Stalled by a complex vehicle registration

vehicle registration

This week we introduce you to a couple who fell foul of French bureaucracy trying to register a car in France.

British couple Suzi and Peter had lived in Hong Kong for 30 years before moving to Nice in the south of France in 2019.

Suzi explains, “We needed to buy a car, but because we hadn’t been in France for very long, we couldn’t get anything on lease so we had to buy one outright. We were looking for an SUV type of vehicle, but when we went into the local Jaguar showroom Pete got into a Jaguar F-Pace and loved it. It was his dream car but at that point it was completely out of our budget. Brand new it was about €70-80,000.”

But Pete’s dream car was about to become a reality after all.

“As things transpired, we had to go back to England for a funeral and while we were there, I stumbled across a left hand drive specialist centre. It was in Chelsea Harbour and the guy was quite a convincing salesperson, so I thought it would be fairly trustworthy. My family and I went there together, saw a couple of cars and then the salesman said, ‘Oh I happen to have a Swiss-registered black Jaguar F-Pace with beige interior coming in next week. One single lady owner and only 6,000 miles on the clock’. Exactly the car that Pete had wanted! We obviously got very excited. We had to head back to France, but my brother said he would go and test drive it for us, which he did and we bought it because it was £32,000 compared to €70-80,000 in France.”

Suzi and Pete understood that there would be import tax to pay, but couldn’t have anticipated the problems that started on the day of delivery.

“The car arrived in Nice on the back of a low rider and the driver literally dropped it off and drove away. He left us no paperwork, no import documentation, no proof of delivery into France whatsoever.”

Pete adds: “It still had the Swiss number plates on it so it hadn’t been officially registered in the UK and with both the UK and Switzerland not being part of the EU, that’s where our problems started.”

Suzi leapt into action. “We called the salesman at car dealership where we bought the car and said we really needed to get it registered in France. He said, ‘Don’t worry about the paperwork, I’ve got a guy in France and he’ll be able to do it for you.’ He gave me the number of a guy who was a total shark, who said he generally only dealt in Lamborghinis from Abu Dhabi. He was an awful person. We sent him all the paperwork and details that he asked for, but his response was ‘This isn’t really a job for me.’ We went back to the dealership and he said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s the first time I’ve ever recommended him to anybody. I’ve got other people that are much better’ – and then nothing. He just went quiet and we never got any other recommendations from him.”

“Meanwhile we already had a hand-holding company that we had used to set up Pete’s company. They told us not to worry and claimed that they had the best car person in the South of France so we paid them even more money to try and get the car registered, but they came back and said, ‘Oh we can’t do it because you don’t have the required documentation for the Douane (Customs) in France’. When we asked, ‘Where do we go from here?’ they just said it wasn’t their problem and we would have to figure it out ourselves.”

Fortunately, Suzi and Pete’s bad luck was about to change.

“It was at that point that I started Googling and fortunately I found Richard Hammond at French Connections HCB. Richard was the first person to give us any sort of viable option. The car had been registered in Switzerland when we bought it. Richard said we would need to first change from Swiss registration to UK registration, and then we could import it legitimately from the UK into France.”

Pete takes over the story.

“Of course, the car dealership should have already legitimately imported the car from Switzerland to the UK and they shouldn’t have sold it to us in the UK until that had been done. As a result, we had to pay two lots of customs duty, so the car has ended up costing us about £20,000 more than we thought. We ended up paying a bit over £6,000 to change the Swiss plates to UK plates, and then another €12,000 to register the British car in France.”

Pete wants their experience to be a warning to others.

“I can’t imagine we are the only ones this has happened to. Richard told us that other clients have come to him after being stung by the same dealership and he has helped us report them to HMRC. We just don’t want anyone else to get stung like we did.”

At the end of the day, has the Jaguar turned out to be a good car?

‘Yes, it’s a brilliant car! In that respect we were very fortunate because the car only had 6,000 miles on the clock when we got it and it was 2 years old. We’ve had no mechanical problems with it at all. Our contrôle technique (the French MOT) has been completed and we now have the final approval to legally import the car to France. After that we can get French plates and then everything will be done and above board.”

Suzi is quick to admit that they would not have been able to sort out the car registration without Richard’s help.

“We wouldn’t have known where to start. He was the only person to suggest that the best route would be to go from Swiss to UK registration, then from the UK to France. His knowledge of the international market – not just the French market – is phenomenal. Also his willingness to help us report the car dealership that we bought from. You just sense that he wants to do the right thing for people.”

Pete agrees. ” I just wish we had spoken to Richard before we bought the car. As future reference for other people reading this, before you buy a car, speak to him. His knowledge is just invaluable. As is his colleague Annabelle’s ability to get the paperwork done.”

Here at French Connections HCB, we’ve dealt with hundreds of car registrations from all over the world. We’ve helped many clients who have been misled by unqualified ‘hand holders’ or unscrupulous car dealerships and we’ve successfully navigated even the most complicated administrative situations. Annabelle, who expertly shepherded Suzi and Pete’s paperwork through the constraints of French Customs, is adept at handling complex scenarios in the minimum of time. Our trusted partners Ship My Car also play a crucial role in transporting vehicles for our clients from all over the world. Their knowledge and efficiency was greatly appreciated in Suzi and Pete’s case.

For expert help in buying, renting or importing a car in France, we invite you to book an initial 30 minute video consultation with Richard to discuss your situation. The consultation costs 90 euros but that is fully deductible from the first service you book with us.

As Suzi and Pete’s experience has shown, the right advice at the beginning can save a lot of time and stress.

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