The Freedom of the open road

As part of the move to Ireland I have been learning a heap about the rules around cars and driving that I didn’t really know in detail. There are fundamentally two parts, the driver and the car. As an EU citizen I can by right swap my UK driving license for an Irish driving license. Costs €55 and you can do it at a local NDLS centre. You fill out a form and it takes 20 minutes or so. Relatively easy as long as you already have a PPS number which you probably already needed for something else.

If you have a pre-2000 ish UK license then you have a few categories for big vans – bigger than a transit, like a luton box van, but not a full lorry, and transit sized minibuses. You will lose these unless you get a medical certificate from a doctor. I didn’t do this so lost those categories. I figure I am now unlikely to use them (I have in the past) and if I do want to drive a minibus or big van again then I probably should do training and an upgrade test. I basically now have just the full licence that young people have. (update to be precise: If you passed your test for category B or B automatic before 1 January 1997 your licence will already show entitlement to C1, C1E (8.25 tonnes), D1 and D1E (not for hire or reward). – those bits I lost.)

I could swap my license because the UK is a member state of the EU (and EEA). After Brexit that will not automatically be possible. You can still drive on a foreign license for up to a year but then you would have to apply for a learner permit, and as soon as that arrives it supersedes your foreign license. This means you have to drive with an L plate and an accompanying driver until you pass the test.

For various reasons, that didn’t sound like fun. This *really* happens for people moving to Ireland (or returning to Ireland) from places like Australia and the USA. There is a list of recognised states other than the EEA but of course the UK is not on that list. A small statutory instrument could be passed to add the UK to that list, and I have written to my TD to lobby for that to be done. Until it happens (and that won’t be until after Brexit) I have to assume swapping my license after Brexit would involve a learner permit, so I had to swap it before March 29th (which was subsequently delayed). I now officially have my swapped license, and Irish driver number, but the photocard is still being produced. I think they have rather a lot of swaps to process.

The second part of the equation is the car. When a car is imported it is liable for Vehicle Registration Tax and VAT on the “deemed value”. My 12 year old SUV is probably worth about £5,000. The deemed value as far as I can make out is €27,000. The VRT would be 35% of the Open Market Selling Price, so that is €6210 in VAT plus €1750 in VRT. As luck would have it, there is an exemption for transfer of residence. In short, the car has to be really yours. You have to prove that you lived in the UK with the car for 6 months before moving to Ireland, then you have to commit to keeping it for 12 months. You can’t just apply for this very valuable exemption and flog it as soon as you arrive. Getting this exemption was a bit more complicated, I had to visit the revenue offices in Limerick with lots of paperwork including 6 months of bank statements. The good news for Brexit supporters is that this VRT exemption isn’t actually contingent on the UK being a member state. The only change appears to be that you apply for it at the customs office at the port rather than the revenue office within 7 days of the vehicle arriving. I am not so sure of the VAT position after Brexit.

Once you have got the registration exemption it takes a little while to be processed, then you can complete it and get a registration number – but you are not done yet! You need to tax the car, which is *expensive* compared to the UK for big cars. You can’t tax it until it is insured in the state. You can’t get insurance in the state until they have a validated no-claims bonus from your prior insurance company. Admiral won’t reply to emails from other insurance companies asking for validation of no-claims. Many phone calls later (and at double the UK premium) I have insurance with Allianz.ie, once that is done, you can tax the car online. You should be prepared for this step leaving you with a gap between insurance companies of about a week where you can’t drive the car. It also means you need quite a bit of money on hand depending on the size of the car, maybe a couple of grand for insurance and tax on a reasonable family car. You can pay the tax for a full year or half or quarter, but it is quite a bit cheaper to pay a full year at a time. Insurance can be done on a direct debit, but again that is a disguised loan at a high rate of interest. You should also let the insurance know that you have switched to an Irish driving license if you are a named driver on any other UK policy (parents/spouse etc.)

Still not done! The car needs an NCT which is the equivalent of the UK MOT. You can apply to transfer the remainder of your MOT for €15 and another form, but as it is €55 for a full year test it makes more sense to do a new one if there is only a few months left on your MOT. The ability to transfer an MOT between member states is a benefit we lose from Brexit.

I am now the proud owner of an 07 plate car registered in County Clare. It is insured and taxed, I have an appointment to do the NCT. Update: changed my mind, and applied for the MOT transfer, they are waiving the €15 fee until further notice.

Final step is to tell the DVLA that the car is gone. In principle you can do that first, by returning the blue export part of the V5, with your intended export date. I kept mine taxed until I was certain that the Irish process was completed, then sent off the V5 with an accompanying note explaining that I had popped back and forth to get more stuff.

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