By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News website EU reporter
Greece stands accused of victimising drivers of foreign-registered cars - hitting them with huge fines and confiscating their vehicles for no reason.
That is the essence of a resolution adopted in February by the European Parliament, on the basis of petitions by citizens of several EU countries.
Until recently, the drivers were frequently charged with smuggling, and some have even spent time in police cells.
"I don't want to start describing the conditions. There were mice, no clean beds, no water, no nothing," one UK-based Greek businessman, Nikos Koutrouvelis, told the BBC News website.
"The film Midnight Express is a mild version of what we are going through."
Greek officials confiscated two Porsche sports cars from Mr Koutrouvelis, in 1995 and 1997, and fined him one-million-euros (£680,000).
London accountant Keith Salter, meanwhile, escaped with his ageing Daihatsu, but an eight-year legal battle against a 40,000-euro fine has cost him £20,000.
They are not alone. Greek lawyer Theodoros Asprogerakas-Grivas estimates that confiscations are currently running at the rate of about one per week, and that 2,000 vehicles have been seized since 1993.
Though some of those prosecuted have been car traders, many have been private citizens visiting Greece on holiday or on business.
The Greek government says that all are guilty of trying to evade paying registration tax on their vehicles.
But the European Parliament says that in the 25 cases it has studied the drivers were innocent and Greece was guilty of failing to apply European law.
The European Commission takes the same view, and launched proceedings against the country at the European Court of Justice in 2004.
The law in question is directive 83/182 of 1983, which says that a person resident in one EU country can keep a car for up to six months in another EU country before having to pay that country's car taxes.
One of the problems seems to be that the Greek authorities think it is possible for someone to live abroad, and yet to be defined as a "resident" of Greece - and residents are obliged to pay Greek registration and road tax.
One of Christos Rinis' cars was given to border police, who attached Russian number plates
Take the case of Petros Papadopoulos, a Greek living in Germany, who fell foul of customs on a visit to Greece in 2000.
According to his petition to the European Parliament, he showed officials a German residence permit, a ferry ticket showing he had arrived in Greece less than six months earlier, a document from the city authorities of Ingolstadt confirming that he had lived there since 1994 and a German driving licence dated 1995.
But this was not enough. Officials said he was a Greek resident, confiscated the car, and fined him 68,500 euros for not registering it.
For good measure, he has also been fined for not paying Greek road tax between June 1995 and February 2002.
The Parliament's resolution says all those who have filed petitions asking for MEPs' support "were able to give proof of their place of normal residence by appropriate means".
Both the Commission and the Parliament also say the Greek fines are out of proportion to the scale of the alleged offence and fail to take account of the "offender's" good faith.
The good faith of another Greek citizen living and working in Germany in the 1990s, Nikolaos Adamopoulos, would appear to have been accepted by a criminal court in 2001, which cleared him of smuggling and ordered that his car should be returned.
Unfortunately, customs had already auctioned the elderly Mercedes. And even today officials are demanding payment of a 300,000-euro fine for tax evasion.
Keith Salter can also provide strong evidence of good faith - he independently approached Greek Customs to check he could use a UK-registered car on occasional trips to a Greek island.
"They gave me a paper to say it was all right," he says.
"If you tell people what you are doing, how can you be a smuggler?"
Greece has not charged people with smuggling in such cases since a new law came into force in 2002.
An even newer bill, introduced to the Greek parliament in December, promises to limit fines to a maximum of 10,000 euros and would allow confiscation only in extreme cases.
It would also offer people in trouble under the old law the chance to pay a much reduced fine - as long as they admitted their guilt and dropped any claim for compensation.
One Greek lawyer advises anyone travelling to Greece by road to keep proof of the date they entered the country in the car at all times
The European Parliament resolution implicitly rejects this solution, stating that the petitioners "have a right to be properly compensated, bearing in mind the prejudice caused to their livelihood and good character".
The drivers most at risk of prosecution are Greek citizens living abroad, and non-Greeks who either travel frequently to Greece by car, or marry a Greek resident.
But one Greek lawyer advises anyone travelling to Greece by road to keep proof of the date they entered the country in the car at all times.
This may be enough to prevent prosecution, though there appears to be no guarantee.
Keith Salter now takes no risks and uses a hired car.
What happens to the cars after they are confiscated is, in Nikos Koutrouvelis' words, "a question".
Most are auctioned, but customs can also give them away to other branches of the state.
Christos Rinis, a businessman who had four Mercedes cars taken from him in the 1990s, regularly saw two of them in the town of Komotini, north-eastern Greece.
One, he says, was used by Greek border guards on the look-out for illegal migrants. The other was used for some years as a bishop's official limousine.
Mr Rinis says he kept a set of remote control keys, and was able to lock and unlock the doors as the cleric and his chauffeur glided past.
Have you been fined for driving a foreign-registered car in Greece? Tell us your experiences using the postform below.
I note with great sadness and disappointment that despite the Cashman report and the vote at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 14.02.2006, the Greek Economy Ministry - in the statement released to your newspaper - continues to refer to fines, confiscation of cars and sovereignty in the imposition of penalties, although it has made no comment on the established offences committed by the Greek state with regard to:
1) property rights
2) the right to the presumption of innocence
3) the free movement of goods and people in member states
4) the free operation of services in member states
5) the principle of proportionality in penalties
Above all, it has said nothing at all about how to repair the damage done to our petitioners.
This show, unfortunately, that nothing has changed in Greece, contrary to what was said by the Greek Economy Ministry.
P. Luludakis , Firenze ITALIA
Yes, Greece is in breech of EU laws and conventions and must be brought to book. As an EU citizen you are allowed to move between EU states, reside and work. You are also allowed to bring with you your personal goods and chattels without having to pay duty, and this includes your car. The 'six month rule' which applies across the EU is a personal exemption and applies to the registered owner of the car. It must not be driven by others. Greece used to charge an 'import duty' but was stopped from doing this. It now charges a 'registration fee'. Whereas in the UK the registration process is simple and inexpensive, in Greece it is complicated and very expensive. To register a car which in the UK may only be worth 500 GBP would cost at least 1700 GBP. You can see that this is not 'registration' but taxation and therefore illegal. Is this why people are reluctant to register their car and have Greek plates? Another reason why they may not want to change from UK plates to Greek plates is insurance. Those ex-pats, of whatever nationality, who choose to drive from Greece to another European country, find that their car is not comprehensively insured outside of Greece. You can only insure a Greek registered car in Greece and no Greek insurance company will insure comprehensively outside of Greece. The reason they give is 'it is not legal to do this' whether this is true or not I cannot say. If you have a UK registered car you can legally insure it for use in Europe and the premium will be significantly less than in Greece.
John , Crete, Greece
I own a rover 820 British plates 1997, which I bought in the UK at auction for 55 quid in 2005. I live & work here in Greece & was intrested in getting the registerd in Greece ,my wife who is Greek called the local registration office, who told her not to bother or worry about the car not being taxed or mot'd but as long at it was insured, it would not be a problem, we then called the main office in Patra, who gave us the phone number of a proffessional dealing with the registration of cars & he gave us a figure of 7,500.00 euros tax for a foreighner or 20% of that figure for a Greek to import, don't think I will bother as most of the Greek cars that are running around on our Island are not legal either!! Especially the 12 year old kids driving around on motorbikes without licenses, mot's, road tax or crash helmets! but they are insured, or so they say. The fact in Greece is that nobody is 100% legal & that includeds the police.
I am half Greek and when I lived on Crete in the 90's my car, which had been in the country for a month, was confiscated. My Greek family warned me of the huge fines I would be facing but I got off with a 20,000 drachma fine and considered myself lucky.
One thing that many people don't realise is that Greece and Crete especially have roads and villages designed for donkeys - not cars. Now that car ownership laws have relaxed, Heraklion, already rather congested, now looks like one big parking lot.
Paul McAfee, York, England
It's not that bad as it seems. I've been living in Greece for 2 years now and all this time I'm driving a car with belgian plates. I was stopped by highway police only once, and after checking my driving licence the policeman asked me about the plates which he couldn't recognise. I told him they're belgian and he let me go just like that.
Sophie Leclercq, Kalithea, Athens, Greece
I have a holiday property in Greece and would like to have a greek registered car to use when I'm there. I am not legally allowed to buy a car in Greece unless I apply to be a resident and get a residents permit. I do not want to apply to be a resident as I live in the UK all I want is to buy a car in Greece to use in Greece. No wonder people abuse the foreign car system and take their own ones over and take a chance!
, kirriemuir Scotland
I've lived in a number of countries over the years and taken my car with me. bought in the US shipped to the UK. Put it onto UK plates, straightforward as I'd owned it for more than a year. Couldn't import it to the Czech republic as they don't allow imports older than 5 years and less than 25 years. Moved to Greece and was asked for 325% of its original value (assessed by the customs org) to be allowed to register / import it. As I'd owned it for more than a year, a 65% discount on this value was offered. No refund if I ever exported the car. No alternative (restriction on sale to 3rd party) as an alternative to protect the local car traders. I was't profiteering, I've owned it for 10years. When the law isn't fair then only very few will accept it.
Neil, glasgow ,scotland
We lived in Crete for 18 months, moving with a foreign plate car. Police in Crete is nice and seldom stops motorists, even when it should be doing it! But they did stop us on several occasions. As soon as we showed that we were non greeks they would let us go. We heard that greek citizens with foreign registered cars may have tough times. However, one day we were the only car out of a multitude that got a parking ticket on a Heraklion packed with illegally parked cars: our car was the only one with foreign plates. When we complained the policeman told us that writing tickets to greek motorists was a waste of paper, whereas every now and then a foreigner ends up paying the fine! He "forgave" us when we told him that we actually lived in Heraklion and were not merely tourists.
Oscar Lima, Brighton, UK
I know lots of people with foreign registered cars who appear to think it is a game to avoid road tax payments plus keeping a car of the legal six months. It is a real problem here in Greece where the authorities are generally lax on this subject because they do have respect for guenuine foreign residents. Unfortunately it is the foreign residents who are often taking advantage of this 'filoxenia' (goodwill towards foreigners)that the coutry is famous for.
Patrick Warwick, Milos, Greece
The people that are having trouble with cars with foreign plates in Greece are almost exclusively Greek citizens or foreign car dealers that try to import luxury cars in Greece without paying the necessary taxes. The fines reflect pretty accurately the difference between the price that the paid abroad and the price in Greece. I have never heard of any law-abiding citizens having any problems. On the other hand I have myself lived and worked in Germany for the last few years where I registered my car and I pay all relevant taxes. None of my British colleagues has done so as required by the German law although they are here for more than six months but I did not see any articles about that on the BBC. It is easy to pick on the small guy (Greece in this case...)
Giannis Despotopoulos, Munich, Germany
It's pointless to bring the Greek State to the EU courts. This state has been continiously ignoring ECJ rullings since the day it joined the Union.
The EU institutions are totally powerless and incapable of enforcing their own laws.
Keep in mind that until recently one had to pay import duties(!) for all cars brought into Greece from the rest of the EU. After continous ECJ charges Greece just changed the name and the import tax became "registration tax", which continues to be ridiculously high!
Nikolas Tilaveridis, Bologna, IT & Thessaloniki, GR
It is not only bishops though. Those "orphan" cars are driven by police, family, people from the judiciary sometimes, whoever is able by means of power and connections to get his/her hands on them. The bottom line is that the EU bureaucrats are lazy and incompetent and they do not adress properly the relevent and simple issues of the EU integration. I don't want to bother myself thinking how they will address the complex ones. When you complain about Eastern Europeans and their vehicles, dear UK nationals, how would you comment on the prices they will charge you for your home renovation job. How do they compare with the bids of your local specialists? As far as Greece is concerned, it has been a non-compliant member of EU for a long, long time and car traffic and registration are not the biggest problems that this country has in this domain.
Nikolay, Sofia, Bulgaria
If Greece cannot follow the EU laws then it should not be a member of the EU. At one point my wife and I thought about moving there but after hearing these kind of stories we decided against it. Greece (and Crete) is beautiful with friendly people but its a pity that the Greek authorities would lower themselves to this level of abuse and unfairness.
G Brooks, Surrey, UK
I am impressed that a relatively obscure subject as driving with foreign plates, would illict so many responces. I guess one of the folks submitting comments nailed it best: we have to be careful taking a tax evasion scheme and making it a human rights issue.
George, Washington DC
The first time i travelled to Grrece by car i had to prove the day of entry with the ferry tickets (customs officers had abandon their posts at entry to Greece)and also i had to prove that i'm a perminant resident in England. I was warned that i had to take the car out of the country in six months time. I didn't do that and the car was seized.Simple as that. Law is law everywhere in the world.Second time i didn't bother to delcare the car at all, nobody ever asked any questions and the car is still up and runnig in Greece 4 years now! I know it is illegal but never came across any "monsters" who are after you. I think if you do what the law says then you have nothing to worry about.
After reading a lot of these contributions, I fear the biggest problem is that laws are applied at will, and there isn't any sign of consistency. I have lived in various EU countries, and I've experienced my share of these things. While the borders are opening, it seems that there are new ways to say, "we don't want foreigners here".
The taxes charged by the Greek Goverment for vehicles brought into the country by EU citizen is totally ridiculous.
The law hinders "free" travels within the EU.
The whole problem starts from the unbelievable high prices charged for second-hand cars in greece (value depreciation is minimal).
Welcome to greece of the 18th century.
In 1996, I came by car from Turkey to Greece. The greek border guard started ripping all the lining and cover-material from the inside of my car, obviously in search of drugs or something. They ripped of the panels from the insede of the doors and the material from the inside of the roof. Of course I didn't smuggle anything and they said I could continue my journey. When I asked who was gonna pay the damage they caused on my car, they suddenly didn't understand english. I complained to the police, who had a station at the border, but they 'suddenly' didn't understand anything. After I returned home, I complained to the Greek embassy about the damage on my car, but I never got any answer.
Roy van Arem, Järvenpää, Finland
Confiscating these cars was probably the only way to deter conmen from fleecing the state from millions of euros of taxes. This tax evading scam has been going on for more than 20 years and it has to stop somehow!
Greg Fanos, Ringwood England
Fair play for authorities to moderately fine for actual tax avoidance, but where it is controversial, and then to apply extortion rather than a moderate penalty is unacceptable. If this is the attitude of the Greek authorities, Greece will not be on my holiday list.
Alan Cooper, Aylesbury UK
I cannot answer for Greece but many expats living in Spain play fast and loose with not registering their cars in Spain in spite of living here for more than 6 months in a year. If caught by the Guarda Civil they deserve the book thrown at them especially as road tax is only a quarter of the UK costs and they are driving uninsured and have no Spanish MOT certificate.
Mike Godfrey, Denia, Spain
I work in Luxembourg, but my wife and children live in Holland. I have been stopped by the Dutch customs for driving my Luxembourg registered company car in Holland. Since they regard me as resident in the Netherlands, I was not allowed to drive my Luxembourg car on Dutch roads, without special permission from the Dutch government. Applying fo this permission was so arduous that I gave up in the end. So this problem in not peculiar to Greece.
Chris, Luxembourg, Luxembourg
When I taught at an international school in Spain, the police came to the school car park one day to check how many teachers were driving cars with foreign plates. The answer was most of them, and as someone from Greece has mentioned, many of these teachers would brag about having avoided Spanish tax for years.
As already indicated, a similar situation exists in Denmark, which imposes a 180 per cent (yes, 180%) on cars. The commission has not so far found grounds for prohibiting this practice, because the tax applies to all cars without difference. One might argue, however, that as it is in effect an import tax on a specific luxury good which is not produced domestically, it alters the trade balance in Denmark's favour by artificially lowering the amount of money Danish consumers can spend on imported luxury goods (i.e. cars), leaving them with more to spend on domestically produced luxury goods (which are subject to normal VAT of 25%).
Jeppe Sorensen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Insurance is a matter that nobody has touched! On an individual level, I know that a car can only be insured at the country which the licence plates are registered. On the other hand, no insurance company will provide cover (green card) for a car that is away from its registered country for more than 3 months. Hence, the car cannot be legally driven in the foreign country, unless a deal with the insurance company has been reached. The unfair issue in Greece is that the cost of switching licence plates to Greek is extremely higher than any other EU country. The reason being is that this process is being highly taxed. Isnt thus double taxation prohibited by EU law?? Doesnt that contradict with the freedom of movement pushed by the EU? If I live in the UK and have bought a car and paid VAT for it in the UK and then decide to move to Greece, Italy, and Spain, is it fair to be charged VAT again for each licence plate switch? Thanks.
C, E, London
Greece is not the only EU country subjecting EU citizens to unjustified and over-inflated penalties. Police officers in Spain have recently fined a friend of mine, who is a UK citizen, ¿700 for driving a Spanish registered car on a UK driving licence. The Spanish authorities have deemed a UK licence is not legal. So much for European harmonisation! The fine is, interestingly, roughly the same as the fine applied for drunk-driving.
Robert Howard, Barcelona, Spain
The Brits are every bit as bad as the rest! There are thousands of British cars over here, in France, that are still driving with British plates. Many of them have been here for much longer than 6 months. Most have neither a UK tax disc or a French insurance disc.
D Ewing, Poitiers, FRANCE
This is really about free movement of goods and people :I live in The Netherlands where a very high so-called "registration tax" of at least 30% that is applied to all sales of new cars, and of course to any cars that are imported from outside the Netherlands.
The European Commission should act to stop this extra tax that is in breach of the internal market. Why do we have a common market if its citizens cannot enjoy the benefits?
Jean-Marie, Almere, The Netherlands
Ive driven a italian car in uk for 6 months at a time, and then gone back, never got hassled etc. It is worth noting that although italian cars dont display a tax disc they do display an insurance disc, which is easy to check, so scare stories about no insurance is not always true. Really all these stories show what a joke the EU is, and how those who wish to comply find it difficult, it seems to encourage people to evade the law.
7 years ago when I moved from Greece to the Netherlands I had not only to change the driving plates of my car to Dutch ones but also to change my Greek (European) driving licence to a Dutch..... So, do not blame Greece, other countries are worst.
Mike, Paris, France
This story is symptomatic of the EU. I moved to Germany (from England) in 1998, I still had to obtain a residency permit, despite the so-called "freedom of movement and labour". The rules are interpreted differently by all the individual members of the EU. I think that people should be able to move freely inside the EU with their cars. I had a RHD car and knew that once my MOT and insurance ran out that I would have to stop using my car, as should something happen I wouldn't be insured. That is my only problem, that people are driving around without proper insurance. I scrapped the car, as to get the car to pass a German TÜV (MOT) and conform with the incredible amount of red tape would have been far too much work.
Regarding Portugal I believe the main problem are the laws (which do not comply with european law!)is as follows: I have a british reg car which I like a lot (1989 Audi), but after it being impounded by confiscating the papers (I had valid insurance) while I was trying to legalise it by changing the number-plate to portuguese. This costs well over the value of the car (3500 euros!)and of course doesn't make sencse. 90% of this cost actually vehicle tax - not road tax, which was already paid once when the car was bought new. If they charged a fair fee for changing the number plate then I (and many foriegners I know) would surely fully legalise the car and feel a lot better for it. The law in Portugal re this matter has needed changing for years - and yes they do make a packet off foriegn private cars.
Simon Wates, Lagos, Portugal
I shipped a Mustang from US and I was going to transit through Greece to get to Kosovo. I was hit with a 1000 Euro tax that noone could explain. I was told that I am lucky to be able to "Get off" this easy. A year later I shipped a Jeep and this time I went through Bulgaria. Well guess what I was hit with a 1700 Euro tax and we had an armed bodyguard in the vehicle to make sure that the vehicle left the country within 8 hours. Not sure whether this had something to do with the fact that I was Albanian or the fact that this is Balkan peninsula and people feel that EU or any other laws are void.
I, as thousands of other Greeks working abroad, will bring with me when I settle back home the most expensive car I can afford. Yes the prices are still ridiculously high in Greece for upper range cars, yes all Greeks living abroad plus their families and friends want to exploit this loophole and friends and yes, evading tax is the national sport of Greece. For hundreds of years it's always beem citizen vs state, who outsmarts who.
Nick, Greek in London
When I lived in Greece I used to have a UK-reg car bought here, and every year used to drive it back to the UK for its MoT. Had I ever been asked when I arrived in Greece with it, I could have told the police absolutely anything as no documents were ever checked on arrival at Patras. Expats living on one of the islands (I won't name it) were allowed to keep and tax EU-reg cars there, but every six months the police impounded the vehicles for six months, to keep them sort of legal. Most people I knew in Athens with EU reg cars never worried, and I never heard of anyone having a problem.
What the article does not say is that the European Parliament grossly overestimates the number of situations. Indeed for the majority of cases, the case is either (i) currently pending before the courts or (ii) settled between the persons involved and the Greek State. The European Parliament report therefore conspicuously looks like a tentative to apply undue pressure on ongoing court proceedings...
N.P., Paris / NY
In my frequent visits to my northern greece home town i have often encountered potential "victims" of this greek policy. Apparently they all drive up-market new cars bearing plates from ex-eastern european neighbour countries and they (all!) boast of evading the greek taxman.
I wish the BBC was more careful than presenting a largely tax-evading business as a "violation of human rights"!!!
Christos Kottas, London, England
Whether this is a scam and whether the victims are telling the truth or not, fines of upto 1million euros is rediculous.
Well at least now we know not only to not go plane spotting in Greece but not to go in our own cars too!
What a stupid tax. If peopole are going to all this trouble and succesfully evading payment clearly the Greek government needs to get its revenue in another way, one that it can enforce properly.
DC, Milan, Italy
I use to live in France for some years and I got a car there which I brought to Greece with French plates, I had a house in France and paid all the taxes I needed to, for two years No one asked me any questions... one day I was talking on my mobile in the car and passed through a red light, nearly occasioning an accident with a police car. The police didn't fine me nor even stopped me, they merely came next to me and yelled in Greek "DO YOU DRIVE LIKE THIS IN FRANCE??!!" I smiled at them and they left thinking I am French. The point of my story is that the Greek police officers rarely enter the hassle of trying to talk to some one who dose not understand the language and most importantly that they really care about Greeks who import cars illegally in to the country and do not pay taxes in Greece nor in the country the car came from. In Greece avoiding taxes is a national sport and I firmly believe that any law abiding citizen who enters a foreign car in Greece for a period less than 6 months will never have any trouble.
As for "remove[ing] license plates for "illegal" parking" pointed out by Rob from St. Petersburg I must remind that license plates on Greek cars are the property of the government, and are issued with the gov seal, so they are entitle to take them at their discretion, this dose not apply to foreign licence plates and thus the police is not allowed to take them and will contempt themselves with a fine. Any one who has seen illegal parking in Greece and especially in Athens will justify it.
Alex D, Athens Greece
Why shouldn't someone from Greece buy a car in say Germany at much lower prices - wasn't the whole point of the EU to be free trade - or is that only for big businesses - no wonder people see less and less point of the EU.
Additionally why shouldn't I drive in country A if I've paid tax and car is fully tax paid and registered in country B IF we are a United Europe?
Ian, Welsh Expat
It wasn't until I read the comments from "Tom, southampton" that I understood what all the fuss is about. Road tax in the US - and in Poland - is paid at the fuel pump. It couldn't possibly be easier. The rest of the EU with your conflicting and byzantine road tax collection systems can go get stuffed. Make it easy and people will pay it. Simple.
, Kraków, Poland
Local officials have been consiscating cars for at least 20 years to my knowledge and sometimes the cars have ended up owned by customs officers or their family members.
Edward James Wilkes, Southport, England
In Greece you can have a car, with foreign plates on it, for six months. After that either you pay to get the greek plates or you go back to the country where your car is registered, and then you can safely return to Greece. It's very simple and clear. That's how the law works, and as long as you know it, you have to follow the rules. If you want to risk it, you can easily ignore the laws but then don't have the nerve to complain if you get caught. Anyway, the fact is that almost all the cars in this situation are luxury cars that are usually bought as "second hand" in Germany. You can find a BMW Z3 in Germany for 15.000 ¿, whereas in Greece the same car can cost you up to 20.000 ¿. One thing that's sure is that tourists don't have any problems visiting Greece by car. Every summer you can see thousands of foreign cars, especially Italian ones, and no-one has any trouble with the plates. Whoever is afraid of having any trouble during his vacations in Greece, please don't visit us. I promise, we won't miss you at all.
Dimitris, Athens, Greece
If you are visiting Greece by car, you can use the car, tax free for 6 months of a year. Beyond that you are expected to pay customs fees, which are indeed exhorbitant, if the car is over 1.6cylinders.Many foreigners, of Greek descent or not,leave a car with foreign plates in Greece after they leave. It is "locked" at the parked space, by a customs officer and stays duty free. On the next visit, a small fee is paid to "unlock it" again by the customs officer. A person is allowed to leave the country multiple times in a year and still drive a duty free car, so long as the max. accumulated time of the car in the country is not over 6 months/year. A person can have duty free status up to an accumulated 2 year period (that is the max. accumulated time a car is driven in Greece, and does not apply when it is "locked" by customs). So, one can actually have a duty free car for many years in Greece, if one visits a few weeks or months per year.
As far as driver's licences are concerned, Greeks are not stupid. Most of them actually speak some English and contrary to what a dr.wrote here, they would not mistake an ad of a chinese takeout for a driver's licence. They do expect to see an international driver's licence these days, but often lets you go if you dont have one (depends on the officer). Unfortunately, for those foreign residents that want to buy a car with local plates they have the problem not only of taxes but passing and paying annually for KTEO, which is compulsory for used cars. This can be timeconsuming, expensive and annoying when one goes on vacation. Thus, many use foreign cars to avoid this.
Car rentals in Greece are very expensive for the size. Many rental companies are also looking for a chance to find fault when you return the car and then charge exhorbitant amounts on your credit card (for gas, when the car was returned full, or for a ticket, you never incurred).
It true, most Greeks living abroad have been evading this registration tax for years, and rightfully so. The amount it would cost to register your plates was exorbitant and as such, the loophole was the only way to avoid it. If the government had mad the amount palatable, they would have made millions of much needed money over the years from returning vacationing greeks.
Jim, Toronto, Canada
I lived in Greece for 10 years and most foreigners going to live there take their car with them and try to claim for years that they are leaving the country within 6 months so they don't have to pay the road tax etc. A scam such as this would be picked up on in the UK very quickly whereas in Greece people have been getting away with it, till now!
We lived in Ireland for 5 years and after returning to the UK for about 3 years, we went back again to sell our property. Visitors and even temporary residents were having their cars confiscated all the time, one of the reasons given for this, was the person visiting had allowed a resident of Ireland to drive their car?
Joseph Cronshaw, Bolton, UK
If you think it is bad in Greece, come to Spain! Here there are countless ex-pats driving around in British registered cars with out of date tax discs with no intention of paying either UK or Spanish road tax. The road worthiness of these vehicles is not being checked and any insurance the driver has may not even be valid, but it doesn't stop them. Here they are politely called "residential tourists" - they live full time in Spain, but still use the UK for benefits, medical care, etc.,
Barry Taylor, Valencia
I kept my car in France for two years, tore up parking tickets and let the speed cameras flash away merrily. Even when I would reenter France from Switzerland with a tax disc one year out of date, the authorities would smile and wave me on my way back to the yacht on the Riviera where I worked tax-free! Long live the EU
Niall Polley, Muscat, Oman
Here's some backing about the carelessness about foreign registered cars in the UK.
Having lived in London for about 4 years and driving around with a car with german license plates for two years I have to admit, that nobody really cared - at least the police didn't. MOT and tax declaration were long overdue, but at least I cared for an insurance to be on the saver side. I sold the car for 800 quid, cash on the hand and no questions asked. Actually it was nearly twice the sum I paid for. Great...
A.J., Munich, Germany
I took my car to Sweden for a year a long time ago. Didn't get any speeding tickets even though I was 'flashed', and didn't pay and parking tickets either. The British system is too forgiving of foreign registered cars - just like Sweden was all those years ago - and it's time UK laws were changed to catch the abusers.
I travel frequently to Scotland in my Italian registered car, complete with Italian road tax and insurance. No one in Britain has ever asked me to produce documentation of any kind, or enquired why, with my unmistakable Scottish accent, I am driving a car with foreign plates!
Sandra , Padua, Italy
I had a simialr situation in Ibiza, Spain. The Guardia Civil would fine people for driving non-spanish registered vehicles despite being in thr EU!?
Dave, London UK
I have been quite a few times in Spain myself and I strongly think you are unfair and out of order. Next time check out how many cars from the UK are in there not paying any taxes and how many have been stopped and fined by the Guardia Civil. You will also be suprised if you are checking out how many British residents are paying taxes not in France or Spain but in the UK and at the mean time using roads and hospitals that the people from these two countries have built and paid.
Francis, Paris, France
The law says that you can only use a foreign-registered car in Greece for a maximum of 6 months in a year (based on the dates of entry/exit stamped on a special document issued on arrival). If one wishes to use the vehicle longer they need to get greek number plates and pay (one-off) excise duty. The main reason for this arrangement is to deter individuals going on a shopping spree in Europe to buy expensive cars, which are much cheaper. The amount of excise duty due (which can be in the tens of thousand of euros for expensive cars) is roughly based on how much the car costs in Greece and how much it costs elsewhere; exaclty aiming to claw back the tax evaded. It is not a coincidence that almost all the cars that fall foul of this law are Porshes and above often owned by celebrities or businessmen trying their luck.
Britain is the place to go with a foreign car. I was there with my Irish car for 18 months, paid nothing, picked my own speed limit, parked wherever I liked, got photographed at least two dozen times for speeding and paid nothing. Great; would highly recommend it.
POC, Dublin Ireland
All Polish registered cars must have OC, that is third party insurance. This insurance is legal not only in Poland but in the EU. Green cards are no longer necessary but bail bond insurance for Spain is. True the road tax is in the fuel costs. I drive often my Polish registered car to the UK. I have been stopped by police and asked why I am driving on foriegn plates and why don't I have road tax. I am also asked for car documents at customs at Dover and proof of how long I intend to stay. So... it's not quite as easy as you think. Okay, speed cameras and parking tickets is something else.
Alan, Warsaw, Poland
The Netherlands are very "hot" on the issue of none-Dutch cars, if you car is seen for a long period in a town, you can expect a visit from the Douane (Customs) many of my colleagues have been stopped and issued a warning after only 3 months in the Country.
Andrew (The Netherlands), NL
Considering Greece as a top tourist destination and treating tourists visiting Greece like criminals is insane, what a "nice" Post-Card. Be aware that the Eurovision Song Contest is due to take place in Athens, DO NOT take your vehicle with you.
Paulo Castro Garrido, Lisbon, Portugal
I own a Land Rover in Greece with USA Plates on it. I have been stopped by the police during my holiday one month visits and found that the border patrol units are something of a joke. On one occassion I stopped and when they asked for my vehicle registration papers, I gave them a take-out chinese menu that was in my glove box instead. They read it and gave it back to me saying, that all was in order.
Dr. J. Ts., Phoenix, Arizona, USA
I'm sure DR J.Ts of Phoenix must be exploiting an 'urban myth' with regard to the Chinese Takeaway Menu story. Reminds me of the old(and probably untrue ) story of the guy from Edinburgh some years ago who allegedly hired a car in Athens on the strength of producing a Portobello Swimming Pool concession ticket in lieu of a drivers licence...!
Ricky, Orkney, Scotland
The Chinese Take-away menu story is not entirely impossible, as long as Dr J. Ts (of Arizona) had some Chinese apperance.
Being a Danish person who studied at a university in Ankara during mid 80's, I have observed how the students from Arabic countries got away by showing their "driver's licences" to the Turkish Police who could not read the Arabic letters. So, any decent looking ID with Arabic letters would pass as a "driver's licence"!
C.Rovsing, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
A large number of Greeks have cars with foreign registration plates. They avoid paying road tax, etc but purchasing a return ticket to italy for the car every few months. I am also very suprised with the comment of Dr. J. Ts., Phoenix, Arizona, USA. It is obvious it is just not true.
Having driven in Greece, its a shame they don't put as much effort into prosecuting bad drivers. They are terrible and have no idea of safe driving
Thats the EU for you.They call it a union but its still a joke.Everyone is still isolated and subject to internal rules instead of a one all rule for EU.No wonder you have so many problems.Too bad there isnt a leader who could jell the EU into solidarity for countries as one instead of individualistic laws and principalities for each.Greece is renegading its own and subjecting itself for a major fall.
I'm surprised by "M," 's comments: although the EU is moving at speed, we are still all different and unique, with our own history , languages and legal systems.
I think "individualistic laws and principalities for each" cannot just disappear overnight.
Instead of Greece, France and the UK, imagine Canada, Mexico and the USA. See how complicated this is? I think the results are pretty good considering how long it's been going.
Cecile , London, UK
Please! The LAST thing we need is a pan-EU road tax system. Can you imagine what the rates would be? Its bad enough that the EU has decided that no one country can have a VAT rate below 15%. Even now we have certain countries complaining that other certain coutries have too low a rate for corporate tax. The reason there are many cars on the road from new EU memembers is because the UK is a desirable place to live, make money and raise a family. Lets keep it that way.
Jonathan, London, UK
I drive a car registered in a different state here in Indiana to avoid unnecessary charges! We all do it.
Fred Mambo, Bloomington, Indiana
You only have to drive through south London any day of the week to see the number of Polish registered cars and builders vans are way out of proportion to people on holiday here. It's a tax dodge that our speed camera happy police dont have the guys to deal with.
And as i work for a road engineering company, here is a little statistic you might like to hear. 34% of all road traffic accidents on the M25 involve a foreign registered heavy goods vehicle, yet they only account for less than 3% of the traffic. Not quite so funny anymore is it?
Duncan Gibb, London, England
In at least 95 percent of these cases the 'victims' are not telling the whole truth. It is a well known scam often involving a Greek working or living abroad and a relative working or living in Greece. In other cases it involves a Greek returning to Greece (for retirement) , brings with him a tax free car and stays out of te tax system with the hope that his tax free car will not be caught by the system. There are British registered cars permanently in Greece, Uk roa taxed and insured - with the MOT obtained from some friendly London garaages .... etc etc
I agree with AG of London. Too many people try to evade taxes, and the system is having difficulty addressing the problem due to the complexities involved. The obvious solution would be either a harmonization of policies across the EU, or a single EU-wide system which will still allow member states to allocate their fair share of taxes collected. This will make it easier for citizens to pay taxes and harder to evade them, whilst protecting the truly innocent. With all this talk of open borders and free movement, I'm surprised that such an EU-wide practice has yet to be created.
The rules are clear. Any Greek or Foreign National person who moves to reside permanently in Greece, is allowed to import and continue using foreign plates for 6 months period and then has to register the car and get Greek number plates and pay supposedly reduced duties.
The problem is that the Greek state is still charging very high import and other duties, which amount nearly to half the price of a new car, so these persons try with various ways, friends etc to avoid paying these taxes and still drive these luxury cars.
The tax office uses the engine size of your car as a measure to asses your income in your tax returns but if the car is registered under the name of o person living permanently abroad then you don't have to report it in your tax returns, thus not paying the correct income tax.
Anybody who visit Greece by car and follow the rules and takes the car out of the country during the 6 months allowed period has no problem.
Y.P. London, UK
I have lived in US since 1986. I am a Greek citizen and also considered a permanent resident of a foreign country. If you follow the proper law and procedure in Greece with your vehicles, you will never have trouble. I have never paid any bribes of any sort in Greece. Contrary to your misconceived beliefs, good faith and a nice courteous discussion, goes long ways in Greece. Every year, while vacationing in Greece, I go to the Customs Office and get the appropriate temporary registration for my foreign vehicle that was imported in Greece. The fee for the temp registration and insurance is modest and fair, the people are courteous even though the paperwork takes about 2-3 hours to complete (my record is 1.5 hours) and you are legal with your Foreign Registered Vehicle for 1-6 months, whatever period you select. Once you are ready to depart, simply spend another hour at the Customs Office and you are good to go and come back next time. Follow the law, be nice and be happy. Greece is far better than the UK or the US in this and many other matters. Trying to cheat this system by avoiding the small tax and registration fees is ridiculous and deserves to be punished.
Aristotelis, Chicago, USA
Some people will always play the system while loop holes exist. Paying road tax at the pumps seems a good idea. Don't bring your UK cars here for more than 6 months otherwise you will have a big problem. I have seen UK cars here without tax or MOT's perhaps the owners have declared a SORN in the UK!
J Riordan, Fethiye, Turkey
I can also confirm that there seems to be one law for foreign registered cars and another for British residents. I know a French registered VW that is parked and used regularly in my street that shows a foreign licence disc. As this disc doesn't have any expiry date you don't know if it is out of date. Even my local beat bobby doesn't know the law or what to do about this car. The DVLA is hot on British registered cars as is the police on cars driven without MOT or Insurance. The Foreign cars here seem to be getting away and breaking all the laws in UK. It is about time this was stopped.
As to the report of cars being impounded because they assume a Greek, although he has moved out of the country, is still resident in the 'old' country is just beyond belief and this law should be abolished.
Dee,, Winchester, England
The Swiss have a good system- if the vehicle entering the country is foreign registered the occupier has to pay a sum for a 'license' at the border control that lasts until 31st Dec of the year. Obviously the bureaucrats in Brussells would not agree to the implementation of such a system in Britain.
A Marshall, York
Switzerland has it right, you pay road tax at the border to get in. A simple check would mean any outstanding traffic offence stops you getting out.
Perhaps we should also charge road fuel duty on imported fuel in vehicles' tanks.
MWW, Chelmsford Essex
Both the comments about Switzerland are wrong. The tax imposed at the borders is for the motorway tolls, not car tax at all. If you do not take the vehicle on the motorway you do not have to pay.
Chris Cherrington, Luxembourg
I'm afraid you got it wrong about the "road tax" at the border.
What you are paying is the "highway toll sticker" that allows you to drive on the highways for the current year.
If you intend to stay in Switzerland for an extended period and are driving your car, you can fully expect a visit from the police after a very short time, not just for your car, but also to check if you have a visa to stay and/or work in the country...
Folco Banfi, Lugano, Switzerland
Would it not be possible to have something of a toll tax system for cars entering at the border. They would simply get a ticket and when leaving return the ticket which has them stamped with the entry date. In this case, unlike Switzerland, where you pay until Dec31st, you would just pay for the time you have been in the foreign country.
Monika Kochhar, New York, USA
I too have noticed a proliferation of foreign-registered cars on the streets, certainly without tax, and no doubt lacking insurance/MOT. And I have heard similar horror stories of accidents involving foreign-registered lorries. Perhaps we should take a more "Greek" approach to these cars and lorries and start impounding them? Why not?
I sent a question regarding foreign cars on UK roads to my local MP. I was assured that the foreign registered cars were part of a europe wide scheme to record tax, ownership etc. I wasn't convinced at the time and having read all this correspondence I am even less so.
SAM, Reading, England
Foreign drivers appear to be able to use our roads with impunity, when I reported an accident to the police involving an east European driver who had no licence, insurance, tax, or mot I was appalled to find out no action was to be taken against the driver, the explanation was "they are too much hassle" had it been me at fault my feet would not have touched the ground.
Ian. D., merseyside
Number of cars with foreign registered plates , especially from the new EU members states, has indeed grown and there is not much that can be done about it under the current European laws. However, the British licensing system does not help to keep this trend in checks either. In Poland, for example, vehicle owners pay road tax which is included in the the price of fuel. Therefore, anyone driving over there is paying road tax right at the petrol station. This may seem a bit strange but if a similar system were introduced in the UK, a Pole or Lithuanian would have no way of avoiding contributing to the maintenance of the British roads.
I wouldn't advise driving to greece to watch an airshow then.
Geoff, Durham, UK
I'm amazed how a discussion about some very questionable practices of the Greek government turned immediately into East-European bashing. I've seen at least as many French or German cars on UK roads as Polish ones. As for my own experience, I found out that to import my car from Belgium to the UK legally, I would have to have the headlights replaced (at a cost of around £300), have mph readings added to the speedometer and obtain a 'certificate of comformity' from the manufacturer (at a fee of £50). So I was expected to spend something in the neighborhood of £400 to make my car legal and at the same time to bring its resale value to almost zero: who would want to buy a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side for the UK and with the wrong kind of headlights for continental Europe? I leave it up to you to guess how I resolved this dilemma.
I agree that its a bad situation for the people involved in having their cars taken from them, but the situation needs to be addressed in the UK as well. There are simply too many foregin drivers without adequate insurance or tax driving around the streets of the UK. We do need a level playing field for all drivers across Europe and not one extreme to another as is the case at present.
K M, slough UK
I couldn't agree more with the comments about foreign registered cars in the UK. Our local council (Hounslow) even hands out one year residents' parking permits to them - although they might not be properly insured and certainly don't pay road tax. Yet the DVLA acknowledge this is a problem - another example of "joined up Government"
P S, Chiswick
Actually, Denmark does the same thing to people considered to be residents. For citizens and former residents, the onus is on you to prove you are resident abroad (and not merely no longer living in Denmark). One man I heard of got hit with a £30,000 fine. He had moved to Germany years earlier. He moved out of his flat just before the summer holidays, as he was moving to a different part of Germany after the holidays, and put his furniture in storage for a month. During that month he visited Denmark by car, where he got stopped by the police. He was charged with the illegal import of a car. The court found that since he had currently no fast abode in Germany, he was by default resident in Denmark, and therefore guilty as charged.
David Douglas, North Jutland, Denmark
Why are there so many xenophobic contributions about "Eastern European" drivers on Britain's roads? The likely reason they don't have tax disks on display is that many European countries don't operate a tax disc system (they have records to tell who paid tax), or if they do, then the disc is attached to the licence plate and not in the front window. Also, do you really think "West European" continental drivers are more likely to pay UK road taxes than "Eastern European" drivers?
Jan Fischer, Oxford, UK
Interesting the posts about Lithuania. I (UK citizen) bought and drove a car there. The biggest difference was that there are far more police on the road whoe can issue on the spot fines. Indeed, most Poles/Lithuanians in the UK are astounded that there are so few traffic police here. In Lithuania, there is no road tax, (it's paid by a levy on companies -- crazy or what!) and only third party insurance is compulsory. MOT tests are every two years, and the average age of a car is much older than here. Now they are bringing their cars over here.
The issue in Greece only highlights another problem in the EU. We are supposed to have a common market where prices are comparative. Yet, cars are very differently priced and the price of a car can be as much as 100% more than the cheapest country. Until the EU solves these differences or extends the period to more than 6 months, the whole concept of an open and fair market in nonsense.
You know, all this car registration problem coulkd be sorted out by having an EU-wide car registration database. At a time when UK politicians are seriously discussing an ID card with iris-scan data and therefore a national iris scan database, which would be hundreds of thousands of times more complicated, a europe-wide car registration system would be simple. Allowing any EU driver to MOT (or whatever local equivalent) his car, tax it and insure it in whatever EU country he was currently living or working would be relatively simple. The trouble is it would take power away from local beaurocrats-something they are unwilling to accept. Basically however, this fuss is a good indication that despite the tens of thousands of beaurocrats working in Brussels, and despite the tens of billions of tax payers' euros spent on running the EU each year, it is a toothless organisation both unable and unwilling to combat "rogue states" within the EU that take financial advantage of EU memb!
ership, but are unwilling to follow the rules.
Dave Pim, Trieste, Italy
It's an EU wide problem with need for standardisation to protect ordinary tax payers. I went to Urbanizacion Camposol, Mazarron, South Eastern Spain where most cars are UK registered (some tax discs are from 5 years ago) and the Spanish authorities let them get away with it. Many EU migrant workers to UK never register their cars in the UK. I see cars from Poland, Latvia, Italy, Spain, Slovakia and Czech Republic in use daily on UK roads - some may have been here for years - I find it amazing that they are using our roads for free. If you are unfortunate to be involved in an accident you will find that they arent insured either. Time for governments to crack down.
The answer to the problem of road tax evasion is quite simple: put the tax on petrol and display an insurance disc in the windscreen.
Richard, Cambridge, UK
This opens up a complex EU issue where cars cross borders and are then no longer taxed or insured. In Southern Spain there are many vehicles (even left-hand drive models) bearing UK registration plates that have no tax discs, appear to be in poor condition and are probably not road worthy.
I fully agree with Ian Walford's comments. Many Eastern European cars are seen in the West Midlands. They do not appear to be just visiting and usually have no foreign equivalent tax disc showing at all. Why are their numbers not recorded on entry to the UK to enable future checking and clamping if appropriate?
Bob Fletcher, Birmingham
This is something we should do here, the number of dangerous and illegal eastern european vehicles that I see on the roads every day is astounding. I have seen 2 instances of extremely dangerous loads on trucks and a car which was making more smoke than a bomfire. When I report this to the police they tell me they have no powers to enforce UK regulations on an vehicle in transit in the UK. So UK residence have to bear the cost of maintaining roads, legislation and services for other countries nationals to flout.
Iain Sample, Camberley
I suspect that when the Police tell Iain Sample that
"... they have no powers to enforce UK regulations on an vehicle in transit in the UK."
they are being a liitle economical with the truth. Road regulations apply to ALL vehicles on the road. If the vehicle is being carried by a lorry then it is in transit, if it is on the road then it is not. The police need to pull there fingers out and stop just creaming off the easy targets.
david, Bedford, UK
Portugal use to do a similar thing when I lived there in the 90's. They would give you a chance to take it over the border to Spain after the 6 months, if they liked you that is, and if you agreed to be acompanied by a policeman. A German freind of mine agreed to this and removed all the seats except the driver's seat so the the policeman had to sit on the floor and listen to German tecno music full blast from Lagos to the border about 5 hours in his car.
jonathan hall, chester uk
jonathan hall from chester, i like your German friends style!
It's a shame this doesn't happen here, I see lots of Polish and Lithuanian cars on the road that aren't taxed here. One local student even laughs about the fact that he doesn't have to pay insurance.
Ian Walford, Essex
So many stories so many thoughts about cars and the EU. How to keep it simple ? A few anecdotes. Taking a German-registered VW Beetle (I was resident in Cologne at the time) through Dover customs and being asked if I had anything to declare. Well, no. I was simply going home for a short period. Later trying to register the same car in GB, I realised I had smuggled the largest single object I had ever purchased because i was sitting in it. It all got sorted in the end. Another story: when East Germany was just, still East Germany, I drove to Berlin. At the border checkpoint for the transit route I was asked for papers, passport etc. Then: your car papers, please. Uh-o! Germans are required to have them at all times. Technically Brits are supposed to as well, but mine were at home in the UK. What to do? So (with a straight face) I presented this po-faced woman border guard with my MOT certificate. She actually smiled, wished me a safe journey and let me drive on to Berlin. There are many more where that came from. But I echo the sentiments expressed by many above. It is about time there was pan-EU ruling/system about insurance, tax, etc. One further aside, i discovered recently that AA cover only relates to breakdowns, not accidents or vandalism. So you take out 5 Star cover for EU travel and have a shunt. Is that covered? Will you get home ? Cheers DR
david rochester, Beckenham UK
I lived in greece for 31 years arriving back in 1974 (Military in charge) - over the years I experienced many problems - but back at the begining I used to go in and out of Greece every 4 months using a different passport and coming in a different port (Cofu - thru Yugoslavia and Patras) being careful always to exit the same one I entered in - then everything was hand written in a ledger. Getting an extention was not difficult but consisted of paying BRIBES to customs officers.
The one thing that still erks me is that Greek Police remove license plates for "illegal" parking - though often its only the foreign registered or hired cars hit first. This removal ( illegal under any laws I can think of - because this is like removing your front door of your house!) of your private property is unfair and unnacceptable. Yes tow away and fined as in other countries - but keeping the plates from 10 to 30 days is tantamount to stealing.
Greece is a wonderful country with wonderful peaople and I love them all, except their laws and the corruption within the forces which is widespread and has not changed. You can STILL BUY your way out of trouble.
Rob, St. Petersburg Russia
The EU Commission last month announced that new measures were going to be taken to crack down on bad driving by foreign drivers all over the EU member states, who apparently account for about 35% of all accidents across the EU. This is likely to close loopholes - and with some countries these are already closed - whereby foreign drivers (not just those from non-EU countries but from right across the EU too) can break speed limits outside their home count