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EU expats on the move - how to relocate with your car

Relocating with your car

Packing up the house is bad enough when relocating to another country, but have you thought about what you’re going to do with your car?

While it doesn’t always pay to bring your car along on a cross-border European move, it can if you drive it yourself or find a good deal on shipping — and if you aren’t liable for value added taxes.

Regulation on relocating with your car

While the rules in each EU country are a little different, you'll find no matter where you go the process involves plenty of paperwork, bureaucracy and running around.

How Do You Actually Transport Your Car?

The simplest way to move your car to another country in the EU is to drive it, or have someone drive it for you.

You can also have it shipped by truck or by boat. There is an online transport marketplace called uShip that connects customers with providers, and has information for those who’ve never shipped a car before. They recommend arranging a mutually convenient location, outside of residential areas, where your car can be safely loaded onto a large truck with trailer.

A car transport service is not a moving service, though, so don’t expect to be able to cram your car with stuff you want at your new home.

“Your transporter will refuse to transport your car if it is packed with your personal belongings,” uShip general manager Dean Xeros writes. “It is the transporter’s responsibility to deliver your vehicle, not to move your personal items. In addition, vehicle transporters are not licensed to transfer goods, so doing this could result in penalties.”

Your Used Car Might Be Considered New

If you’re moving from one EU member country to another, that secondhand car you bought may actually be considered new. According to the European Commission, a car is only defined as used if at the time of purchase:

  • it had been used for more than six months

  • it had acquired more than 6000 kilometers

If either term is not met, the car may be considered new, even if you bought it secondhand. The designation of a car’s new/old status may determine whether you pay VAT on it.

If, on the other hand, you’re bringing a car into an EU country from outside of the European Union, the car’s new/old status doesn’t come into play. In this case, there are two scenarios:

  • EU residents importing a car purchased outside the EU will pay customs duty and import VAT; and

  • Expats moving to the EU from a non-EU country, and importing the car as a personal possession, do not pay duty or VAT.


The Rules Differ Per Country

Here, we take a look at a few countries as examples, outlining the basic steps you’ll need to think about when transporting your car from your home country.

Bringing Your Car into the UK

If you’re importing a car into the UK on a permanent basis, there are several steps you must follow, as set out at GOV.UK.

  1. Within 14 days of arrival, advise Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that you have brought a vehicle into the UK permanently.

  2. Check whether you qualify for relief from VAT and duty; otherwise, pay as directed by HMRC.

  3. Get the vehicle approved for environmental and safety regulations.

  4. Register you car with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

You can usually drive on your foreign licence for a period of time, the team at Low Incomes Tax Reform Group writes. They point to the licence tool at GOV.UK, which tells you exactly how long you can drive on your current non-GB licence, and the process you must undertake (which may include a provisional licence, theory and driving tests) to obtain your full Great Britain driving licence.

Bringing Your Car into Sweden

If you’re bringing a car into Sweden from an EEA country, you’ve got to go through Swedish Customs. Apart from that one difference, the rules are the same from cars from EU countries and from EEA countries. As set out by the Transport Styrelsen, the steps are as follows:

  1. Pay VAT on the car if it is new (remember the six months/6,000 kilometers guide).

  2. Obtain insurance.

  3. Apply for verification of origin, for which you’ll need the car’s registration certificate and sales documentation.

  4. Take the car in for a registration inspection and technical identity verification. The latter involves environmental and traffic safety tests.

  5. You may need to have a roadworthiness test carried out on your car by a vehicle inspection company.

  6. Your car will be registered in the Swedish Traffic Registry. The certificate and plates will be sent to your registered permanent Swedish address.

  7. Once you have received the registration certificate and plates, you must activate the registration, for which you’ll need to have valid insurance.


Bringing Your Car into Ireland

There are at least four things you have to do if you’re moving to Ireland and importing a car. According to the Citizens Information Board, before you can drive, you’ll need to:

  1. Pay the vehicle registration tax, which is the tax owed when you first register a vehicle in Ireland. You register the car and pay the VRT at a National Car Testing Service centre. Note that you may be exempt if you are moving to live in Ireland, so do ask about that.

  2. Obtain registration plates.

  3. Get the car insured (it’s called motor insurance in Ireland).

  4. Pay a motor tax, which is a legal requirement and is imposed on most vehicles. The rate for private cars is based on CO2 emissions and engine capacity, and you are required to display evidence of payment on your windscreen.

Something else you’ll need to do if your car is four years old (or older): get a National Car Test certificate immediately upon entering the country. This is more than an emissions test, and minor things like broken wipers can fail you.

If you’re bringing a car into Ireland from the UK, you’ll need to let the British authorities know, the team at AA Roadwatch writes. There’s a specific document for that, called a V5C Notification of Permanent Export.

Liam, an American expat in Ireland, says you should calculate the costs when bringing your car from the UK, especially if you’ve got an older car. Those costs can be significant, and he points to VAT, which you may be required to pay a second time. By driving your own car, stuffed with as much luggage as you can fit, he writes at The Ireland Move Club, you can save with actual transport costs.

Bringing Your Car into France

Unlike property, buying a new car in France is simple because the dealer does all the work. An added bonus of buying a vehicle made in France, the team at French Property Links writes, is that “French cars are simply so much easier to find parts for if they go wrong, and so much easier to find experienced mechanics for, too.”

Still, if you are bringing your car with you to France, these are the usual steps you’ll have to undertake:

  1. Register your car in France by providing the French authorities with a certificate of export from your home country and a Certificate of Conformity.

  2. If you are coming from the UK or another left-hand drive country, you’ll need to change the headlights to the right-hand driving position.

  3. Obtain your roadworthiness test, which is called a Contrôle Technique in France.

  4. Obtain a certificate called the Quitus Fiscal, which confirms taxes have been paid (if owed).

  5. Complete the registration process by obtaining the carte grise (gray card). Officially called the Certificat d’Immatriculation, this certificate is mandatory for all drivers.

  6. Change your plates and the Contrôle Technique information, and make sure the number of your insurance certificate is updated.

Unless you’re already a resident, you’ve got a period of six months during which you can drive your car without registering it. “If you are in the country for a period of six months or more,” the team at Expat Focus cautions, “you are considered to be resident and you need to register the vehicle. If you are a resident in the country, you cannot legally drive a vehicle which is registered in another country.”


Bringing Your Car into Spain

As in France, EU nationals who are not yet Spanish residents have a period of up to six months during which they can drive the car they brought from home without registering it. Otherwise, registration must take place within 30 days of arrival, whether you drive it yourself or have it shipped, the team at Health Plan Spain writes.

The steps to registration are similar to those above; customs are usually only charged if you’re entering from a non-EU country, and you must have your car inspected and registered, after which you pay import taxes.

The EU mutually recognises driving licences among member countries. This means, according to Sun Lawyers, that in Spain you can drive using your EU home country licence for as long as it is valid.

“Having a Spanish licence can reduce problems and time spent at roadside checks,” they add, “especially if you ever come upon police officers who are not quite ‘au fait’ with the law and may be suspicious of a Spanish resident driving with a foreign licence. ... EU citizens can exchange their old licence for a Spanish one fairly easily, without the need for a fresh test, but will have to surrender the old licence.”

Bringing Your Car into Germany

If you’re staying in Germany temporarily, you’ve got up to one full year that you can drive your imported car on your home licence plates and registration. The registration document, however, must have a German translation attached, and you’ll have to have proof of insurance, the team at How to Germany writes.

Other than that, the process for registering your car is similar to that of other EU countries. Some of the documents you’ll require include:

  1. Your personal identification and proof of address in Germany

  2. Customs clearance papers and export permit

  3. Proof of ownership and original vehicle registration papers

  4. Certification that the vehicle has never been registered in Germany

  5. Proof of insurance

  6. Roadworthiness inspection certification

images by: Woodrow Walden, Pedro Pereira, Genie Austin, Demi Kwant

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