Buying and leasing a car
As an EU citizen, you are free to buy or sell a car anywhere in the EU.
Your right to legal protection
Your rights when buying a car abroad – including the amount of VAT you have to pay – vary depending on whether:
- the car is new or used
- you are buying it from a professional car dealer or a private individual
- the seller is based in an EU country or not
You generally have the greatest level of legal protection when you buy a new car from a professional seller based in the EU.
Under EU consumer rights rules, you have a minimum of 2 years' guarantee if the car you purchased turns out to be faulty or not as advertised.
In some EU countries, the guarantee period may be reduced to no less than 1 year for used vehicles. The buyer and seller have to agree to this at the time of purchase.
Be aware that EU consumer rights do not apply to private sales, so you should be extremely cautious when buying a car from a private individual.
Check the car documents
When you buy a car abroad, make sure the seller gives you all the documents you need to register the car in the country where you live. Check that you have the original documents for the car.
Transport your newly purchased car
When you buy a new car in another EU country, you will need to consider carefully how to transport it home, as it will not yet be registered in the country where you live:
- You can tow the car home, hitching it to a fully insured and registered vehicle
- You can hire a specialised shipping company
- You can drive the car home yourself - for this you will need to get insurance and temporary number plates in the country where you buy the car
Make sure your insurance is valid and the plates recognised in all the countries you will drive through. As temporary number plates are not harmonised in the EU, you could find it difficult to obtain them or get them recognised by another EU country. Check with the relevant car insurance and registration authorities.
You should obtain your car's permanent number plate in the country where you register your car, which is usually the country where you live or have your permanent residence.
Irina bought a car in Germany and wanted to drive it home to Deva in Romania. The seller helped her get the temporary number plates and insurance valid for the 4 countries she would cross.
Unfortunately, in Hungary the police stopped her saying she was not entitled to drive the car through Hungary with those plates. In fact, the yellow plates she had were only valid in Germany. She received a fine and the plates were confiscated. In the end, she had to hire a transport company to take the car to Romania.
Moving abroad with a leased car
Be aware this might be difficult. When you lease a car, you can use it for the duration of the lease and have the option to buy the car at the end of the contract. However, before that the person or company leasing the car to you is the car's legal owner.
As you have to insure and register the car in your country of residence, you may also encounter problems if your insurance is not valid in the country you want to move to.
The person or company leasing the car to you may also be reluctant to agree to you registering the car in another EU country.
Zoltan took a new job in Germany and moved there with his family and took his leased car. After 6 months he found out he had to register the car in Germany so he could keep driving it there.
As the lease still had another 3 months to run, the leasing company, a Hungarian bank, did not agree to de-register the car in Hungary. In the end, Zoltan had to end the contract with the bank early and pay the additional fees.
For more detailed advice check the ECC-net recommendations on cross-border car purchases.
Check also the rules on vehicle inspection, seller responsibilities, contract of sale, temporary plates or who to contact in case of disputes or fraud in your country of purchase:
- Czech Republicczcsen
- United Kingdomgben
* Information not yet provided by national authorities