It’s all stupid China’s fault.
We knew the day would come, but I guess we didn’t realise how attached we would get to the little, shiny blue VW Golf III that carried us over 18,000 kilometres from Stuttgart, Germany to the wilds of Central Asia. It wasn’t easy to let him go. If only China would let foreigners drive their cars in the country without a Chinese drivers license, Chinese license plates, and a Chinese guide… but no. So the last stop for Jagger on our journey would be Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Rumours online say that Kyrgyzstan is the easiest place in Central Asia to sell a car. While this may be correct now (November 2014), in January next year customs duties will jump by $0.50 per engine cc as part of Kyrgyzstan’s accession into the Russia-led Customs Union. So, for example, while it “only” costs $2,560 to import our 18-year-old 1.6-litre Golf, as of January 1st taxes will jump to $3,360. And even more the year after that.
The upside to this is that freshly-imported cars are highly sought after right now. And the flip side to this is that lots of people try, and sometimes succeed, in getting around the import duty anyway.
We didn’t really want to make a profit off the car—we just wanted it to go to a good home. And we definitely didn’t want it to be sold for scrap. So our strategy was to sell it for cheap—between $500 and $1000, but in reality we would have taken less—and have the buyer handle the import duties.
When we first got to Bishkek, the only advice we could really find online was to go to Kudaybergen Market. If you want to sell your car for scrap, then this is the place to go. We checked it out and were pretty dismayed, so we kept looking around and ended up in nearby Dordoi Autobazaar. Out in front there was a huge sign with VW, BMW and Mercedes on it.
In the parking lot we were accosted by a group of about eight guys who wanted to sell us a car. When we told them we were selling our car, they exploded into a frenzy like a bunch of girls at a Justin Bieber concert. They swarmed around it, kicking the tires and fiddling with all the knobs inside, looking under the hood and honking the horn. Finally one of the dudes, “Victor”, said he’ll take it for $500, which was fine with us because we didn’t want to make a profit. We told them it needed to be deregistered at the German Embassy, and we’d come back for the sale once that was done.
On the way home I had an increasingly bad feeling about the guys at Dordoi. Not one of them wanted to take it for a test drive, and they all were a bit seedy (one dude tried to buy my mobile off me while I gave our phone number to Victor). I figured that they thought they’d scored a bargain deal and had no intention of going through the customs procedures; they were going to sell our car for scrap. We didn’t know what to do, so that night we ignored the relentless calling from Victor and his English-speaking friend, but their persistence convinced us even more that they thought they’d nailed some easy money.
So we decided to keep looking. We posted some ads online, but all the callers only spoke Russian and it was too difficult to work out the details on both sides. We decided to try the market again. It turns out the actual place to sell cars in Bishkek is the weekend auto market at Autorynok Azamat, on the very outskirts of Bishkek. This market is enormous, and on Saturdays and Sundays the place is a madhouse.
We arrived around 1pm and the police were directing would-be sellers to line their cars up along the main road almost a kilometre away from the main market. We got given our place, and before the car was even completely parked there was a swarm of people gathering around it. They all wanted to know: How much?? Before we left, we had used Google Translate to make some helpful signs:
People were a little confused about what we meant by “Needs to be imported”, but after discussing it for a while they figured it out. But no one knew how much the import duties were. Mook stood at the front of the car fielding questions in his basic Russian, while I stood at the back trying to do the same. Everyone was circling the car, talking on their mobile phones. Finally a guy hands me his, and there’s a female voice on the line saying that she needs a car and they’re interested in ours but they don’t really get why it’s so cheap. I explained about the import tax and handed the phone back to her boyfriend or husband.
Suddenly Mook grabbed me. One of the cops who directed us into the spot was standing next to him.
“The cop wants to buy the car for $800.” Ooookkkk….
A cop seemed like as good of a buyer as anyone. He definitely wouldn’t sell the car for scrap (would he??). Just as I agreed, I once again got handed the phone with the female voice on the other side. “We’ll take the car,” she said excitedly. By then Mook and the cop had jumped into the car, and the crowd of people were pulling at my jacket, telling me to get in too. I quickly told her no, and hopped in the car before I could hear the disappointment in her voice.
The cop was excited too. He didn’t speak much English, but he was a nice guy and we could tell he was thrilled about the car because, as we drove to the customs and registration office, he’d stop at every police officer and brag to his buddies. Mook and I figured that he probably had a friend in customs and could swing the car import at a discounted price.
That wasn’t the case. At the office, the cop argued with his customs friend for a while, before finally taking us back outside and saying sorry, the car is just too expensive for me. But, he said, I have a friend I’m going to call and see if he wants it instead.
His friend did indeed want it, and he and his father hopped in the car with us and drove straight to a notary’s office to cement the sale in writing. This guy was much less like the cop and more like the dudes from Dordoi Bazaar, and it was difficult to suss out what they planned to do with Jagger: drive it themselves, resell it, or scrap it.
We figured it wasn’t the latter because the buyer absolutely refused to part with the car registration, which we still needed to deregister the car in Germany. Through the translation help of a few other people, we finally settled on a deal that he would pay us for the car that day and he could have the key, but we would take the license plates and car registration documents to the German Embassy the next day (Monday).
They were so paranoid that we wouldn’t bring the registration back that they actually made a hand-written contract stating that we had sold the car to them, they were the rightful owners, and that we would bring the papers back. In the end, from them we received the registration originals, a copy of the notarised bill of sale, and a copy of the buyer’s driver’s license. In theory we should be able to present these documents at customs (if asked) when we leave the country. They got a copy of the documents, and got to keep the original bill of sale.
On Monday Mook took the registration and license plates to the German Embassy, but got told that they haven’t done car deregistration for over five years, and they wouldn’t do it for us now. We thought we were a bit screwed, with the buyer so desperately adamant that he have the original registration documents ASAP, but it turns out that only one of the two papers needs to be sent back to Germany (along with the license plates… ouch). We met the buyer on Tuesday to give him the other half of the registration documents and he seemed like a nice dude who was mostly just happy we didn’t come in the middle of the night and steal the car back (we thought about it, though!!).
So now our little Jagger is gone. We’re not really that satisfied by the way things went, and we’re worried about the uncertain future of our awesome car. But at the end of the day we realised that pretty much everything here is done in a grey zone, and unless we were willing to invest a lot of time and money importing the car ourselves, we just had to roll with it.
What’s done is done, but we’re really going to miss our car.
Tips for selling your car in Kyrgyzstan
Decide if you want to scrap it or not
The process is way different if you don’t really care what happens to the car. Our contact in Bishkek, Ryan at Iron Horse Nomads, guessed scrappers would pay between $1000 and $1500 for a fully working vehicle. They’ll skip the import completely and just get rid of anything with a serial number. You can find these scrappers at Kudaybergen Bazaar. If you want to try and avoid scrapping, Azamat or online marketplaces might be the best way to go.
Read up on the deregistration process… before you leave
This was our big mistake. Every country does it differently, but chances are the embassy in Bishkek doesn’t want to handle it. The German Embassy scolded us for not using an export license plate to begin with, and said we had to deregister the normal way, by sending the registration and plates to a friend in Germany and having them do it in person. It’s time consuming, and can be difficult if you want to sell in a hurry. The only place that would send both the license plates and documents for us was DHL, and it cost 5000 som.
Consult an expert
Unless you can speak Russian and are familiar with selling used cars in foreign countries, then it’s definitely worth it to seek help. A quick Google search will bring up quite a few people who import foreign cars. Ask them for advice, or see if they’re willing to do it for you for a cut of the profits. It’s much less stressful and gives you the time to actually enjoy Kyrgyzstan. We’re indebted to Ryan from IHN, and retrospectively wish we’d just used his service!
Utilise online marketplaces
Don’t wait till the weekend, post your car online! Kyrgyzstan has quite a few online auto bazaar websites, and in the few hours we had our car posted, we got a load of views and quite a lot of phone calls. But it’s too bad we couldn’t really talk to them….
If you don’t speak Russian, find a friend or write your spiel down in advanced
This is essential. We thought we’d be fine without it but were seriously wrong. It’s incredibly easy to sell a car, and we managed the first time without even having a price written down. But once it comes to working out the details, and ensuring there’s no misunderstandings, having someone who can speak the language is absolutely invaluable. If you can’t find someone in time, use Google Translate to write down the important stuff like “Buyer pays customs tax” or “We need to keep original registration documents for one week after sale.” We even ended up using GT to communicate via SMS with our buyer. It’s not ideal, but works in a pinch.
Make sure the buyer knows about importing cars
A lot of people are going to want your car, but not many of them know about the bureaucracy behind importing it into their country. It takes a lot of time and money, and their “rude awakening” will end up wasting a lot of your own time.