VAT is calculated on the invoice price if the vehicle is less than six months old or has covered less than 6,000km (3,728mi); otherwise a reduction is made according to its age, and VAT is payable on the balance. It’s therefore advantageous to buy a tax-free car and use it abroad for six months before importing it. However, if you’re resident in France and buy a tax-free car abroad, you have a limited time to export it, e.g. two months when buying a car in the UK. The VAT rate is 19.6 per cent for all cars and caravans, and for motorcycles above 240cc.
In addition to VAT, customs duty must be paid on cars imported from outside the EU; there’s no duty on cars imported from another EU country, provided that you produce purchase and registration documents. The rate of duty varies with the country of origin (some countries have reciprocal agreements with the EU resulting in lower duty rates) and, of course, the value of the vehicle in France, calculated using the Argus guide to second-hand car prices.
Tax and duty must be paid in cash or by banker’s draft at the point of importation or at the local tax office (Hôtel/Recette des Impôts) where you live. If you have a choice, it’s preferable to pay at your local tax office. After you’ve paid VAT or confirmed that VAT isn’t payable, you receive a customs certificate ( Certificat de Douane 846A) permitting you to register the vehicle in France. Note that you require form 846A even when there’s no VAT to pay, e.g. when importing a vehicle from another EU country. An imported vehicle must be registered in France within three months.
However, before you can register it, you must contact your local Direction Régionale de l’Industrie, de la Recherche et de l’Environnement (DRIRE), listed in the yellow pages, which will send you a checklist of the documentation required. This may include the following:
- The customs certificate ( Certificat de Douane 846A) mentioned above.
- A manufacturer’s certificate of construction ( certificat/attestation de conformité).
- Proof of origin of the vehicle ( justification de l’origine du véhicule) or a certificate of sale ( certificat de vente).
- Evidence that VAT has been paid in the country of origin ( déclaration d’impôt).
- A registration request form ( demande de certificat d’immatriculation) and a demande d’identification (confirming the vehicle’s details).
- The foreign registration document ( titre de circulation étranger).
- A test certificate ( rapport de contrôle technique) not more than six months old if the vehicle is more than four years old.
The recommended procedure for obtaining these documents is as follows:
1. Visit the DRIRE with all your vehicle documents, including the vehicle identification number (VIN) and proof of your identity and address (plus copies just in case) and tell them you want to register a car. They should enter the VIN into their computer. If the number is recognised, which it should be if your car isn’t too old and was built for the European market, they will give you a certificat/attestation de conformité; you may then proceed to Step 2.
2. If the VIN isn’t recognised, you must contact the vehicle manufacturer to obtain a certificate (if your car has a non-European specification or has been modified, buy another car!). This will cost you up to €150, depending on the manufacturer, and you will still have to pay the DRIRE €30 for the French certificate.
3. Go to your local Hôtel des Impôts and ask for a déclaration d’impôt. Present your car registration document, the attestation de conformité from the DRIRE and your proof of residence and you should be given the appropriate form – free (unless the vehicle is brand new).
4. If the vehicle is more than four years old, take it to a test centre. If it fails the test, it must be rectified and documentation provided to prove that this has been done ( justification).
5. Take all the documents you’ve now amassed to the local préfecture (not a sous- préfecture, where you won’t be able to get everything done on the spot but must wait while the paperwork is sent to and from the préfecture) and ask for a registration application form ( demande de certificat d’immatriculation) and a demande d’identification (confirming the vehicle’s details). Fill in the forms, hand in your documents and wait.
Note that your home vehicle registration document will probably be withheld by the préfecture (and you may never see it again), so keep a copy to send to your home registration authority, telling them that the vehicle has been re-registered in France.
6. Take all your documents to an insurance company or broker and to a garage or other outlet to obtain a registration document and registration plates.
It’s possible to do all the above in a day, but you should expect it to take much longer. It’s imperative that you have the correct pieces of paper at each stage, or you will be wasting your time.
If you import a caravan or camper van, even one manufactured in France, the fixtures and fittings are likely to need modifying to conform with French regulations (unless it was equipped in France), so you’re advised not to attempt it but to sell your van in your home country and buy a new one in France. Although the British Caravan Council created a ‘European’ norm (EN1645) with the intention of facilitiating the import of caravans to other EU countries, no other EU country has adopted it! If you’re planning to import an old car, contact the Fédération Française des Véhicules d'Epoque (FFVE, 02 23 20 14 14) for information.