Your car in Berlin

So you read our extensive guide to Berlin’s public transport system plus the alternate, more environmentally friendly means of getting from Alexanderplatz to Boddinstraße and beyond and you still think you need a car? Ok fine, maybe the U-Bahn can be overcrowded and overheated and overwhelming at times, and while summer cycling may be dreamy it’s more like icicle-ing in the winter.

Whatever your reasons for having your own Auto in the city, we’ve got you covered on how to bring your car to Berlin, how to buy a car in Berlin and how to manage all the related administration that comes with having a car in Berlin.

Bringing your car to Berlin

If you already own a car and want to bring it along for the ride (pun intended) then there are a few things to know.

If you’re bringing your car or any vehicle to Germany from outside the EU then it will be subject to a 10% import duty and 19% VAT. “Ah nein!” we hear you cry. Don’t worry. You can avoid paying this if you can prove that you are bringing your car into the country as “personal property moved in connection with a transfer of residence”, says Zoll, the German customs authority. Basically it must be your private property that you are bringing as you are moving to live here. So in order to avoid payment you must then be able to prove that you meet certain requirements, which are:

  • You have lived outside the EU for at least twelve months
  • You intend to take up new residence in Germany
  • You have owned and used your car for at least the last six months
  • The car or vehicle is registered in your name
  • You must keep the car for personal use for at least the first twelve months.

Not that much to ask, right? Right, but bear in mind that even if you manage to duck those customs charges you will still have to ensure your vehicle meets German safety standards (more to follow) which could mean expensive modifications and alterations on anything from brakes to headlights to tyres.

If you decide to come to Germany from a neighbouring EU country then the process is a hell of a lot simpler. Any car manufactured in the EU after 1996 will have a ‘certificate of conformity’ meaning it meets EU safety standards and can be imported without needing a technical inspection upon registration.

If your car is used then you can bring it to Germany free from any customs duty providing you have proof VAT was paid in its country of origin. You may also need to able to show:

  1. Proof of ownership
  2. Original registration papers
  3. Proof of insurance
  4. Emissions test certificate if the car is more than three years old
  5. Certification from the German Federal Motor Vehicle registry that the car has never been registered in Germany.

If your car is ‘new’, that is less than six months old or with less than 6000 km in mileage, then you will probably have to pay the 19% German VAT. If you already paid the VAT in the country of origin then you should be able to get a reimbursement upon registration of the car in Germany.

Buying a car in Berlin

Some pretty awesome cars are manufactured on the very same soil that you have decided to move to so why not try out a proper deutsches Auto?

In general, the process of buying a car in Berlin is going to be fairly similar to buying a car anywhere else. If you are buying a new car it’s important to know however that German law leaves a whole lot less room for negotiation on price than may be normal in other countries.

If you’re buying a used car it is good to know that, again according to German law, dealerships must provide a one-year warranty with all cars they sell. Not bad eh? Aside from that, the same goes as for buying any used car; check the mileage, model year, number of owners, date of first registration (Erstezulassung or EZ) and the date of the next roadworthiness inspection (HU/AU/TÜV).

When bargain hunting through car ads and listings, look out for the words Vorführwagen and Jahreswagen. A Vorführwagen is a display car that has been used in showrooms and for test drives. They will generally be in good condition with low mileage but with reduced prices because of the previous use. A Jahreswagen is a car that has been bought brand new by a car manufacturer employee at a discounted price. The employees have to keep them for at least one year before selling them which again means they should be recent models at good prices.

Car Admin in Berlin

Yep that’s right, you guessed it – more paperwork! You’ve got to expect it at this stage really; you’ve already waded through what must be a small forest of it if you’ve got the rest of German life set up so this just one more tree to get around.

Inspection for roadworthiness – TÜV/HU/AU

First up is the technical inspection to ensure that your car meets all the national safety standards. It is conducted by private government-approved companies such as Technischer Überwachungsverein (TÜV) and is often therefore referred to as the TÜV check. The vehicle must pass a main general safety inspection, Hauptuntersuchung (HU) and an emissions test, Abgasuntersuchung (AU). Both are compulsory in order for you to be able to register your car.

As mentioned previously, if the car doesn’t pass either test then it’s up to you to pay for the necessary improvements to make sure it does.

Cars must be inspected every two years after registration.

Car Insurance – Kfz-Versicherung

By law, you need to have insurance before you can register your car. German car insurance policies come in three variations:

  • Haftpflicht – This is the minimum legal requirement necessary for car registration. It is basically third-party or liability coverage that covers any damage that your car may cause in the case of an accident, including the other party’s medical bills if necessary. Beware though, it does not include any damage to your car if the accident was your fault.
  • Teilkasko – This covers what Haftpflicht covers and a little more. It is partial coverage that also includes fire damage, theft, glass breakage and (perhaps randomly) collision with game animals…us city slickers are probably good there.
  • Vollkasko – This is full, comprehensive insurance that covers both previous types plus damages to your own car and injury to yourself. Pretty much everything then. If you’d rather be safe than sorry this is your best bet, although it will be more expensive.

As with anywhere else, certain factors will dictate the cost of your insurance coverage. For example your age and driving experience, where you live, the type of car you’re driving, any previous accidents or claims, etc.

Seeing as you won’t have a driving record in Germany, make sure your previous record can be applied to your policy. Berlin’s history with American and British military personnel means there are insurance agencies specialised in helping English-speaking expats with exactly that. It’s a good idea to bring an official letter noting your past driving/claim history from your previous insurer.

Registering your car

Cars brought to Germany from within the EU can be registered directly, skipping the TÜV check as long as they have the aforementioned certificate of conformity accompanying them.

Cars brought from outside the EU can only register after passing the TÜV check. In order to do so you will need (surprise, surprise) lots of paperwork! That is to say:

  1. Passport or ID
  2. Proof of official address registration in Germany
  3. Customs clearance documents
  4. Car insurance certification
  5. Certificate from the TÜV check OR certificate of conformity from other EU country
  6. Original vehicle registration documents
  7. Proof of ownership
  8. Confirmation that the car has never been registered in Germany before from the German Federal Motor Vehicle Registry

And breathe. Okay it’s a lot but hey you’re the one that couldn’t face the U-Bahn. So you’ve got it all ready? Then head to your local vehicle registration office, Kfz-Zulassungsstelle, present your documents, pay the fee, get the paper that gives you permission to buy German license plates, go and buy the license plates (at one of the many shops next to the registration office), go back to the office with the license plates, get the official sticker for your plates and collect your car ownership documents. German efficiency strikes again eh?!

Motor Vehicle Tax

And the fun doesn’t end there. Don’t forget that once you get through the initial process you have yearly Motor Vehicle Tax, Kfz-Steuer, payments to make the federal government. The rate you pay depends on the car itself; its size, type, age, emissions rating and fuel type.

So there you have it, the key to the ignition of your driving career in Berlin. With so many other ways to get around, it’s really up to you to decide if a car is worth the rigmarole or not. Cruising with the windows down isn’t quite the same as pedal-powering through the frische Luft but hey different strokes for different folks right? Drive safe.