DRIVE IN, DRIVE OUT

by Ani Ivanova

Current rules for registering your car in Bulgaria are like the economy - in a state of flux

"In June I am setting out from Kent and driving to Bulgaria. I want to leave my car in Bulgaria at the home I've owned for nearly four years, before flying back to the UK. Trying to get information about importing your car and registering it in Bulgaria as well as insurance, tax and so on - plus getting a direct answer from Bulgarian Government departments - is not easy at the best of times.
Regards
Andrew Bray"

Indeed, getting an answer from Bulgarian government departments is not easy at all. VAGABOND tried to reach the traffic police (KAT) and ask them how an expat can register a personal vehicle. But Nikolay Nikolov from the Interior Ministry's Public Relations Department would not respond to our enquiry. Instead he merely quoted imminent amendments to the Regulations to Bulgarian Identity Documents Act. These will affect the process of issuing foreigners' identity documents and hence driving licences and car registration papers. Once enforced, these will resolve all kinds of current ambiguities, Nikolov said.

You could be forgiven for thinking that accession to the EU seems to have contributed to the current confusion. Before 1 January 2007, many expats from EU countries imported their cars on a temporary basis and drove to the border, leaving the country every three months to avoid having to pay import duty. Now they don't have to do that.

But what do they need to do to enter, exit and register their personal vehicles? To help you find your way through the maze, VAGABOND talked to lawyer Mariana Valkova from the Sofia-based Lega Expert Company and the Public Relations Department of the Customs Agency.

For the time being, if you're coming to Bulgaria from an EU country in a private vehicle you must have your driving licence as well as all original registration and ownership documents - logbook included - and insurance that is valid in Bulgaria. Your car will be stamped on your passport and you will pay no duties. But please note that excise taxes need to be paid, if your vehicle's motor exceeds 120 kW/160 hp. If you're coming from a non-EU country, such as Switzerland, you will import your car duty-free only if you possess the EURO-1 certificate issued by a Swiss customs department.

Importantly, you should bear in mind that if you want to leave the country without your car, there are customs procedures to follow. You need to put your foreign-registered car in the safekeeping of the state's "organs", that is leave it at a customs compound (these are situated at airports and elsewhere around the country), and retrieve it on your return. The traffic police are not involved in this procedure.

Under the current rules, if you intend to stay in the country, keeping your foreign plates is basically your choice. It saves you from having to register with KAT, but, on the other hand, your car could be targeted by thieves.

If you do swap your vehicle's plates for Bulgarian ones, you need to visit the traffic police to register it within 14 days of entry. The process is lengthy and complicated, so you will be forgiven if you use the services of a company specialising in car registration to do it for you. Even if you opt for the latter, here's a brief description of what you need to do.

You go to KAT (with the vehicle) and present your logbook, ownership documents, Bulgarian ID card, driving licence and insurance policy as well as a customs declaration. You will also need to fill in a registration form. Within a few days you will be issued with a Bulgarian registration certificate and number plate. Regardless of what plates you're using, you can drive on your national (if coming from an EU member state) or international driving licence.

Our experience of talking to the traffic police reaffirmed the (sad) conviction that to get anything out of Bulgarian officialdom you need an experienced lawyer.

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