A cursory internet search on importing and exporting cars to and from the UAE brings up plenty of information. At first glance, it looks like a bureaucratic but straightforward process. For someone leaving the UAE who wants to keep a car that is unavailable or unaffordable in their home country, or for someone who is relocating to the UAE and wants to bring a reliable and much-loved car with them, exporting or importing can seem tempting. The costs involved vary depending on what other country is involved and the type of vehicle. Generally, it is wise to allow several thousand US dollars for transportation costs and export or import certificates, but money can be saved if your car can fit into a container along with household goods. Another consideration is modification costs, especially if a car is right-hand drive and is coming into the UAE or is left-hand drive and being exported to a country that drives on the left. The Vehicle Customs Certificate is the main paperwork needed to bring a car into the UAE but modifications may be needed if the car does not meet GCC specifications. An import duty of 4 per cent is also charged on the value of the car, which is determined by the authorities at the port of entry. Every attempt at importing or exporting is different - we spoke to four people who have been involved in the process, with varying results.
Importing a car into the UAE is tempting, especially if you have a left-hand drive car to which you are particularly attached. But for Armando Santos, who has been attempting to ship his beloved Jeep from Jeddah to Dubai, the process has been hampered by a bureaucratic bungle. There was confusion amongst the authorities in Jeddah when a "J" in the car's chassis number was misread as a "T" and the car, which has been shut into a 20-foot shipping container since early July, was refused clearance to set sail for Dubai. "I have already missed two opportunities to ship the car and now I could get fined for the container being there for more than 10 days- it is still in the container at Jeddah Islamic Port waiting for authorisation," says Santos.
While his employer covered the shipping costs, paperwork, such as the registration cancellation and Vehicle Customs Certificate, has cost Santos SAR4,500 (Dh4,407). When the car finally arrives in Dubai, Santos will then be charged the four per cent import duty based on what the customs officials at this end think the car is worth. He is hoping it will arrive this month. "But until then, I am just waiting," he says. Henning Engel, an Abu Dhabi-based Porsche enthusiast and managing director of Middle East Turbocharger, has imported cars to the UAE twice. In 1997, when he moved from Germany to Sharjah, his wife's Volkswagen Golf MkI convertible was imported, costing around Dh3,600 for transportation and paperwork. But it wasn't all plain sailing - a vacuum cleaner, amplifier and headlight spoiler were stolen. "They could have been stolen in Germany, maybe on the boat or maybe at the port in Dubai, we'll never know," says Engel. Once the car was in the UAE, Engel paid an additional Dh200 - he is not sure if this was a fine for the car not having GCC specifications or a fee for a letter giving him permission to register the car without these specs - but once it was paid, registering the car in Sharjah was straightforward. Eventually, they sold the car to a man who exported it to Lebanon where the cooler climate meant the lack of air conditioning was less of an issue. "And he really loved the car," adds Engel. In 2008, he imported a rare 1992 Porsche 964 RS from Japan. Only 2,050 of this pared-back street-legal racer were made. He estimates that between 400-500 still remain, the rest mostly meeting their end in track crashes. He enlisted the help of Alex Renner, who runs a specialist Porsche mechanics workshop in Dubai, for the difficult task in helping him find a 964 RS. "I told him if you hear of one for sale anywhere in the world, let me know, even though they are absolutely rare, almost impossible to get," recalls Engel. A few months after that conversation, Renner called Engel with news that a 964 RS was being auctioned in Japan. Renner was instructed not to bid any higher than Dh210,000, and he was able to secure the car at auction for Dh188,000. The car had a full service history and only 37,000km on the clock and Engel says it was in "brilliant condition". Designed for the track, it is extra-light with an aluminium hood, magnesium rims, thinner glass for the windows, no power steering, and no a/c or interior light. With transportation costs of Dh10,000 plus import tax and paperwork charges, Engel estimates it cost him around Dh210,000 to bring the car into the UAE, including the purchase price. This turned out to be an unexpected bargain when he found out that 964 RS cars with more kilometres on the clock were selling for between Dh380,000 to Dh480,000. From the time Engel got the call from Renner about the auction to taking delivery of the 964 RS from a container ship at Dubai Port, the process took seven weeks. Renner took care of the paperwork and registration, as well as inspecting the car when it arrived. "Without Alex I wouldn't have the car. All I had to do was pay some money and now I am the proud owner," says Engel. He says suggestions that he should race the car are "crazy". "I am going to keep it in good condition," he says. Engel advises anyone considering shipping a car to consider whether the car is driven onto the boat or shipped in a container. "When the car is on the boat, not in a container, anything could happen to it, someone could break in," he warns. "But when it is in a container, if it is on the lower decks and there is bad weather, like storms and rain, that can get into the car and cause rust. I was very lucky that my Porsche arrived in perfect condition."
It seems that exporting a car out of the UAE is often easier than importing a car, as Maria Aswad and Blair Mayne can both attest. Aswad left Dubai in May 2008 to return to Lebanon and she exported her black Honda CR-V, a car she bought brand new when she was living in the UAE. "The whole process of exporting it from Dubai to Lebanon cost around $12,500 (Dh45,912)," says Aswad. She says nothing went wrong and the process was easy. "All I had to do was make sure it left Dubai and when it got to the Syrian borders, the people responsible for handling such shipments took charge," she says. "The process involved trucking it from Dubai to Lebanon by land. When it reached the borders of Syria, I had to pay $11,800 (Dh43,341) to get it into the country [an import tariff] after which it had to be registered in Lebanon and get a Lebanese plate." Aswad says that, despite the costs involved, she does not regret transporting the car to Lebanon where cars are much more expensive than the UAE. "I do recommend that people ship their cars, mainly if they're from the car agency and not bought secondhand," she says. "If had to sell my car in the UAE, I would have lost a lot from it's value, thus I found it better to ship it." Mayne, a British expat who has lived in Abu Dhabi for five years, last month said farewell to a Volvo XC90. It was packed on a container ship at Jebel Ali bound for the French port of Marseille. He described the two-month process as "surprisingly smooth". Exporting the car to France, where Mayne will be making his new home, made economic sense. "I shipped the car to France with Allied Pickfords [a moving company] along with the household goods in a container," he says. Adding a car to the 40-foot container made no difference to the cost of shipping so the only additional charge was Dh800 for paperwork, export plates and a four-day insurance policy to cover the car after it had been de-registered in Abu Dhabi.
Shipping the car to France will also save on import duties and VAT. As Mayne's Volvo is more than six months old, he won't have to pay a duty of at least 30 per cent or a 19.6 per cent VAT. "Cars are cheaper here [in the UAE] and even secondhand cars in France can be quite expensive, so it was a no-brainer to ship the car," says Mayne. With the secondhand market in France a seller's market, Mayne may make a profit on the car if he sells it in Marseilles. "I am fairly confident I can sell it at a profit and ideally, I'd like to replace it with a diesel, which Volvo doesn't sell out here." Volvo provided Mayne with the European conformity certificate stating it can be exported to France without any modifications. "It can cost around Dh40,000 to Dh50,000 to have it modified so that was a saving too," he says. With Allied Pickfords letting him know what paperwork was required and Volvo's help, Mayne says the hardest part was driving the car into the container. "The car was the last thing to go in," he explains, going on to say it was a nervous process to reverse it into the container before disconnecting the battery. "There was no room to open the door so I had to climb out through the window."