I am a citizen of the United States, so it would seem that there would be no way for me to buy, register, and insure a car overseas. Much less to buy it and then drive across the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. However, there are actually a few options available to foreigners or non-EU citizens when it comes to acquiring personal transportation while in Europe.
Purchasing a Vehicle
The purchase of a motor vehicle in Europe is quite easy and there are no restrictions. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, caravans (RVs), and any other mode of transport you can imagine are available. For us we were searching for a very specific item, a Toyota Land Cruiser, manufactured between 1995 and 1997, with a manual gearbox, and the 1HD-T or 1HD-FT engine. If you would like to know why, then read Vehicle Make and Model under preparations on this site.
We began our search where any good consumer would, Google (I wish I got paid for typing Google here). There are a variety of sites where one can find used cars; the list may actually be endless. To narrow my search results I used key words such as “80-Series”, and the engine code. While there are an abundance of Land Cruisers on the market, not many of them match all of the specifications I was seeking, namely the manual transmission. This particular year and model can only be found in certain areas of Asia, Australia, and the United Kingdom. We were blessed to be able to find one in the UK. There were a few other options, but most didn’t have the specific configuration I was looking for, were on another continent, or had already been altered from the factory state by the owner. I wanted a truck with the standard equipment installed that I could make my own.
I had been searching for this truck since I returned from my trip to Botswana with Massimo Rebuzzi in September. Celine and I had decided to fly to Germany so that she could visit her family. We arrived in Germany on October 8th and then departed on October 17th for a European tour (via EasyJet). A day or two before our flight I ran across an ad by Faisal “Faz” Chaudhary at 4X4XFaz for the exact type and configuration truck I sought, and we decided to take a look at it as our first stop was London. We landed in London, Luton, rented a car, and then drove to Oxford where we met Faz. Faz is a great guy. He showed us the truck, took us to lunch, and let us drive it around, then chauffeured us around Oxford a bit giving us a tour of the various campus buildings and a few restaurants. I decided that day to put a deposit down on the truck. How does a guy from the U.S. with no EU bank do that? Many ATM withdrawals. We departed for the rest of our trip and Faz stored the vehicle for us until we could come back and pick it up.
After completing our wonderful trip we made a return flight to London, caught a bus out to Oxford and paid for the truck. I must give credit to USAA for being an outstanding bank. I wanted to avoid the Wire Transfer Fee so I asked them to increase my daily withdrawal limit to the amount I owed for the truck. After a few ATM stops, cash was in hand; well, in pockets, many pockets. If we had been robbed right then, I think the thief would have thought it was a joke as we pulled one roll of GBP after another out of our jackets, pants, and purse.
At this moment, had we done a bit more research, and had we not needed to return to Germany so soon, we could have avoided some headaches with getting the car registered. It turns out that in the United Kingdom a visiting foreigner (tourist) can purchase and register a vehicle in the UK as long as they have an address. We could have rented a cheap place in the UK, purchased the vehicle and registered it ourselves, waiting for about 3 weeks for the documents to arrive in the mail at the UK rental address. Since we were not aware of these options at the time, we registered the truck for export and drove it back to Germany – Dover to Dunkirk, France, through Belgium and The Netherlands, into Deutschland.
Since we didn’t opt to register the vehicle in the United Kingdom our next available option was Germany. Celine is a citizen of the great Deutsch-land of beer, schnitzel, and wurst. We could receive the full registration, but it would only be in Celine’s name, and the tax on a Land Cruiser is quite high (1300 EUR/yr). Instead we opted for what any non-German can do, we registered it with export customs plates. The registration paper looks exactly the same as a normal one, but the plates are different, having an expiration date in red on the far right. Using this plate allows you to get the vehicle registered in your name, get a proper registration document, and gives you flexibility in deciding how long you want the vehicle registered (15 days to 1 year). For 10 EUR extra you can get an International Registration Booklet that provides your vehicle information in several different languages.
To receive either type of registration there are several documents required, which are common to a variety of European nations. One is the COC or Certificate of Conformity. I had read of others nightmares trying to receive this document, but it was actually quite easy. You receive these documents from the vehicle manufacturer, in our case Toyota. We contacted the nearest Toyota in Germany who agreed to send the document right away. Right away meant about two weeks as the COC had to be retrieved (Copy Only) from the dealer in the United Kingdom. Not long after paying the required fee we received the document in the mail, and were happy to see that all of the information was filled in correctly. The other paperwork required is the TÜV inspection, similar to the MOT in the UK, and is basically a Road Worthiness Test. We were able to get this through Marcus Berg at Land Cruiser Services.
Along with the paperwork mentioned above, we needed insurance before the registration could be issued. The stores across from the office that make the plates also offer insurance, but for a hefty price. Here again USAA came to my rescue, providing me with EU wide insurance for about half the price of anything I found in Germany. USAA is also listed in the registration office’s insurance provider database, so USAA was able to provide us with an EVB (elektronische Versicherungs-Bestätigung) number for regular registration or, what we received, the required insurance forms for an export vehicle. In fact, they were able to get the forms to me faster by having them sent from their UK based office. I am quite pleased with the service and support I have received from USAA. The vehicle is now registered, putting this chapter of our journey in the rearview mirror. Now we can focus on getting the truck ready for its arduous mission carrying us across the African Continent.