The following applies to Belgium but a similar process will be equally applicable to other countries.
We came across a Frankia motorhome in Germany when travelling through in August and it was the first we had seen for some time that was a suitable layout (for us). We weren’t in the market to change so thought nothing more until I returned to the UK and casually looked it up to see if still for sale. It was but I also found another identical model in Belgium. So much closer, a slightly better spec and about 20% cheaper than in Germany (apparently because Frankia is well known and well regarded in Germany & therefor in higher demand!).
Here’s a diary of our importing experience and the order that you need to do things:
05/11/2015 – Visiting the dealer
Visited the dealer in Belgium to view the van. It really was in great condition. Prior to our visit the dealer had sent numerous photos and answered lots of questions. The dealer spoke very good English. After full inspection and test drive we negotiated a good discount and we paid a €1000 deposit. The dealer we used was Vanomobil and the contact there was Frank – www.vanomobil.be located in Hoogstraten, approx 60 miles from the Hook of Holland.
In anticipation that we would purchase the van we took some essentials with us which we left with the dealer e.g. Gas bottle, bedding (pillows, blankets & sleeping bags), toiletries & towels, toilet blue, kettle, saucepans, basic cutlery. Even a small tool kit including damp meter which we used when we inspected the van.
We drove the car and took the overnight ferry from Harwich and came back the next night, again on the overnight ferry. Total ferry & fuel cost approx £230.
07/11/2015 – Selling the old motorhome
Our existing Burstner van needed to be sold so this was advertised on Ebay, GumTree, and Preloved web sites. The vast majority of enquiries came via ebay. Lots of ridiculous low offers and we had 3 sets of people view the van. The van was sold within 3 days for the price we wanted to a local couple. Ebay was certainly the best outlet to advertise the van and cost just under £20.
Tips for selling on ebay: Take loads of high quality photos and write very detailed descriptions. If some one wishes to purchase we took a £500 cash deposit and the rest as a cheque (although bank transfer would have been better). We asked them to bring some ID such as driving license and address to be on the safe side. Wait for the usual 8 days for the cheque to clear (I always thought it was 4 days for a cheque to clear but told by my bank even if it clears the funds can still be pulled back within 8 days!). NEVER EVER take payment via Paypal.
16/11/2015 – Paying for the motorhome
To purchase the Belgium Frankia we had to make the fully payment via bank transfer. We researched various transfer methods and found that for an amount over £20,000 the company called UK Forex was the best deal and had very good exchange rates. If you wish to use them and click the UK Forex link then both of us will receive a £50 Amazon voucher! They were very helpful and we had been recommended them by a friend that lives in Spain and makes regular transfers when the exchange rate is good.
We were very lucky to get €1.4 to the £1 which was an excellent rate and saved us a little more money.
23/11/2015 – Collecting the van
Jane was already in Brussels on business so I joined her via the Eurostar train. The week prior to this there had been the terrible terrorist attacks in Paris. Brussels had also been put on a security lock down. This major European capital city was eerily quiet and like a ghost town. A consequence of the lock down was schools, metro, concerts, cinemas, Christmas markets, and any gatherings were all closed or stopped. This included the government offices where we had to obtain the export plates and paperwork, with no indication when they may re-open.
In the hope that they would reopen soon we travelled by train to Hoogstraten on Tuesday 24th to collect the paperwork that was needed for the registration and export plates (aka transit plates). When a vehicle is sold in Belgium the number plates stay with the person and the plates are removed so all second hand vehicles you see don’t have number plates. The euro transfer was also completed on time and we returned to Brussels. The dealer kindly collected us and returned us to the rail station.
Return train cost €44 for 2 people.
Hotel for 2 nights in Brussels approx €160.
25/11/2015 – Transit plates & insurance
The schools, metro and government buildings in Brussels were open! We had researched and found a company specialising in export plates called Bios Transit who would arrange third party insurance (fully comprehensive is not available for transit plates) valid until the end of December. They also obtain the plates for us. This took 3 hours – normal estimate is 2 hours but three hours took into account the backlog from the closures. There is a business centre across the road called Tour&Taxi. They had free wifi and a cafe so we spent some time in there whilst we waited (and there is also a small Spa which Jane had a massage in).
You can also find UK insurers who will insure the van on the VIN number but there are not many. We decided to risk it with the Belgium provided third party insurance!
Total cost was €220 which included the insurance, the transit documentation and plates.
Extra Note: Some dealers will obtain the plates for you and sort all the export paperwork so it is worth asking especially if they are used to selling motorhomes for export.
Paperwork needed from the Belgium Dealer to obtain Transit Plates
- Control Technique – their version of the MOT (needed for the transit plates)
- Purchase invoice (needed for the transit plates)
- Vehicle identification papers (needed for the transit plates)
- Original European Certificate of Conformity (needed for the UK importing)
- Green insurance document (needed to obtain the transit plates)
We hurried (literally running to catch the train!) back to Hoogstraten where the plates were fitted and all final paperwork completed. The dealer allowed us to park over night on their forecourt and even left a EHU for us to use over night. We tried everything out and made sure it worked. Even though we had a 12 month guarantee its a long way to come back if there was a problem.
We planned to stay in the area for the next 2 nights again just to check everything worked. A good selection of Belgium beers was also purchased and stored in our new rear garage locker!
The next night we discovered a problem with the TV when we were off EHU which they changed for a brand new one the next day – very good service!
28/11/2015 – Return home
Day ferry from Hook of Holland back to Harwich. Cost about £200.
29/11/2015 – Modifications for UK regulations
Imported vehicles need to have 3 areas changed: Speedo must read MPH, headlight must dip to the left and rear fog light must be moved to either centre or right side (or both sides). In our case the single left fog light was swapped to the right and the reversing light swapped to the left. I have detailed some of this work a little later.
30/11/2015 – Informing HMRC for Tax & VAT purposes
When importing to the UK you must notify HMRC via the NOVA system. This is straight forward and shows how much VAT or tax is due to pay on a vehicle. Brand new vehicles need to have the VAT paid but most second hand vehicles do not. I believe you must register with NOVA within 48 hours of the vehicle entering the UK.
IMPORTANT: You must have a Government Gateway login, this takes at least 2 weeks to set up so do this prior to using the system.
01/12/2015 – Mutual Certificate of Conformity – VCA
For vehicles under 10 years old you must obtain what’s called a Mutual Certificate of Conformity. This involved changing all the technical elements to make it road worthy to UK specification (headlights, fog lights, speedo). You must obtain a letter on headed paper from a registered garage that this work has been carried out and send this together with the original European Certificate of Conformity to the VCA. These people will check the application and send back a certificate which is sent to DVLA for the final registration.
I fitted the new speedo dials (about 1.5 hours and obtained from Lockwood International) and rewired the fog and reversing lights (about 2 hours) myself but had to get the garage to align the lights. Our van has the individual projector lens type lights which are standard fit for both left and right dip so it was an easy job to move them and realign. This cost £80 for the garage to do their checks and issue the letter and £100 for the Mutual Certificate which is paid direct to the VCA.
The speedo face needs replacing with one that shows MPH or both MPH and KmPH.
The orginal face plate above only shows KmPH.
The new face plate now shows MPH as the primary value and KmPH as the secondary value. (The only requirement is for MPH to be shown). The new face plate costs aprox. £46 and is quite easy to fit and comes with instructions.
If you have the large cluster type of headlights as above then you may need to replace the full cluster.
Officially, beam deflectors are not allowed to be fitted but I have heard of people getting away with it.
If you have the Hella “projector” type headlights as above then these can normally be adjusted
for correct left or right dip as standard fit – luckily this is what we had.
The rear fog light and reversing lights need to be swapped around (reverse to the right side). This just involved re-wiring the lights and swapping the coloured lenses on the lights – this took me about 2 hours to rewire.
04/12/2015 – MOT Test
Time for the MOT. All UK MOT test stations can perform an MOT on a foreign plated vehicle but it’s not a common occurrence! I phoned our usual MOT station who initially said they could not perform it. I spoke to VDSA (formerly VOSA) who told me otherwise and to quote to them the section from the MOT Manual:
If foreign plates are fitted, enter the details in the Registration Mark field and change the descriptor from ‘UK Registration Mark’ to ‘Foreign Registration Mark’, then enter the rest of the details as usual.
The motorhome had passed it’s Control Technique (Belgium version of the MOT) only the week before but that doesn’t mean a thing in the UK – luckily she passed the MOT with no advisories.
MOT cost £54.85 (you can get them done cheaper but we trust this garage and they have been very helpful in the past)
16/12/2015 – You’ve got Mail!
Today we received the VCA certificate back. Everything passed which was a relief.
Next we need to obtain insurance on the VIN for the DVLA to issue the licence registration. Not many insurance companies provide insurance on the VIN. Three were recommended: NFU Mutual, SafeGuard and Comfort Insurance. Quotes were obtained from all. NFU were the most expensive by nearly three times! Comfort Insurance were second and SafeGuard were the cheapest so we went with them. Comfort Insurance only insure on the VIN if you are importing through a dealer, not for a DIY import.
Now the insurance is sorted we can now go through the final stage and register with DVLA:
17/12/2015 – Registering with DVLA
You need to obtain a free import pack from DVLA. The form and pack is called the V55/5. This comes with the V55/5 form and a very useful guide on how to enter all the information. I recommend obtaining 2 packs just in case you make a mistake on the form (we did!). The packs take about 7 days to arrive so order them in advance.
There is plenty of information to enter on the form such as sizes, wheel pitches, weights, VIN, engine number, emissions info. Nearly all can be obtained from the original European Certificate of Conformity, the newly acquired VCA certificate and a copy of my driving license.
The engine number proved almost impossible to locate on the engine block. A quick call to the local Fiat dealer were able to provide the engine number based on the VIN number on their system.
Send the form back to DVLA together with the Insurance certificate which shows the VIN number, the VCA certificate, our new MOT certificate, plus payment of £55 for the registration and £230 for the years tax – we sent them a combined cheque for this.
31/12/2015 – ALL DONE – Hooray
Today we received the full registration V5 log book together with our new UK registration number. The other documents such as the MOT etc. will be returned under separate cover. We double checked everything on the form to make sure it’s OK and everything appears good.
We then contacted the insurance company and gave them the UK registration number and they issued new documents for download online.
Now to order some low cost UK legal number plates from ebay – costing about £13 for the pair.
02/01/2016 – Final paperwork returned
The other final paperwork was returned by DVLA: receipt, insurance certificate, copy of driving license, MOT certificate. The VCA certificate was not returned.
Final conclusions on buying abroad
- Big savings… Over the UK price of a similar used Frankia motorhome we saved nearly £15,000.
- Buying a LHD motorhome is much easier to drive abroad than a RHD. We switch from our LHD motorhome and our RHD car without really thinking about it.
- The range of motorhomes in countries such as Germany, Netherlands and Belgium is much greater than in the UK. France can also have a good choice but I understand the export procedure is much more complex.
- Specification of the motorhomes can be a lot higher than in the UK although many European motorhomes do not have ovens as standard which many UK motorhomes have.
- If you buy from a dealer they will provide a warranty of some kind but any claims and the motorhome will need to be taken back to them, so take this into account and speak to the dealer about how this could work.
- LHD motorhomes may cost a little extra to insure.
- Spare parts may take a little longer to source if they are specific to LHD such as steering or exhaust parts. Otherwise vast majority of parts should be the same.
- Some people say that LHD motorhomes are harder to resell or are worth less but this was not our experience when selling our previous LHD motorhome.
Additional Notes – Low Emission Zone
While we have checked online that we are exempt from this we are still waiting to confirm. Another confusing thing is that to be exempt the vehicle has to be Euro 3 emissions compliant, for Cars & PLG vehicles this is calculated in g/km, however on our European Certificate of Conformity it is in g/KWh which is normally used on Heavy Diesels so we won’t be holding our breath on this one!
05/01/2016 – Just an update that we now have confirmation that we are compliant and thus can drive within the London Low Emission Zone (LEZ) without penalty. This is great news as we often visit London.