German export plates

I’ll be writing a few posts about our experiences buying a car in Germany and then importing it to France. There is a lot of miscellaneous information out there, but there were questions at each step of the way that were not readily apparent (in English).

First I’d like to talk about German export plates. When you buy a car in Germany, even if you don’t live in Germany, you can buy “Ausfuhrkennzeichen,” or (in English) “export plates.” Don’t confuse these with temporary plates, which are for a much shorter period of time. You can get these plates in any town/city in Germany. You do not need to be registered as a resident. These plates can be, in theory, purchased to be valid for any number of months up to one year. You can do this multiple times and in different cities. I paid about EUR 150 total each of the two months I registered. It was around EUR 95 for the plates, EUR 30 to the machine at the Stadtamt, and about EUR 15 for the tax. Use this calculator to determine your tax. Our car is pretty environmentally friendly so that helped us, but it is also a diesel which hurt us.

These plates are purchased with 3rd-party insurance (in the US, we would call this liability insurance). This is a major downside. You cannot easily get full-coverage insurance to cover collisions. The good thing is that the insurance works all over Europe.

Some relevant terms:

  • Kennzeichen – License plate
  • Fahrzeug – Vehicle.
  • Personenkraftwagen (usually just the initials “PKW”) – Passenger car. If you’re just registering a normal personal automobile, this is what you have.
  • Technischer Überwachungs-Verein (TÜV) – The organization that does the safety inspections.
  • Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil I – This is the registration paper that should be in the glovebox.
  • Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil II – This is the other page that should stay at home to prove ownership of the car.
  • Steuer – Tax.

How to get your own German export plates:

  1. I suggest going to the information desk at the local Stadtamt to get a list of exactly what will be needed. The procedure could differ from place to place. In my case when I did this the first time (in Bremen) the dealer was with me and he was experienced so we knew exactly where to go. The second time, I was in Göttingen. Since it was a smaller town, the Stadtamt was set up a bit different. You’ll basically need your proof that you own the car (could depend, based on where it’s from) and proof of an up-to-date Technischer Überwachungs-Verein (TÜV) inspection. The TÜV is the roadworthiness check that must be completed every two years after the car is three years old. If you bought the car in Germany and it already had a recent inspection, that will transfer to the new owner (you), so you won’t need to do it but you will need proof.
  2. Shop around for plates and insurance. Generally there will be several shops right near the Stadtamt. They will be obvious because they will license plates everywhere. The prices for plates with insurance will vary, mostly depending on the distance from the Stadtamt. The more inconvenient places (farther away) will be cheaper. In Göttingen, I shopped around and found that it was anywhere from EUR 92 up to somewhere around EUR 140 for a single month. Some shops had slightly different time periods available. Generally you can either get 1 month or three months at most places, but in theory it’s my understanding that you could get some other number of months, up to one year.
  3. Once you find a plate shop, you can go ahead and pay for the plates and insurance. You won’t get the plates yet, as you have not been assigned a number. At this time, you will just get a piece of paper showing that you have paid for insurance up to a given date.
  4. Go to the Stadtamt. Typically you will have to take a number and wait a bit. In Göttingen this was about 10-15 minutes, if I recall correctly, and I think Bremen was quite a bit longer. In my experience, these employees didn’t or weren’t allowed to speak English. I spoke broken German and presented the documents and they knew what to do. The employee will give you a card (maybe different in some cities) which you will take to a machine down the hall to pay. I believe this will just be a small fee for the registration. I think both times my (pro-rated) tax was taken from my bank account and I received an invoice later in the mail. I’m not sure how this would work without a German account, though it must be possible.
  5. Go down the hall and pay the machine.
  6. Return to wherever the employee told you to go after paying. At this point you will receive a document with the number for your new plates.
  7. Take this to the license plate shop and they will make your plates quite quickly.
  8. Then you will go back inside the Stadtamt and they will place a sticker on the plates. I recall for my first registration that they needed a quick trip to another office to prove my TÜV compliance before I could get the sticker. If you already have time remaining on your previous export plates, they will want them back so you can’t have two active sets of plates. I got the guy to return mine after scraping the sticker off, for a souvenir.
  9. Install the plates and put the insurance paper and the Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil I (that you received) in the glove box. The expiration date is printed on the plates. The insurance expires and you’ve only paid taxes up until that date so the plates will no longer be valid.

Hopefully this helps iron out some details. It’s a little silly the way they have private plate manufacturers, as they can basically only differentiate themselves on price and distance. It seems to me that it just adds hassle for the consumer, but the Germans like to do this sort of needless privatizing. The system actually does work well overall, and it can all be done in about an hour in a smaller town.

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