For those of you following this Blog, this probably is a post you have been waiting for - when will these self-described car geeks finally write about cars? Well, today’s the day, since today we celebrate the first of our cars being on Finnish plates, or “between plates” as Finns say!
Since we brought three cars (two classics and Ole) with us to Berlin, we had the amazing opportunity to experience different ways of importing. Yep, there’s a whiff of irony there.
Arriving in Finland with a car
First things first - one might think that just keeping the car running on the well-established taxes and insurance from one's country of origin is an option. It isn't. Since almost all countries in the world charge road tax from their car-owning residents, keeping a car on foreign plates is tax evasion, so importing is a must.
Generally speaking, what makes importing a car to Finland from within the EU special is that even though it’s the common economic area, you have to pay customs charges if you bring a car into Finland. Wait! Did I say customs charges? That would be illegal under EU rules, of course there are no customs charges - there’s an import tax. Massive difference.
On the upside, though, dealing with cars shows the amazing power of the Finnish digital government services in action, so most of the things you have to do you can do from your sofa using a laptop. The first thing you have to do is filing a declaration of vehicle use - that ends the tax evasion situation. Use starts, of course, the second you roll off the ferry onto Finnish soil. It's easily done by entering the registration data into MyTax. In theory, as my friend Maksim the Happy Panda Driver pointed out, this has to happen within five days after entering the country. We did not know that and only did it a few days later with the first car we brought over - but the form accepts earlier dates as well without consequences.
At the same time, you have to file a car tax return, which also is done in MyTax. Once you did that, you are free to use the car on your home countries’ plates until the import tax decision has been made. A two-page document that confirms you filed your tax return will be provided in MyTax - you have to print it out and keep it in the car.
Import tax is based on age, mileage, and assumed value of the car. Finns describe it as "rolling the dice" due to it's randomness - and if the amount of tax is outrageously high filing a complaint against the decision in MyTax most likely will shave a few Euros off the bill.
Getting your car insured
In order to proceed further with the registration process, not surprisingly, you will need insurance for your car. And once again, since car insurance is tied to country of registration, keeping your old one is not an option.
The absolute minimum you need is liability insurance, or Liikennevakuutus in Finnish. If you want, you can also get comprehensive coverage, Kasko in Finnish. And again, like in most countries, there is a discount system for years of claim-free driving. What is weird and different from other countries is that you start at a discount level of twenty to forty percent with no accident-free years to your name, so comparing fees for example to the German system, where you start with a 25% penalty on top of the standard insurance fee, requires some exceling. See this example bonus chart from insurance company Pohjola. The good thing is that unlike in most other countries, Finnish insurances accept proof of claims-free years abroad, so if you can provide a letter from your old car insurance confirming these claims-free years, you will start at a large, if not full bonus. Additionally, since a working digital framework is a great thing to have, once one company has accepted your proof, the bonus level is stored in a national database and automatically applied by all insurance companies. Sadly, that also means that if there is a claim, all insurance companies know about it.
When you got your proof of claims-free years, it’s time to shop around. It makes sense to talk at least to the three main insurance companies LähiTapiola, If, and Pohjola. Their prices differ vastly, at least for slightly obscure cars like ours. Also they all give discounts if you have all your insurances with them, so keeping that discount and the different prices for, say, home insurance, in mind is important. Then, Pohjola is part of coop bank op, so as an op customer you may get some extra discount, LähiTapiola fees are eligible for S-Group bonus points, and so on. It also makes sense to talk to salespeople on the phone and try to haggle a bit - since they get a personal bonus for each deal closed, they may give you some extra off to seal a deal. Building an excel file with a motivational name like “Insurance Nightmare” is definitely recommended if you want to get the best possible deal.
Most insurances have three different categories they put cars into:
Regular cars Basically your daily driver, from a new car fresh off the dealer lot all the way to a end of life beater.
Hobby cars While the definitions vary, a hobby car generally is an old car (25 years or older) that you use as a hobby during one part of the year, so declaring the car off the road for a fixed amount of months might be part of the terms and conditions. Hobby car insurance might be cheaper and/or come with a higher kasko coverage sum than regular insurance.
Museum cars This is for cars that are museum registered - close to or completely perfect classic cars of at least 30 years age, which are only driven to be exhibited at classic car shows. These insurances are super cheap and provide excellent coverage, but limit the use of the car to 30 days a year(!).
Not all insurance salespersons I talked to know about the full portfolio of their employer - so if you see something on an insurance's website the salesperson tells you does not exist or is not on offer, ask to talk to a specialist colleague.
Since your car does not have Finnish plates yet the insurance can be tied to, the insurance company will ask for your car’s VIN number to notify Traficom, the Finnish DMV, of your valid insurance policy. This also means that you do not need any paper proof from the insurance when you go to register your car - it’s all confirmed digitally.
Getting the car between finnish plates: Import inspection and registration.
This step can either be done immediately after filing a declaration of use, or only when the import tax decision has been made. In any case, after import inspection, your country of origin’s registration ends, and you have to register your car in Finland.
First things first - if you buy a car in Finland, registration is super simple: Since license plates stay with the car, all you have to do is to use the digital certificate the seller gave you on Traficom’s (the Finnish DMV’s) website and transfer the car to your name.
But as with you as a human being, getting into this amazingly simple system is the tricky part,and in this caes, it's a two-step process.
The first thing you have to do is an import inspection. This can be done at any of the many Autokatsastus (inspection) stations around. You will need the title (proof or ownership) of your car as well as the current inspection certificate from your country of origin. If your car has a roadworthiness inspection (MOT/TÜV) not older than six months, all the inspection station does is check whether the VIN number in the documents matches the car. Then they will issue you a Finnish title and destroy your original one. The time left on your original inspection will be transferred into the Finnish system as well. If your inspection has been more than six months ago, a full inspection will be performed - Ole passed that with flying colors. For import inspection, in case you have an ordinary, new-ish car, simply go to the Autokatsastus station nearest to you that also offers registration services. If you have a classic or exotic car that may need special attention and pose questions to the inspector, ask around with other car people or owner’s clubs which Autokatsastus station is recommended with inspectors knowledgeable about non-mainstream cars.
Second step then is to register the car. Many Autokatsastus stations also offer registration services - unlike in most other countries, you do not have to visit a government office to get plates for your car. Stations that offer registration services have a stack of pre-produced plates and will gladly hand you one for your car. If the station that did your import inspection does not offer registration, drive to one that does.
Registration itself is simple: If you have already paid import tax, you fill out a form and get a plate. You will receive a road tax bill on traficom.fi and an insurance bill on your insurance’s website later that day. You will only get the plate the registration plate has in stock. If you are picky enough you can go to several registration places and ask which combinations they currently have until you find one that suits you, like 1990s economy car twitter royalty @julkinen does. A personalized plate is not recommended since it costs 790 Euro(!).
If you have not yet paid import tax, you have to ask for paper plates. This is another form to fill out, and paper plates come with stickers you can use to stick them to the inside of the front and rear window. Since paper plates are tax-free, they may be cheaper than keeping the car on your home countries’ registration until the import tax decision has been made. But of course, this means returning to the registration place to get plates once the tax decision has come through.
For the (classic) car collector: Reduce running costs
Since road tax and insurance, especially for heavy cars with huge engines (say, old American land yachts) are relatively expensive, it is good to know how to save money.
The easiest way is to use the Traficom website to declare your car off the road when you don’t need it. This can be done online, takes effect immediately, and costs 5,40€. It stops road tax (any overpaid tax will be refunded, minimum tax payment between decommissioning is 10€), stops liability insurance (again, overpaid fees will be refunded), and reduces kasko (does not stop it, though, since the car could still be damaged while parked). Traficom even offers a calculator to help you decide if decommissioning the car makes financial sense for a given time period.
The second way to save money, if you have a classic car in good shape, is to get classic car (“Museoajoneuvo”) registration. This expands your inspection interval to “every four years” and also reduces road tax. In theory, it makes you also eligible for museum car insurance, which is super cheap.
Interesting to note is that contrary to popular belief the Finnish classic car registration does not limit the use of the car to 30 days per year. This limit is set by insurance companies for museoajoneuvo insured cars. I have yet to find out whether my (or another) insurance company accepts the pairing of Museoajoneuvo registration and hobby car insurance.
And that’s all there is to it! Happy motoring!