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Our guide to driving and buying a car in Belgium
For those looking to buy a car, pick up a copy of Le Moniteur Automobile or its Dutch-language equivalent, the Autogids. The official trade-in prices of second-hand cars are often lower than the price you can actually get.
Shop around as prices vary from one place to the next. The paperwork is fairly straightforward and your dealer will give you a registration form to fill in. Get it insured with an insurance company and you’ll be sent by post a pink registration certificate, followed by your rear plate. Send the certificate back to the Vehicle Registration Service (DIV) and take the rear plate to a key-cutting shop to get a copy made.
Note that number plates stay with the driver, not with the car, and must be returned to the registration authority when you leave the country. New cars are subject to an initial tax that can vary from €100 for a small car to several thousand euro for fancier cars. If you buy second-hand, the tax drops by 10% per year based on the first registration of the car. (No taxes are payable on the sale of a used vehicle from a private individual.)
Buying an eco-friendly car can get you a reduction on this initial tax; in order to benefit from this reduction, the vehicle has to be compatible with the strict European emissions standards - the Federal Public Services for Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment produces a handy online guide (energievreters.be) to the energy consumption of all new cars. For more information on eco-friendly driving, visit zuinigewagen.be, and for a list of charging points for electric cars and bikes in Flanders, oplaadpunten.org.
If you want to import your own car to Belgium, the shipper will inform you of the formalities, or you can drive here and begin proceedings once you are registered with your commune. No import tax is due on cars more than six months old or with more than 6,000km on the clock. You must have a European certificate of conformity for the car, which must pass the roadworthiness test (known as contrôle technique or technische keuring) and then be insured with a Belgian insurer.
Customs will stamp your insurance at the border and give you a ‘705’ sticker. Once you have all the documents, send them to the DIV and you’ll get your Belgian registration plate within a few days. Alternatively, you can buy a new car from another EU country and import it, although you’ll only save money on certain models.
Procedures are as above for old cars, plus you must pay 21% VAT. You can delay payment of VAT on a car bought in Belgium for a pre-determined period by getting transit plates from the DIV. You may apply to have the period extended, but the authorities might refuse. Either way, you’ll have to pay VAT when you take the car out of the country and into another.
To drive a car in Belgium, you need to be at least 18 and have a valid driving licence from an EU country. Belgium also has agreements with most countries outside the EU, but you’ll need to exchange your licence at your local commune for a Belgian one. If you need to get a licence here, you will have to take a practical and a theory test, after following a course of mandatory lessons. You cannot take the test without the lessons.