So having survived the nursery slopes of obtaining our Italian driving licences, we felt ready to graduate to the more challenging slopes of importing the left-hand drive but UK-registered vehicle we had bought the previous summer. From our first conversation with Matteo, the slightly detached and supremely unhurriable clerk at Lanciani, our local vehicle licensing specialists, we knew that the key documents were the car’s UK registration document and its libretto (certificate of conformity) which is the EU document provided by the manufacturer that confirms that the vehicle meets all the required specifications. And fortunately ours does, for any modifications to the vehicle, such as tinted windows or different wheels, can cause weeks of delays while approval for any changes is sought. So: a good starting point at least.
We were also aware that while Matteo was happy to accept the latter in its original language (which happens to be German: long story), we would need to get the UK registration document translated into Italian – even though this is supposed to be a document recognised across the Union. Let’s leave aside any idea that as vehicle licensing specialists, Lanciani might have their own translation of this document into which they could simply enter our vehicle’s data: way too Anglo-Saxon. We did, however, imagine that its years of experience in the business might mean it had a tame translator that they normally used. No. Well, maybe a list of local translators for us to choose from, then. Still no. It was completely down to us to find a translator who also had to be officially registered as the said translator would have to provide a signed declaration of accuracy with their translation, both of which would then have to be authenticated – ie stamped on every single page, and even on the join between pages – by the court. Marvellous.
We were grumbling about this to a couple of English friends after a week or so’s unsuccessful online searches for someone suitable when one of them mentioned their pal Ian, a professional translator who had lived in Italy for over thirty years so who also knew his way around the various processes for which translations were often required – such as the importation of vehicles. Bingo! Mr Blue-Shirt called him the next day. Yes, translating a registration document was the kind of thing he did – in fact he even had one done that we would just need to enter our car’s details into. Yes, he knew about the declaration thing and had a standard document that he always used. And yes, he knew about getting the translation and declaration authenticated by the court. And would we like him to accompany Mr Blue-Shirt to the court to make sure he ended up in the right place? This last part turned out to be a real godsend as it meant they emerged from the echoey gloom of the court building with everything stamped in the right place by the right person within a couple of hours. Without someone in the know to guide him through the process, Mr Blue-Shirt could easily have ended up fruitlessly pinging back and forth for days between one anonymous court office and another.
We were then faced with what felt like a bit of a Catch 22 for we couldn’t actually import the car into Italy without first formally exporting it from the UK, but we were reluctant to do this without at least some indication that the car was not going to end up effectively stateless, albeit temporarily. But there was no way round it: we just had to take the plunge, send back the ‘notice of intention to export permanently’ slip and then wait for written confirmation via the DVLA website that the car was no longer on the UK’s books before we could complete the import process. This naturally required another bout of full-on form-filling with Matteo – and mostly involved providing for the nth time the details we had already entered into countless other forms and then signing at least three copies of everything. We did our best to curb our Anglo-Saxon tendencies, though, and meekly submitted to the demands of Italian bureaucracy without so much as a single frustrated ‘But in the UK…!’ passing our lips.
We really should be used to it now, but we are still surprised by just how many administrative matters are still entirely paper-based and have to be carried out in person rather than electronically and online. I have two theories to explain this. One is that even in the electronic age the notion of personal service remains an important part of Italian culture. The other is that getting people to do things on paper, in person and subject to the presentation of formal identification is a relatively simple means of addressing Italy’s chronic problems with corruption.
There followed a lull while our paperwork chugged through the system, but just a couple of weeks later Matteo called to let me know that the car had been successfully imported and registered and that he already even had the new number plates for us. We were thrilled – ridiculously so, in fact. Still driving around with UK number plates well into our second year here somehow suggested a lack of permanence and an emblem of still being just visitors; a lack of commitment to our adoptive home and a symptom of our clinging to our English ways. It was almost certainly something that bothered only us, but both us it did, so finally getting our Italian number plates was a visible affirmation of that commitment and permanence.
Mind you, although the plates were ready for collection, we couldn’t use them yet. First the car needed to go for its revisione, the equivalent of an MOT, and only once we had a pass certificate could we get insurance sorted out. So as soon Mr Blue-Shirt had picked up our shiny new plates and the registration document from Matteo, he went straight across the road to the garage that Matteo had recommended to him. But when the mechanic who was going to perform the test tapped the new registration number into the computer, it wasn’t recognised, even though it was there for all to see on the registration document Mr Blue-Shirt had just been given. So straight back over the road to Lanciani he went. No problem, Matteo assured him. It just takes a few days for all the registration data to trickle down through the system; he clearly hadn’t expected Mr Blue Shirt to be so quick off the mark with the revisione. And he was right: when Mr Blue-Shirt went back to the garage the following week our data were on the system and he was in and out in a matter of minutes. The revisione is much less stringent than an MOT and consisted of little more than checking the brakes, the headlight alignment, the exhaust emissions, and – to Mr Blue-Shirt’s huge amusement – a decibel test of the horn to make sure it was sufficiently loud.
Which meant only one hurdle left to clear: insurance. That said we were relatively relaxed about this one, partly because we had ended up staying with the same insurance company which made the transfer of no-claims details much easier, and partly because it would be arranged for us by the saintly Maurizio – he who had been pivotal in getting our claim successfully settled following the break-in the previous summer. And sure enough, this was all done and dusted in extraordinarily short order – once Maurizio was convinced that I really did have twelve years’ no-claims history, that is: so many years’ accident-free driving is apparently unheard of here.
So we are there: registered, MOT-ed, insured and driving around with Italian number plates at last. Just another face in the Italian crowd and no longer sticking out like a ‘Brit abroad’ thumb. Until we go and blow our cover and use the indicators, of course…