If you thought all the hard work of importing a car had been covered in the previous post on this topic, oh how wrong you were. Getting on the road on a new continent was just step 1, I still had to go get Elena certified for extended use on Belgian roads. Think if it like the difference between a tourist visa and permanent resident visa. After a certain time, a foreigner (car or person) is not allowed to stay in country without satisfying additional bureaucrats. I’m not exactly sure how any authority would figure out my car has been here too long, or what they would do in such a case, but I didn’t want to find out.
It sounds like a simple process. To register a car (any car), it must pass a technical inspection similar to any US state inspection (well, not any state…). For a foreign car, there are a few extra detail checks that must be done to ensure it conforms to European road standards. Simple, right? Just have a guy come to the shop to make sure it has fog lights and amber indicators, and you’re on your way.
They want to check every single little thing on the car, right down to brake disc width, and to do this, they need a technical specification sheet from the manufacturer as a reference. Ok fine, I guess you’re checking for illegal modifications or whatever. Do what you need to do.
But oh no, since nothing is ever as simple as it ought to be, the technical specification sheet is not handily available in an online database or a file at the shop, or even quickly available from the factory. You must make a request for it to the factory, and they will give it to you when it is convenient for them. Or maybe they are re-engineering the car from scratch based on the VIN in order to generate the relevant information, because that’s the only excuse I can think of for why it takes six months to obtain a single sheet of paper.
Meanwhile, I must obtain another sheet of paper. This one is pink, with a green box, and is the formal request to register a car in Belgium. And because (of course) everything continues to be not simple, this involves going on a terrible bureaucratic scavenger hunt requiring two days off work where the prize is continuing to own something that you already own. The first clue, I am told, can be found at the Customs office in Brussels. Away we go!
CLUE 1: Customs Office, Brussels
I take the morning off from work so I can get to the customs office in Brussels and ask for the paper. After finally finding the room I need in the maze of an ill-labeled unremarkable office building in a shipping/warehouse district, I tell them in the best French I can muster that I need the pink paper to register a vehicle. They ask for all my supporting papers, and I leaf through the ream I have brought with me to find what they need. It turns out this is just all the same stuff they already looked at in Roosendaal, except for this time they are looking at it in Belgium. After a half hour of waiting around, they give me my papers back and tell me I’ll receive a letter in 2-3 weeks approving the import. I can take this letter to the customs office in my local township where they will give me the pink paper.
CLUE 2: Local Customs Office
The letter arrives saying my car is imported in Belgium! So, no real news there. But it’s the next clue, so I take the next morning off to deliver it to the next location on the scavenger hunt. There seems to be some confusion, but of course the French I can understand and speak at this point does not come close to covering the vagaries of customs/importation processes. Eventually I show them a picture of the pink paper, and they figure out what I need to do: go to a logistics handler in La Louvière.
CLUE 3: Partner Logistics, La Louvière
This time I have to take a full day off work, because of course these places are never open after 5 pm or on weekends. The place is about 45 mintues away (God help me if I had to do this without a car), and I fully expect to be waiting around for a while. I give Elena a much-needed car wash (first wash since the boat) to be sure to at least accomplish one thing during the day. Armed with some Terry Pratchett with which to kill time, I head out. I once again find myself in an unremarkable office building in a warehouse/shipping district, but at least this one had better signage. After showing them my collected clues so far and explaining what I need, they say they can’t actually help me, but tell me the customs office across the street can do what I need.
CLUE 4: Customs Office, La Louvière
So I take my clues to this customs office, they take and look at a bunch of my papers again, and in exchange for 100 EUR eventually give me a paper that says they looked at my papers. Or something, whatever. It feels sort of like a scam, but screw it, I just want my pink paper, whatever it takes. But this is not a pink paper, it is a white paper that I can present to someone at the next building over to get the pink paper. So I follow the guy from the customs office over to the DMV office next door, and he gets me started.
CLUE 5: DMV Office, La Louvière
I present my clues gathered so far. And the stamped title, and whatever other papers they want that 7 people already looked at. I sit down to read, and occasionally get asked questions like what kind of fuel my car uses. An hour passes. The clerk explains she is having trouble reaching the next person that needs my clues, probably because they are on lunch, and so I should get some lunch too.
CLUE 5b: Lunch
A short walk down the road is a small cafe. I have a decent steak, fries, and a coke, and eventually wander back over to the DMV office.
CLUE 6: DMV Office (again)
More waiting, but eventually the clerk is able to get in touch with whomever and verify my extant clues. This produces the FINAL CLUE: The Pink Paper, at last! Complete with small green box, and all required information filled in!
VICTORY! I take Elena’s roof down and cruise back home.
SIX MONTHS LATER
After months of waiting, wondering if I could be hurrying the process, the technical specification sheet arrives from Lotus UK! Everything is ready to proceed with the modifications and registration! It turns out all I need to do is install rear fog lights. They don’t even care about the blinker color. In fact, it turns out they don’t even care if the rear fog light actually works, which makes this whole process seem rather excessive. But you know what? It’s finally done.
Except not quite, because to get on the road I need insurance, and of course there were wrinkles there too. To start, no Belgian insurance agency I could find would provide full collision coverage (a.k.a. “Full Omnium”) for a car more than 9 years old. Even a semi-rare sports car which is still worth a bit more than just pocket change. I find this policy quite odd and incomprehensible, but at least I can just continue using the same collision coverage I had when it was a “foreign” car.
The other problem is that my Belgian driving license says I was only licensed in February 2016. This is due to the way I changed my US residence (and diving license) at the last minute, and how I exchanged my US license for a Belgian one. In the US, the general assumption is that people start driving at 16, so each state only bothers to list an issue date for their specific license. This assumption does not carry in Belgium, so the issue date is considerably more important. Unfortunately for me, this told insurance companies that I only had 11 months of driving experience. Some won’t insure such drivers at all, others will do so at a premium. Fortunately, I was able to find a company that specialized in expat insurance needs, and convinced them I’d been driving at least since 2011.
But that’s all sorted out now. After a train ride to the shop in Antwerp, I’m back in the driver’s seat. After three months of driving around in a Skoda with such fancy things as “power steering,” Elena feels a little…alien. But I’m sure it won’t be long before we’re re-acquainted and heading out on more adventures.