Spanish Number Plates in 231 Easy Steps

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You’d think from perusing the more indignant entries on advice forums that the paperwork involved in importing a car into Spain had been devised by the Spanish to keep Johnny Foreigner out (It’s a Nightmare! Your Car is in Danger in Spain! Don’t bother! Gringo Prices!) However, search Google in Spanish, and you find the same moaning and groaning among Spanish nationals, which I suppose the paranoid will find reassuring. Moving cars across borders is painful for everyone everywhere. Getting a truck from Panama to Colombia was so daunting we didn’t do it, thus ending up staying in Costa Rica for seven years and screwing up the whole New York to Tierra del Fuego trip. Anyway, back to Spain.

The gist is that once registered as a resident you have 60 days to sort the paperwork for a foreign car and get your Spanish plates. Visitors can drive one around for 6 months, after which the car has to be processed, taxed and plated up, otherwise you are liable for penalties – fines and impoundings and stuff, and / or have to keep the car out of the country for a 6-month period. There are people who do nothing but car paperwork day in day out; I thought we should do it ourselves and – YAY-HEY – after seven months of intermittently intense effort we have.  There are so many highlights, but among them, in no particular order:

Sending Dave 70kms to a lay-by outside Jerez de la Frontera, where he was to meet a stranger and hand him an envelope stuffed full of money. The man arrived, took photographs of the car, examined the V5 and whatnot, and after indicating what he wanted through the strenuous use of mime, took the money and drove away in a cloud of dust, leaving Dave baffled and uncertain. All was kosher. The man was a perito, a vehicle assessor from the Colegio de Ingenieros in Cádiz, and his role was to confirm that the car matched its paperwork and provide us with a ficha reducida, one of the necessary bits of paper. But it had a nice Coen brothers feel.

The Spanish MOT – the ITV. Eventually, after changing the headlamps so they pointed right to the kerb, not left into traffic, and realigning something, the car passed its test at the ITV centre near SuperSol in Ronda and we were handed a blue form in triplicate and told to take it to the Hacienda in Cádiz. The Hacienda told us to take it to the Agencia Tributaria down the road. The Agencia told us to go home and first pay the local circulation tax. The local town hall, had no access to the new-fangled online system and told us to go to another town hall. Two weeks and a few hundred kms later, I returned triumphantly clutching proof of payment. Now all to be done was to pay the Registration Tax, a combination of the value of the car (nothing! it’s worth nothing!) and its CO2 emissions as shown on the blue form . . . ‘Ah,’ said the man in Cubicle 16, ‘Your emissions are the highest of the high. Higher than a fighter jet. It will cost you one billion euros to import your car. Perhaps you should get it fixed and retested.’ Back at the ITV centre in Ronda, close scrutiny revealed that owing to a printing error the figure next to the CO2 was actually the idle speed. The form was reprinted.

Paying the Registration Tax. Just take it. TAKE THE MONEY, I pleaded at La Caixa bank back in Cádiz, waving two €50 notes and the Agencia account details, eyeing the clock. ‘We can’t,’ said the cashier, ‘because you are not in the system.’  No, no – I’m paying IN . . . CASH . . . please take my money.  I beg you.  ‘But where is your barcode?’ Barcode? Barcode? Running back up Avenida Andalucia, leaping across flowerbeds, taking the steps back to the Agencia three at a time with half-an-hour to go before closing time, I sprint stickily to the desk at Cubicle 16 and explain. The man puts me in the system and presents me with a sheet of barcodes (the key to all life). I sprint to the bank, hopping from foot to foot in the snaking queue – I’m in the system. I’m in the system, take my money! –  pay, collect the receipt, sprint to the Agencia, pay, collect the receipt, sprint to the Hacienda (squeezing through the closing gates), pay, collect the receipt. Then punch the air.

The Evita moment. One visit to the Agencia Tributaria in Cádiz coincided with a lively protest by immigrants seeking employment rights. A large, good-humoured crowd had assembled at the foot of the steps with banners and megaphones. In a case of mistaken identity, as I emerged blinking in the bright sunshine after one or other of the abortive paperwork processing attempts, the crowd roared and applauded. I waved and bowed.

Well, re the car business – the matriculación – there are agencies that can do this for you in a couple of weeks, apparently. I’d probably recommend using one.

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