Meeting Derek

Adopting a Belgian car...

We arrived in Brussels and got the train straight into the centre and checked into our Airbnb. We’d brought laptops, several forms of ID, proof of address and card readers, ready for any eventuality.

We were planning on getting the train to Charleroi the next day to get to the car dealership. We stayed up drinking strong Belgian beers and had a fairly late start Saturday morning but got to there and met Joel. Joel seemed really genuine, he loved defenders and was very honest about the state of the car. He talked us through the process of buying and exporting the car over a cup of extremely strong coffee. We sat in the office in the middle of the car showroom which was filled to bursting with cars ten times more expensive than ours - Bentleys, Ferraris and Porches.

Finally it was time for a test drive - for both of us the first time we had ever sat behind the wheel of a Defender. We had to take it in turns because the car only had two seats. Joel drove with Alex round the block first while I stood in the cold waiting for my turn. I was raring to go by the time Alex came driving back round the corner with a big grin on his face. I hopped in and even a sexist remark from Joel about my driving ability wasn’t enough to dampen my mood. It was so much easier to drive than I had been expecting, quicker, quieter and so much fun. We both knew this was the perfect car for us, especially when we had practiced lying down in the back and realised there was more than enough space to sleep two.

Back to the admin

Joel had called the export office and confirmed the opening hours and costs. It works like this: the payment had to be made by bank transfer, which on a weekday before 11am goes through almost immediately, but there's a daily limit. Once the payment clears the car is taken to a mechanic for 100 point inspection and if it passes can be sold. Then the paperwork from the inspection and the receipt of sale are taken by the owner to the export registration office, this has to happen between 9-12 am, temporary export plates and temporary insurance are created. These can be collected from 16:45. For us this would meaning paying that day (Saturday) and hoping that the payment would clear Monday morning, then collecting the paperwork and travelling from Charleroi to Brussels for the plates, waiting 6 hours, going back to Charleroi to get the car then driving to Calais for the ferry and then from Dover to London, all in one day!

This made me very anxious, there was no guarantee the payment would go through Monday morning and we both had work to get back to London for. We decided to pay half that day to secure it, the rest on Monday, and fly home Sunday evening as planned. Joel was happy to take the car for inspection the following week and post us the documentation. We already had time off between Christmas and New Year so would go the Brussels, stay one night, and go straight to the export office in the morning.

Coming back for him was scary but exciting!

And in the end, surprisingly efficient. We flew over on the day after Boxing Day and were at the export plates office as soon as it opened.

Kiki Trans was a strange little office with bright orange walls in a row of similar offices, on a dodgy street in Brussels (so dodgy that I didn’t really want to walk back out again!) The guy who served us spoke great English but was a bit of a character, cracking jokes about frisbees and telling us about his previous life as a lad about town in London. His colleague spent more time smoking outside than doing any work. But thankfully the paperwork was all fine, so it was time to wait…

Seven hours of kicking our heels in Brussels later, we anxiously waited in a room full of men for our export plates to be delivered. When a cycle courier appeared there was a muted cheer (maybe just from us), and we finally got our plates. We jumped straight in a taxi and rushed back to Charleroi where Joel's colleagues had been warned we were arriving late.

...300 miles and a ferry ride later, Derek was parked proudly outside our home in London. The radio hadn’t worked the whole way home, we had nearly missed the ferry, we were exhausted. But we had done it!

Eve & Alex

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