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A Personal Motorhome Import - 4 The Import at last

Nine - some more UK homework:  With the new motorhome chosen and negotiations now complete there’s some work to do back home in the UK. We need to make sure we have all the necessary paperwork to hand and to make sure that we understand it all.  Finance must now be formally applied for and arrangements made to transfer the money. A little investigation as to the true VAT situation is needed and also I’ve got to remember to keep copies of all paperwork at this stage since some items might be needed as evidence later.  If possible I’d like to organise new headlamps and sort out the speedometer issue too. Unfortunately all this means that our excitement over the purchase is about to be tempered by increasing technicality and bureaucracy!

The local vehicle registration office (VRO) were very helpful and provided a number of leaflets explaining what to do. I should warn you that you must do your own research about the requirements and shouldn’t rely on anything said to you by a single individual over the ‘phone - there have been cases where callers received well meaning but decidedly misguided advice!  This is a fairly complex area in terms of legislation with certain differences in the rules for cars and motorhomes.  Do be aware for example that motorcaravans are exempt from type approval and from single vehicle approval (sva) tests.  Even the different terms like motorhome, motorcaravan, campervan and camping-car can cause confusion.  There are also some odd definitions about new and second-hand.  I quote, “New Means of Transport (NMT) vehicles are defined by Customs and Excise as originating from within the European Union (EU) and are less than 6 months old or have travelled less than 6,000 kms (3,750m)”. (Note the ‘or’). It would be wrong of me to go into great detail here about current requirements because the detail may well have changed by the time you read this but I will try to help with sources for that information such as http://www.dvla.gov.uk/vehicles/exptimpt.htm for export info and http://www.dvla.gov.uk/contact/dvla_contact.htm for your nearest VRO. I should add another very valuable source of up-to-date information and that is Mel Eastburn's fact sheet.  In exchange for a small cheque made out to his favourite charity he'll send you the latest gen - and in some detail too, contact him on mel@eastburn.biz  

VAT is payable on ‘new’ imports.  A few communications with the VAT office established that because we were VAT registered we could export our new motorhome exempt from German tax and pay the UK 17½% here.  Non-VAT registered buyers would have to pay VAT both ends and then claim the German 16% VAT back.  Our German dealer said we could do this at the border on export but I think it’s less stressful to make the claim once you are back home.  You will of course need to budget for the cashflow involved since a bill of several thousand pounds is quite normal.  Anyway, we’ve got the necessary forms and we now know we have to register the vehicle and stump up the VAT within 14 days of arrival in the UK. 

Insurance should be simple in theory.  All we should have to do is phone our insurers to tell them what we’re up to and ask for cover based temporarily on the chassis number.  Ho! ho! ho! No chance.  There’s no problem over the chassis number but our insurers say they don’t cover lhd vehicles!  So it’s back to the web, the usual motorcaravanning magazines and the telephone and start ringing round for new insurers.  A few hours later after giving every single company the same tediously long list of answers we have Cornhill as our new insurers.  This is very convenient in that the old ‘van is insured on a separate policy but rather inconvenient in that I can’t release the no claims discount if the policy is still in use!  This was resolved a little later when we insured the old campervan cheaply with the Co-op and transferred the protected no claims to the new more expensive motorhome.  

Since our import there have been new interpretations about insurance based on a recent EC directive. Although intended to ease matters, this seems to have terrified insurers (what doesn’t?) and has made everything much more difficult.  It now (mid 2003) seems nearly impossible to get the fully comprehensive temporary insurance that we managed at both ends (just in case!).  Third party only cover is available in Germany on temporary export plates while UK insurers seem unwilling to offer any cover at all until the vehicle has actually arrived here.  It should be possible to get them to offer vehicle cover on the basis that local road traffic regs cover is handled under the temporary German registration.  I hope all this will have settled down by the time many of you read this.

Headlamps at least weren’t a problem, although the exact type might be difficult to determine at a distance, our local Fiat commercial garage were confident they could get them in a few days - at "about £100 a piece".  The speedo might be more difficult and expensive but others were talking about using overlays to add mph to the kph-only speedo so perhaps a little DIY would be in order?

Money transfer was the next issue. I’ve seen offers on the web offering cheap transfers by avoiding the banks but given the large sums involved I felt safer using our own bank.  They gave us a reasonable rate (an even better ‘commercial’ rate if over £25K) and quoted a fee of £46. By the way, the German bank charged us another £24.04 - Lloyds hadn’t mentioned that!  We were advised to keep a copy of this paperwork just in case the rate was more favourable than the VAT office rate when it came to paying the tax to the VATman. 

Ten - To Germany to collect!  Right, enough of this, the money has been transferred and confirmed as received and the motorhome is ready to collect so what we need now are detailed travel plans. Our pre-planning confined searches to towns within striking distance of Dusseldorf so it’s time to get onto the Buzz website to book the plane tickets at www.buzzaway.com and Deutsche Bahn to check the train connections via http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en.  We wanted to complete the collection in just one day so we had to get to Bielefeld before lunch to be sure of completing the registration on time - in practice this meant booking the 6:30 am flight. Prices vary from about £20 upwards but typically we wanted one of their busier flights so had to pay about £50 each.  Being a ticketless airline we got our booking confirmation by email and filed it in our burgeoning documentation folder. Next - we need to make sure we can get back home again so we ‘phoned the Camping & Caravanning Club who booked us a discounted single Holland to Harwich for £101.60 - singles are always relatively poor value for money.  A kind offer from a friend to take us down to Stansted in the middle of the night completes the picture!

There is of course a slight snag in that we will drive back into Holland late in the day in a brand new vehicle with no equipment, no bedding, no cooking, no gas - apart from anything we can carry or scrounge.  Water should be OK of course.  A little cunning planning is needed therefore, what will we eat?, how will we keep warm? (it’s March/April remember) and what about the loo?  In the event we packed a duvet & quilt, plenty of warm clothes & underwear, paper & plastic plates & a few tea bags in case we can get hot water and some breakfast cereal - which is still allowed under the foot & mouth restrictions.  Oh! - and mustn’t forget the small flat pack of toilet roll originally purchased for a trip in East Africa.  We experimented in advance with a 12v kettle but decided it was hopeless, in winter it loses heat faster than you can put it in!  We expect to purchase the necessary toilet chemicals in the dealer’s accessory shop and milk bread, cold meats & cheese and perhaps a beer or two in a roadside garage or small supermarket.

At last it’s the 29th March, 3 am and the alarm says time to go.  Our friend arrives in his company car and we make a quick, comfortable, and uneventful journey to Stansted, the deserted motorways would be tedious in the extreme but for my underlying excitement!  I marvel at the nearly empty M25 and am delighted once we start heading north towards the airport on the M11.  Stansted looks quite substantial and respectable from the outside, very different to the collection of old sheds I remember from my childhood holidays.  Inside it’s a different story, the new resources are there all right but everything is deserted and in semi darkness, even the check-ins are deserted. Half an hour later the place comes to life in an instant - like a film set - so we check in our luggage and seek a decent breakfast.  There are numerous continental style cafes and some have (more or less) come to life along with the rest of the airport.  We pick on one of the livelier looking ones and order two full English breakfasts.  A short wait suggests the food is actually being cooked specially for us but the eventual result is deeply disappointing - anaemic looking sausages that might have seen a little meat in passing, with rubbery eggs, tasteless tomatoes & mushrooms, and luke warm tea, it really is no wonder that foreign visitors regard our culinary expertise as non-existent!  Still it all helps to while away the time dictated by “It is essential you check in at least two hours before scheduled time of departure, particularly if you are taking an early morning flight”.  Why is it that the fastest transport must have the slowest boarding? - I can drive to Paris in six hours via the tunnel and it still takes six hours door to door by plane!

We arrive on time at Dusseldorf Niederrhein airport where we step into another world, the place is busy but not noisy, clean and apparently very well organised.  We look for the railway transfer bus (less well organised), and after standing outside for a few minutes one arrives so we get on and stand swaying as the single-decker hurtles round the airport perimeter as only transfer buses can. We are dumped in a most unlikely looking spot but make our way up a pedestrian ramp and find a lift that says something about Bahn so we take it up to the second floor and step out into what appears to be an over-spacious hotel reception where the smell of real fresh coffee fills the air.  There’s a multi-lingual information desk, a small central café with chairs scattered around in continental style plus adequate seating and standing for a multitude or two!  Curiously there are no ticket kiosks or machines, something that adds to the overall feeling of peace and quiet.  We don’t need to enquire about train times because I’ve already downloaded them from the internet and know when the next Inter-City Express (ICE) is due, so we settle down with an excellent coffee and bun and admire the 4x4 waste bins designed with recycling in mind.

Much refreshed by the coffee we exit through the automatic doors into a more conventional station and discover the automated ticket machines which we don’t understand.  A helpful German observing our obvious confusion tells us not to bother - “just pay on the train”.  We already have full information about the train we want, the platform number, time of arrival and departure, refreshments, etc., all courtesy of the excellent Deutsche Bahn website so off we go to wait on platform 1.  Several ‘local’ trains come and go and our destination, Bielefeld, appears occasionally on the information board.  Dilys is increasingly nervous about letting these pass by but my faith in Teutonic efficiency is rewarded when our super ICE arrives bang on time.   

We’re soon settled in our seats and take a minute or two to look around us, the standard of this train is quite something by English standards.  We are aware that we are travelling rather fast but we are very comfortable in our aircraft style seats and noise levels are very low aided no doubt by the soft furnishings including curtains.  Next to my seat I find 220v electric sockets and on the table we are provided with a magazine and a timetable.  The timetable is dedicated to this particular journey and shows the exact time of arrival and departure at each station on the way - usually just a 2 minute stop - all with connecting information from each station too.  There’s also a description of the train and its facilities, including a restaurant & snack bar as we already knew, but also one car dedicated to improved mobile phone reception, I’m impressed!  It gets better too, minutes later we are provided with good coffee from a mobile snack bar and soon afterwards we meet the ticket inspector, a smartly uniformed, English speaking young man who is delighted to help us with the fare and to run our English credit card through his machine to produce the printed tickets.  Now I admit I’m not a frequent train traveller but I have suffered the train to Paddington from time to time and have to say this is a completely different world.  Each stop is arrived at on time and departure is similarly prompt, the scheduled stop at one station is slightly longer for passengers to get off and buy a greater range of refreshments on the platform, departure is still bang on time. 

On arrival in Bielefeld I enjoyed playing with the suitcase escalator conveniently placed alongside the main stairs down from the platform.  Other than this useful gadget, Bielefeld station itself is much more UK-like, old and rather grimy.  The Sun is shining and a quick call on my mobile to Julien at Palmowski brought their crew bus to collect us and minutes later we were sitting in their offices drinking coffee and talking about the weather and the journey as you do.  Julien need to get a few more personal details from us in preparation for the afternoon trip to the registration office - all of which took longer than expected as it often turns out.  We had also asked by email for a few extras like a spare cassette and a fitted bike rack so these things had to be accounted for and paid for too.  We were then taken to the Hymer and introduced to a service engineer who took us through the operation of all the major items and answered our numerous questions.  He wasn’t fluent in English but was determined that we should know everything that we needed to know!  Julien agreed to lend us a small gas cylinder and arranged for it to be fitted and for the ‘van to be filled with water while we ‘lunched’ at the nearby burger bar - another Palmowski family venture on the site next door.  Actually he offered to lend us a car to go into the city for lunch but we declined.

The trip to the registration office was pretty uneventful, Julien and his trade plates got us there and we parked just outside while he did the business for us.  Less than a ¼hr later he emerged with his contact clutching two number plates complete with the temporary 9 day insurance and registration stamps, assorted documentation including the essential ‘Brief’ & ‘Schein’, and a bill for 410DM (£130).  He was quite apologetic about the cost explaining that they have to pay extra for the insurance ‘on a vehicle like this’.  I imagine this could be quite difficult and/or time consuming without the help of a local - trade or private - plainly Julien had pre-arranged everything with his contact and everything went very smoothly indeed.  So that was it, we’d bought the ‘van, registered it for export and we were insured so all we’ve got to do now is drive it home and then start on the UK end of the bureaucratic process!

On dropping Julien back to his office we called in to thank Mr Palmowski himself and to say goodbye, remembering then to nip into the accessory shop for those toilet chemicals.  A couple of handshake pictures later and we were off on our way back to Holland where we will overnight before catching the Friday afternoon ferry.  We’ve deliberately allowed ourselves plenty of time in case of problems or delays.  A quick stop en route just outside the city at a garage for some simple provisions and we’re on our way.  We were aiming for a campsite that we’ve used before at Vaasen, north of Appeldoorn. The journey itself was uneventful but slow of course with that brand new engine to look after.  I must say that even with the modern higher limits and lots of variation in speed, motorway running-in is a very boring process indeed!

Eleven - homeward bound at last!  Crossing the Dutch/German border in the blink of an eye, we arrived after dark at Vaasen and followed our usual route round the outskirts towards the wooded campsite to be confronted at the last minute by a Dutch road sign say something like ‘closed’!  While sitting there thinking about just what it did say a man on a bicycle came up and started talking to us in German - those export plates I assume.  Naturally enough in Holland he spoke English too and explained that many of the local roads were closed to through traffic due to foot & mouth but access to the camp site was OK.  We were welcomed warmly at the site as usual by the friendly owner and his wife where it was immediately obvious that there were very few people around.  This was apparently due to the f&m outbreak, the owners thought they might be closed down at any time and were really quite worried about the financial impact should it all go on for some time.

Anyway, delighted to be settled in and with the unexpected bonus of some gas on board we settled down to a light meal in relative comfort and to try out all the gadgets.  Everything seemed to be working OK so we eventually turned in for our first night in the ‘Alkoven’, the overhead Luton bed - and now without the customary struggle to assemble a bed, heaven!  Breakfast was a similarly simple affair but with some hot coffee from the campsite office enough to get us going again.  We were booked on the afternoon ferry so with no difficulties arising so far we had plenty of time to have breakfast and get to the Hook by 3 pm. 

Driving a LHD vehicle abroad was very comfortable and off the motorway at last I was beginning to get a real feel of the size of the thing. It isn’t a long vehicle of course at 5.54m (18’+) but is quite wide at 2.24m (7’5”) and 2.5m (8’3”) across the mirrors.  We certainly wouldn’t be going down any more of those 6’6” restricted roads!  The other slightly unusual aspect is the long rear overhang on a short wheelbase - the rear ‘kick out’ is quite marked when manoeuvring.  Arriving at the terminal early we joined the queue and had time to wander about to look at the other imports of the day. There were no other motorcaravans but quite probably a new car and certainly several jet-skis, one pair at least on a brand new trailer too!  We were boarded with customary efficiency onto the high speed Stena line ferry which was only half full. The crossing was uneventful but not too boring at just 3¾ hours.  We were all geared up for a delay at British customs and had all our paperwork ready as evidence but they didn’t give us a second glance and we were soon out onto UK roads and on our way home.  Driving on the wrong side for a ‘left hooker’ was something of a new experience for me.  Those big door mirrors were now in regular use as I routinely checked my road positioning and got used to driving unnaturally close to hedges and walls.

Back home I already had all the forms and documents to hand for UK registration and even a set of private plates all ready to go on the new baby.  What I didn’t have was British headlamps, so the first job was to take it over to our nearest Fiat commercial dealer for them to log it on to their system and order parts for me.  We’re lucky in that our nearest dealer, Grays of Warwick, used to handle base vehicles for the local AlKo factory so they are well versed in light commercials, motorhome conversions and even imports. Ordering new headlamp units was no problem but I decided not to go ahead with the speedo since it involved replacing the whole instrument cluster at something over £200 + VAT. Logging the vehicle into the Fiat system revealed that the chassis was built in July 1999 and sold to Hymer for conversion in November 1999.  They used it to produce a ‘2000 model’, which we bought discounted from a dealer as a ‘last years model’ in Feb/Mar 2001!  No great problem there (nor anything unusual I now realise) except that the Fiat warranty had officially expired in November 2000 - 4 months before it was sold to us ‘new’!!  Ah well, just more paperwork I suppose. Another job is to fill in the VAT forms and send them a cheque for about £3,000.  Fortunately for us we are already VAT registered so I bought the ‘van VAT free and didn’t have to pay VAT in both countries and claim it back from Germany. VAT of course only applies on new vehicles - defined as less than six months old or with less than 6,000 kms on the clock.

While waiting for the new lights to arrive I set about trying to transform the kph-only speedo into a dual kph/mph version readable “day and night”.  Despite much well intentioned advice from my ‘virtual motorcaravanning colleagues’ on the net I established that a) the conversion really should be made despite anecdotes to the contrary, b) that all manner of overlays and even luminous materials were not satisfactory at night, mostly because the back lighting on modern instruments is so tightly controlled and c) it all looked rather a mess in this otherwise brand-new vehicle.  It wasn’t difficult therefore to decide that our £8,000 saving could bear a new instrument cluster so Grays received another order.  I took this opportunity to order the second Fiat door pocket too, since for some odd reason they fit only one as standard.  Everything arrived in just a few days. While fitting the new headlamps and instruments I took numerous digital photographs to act as supporting evidence for the VRO, all while fending off inquisitive neighbours of course!

Next is the trip to our nearest convenient VRO at Worcester with the necessary application forms, German documents, private plate documentation, evidence of various sorts and a cheque for £25. The evidence was dismissed (accepted?) with a cursory glance and the main paperwork accepted for forwarding to Swansea. I was told it would take ‘up to 10 days’ for the documentation to be processed and the V5 to be sent to me by post.  It seems remarkable now that this import registration stage was the one we were concerned about but was really very straightforward once you have the right documents to hand.

So, we have some time now at last to get on with the interesting bits like kitting out the ‘van with everything from toothbrushes, bedding and hook-up leads to sound systems and alarms. We found a local self-employed fitter who works for a local audio & mobile phone firm and also for Marquis at Tewkesbury so we got him to supply and fit a motorhome alarm system and a radio/CD player plus amplifier that can also be used with the TV.  All this to help with sound quality to aid my defective hearing and not to deafen the neighbours!  We also had him fit an ‘ordinary’ car alarm plus central locking on the cab doors but with added sensors on all the external lockers plus a simple option to turn off the interior movement sensors when we are living in the motorhome - leaving the perimeter protection intact.  At the same time I wrote to Fiat about the expired warranty and asked them to reset it to start when we bought the ‘van.

I had intended to fit a British gas system to the van when we got back but on discovering that the gas appliances are designed to run on a different pressure to ours I decided to get a German 'Triomatic' system plus adaptors for UK bottle fittings and have that fitted instead. Plainly it's best to have appliances under warranty running at their design pressure!  There are some side benefits to this approach too, mating to the German sized gas pipe was easier and we'll now be able to use a wide variety of European bottles via a German adaptor set.  The Triomatic works well with an auto change over from 'main' to 'reserve' plus a gauge letting you know which bottle is in use and roughly how full it is.  The only slight oddity is the need to change both bottles over each time to restore the system to a full reserve.  A postscript: The new regs about gas fittings mean that all new motorhomes will soon be fitted with 'continental' 30 mBar regulators like ours.

After about a week the V5 arrived from the DVLA stating that our nice new Hymer was a 1992 model previously registered abroad!  They had plainly taken the ‘K’ registration as the year of manufacture despite having sold it to us as a personal plate!  They are of course entitled to cover themselves with the ‘previously registered abroad’ phrase because it was - on temporary export plates. By now I had also discovered that I’d given the engine type number instead of the engine number itself ("matricola" on a Fiat) so after acquiring a tax disc I sent all the relevant documents back to Swansea for amendment. The latest version declares ‘new at first registration’ so I’m more than happy with how it all turned out.  After some initial troubles with Fiat I found a very helpful man who pushed through the warranty resetting, at least getting me the German one year warranty but not of course the UK three year version.  So eventually here we are fully UK street legal, complete with new headlamps and a new instrument cluster, and we’re off for some long weekends in Yorkshire and Norfolk before going over to France in May to try it all out in earnest!

And with all these trials and tribulations, would we do it again?  Yes definitely! 

Related site links:   Facts   Import Story Pt1   Import Story Pt2   Import Story Pt3   Import Story Pt4

And not everybody has such a complicated tale to tell, I quote ... "Just to tell you that I bought my son's German motorcaravan with no problems what so-ever. He came over for Christmas and brought it with him. £130.00 ferry fare. He then flew back to Germany £7.50 one way Ryan air to Frankfurt. It cost me £140.00 for new headlamps and MOT, they were not bothered about the Kilo speedo. Road fund license and registration, all hassle free. All in all, about £500.00. Not bad when one considers I saved about £4000.00 on a similar model here".  Easy isn't it?!


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