port unattended — optional)
- Customs taxes
- Port taxes
- Filing fees
- More random fees
- Some more fees
And then … you have to get them home, which is another logistics battle.
Shipping and transporting your Defender from the port
Getting a Defender from the port to your workshop or home is stressful. Most car haulers are either brokered directly (if you’re lucky and resourceful) or via brokers (middle-people). I had multiple truckers cancel on me or claim they could get my vehicles from the port, only to have them “break down” or get stuck in traffic. This last leg of the transport is no an easy process. If you go through a broker, your email will blow up with offers to “ship it today,” but you will only be left with them saying they need more money for someone to haul it.
Again, when we handle everything for you, it’s much better.
Fortunately, mine turned out well after a bit of work. Here are the girls at their final destination:
You’ll notice the “Smoke Free” green Land Rover Defender 110 being unloaded from the trailer has quite a bit of … um… smoke. Like I said, some sellers are better than others.
The drivers said they had a blast driving them from Baltimore to Minneapolis. The exception was all the people driving next to them to take photos kept them from being able to switch lanes a lot.
The trailer barely made it down the road to my house. The drivers were concerned the trees may scratch the Defenders. I reminded them that they were designed to be off-road.
UPDATES + SPECIAL NOTES:
We’ve published a follow-up post to share some additional experience but also to answer some of the common questions we get about the importing process.
Importing a Classic Land Rover Defender – Part II (The Sequel)
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Great story. What is a good ballpark estimate for the costs to get a defender through all the documentation and certification through to shipping to US? Sounds like it could be almost as expensive as the truck itself.
Doing it the first time can be really expensive. It's a fun experience, but any mistake along the way can be expensive. Before anyone considers doing this the first time, I always tell them: "be prepared to lose your entire investment and be ok with that." That's not to scare anyone off, but rather to say there are certainly some pitfalls. Logistics, paperwork, and time are all big factors.
To answer you more directly, it can cost between $1,200 - $2,000 USD to ship the car from the UK to the east coast. That doesn't include port delivery charges, export charges, and having an agent on that side. Once it's to the US, there are a few taxes and fees you need to pay (based on the value of the vehicle). This could be between 10-20% of the purchase price. From there, you will need to get her home, which the domestic overland car shipping business is a whole other disaster waiting to happen. Expect to pay between $.90-$2.00 a mile, depending on who you use and how you ship. For first time importers, expect to pay around $5,000 USD per vehicle. Once you find the places to do things more efficiently, you can get the system right.
Thanks for sharing. I’ve been obsessed with the defender since I was a kid and think I’m ready to go buy one in Europe. Have you gained more experience? Are you selling them on the side now? Do you have experience importing from non UK countries to get LHD?
We have been working on a few LHD cars for some very special projects, although we prefer the RHD. Not only are LHD cars more expensive, there's more rare and typically come from further away ports (making shipping more expensive). As of today, we've now imported about 12 vehicles. We even sold a couple of them to pay for further film work, which was fun.