We Made It!
Firstly, yes, we arrived safe and sound, Loki a week or so after me. More about him in the next post. Gradually we’re settling into something like a routine, as much as you can when you’re on the road. We’ve been “cheating” in a way – staying at the houses or driveways of German agility strangers (now friends) who answered my call for help, and now at my girlfriend Isi’s shared flat. I’ve been trying to write a post since we arrived, but with everything that’s been happening, there’s been no room for creativity in my brain, not until now. Below, I thought I could tell you about two of the biggest experiences so far – buying a van in Europe, and my experience of flying Loki over.
Buying a Van in Germany as a Foreigner
So. I bought my van from CustomCamp in the Netherlands. I can’t remember exactly how I originally found Evelyn and her company, but I loved the work they’d done and that I could customise everything, and she was so helpful and lovely in her messages that I took the plunge, trusting this company on the other side of the world to design my van. They organised the export papers so I could take it from the Netherlands to Germany.
Before I could get the van, however, I had to be registered to an address. This is something we don’t do in Australia, but basically every German needs to inform the local townhall where they’re living. I’m incredibly lucky that Isi’s dad signed the paperwork saying I’m living at his address. Unlike some visa application forms where you can just put in a hostel or hotel, this is way more official and I doubt they’d accept something so temporary. I suppose theoretically you could rent a place for a month or something, register, and then get your van on that address. I don’t know what the ramifications of this for the future would be. I also needed to organise insurance, and googled “temporary export car insurance, Netherlands” to find what I needed. There are a few companies who do it. It’s just basic 3rd party insurance that lasts for 15 days – your temporary plates last 14 days so this is fine.
Right, so, with a copy of my registration paper in hand, I took the long train up to the Netherlands and got to see my van for the first time. It kind of sunk in then that this tiny space was home for at least the next year. That we would be eating and sleeping in there most days, that although we had plenty of cupboard space, everything had to fit inside… It was… fairly overwhelming. We drove to the car registration office and they asked for my registration papers… only to be told they wouldn’t accept a copy. What. Because of course I’d left the original at Isi’s dad so it was safer. Evelyn made a number of phone calls and they decided to make an exception for me, so back we went. They began looking over the documents… and while my German is only as much as one can learn in 7 months of self study, and while they were speaking Dutch, I’m smart enough to understand “there’s a problem with the document numbers..” and “I can’t do anything…”. Hot tip: Government departments love document numbers and codes. Make sure they’re all correct. Back we went to the camper office to wait while new documents were put through online…. and then back again to the car registration place. This time everything seemed to go through fine and we stuck the temporary balsa-wood export plates to the van with gaffa tape. Klasse.
Then for the LONG drive back down to Isi’s dad’s, near Stuttgart to go through the ‘TÜV’ process – basically a roadworthy tests that is notorious for being very stringent and difficult to pass. Arriving at the mechanics, we were faced with another problem – they couldn’t test my van because they didn’t know the special codes that would tell them the make and model of the van (and all the paperwork I had wasn’t enough to provide it), and because it was originally a commercial vehicle but had been changed into a camper. I was faced with two options – go back north to where there is some friendly TÜV guy who often does these campers, or potentially face more trouble down south with paperwork I didn’t have, some guy who didn’t know the vans, etc., So… I picked up Loki from the airport and we headed north again. At this point my stress levels were insanely high with everything seeming to fall apart – I asked Isi to write me a message in German and posted it on a German facebook agility group, asking for places to sleep and had so many amazing offers of help. Now, with safe places to aim for, I felt ok, I felt like we would be ok.
Eventually the TÜV was done and the van passed. I was still driving on temporary plates, as I had to go back south to where I was registered as living to get the German plates, but first we had to go to England for a seminar. Once I arrived back near Stuttgart, Isi was there to help me. Before we could get the German plates, we needed a 7 digit electronic insurance confirmation number, so we organised the insurance then went to the equivalent of ‘VicRoads’ with my now very full dossier of paperwork and waited. And waited. And waited.
Surprisingly, actually getting the plates was probably the easiest part of the whole process – I was sure the German bureaucracy was going to rear its ugly head and give me more issues, but no – I got to choose what I wanted on the plate, paid some money, went and got it made, came back, picked up some stickers (not as fun as it sounds) and away we went. So finally the van is mine, it’s legal, it’s insured and it’s ready to go.
I certainly learnt a lot over the last 2 weeks.
- When moving overseas, go somewhere, set up a base, rest for a couple of weeks, THEN get stuck into the admin, especially if you want to do something like buy a car or a van or something. Don’t try and squash it into 4 days (my original plan).
- Buying a car in Germany already and registering it to your name would probably be easier than exporting/importing one.
- The agility community is amazing and I only hope I can one day repay the kindness of the people who took me on walks, let me stay, fed me, looked after me and Loki, and shared their homes with me when I was so, so stressed.
- Don’t leave things till the last minute. I usually pride myself on being able to plan and organise things like this, but for some reason my brain kind of went into shut-down mode before I left Australia and it wasn’t until a few days before I left that I realised I should have organised the insurance already, etc., I feel like I just didn’t do enough research on the process to know that I should have even been registered before I went to get the van (I wasn’t going to be originally! Not until after I got back from the Netherlands!). Even things like I probably could have set up my German bank account before I’d left.
- Somehow, eventually, everything will work out.