The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Importing A Motorhome From Europe – The Detailed Notes

Note: This is a very long, detailed blog post which will only be of interest to someone who is seriously thinking of importing a new motorhome from Europe. I’ve also written a short version, in the form of an annotated checklist, which you will find by clicking here. For anyone not interested in importing such a vehicle, I suggest you go and find something more interesting to read! I’ll be back to talking about hills next week.

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On 9 January we signed up to buy a new Hymer motorhome from a dealer in Belgium. On 27 January we took delivery. On 16 February, we received our UK registration documents. As it’s quite an involved process, I thought I’d pen some notes as to what we had to do to achieve the import, certification and registration. Note that this relates specifically to importing a new motorhome from Europe. Note also that my research proved that the process does change over time, so whilst this process is what worked for us in early 2017, it would be wise to check that nothing has changed before deciding to import at a later date.

Choosing and Buying

The obvious place to start when looking to buy a new motorhome (and I’m assuming that you’ve chosen your make and model before thinking of buying abroad) is on the ‘Find a Dealer’ page of manufacturer’s website. I went a slightly more circuitous route, starting out with poking around on mobile.de (the German equivalent of Autotrader) and then doing a bit of Google searching.

We located two potential dealers with our model in stock: Dürrwang in Dortmund, Germany, and Campirama in Kjortrik, Belgium. The German dealer was cheaper, but Belgium is nearer (78 miles from Calais vs 270 miles), making any return for warranty work easier and cheaper, plus Campirama offered to drive the vehicle to Calais for us, on their trade plates, which significantly reduced the insurance headache (see below). Moreover, having spoken to both dealers, Campirama was much more friendly and forthcoming over the phone and was more responsive to our follow-up email.

Having had a list of questions answered (including the very key confirmation that our vehicle would be supplied with the original manufactuer Certificate of Conformity, as this document is needed to obtain UK Registration), we were happy with everything Campirama had told us; so we arranged a day-trip, by car, to visit their showroom, and within a couple of hours of arrival, a deal had been done.

The Import Process

1. Get the Forms Together

At least a week before you’re going to take delivery of your motorhome, order a ‘New Vehicle Import Pack’ from the Department for Transport. There’s one form in this pack (the V55/4) which is carbonated, so can’t be downloaded. The other forms/help sheets you will need can be found online and printed at home. Also download a copy of the ‘Application for Mutual Recognition – Motorhomes’ form and the VCA Payment Form.

2. HMRC Log In

If you don’t have a HMRC log-in, then apply for one. If you complete Self Certification Tax Returns online, then the same log-on will work for declaring the vehicle and paying VAT when the time comes. As it takes at least a week to set up an account, if you don’t already have one, register at the earliest opportunity.

3. Arrange Insurance

In the absence of a registration number, you’ll need to insure against the VIN. We had no problem doing this with our existing insurer (Safeguard), who issued a 30-day cover note, but not all companies will insure an unregistered vehicle. Note that UK insurers will only cover an unregistered vehicle once it is on UK soil. We didn’t look into the possibility of obtaining Belgian export plates/third party insurance, as our agreed delivery arrangements negated the need. I know such plates/insurance are readily available if buying from Germany, but I didn’t fancy the risk of driving such a valuable vehicle on third party insurance. I did find a couple of reports online of a broker and the corresponding underwriter who would insure the value of an unregistered vehicle whilst abroad (the vehicle only; not third party liability), but a few phone calls told me that the underwriter had withdrawn the product and even phone calls to brokers of bespoke and unusual insurances were unable to help. As Campirama delivered the vehicle to the Channel Tunnel for us, our risk was reduced to a level we found accepable.

Note that, even with insurance, it’s not legal for a UK resident to drive an unregistered vehicle (or a vehicle registered abroad) in the UK. Possible ways around this are to have the vehicle delivered to your home by the dealer, to use a transport company, or to obtain some UK trade plates. 

3. Pay for your Vehicle

You want the best exchange rate you can get, which is usually achieved by going through a foreign exchange brokerage company. There is a small risk in doing this in that whilst your money is with the foreign exchange company it has less protection than it would in a bank. For maximum protection we opted to use UK Forex, who are FCA authorised; a big, reputable company; and who offered almost the best rate I could find. There’s some good information about using a foreign exchange company on the moneysavingexpert website, here.

Unfortunately for us, Teresa May made a tiny comment in an interview the day before we committed to buy at the moment we were signing up to our purchase the value of the pound was tumbling. With an upcoming Brexit announcement then announced, it tumbled some more. We ended up making our funds transfer moments before the exchange rate hit the bottom of the resultant dip. It was a costly lesson (helped along by hindsight) that what we should have done was to commit to a forward contract the very moment we signed up. We would have got a slightly lower rate, but nowhere near as low as where we ended up.  

4. Take Delivery of Vehicle (with Certificate of Conformity)

I got sent a copy of the Certificate of Conformity a week before we collected our vehicle, and thus had already put Google Translate through its paces (the C of C was in German), but it was still beneficial to sit down with the dealer, with both the C of C and a photocopy of the V55/4 form, to check we were putting the right information in the right places.

For the delivery day we travelled by Eurostar, arriving in Lille at lunchtime, from where Campirama picked us up. That afternoon we had a detailed handover, following which we spent the night, in the dealer’s compound, in our new acquisition. A lesson learnt here (again, with the benefit of hindsight) was that when we drove over to do the deal, we should have taken a crate of stuff (bedding, some crockery, cutlery and pans, etc) and asked the dealer to store it for us for when we collected the vehicle. As it goes, our backpacking activities came in handy and we made do that night with a backpacking quilt and our backpacking cookware, which we had carried on the train.

The following morning the dealer put right a few things we had noticed to be amiss with the van (and, annoyingly, failed to put right one of the more significant issues) and by early afternoon we were on our way back to the UK.

5. Pay Your VAT

Another advantage of buying from Belgium, rather than Germany, is that whereas it is normal in Germany to have to pay German VAT and subsequently claim it back (upon proof that UK VAT has been paid), in Belgium there is no requirement for local VAT to be paid on a vehicle bought for export. Either way, as soon as you arrive in the UK, you need to notify HMRC of the arrival of the vehicle (via the ‘Notification of Vehicle Arrival’ (NOVA) system), which will trigger the payment of VAT. Technically, you have 14 days to complete the NOVA, however, if you don’t get your application for registration off to DVLA within 14 days of the vehicle arriving in the UK, then you can’t register it as a new vehicle, and you can’t register the vehicle until VAT has been paid on it.

I completed the NOVA as soon as we got home and almost immediately received an email saying that they couldn’t process the application because more information was required (which was completely expected from the research I’d done before buying), and asking us to contact them by phone. The additional information required was a copy of the dealer’s invoice to confirm the price paid. Within a few days of providing that information (via email), the VAT bill was received and paid. About a week later, a receipt was received by registered post.

6. Arrange your ‘Mutual Recognition’ Certification

This stage can be completed in tandem with sorting out the VAT, and should be done with reference to the ‘Application for Mutual Recognition – Motorhomes’ form as the exact wording used at this stage is important (as you’ll see further down this section). 

You need a garage which is: a) a MOT station; and/or b) VAT registered; and/or c) a registered company; to provide a statement, on their letterhead (which states their Vehicle Test Station number/VAT registered address/registered company address, as applicable), confirming that they have either worked on or inspected the vehicle (stating the VIN) and that the vehicles fog lights, head lights and speedo meets UK requirements. I went to our local ATS which met all three garage requirements and also happens to be our nearest MOT test station.

In our case the vehicle came factory fitted with fog lights on both sides, and with flatbeam headlights, so we didn’t need any modification to those two items (if you only have a fog light on the left you’ll need either a second one, or to move it to the right; if you have headlights with a right-side kick-up then they’ll need adjusting/replacing to achieve left-side kick-up; it’s only acceptable to have flat-beam if they are factory-fitted, or if the new beam pattern is achieved via a lever adjustment which is a standard feature of the vehicle). The only item we therefore had to change was the speedo (see this post here for how to do that).

Unfortunately, the statement I asked the garage to provide (and I would advise arriving at the garage armed with a draft of the exact statement you want them to make) didn’t make clear that the speedo facia had been installed as a replacement to the original. My thinking was that, as the garage hadn’t done the modification to the speedo, they had no way of knowing how that speedo had been made UK compliant and, to my thinking, it wasn’t relevant how it had been made UK compliant, provided that it was. Alas, the Vehicle Certification Agency didn’t agree with my way of thinking and, even though we had included the required detail on our own signed declaration, they wouldn’t accept our application unless the garage also confirmed how the speedo had been made compliant. This is where we were greatly helped by Campirama having incorrectly placed the new facia over the top of the original one, as this error meant that we now had possession of the original facia. Showing this to the MOT tester satisfied him that the one he had seen in the vehicle was a replacement. ATS didn’t charge for the supplementary statement, so the total cost to us for having the vehcile inspected and a statement given was £20.

7. Send ‘Application for Mutual Recognition – Motorhomes’ off to VCA

This form needs to be sent to the Vehicle Certification Agency along with the Certificate of Conformity, the garage evidence (obtained per Step 6 above), and payment of £100.

I nearly used the wrong form here! Having downloaded the correct form, I somehow managed to print the ‘Passenger Cars’ (rather than the ‘Motorhomes’) version. The differences between the two are small (and only apply in the intro blurb), so maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but I did catch my error in time.

This is the simplest of the forms to complete, only requiring your name and contact details, the vehicle’s make, model and VIN, plus a signed declaration as to how the vehicle has been made compliant in respect of rear fogs, headlights and speedo.

If you pay the VCA’s £100 fee via cheque, then you will incur a 10-day delay, which would cause a problem if you want to register the motorhome as new (in which case it needs to be registered within 14 days of arrival). To pay by credit or debit card, you need to fill in the VCA Payment Form – another simple one to complete.

Because you will be sending the original Certificate of Conformity along with this form (I wasn’t sure whether just the final vehicle C of C was required, so to be sure I sent all three, covering the engine and chassis as well), and because that document would be difficult and time-consuming to get replaced, we used Special Delivery.

Incidentally, the VCA has entered the modern age, so their requirement for additional information was received via email two days after we originally sent the form. This enabled us to have the clarification statement back in the post to them the same day as they emailed us.

8. Receive Individual Vehical Approval Certificate* from VCA

As mentioned in Step 6 above, our Mutual Recognition Application wasn’t accepted on the first attempt. Even so, it only took eight days (including the weekend and 3 x 1-day of postal time) between us putting the original application in the post and having the certificate back in our hands.

The certificate was sent back to us via Special Delivery too, as along with it the original Cs of C and the garage evdience were returned.

(* Note: I’m calling this document the Individual Vehicle Approval Certificate. The covering letter called it a Mutual Recognition Certificate, but that’s not a term used anywhere on the document itself. At the top of the document it says ‘Individual Approval Certificate’ and where it gives the reference number it says ‘Individual Vehicle Approval Number’. I suspect that where the V267 asks for ‘Type Approval’ it actually refers to this document too. I mention further below how inconsistent is the terminology is, making a process, that is already quite involved for the layperson, even more of a trial.)

9. Send Application for Registration to DVLA

You now need to send the following to DVLA:

1) Completed Form V267 (declaration that a vehicle is new);

2) Completed Form V55/4 (application for first vehicle tax and registration of a new motor vehicle);

3) Original Individual Vehicle Approval Certificate from VCA (see Steps 11 and 12 above);

4) Invoice from dealer, stating date of delivery;

5) Proof of identity of the person making application (e.g. photocopy of driving licence); and

6) A cheque for £55 for the first registration fee and one for the cost of the first year’s road tax (Form V149 states the applicable rates of vehicle tax).

It’s in filling in these forms that you start to notice how inconsistent DVLA can be with its terminology. Even the innocuous-looking 1-page V267 tested us, as it asked for the ‘Revenue Weight’ of the vehicle, a term which doesn’t appear on any other document, nor indeed on the DVLA’s own on-line guide to the different types of vehicle weight. An on-line search told us that various people had queried the meaning of this term with DVLA in the past and had received different answers. We phoned DVLA and, per their response, went for the ‘Vehicle Mass’ as stated on the C of C, which was down (incorrectly, i believe) as the ‘Mass in Running Order’ on the certificate received from the VCA. Then there was the question as to whether for ‘Type Approval Number’ they were really after the thing which was referred to as ‘Type Approval’ on other documents, or if they really meant the Individual Vehicle Approval reference number (we went for the former; the Registration Document received suggests they meant the latter).

Along with the V267 we attached a ‘Certificate of Newness’ which had been provided to us by Campirama, acting as agent for Hymer. This wasn’t a document mentioned anywhere as being required or desirable, but, feeling that it lent significant weight to our declaration of newness, we included it.

The V55/4 was the form we found by far the hardest to complete. It comes with two sets of guidance materials (document references INS234 and V355/4), which did help – particularly the V355/4 which tells you don’t need to fill in certain fields for certain vehicles. Even with the notes, and with two sets of eyes, it took us a few hours to satisfy ourselves that we understood what was being asked and to fill in a final version of this form with which we were happy.

The invoice for the vehicle is required in order to establish that the vehicle has been in the country for less than 14 days (the time limit for registering a vehicle as new), and various DVLA guidance notes make reference to the usual assumption that the invoice date is the delivery date. In our case, the invoice date was earlier than the delivery date, so I made sure that Campirama made the delivery date clear, which they did, but right at the bottom of the invoice’s second page. To make sure DVLA didn’t miss this, I highlighted it and (with belt and braces) also put a Post-It note on the front of the invoice, pointing out the correct date to them. (Note that as of 1 April 2017 the invoice will also be required to prove the price of the vehicle, as road tax changes will mean that vehicles with a value of over £40k will incur a road tax surcharge for the first five years based on its CO2 emissions. As most motorhomes don’t have a CO2 value stated on their final stage C of C, I have read that this surcharge won’t apply, but undoubtedly evidence of price paid will still be required.) 

With regard to road tax, you need to work out into which class your vehicle falls. Whilst we were pretty sure we knew that we would be taxed as Private/Light Goods (PLG), there was no information on the V149 (Rates of Vehicle Tax) document, received with the Import Pack, to confirm that. An internet search turned up DVLA document V355/1 (Notes About Tax Classes) which confirmed that, because we didn’t have a CO2 value stated on our final vehicle C of C or Individual Vehicle Approval Certificate, we did fall into the PLG category.

Because we were sending the original Individual Vehicle Approval Certificate, we sent everything off to DVLA by Special Delivery. DVLA advise that if you want to receive your documents back via Special Delivery, then you need to send a pre-paid Special Delivery Self Addressed Envelope. We didn’t know exactly what we would receive back, but just to be sure, we did send that Special Delivery SAE. As it went, the only original document that got returned was the invoice from Campirama, and I would have been willing to risk that to the standard postal service, so we could have saved £6.50 there (of course, I could have used the Special Delivery barcode to track when the documents went back into the post to us).

10. Receive V5 from DVLA

Exactly one week after putting our application in the post, we received two envelopes back from DVLA: one was the V5 ‘Log Book’, the other was our Special Delivery SAE containing the returned documents (see above) plus a Certificate of Entitlement to our allocated registration number. Because we received the V5 in the same post, we didn’t need the Certificate of Entitlement (if the V5 had been delayed, we could have used it to get number plates made up).

I may be wrong, but I suspect that two weeks before the new year’s registration plates are issued is probably quite a quiet time at DVLA, thus the time taken to receive our registration may have been longer if it had been a different time of year. DVLA advises that registration takes 4-6 weeks, but other accounts I’ve read suggest that our one-week timescale is more normal.

11. Get Your Number Plates Made and Applied

We were so relieved and excited to receive our registration that within half an hour of Postie’s arrival, Mick was on his way into town to get our registration plates made. Legally, this has to be done by an authorised number plate maker (you can search on the Government website to find one, but I did find the list to be out of date), and because we are law abiding citizens, we did exactly that (cheaper plates can be had online, but many sellers supply ‘show plates’, not road-legal plates).

12. Inform Your Insurer

Because we only had a 30-day cover note, and because we had already received a stern letter chasing us for our registration number, Mick actually completed this step before heading off to pick up number plates. We received a new insurance certificate the next day.

13. Hit the Road!

That’s why you’ve just been through this process. If, like us, you sold your previous van the moment you signed up for the new one, then you may well have cabin fever after all of these weeks of being at home. It’s time to go out and enjoy your acquisition!

A Few Other Notes

1. Warranty Both of the foreign dealers we spoke to forewarned us that whilst the Hymer warranty is Europe-wide, we would find great difficulty in getting a UK dealer to honour any warranty claims. Campirama was slightly more optimistic, advising us to talk to them first if we need something fixing so that they could get Hymer head office to instruct the UK dealer. Apparently, there are even issues with getting the UK dealers to do the annual damp check (which is a service for which the owner pays each year) required to keep the water ingress warranty valid. In weighing up whether to import we acknowledged that: a) there will be warranty issues that need fixing; and b) we would likely have to return to Belgium to get them fixed. The fact that we intend to spend a lot of time in Europe over the next few years, and the relative proximity of Campirama to Calais, helped us to be comfortable with this position.

2. Govt Website Infoclick here for the Government website about importing a vehicle. I don’t think I found anything useful on that website that I wasn’t already aware of from other sources (including the import pack), but I’ve included it here for completeness.

3. VAT on Second Hand Vehicles I didn’t look in any detail at the process for importing a second hand vehicle from Europe, but I’ll just mention that if you do go down the second hand route then the vehicle needs to be more than 6 months old and have more than 6000km on its clock and have been subject to VAT in its original country in order if you don’t want to be liable for VAT in the UK too.

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