Hi. We are Andrew and Anita. In 2011 we bought a car and drove around Europe.
Here is how you can do it too.
Andrew and I have had a dream of buying a car and driving around Europe for as long as I can remember.
We spent weeks googling how to buy a car in Continental Europe, but it was immensely difficult to gain current and accurate information on the subject. We posted questions on forums and wrote to government agencies but still we couldn’t get concrete answers. So that is why I am writing this – so others don’t have to struggle like we did! To be clear though; we are not experts on the subject - this is just outlining our experience.
Here is our situation, so you can compare it to your own: -
- We are both adventurous Australians in our mid-20's
- We have no residential address in any European country
- As a personal preference we insisted on a Left-hand drive
- We wanted to stay in Europe for at least 6 months.
- We had no plans to leave European soil (to go to Asia or Africa, for example).
This website will go into detail about the process we followed, the things you need to be aware of, and the costs involved (All in local currency - usually Euros).
All information on this website pertains to vehicle ownership in Germany, as this is the only country that we know of that allows non-EU citizens to purchase a car in continental Europe without a local residential address.
Read our blog about the trip.
1. GETTING STARTED
WHATARE EXPORT PLATES?
Export plates (also known as "Ausfuhrkennzeichen") are used for exporting vehicles abroad.
The plates are the only ones which do not have the blue Euro strip on the left and the owner does not have to be a German resident to register the car. The date on the red strip on the right hand side shows the expiration date of the vehicle insurance - After this date the vehicle must have left Germany.
Despite popular belief, you are allowed drive on German roads as long as your Insuarance is valid, and do not have to depart within two weeks of buying the plates.
For general information about German plates I found this Wiki page very useful.
HOW TO FIND A VEHICLE
For us this was very difficult to do from home. The sheer size of Germany can be overwhelming so the only thing you can really do is pick a region you wish to travel to and then look for vehicles in the area. We stuck to these popular websites:
Personally, we wanted a small trade van because we wanted to turn it into a camper. We needed something cheap to run, easy to manoeuvre and pretty inconspicuous. We focused on buying a Citeron Berlingo for our purpose, because it fulfilled our criteria.We decided to buy from an authorized car dealer because we surmised from information available at the time (and because our Deutsch is nicht zehr gut) hat they would organise insurance and registration for us. In hindsight, we could have secured a better vehicle for a cheaper price if we had bought privately... but if you are uncertain it is a great way to get on the road without hassle.
We found our car in Essen, in north-west Germany, on the Auto-M website and rented a car to go and see it. German car yards are different to what we are used to at home, where all the vehicles in one location. We went to the car dealer's address and found a rather dishevelled little office with a couple of cars out the front. We had to ask about the car on the internet, and were taken out to a yard about 10km away. It would have been VERY difficult for us to see the car without our rental wheels!
PETROL OR DIESEL?
This is a tricky one for Australians, as we are no longer familiar with using Diesel fuel on a regular basis!
From a cost perspective most people buying a small vehicle and planning to drive longer distances across several countries are going to see significant cost benefit by going Diesel - we certainly did!
Diesel is plentiful and easy to find at most gas stations across Europe - we had no problems finding a pump. The only places we found it more difficult was in Switzerland, which promotes the use of unleaded petrol over Diesel (much like Australia) - but even then you could always locate at least one black pump at every station.
Generally we found the cost of Diesel about 10-15c cheaper than petrol in 95% of countries.
Prices for Diesel fluctuated a lot between countries - from €1.50 a litre in Germany to €1.13 a litre in Andorra - due to the different taxation levels imposed on it - and if cost is a factor it is worth checking out this website to see if it is worth filling the tank before crossing your next border.
BUYING FROM A DEALER
We took our chosen car for a test drive and bought it on the spot. Very simple! We put down a deposit (10%), explained that we wanted the maximum time available for the Export plates and insurance (in most places this is 90 days, but it is always worth asking for more if you can get it). We also gave my husband’s passport and address in Australia so that it could be registered in his name.
The next day the car dealer took this information to the relevant offices and brought back all our papers. We paid the remainder and bam – we own a car in Europe!
We paid the following costs (in Aug, 2011):
- Vehicle cost (2002 Citeron Berlingo): €2,000
- 90 days Insurance: €300
- Cost of Numberplates: €30
- Cost to register the vehicle: €150
UPDATE: I have recently been informed that Tax is now payable on all vehicles - there is no longer an exemption for registrations of 90 days or less.
A NOTE ABOUT TÜV
All German cars, for export or not, must be approved the TÜV (Technische Überwachungs-Verein). Before buying any used vehicle it is important to check that the TÜV date on the registration papers exceeds the time that you plan to keep the vehicle (I don't know for sure but it may not even be possible to get a new inspection done on a car for the purpose of extending Export Plates).
The car cannot be registered without TÜV coverage for the entire length of the registration period.
We received the following documentation with our Car:
Note: the Fahrzeugbrief has been replaced by the Zulassungbescheinigung Teil I and II
Many cars still come with their original Fahrzeugbrief, particularly those that are a few years older. This it like the ‘title’ to the car. In Germany this paper remains with the vehicle and passes from owner to owner. Don't keep this in the glovebox - keep it in a safe place separate to the car.
Zulassungbescheinigung Teil I and II
These two wallet-sized documents have replaced the Fahrzeugbrief as the car’s primary registration papers to bring the documentation into line with EU regulations. The Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil l is your proof of ownership and the Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil II is your vehicle registration certificate.
You will need these to prove your ownership, and to cross borders into non-shengen countries.
Internationale Versicherungskarte fur Kraftverkehr (Green form)
Your most important document: your insurance.
You can purchase insurance for your Export-plated vehicle from any Autoschilder. If you purchase through an auto dealer they will arrange this for you - just tell them how long you need.
Most Autoschilder offices have a 90 day limit on their insurance, and the countries covered will be listed on the green form. Most European countries are on there, but countries not covered will generally let you buy additional insurance at their border (Kosovo for example). Prices vary from Autoschilder to Autoschilder, but we found they generally charge about the same (we paid €300 for 90 days of insurance in Nov 2011). There is usually at least one Autoshilder office outside every Kraftfahrzeug-Zulassungsstelle (Registration office).
If you can read German (or have someone that can read it for you) and would like to get more than 90 days of insurance it is worth trying to buy it online; as the Kraftfahrzeug-Zulassungsstelle (Registration office) will allow you to extend the validity of your Export plates to 1 year if you have sufficient insurance. One website that offers 6 months of Insurance is Nondos (their price was €450 for 6 months as at May 2012). You need to buy in advance, as the Insurance slip will need to be mailed to your address. There is no harm in buying early though; as it will not become active until the day you register the vehicle.
Because of the high cost you will most likely end up with most basic 3rd party insurance - meaning you wont be covered for fire, theft or the cost of any damage to your vehicle.
4: EXTENDING THE LIFE OF YOUR PLATES
As a rule export plates are designed to be temporary, but there are things you can do to keep them a little longer.
You cannot keep any plates for longer than 1 year... and annoyingly, many offices will restrict you to even less time than that! Re-registering your vehicle is possible, but many are confused by the process. Here is what we did to extend our Export plates by an additional 90 days.
1. FIND THE REGISTRATION OFFICE
Find the local Kraftfahrzeug-zulassungsstelle (Registration office) and have a chat to the staff there to make sure you can re-register your vehicle (don't be scared if your German language skills are not that good, as there is usually someone around that will speak english). They will check your documents and give you guidance.
Note: You cannot return to any office where you have registered previously - you can only register the vehicle in each city once.
2. BUY NEW INSURANCE
Purchase new insurance. If you buy from an Autoschilder office (there is usually one or two close to the registration office) they will take payment and provide you with a form to take into the registration office.
3. SUBMIT YOUR DOCUMENTS
Go into the registration office and show your passport, the cars registration papers, your proof of insurance and proof of TÜV (if not listed on your registration documents). The office will also want to take your old numberplates before issuing new ones. You are going to need plates for step 5 (to go to another office) - we asked to use the new onces temporarily (even though they didn't have a sticker yet) which they allowed us to do.
4. MAKE PAYMENT FOR YOUR NEW REGISTRATION
You need to pay for registration and the new numberplates, so make sure you have sufficient cash with you (approx. €150).
They will show you how to do this (we had to pay our money into a machine in the waiting area and take the reciept back to the window).
5. PAY TAX
You are required to pay vehicle duty (Kraftfahrzeugsteuer). German citizens pay this via their bank accounts. As a non-citizen you will not have a local bank account so this is a bit more of a hassle to pay because it involves some running around:
5.1 Go to the local tax office (Finanzamt) to find out how much duty you need to pay. This is based on the age and type of the vehicle, and length of registration.
5.2 The Finanzamt will give you their account details and tell you which bank accepts cash payments on their behalf .
5.3 Go to the bank they specify (keep asking until they tell you which one to go to) and make the payment (a bank fee will apply - we paid €5.50) - request a reciept!
Now head back to the registration office and show them your reciept.
6. FINAL CHECK
Final step - I promise! - The vehicle needs to be visually inspected and have its VIN number checked against the registration documents.
After the inspection a sticker will be added to the numberplates and you will then be given your new registration documents... and then you are good to go!
5: DISPOSING OF YOUR VEHICLE
All good things must come to an end, and sadly the day will come when you will need to dispose of your vehicle. It isn't always easy, but you have a few options.
Of course this is your best option for recovering some of your costs. Every country has different rules so the process will be depenant on where you are. Some countries make it much harder for the buyer to register the vehicle (for example, it can take many months - and some big costs - to changeover the registration to a Spanish buyer). Putting a 'for sale' sign in the windows and parking at the local market is one idea; but you are going to have better luck by listing on the internet - every country has one or two dominant car sale sites on the web (like carsales.com.au in Australia).
The countries we found easiest to sell in were the United Kingdom, Germany (yes, you are allowed to resell in Germany despite having export plates - but as the car has been 'deleted' from the German system the new owner will have to register it as if it were a foreign import) and Eastern European countries like Albania, Romania and Bulgaria. However we were informed that selling in the east would more likely be an informal sale, and that the buyer will probably just drive the vehicle unregistered. This might be wrong - but that is what we were told. If your registration has expired anyway I don't see how this would affect you (so long as you get a signed bill of sale).
There is also a trade in sending used cars (usually from the UK) to Africa. You will have to be willing to drop the sale price well below its market value; but generally any vehicle will be considered, and registration (or lack of) is not an issue. This was the fate of our left-hand drive - we were able to sell our car in London as an unregistered vehicle and it is set to continue its life in Ghana. We found our buyer on the Gumtree website (gumtree.co.uk).
Similar to donation, you can go straight to the scrappers if you need a quick solution. Most countries will have facilities to do so - just ask around. We looked into this option in Portugal and were informed of several scrappers in the Lisbon area. When scrapping it is unlikely that you will recover much - or any - money... and in some instances you may need to pay a fee (eg. if the price of scrap metal is low). Here is one option: scrapcar.co.uk
THANKS FOR READING!
Thank you for visiting my site. I hope it is useful to you as you set off on your European road trip.
For more information I have included a bunch of FAQ's here that I have recieved over the years. I have also started a Facebook page where you can ask the community any questions.