Please note that this information is very old, but we still get many people to read it and a lot of feedback so we keep it live for now
Are you worried that this is a major task? Well, it's pretty bad. Here is the situation which applied to me:
I lived in the U.S. (see also moving internationally) for several years and decided to export my car to Germany.
So, this might not be applicable to other situations. They will surely be different.
Keep all your documentation when buying your car, new or used. You will need about everything - sticker, bill, title etc. In my case, I did not have a sticker (they simply lost it) and it took me about 6 months to get the sticker. Despite all the explanations from the dealer, it is possible to get a sticker reprinted a long time after the purchase of the car.
Start as early as possible - at least 3 month before you want to export the car.
First you need a reliable shipping company. Mine was recommended by some other person who shipped his car, and since it also worked for me, here is their address:
1231 East 230th Street
Carson, CA 90745
Their prices ranged from small cars (495$) to larger size vehicles (995$). Plus other fees and insurance.
You bring the car to their warehouse, south of L.A., get the paper, take everything out of the car, do an inspection and off it goes into a container. 4-6 Weeks later you will see it again in Bremerhafen.
Take the license plates with you - otherwise you will never see it again!
For customs clearance the following documentation is required:
After customs clearance is completed you will receive the "Unbedenklichkeitsbescheinigung" (and by seeing this word you know that you are in Germany) and tax card.
In the meantime (preferably before you move to Germany) for a car which has no German title/registration, a letter has to be sent to the Kraftfahrbundesamt, Postfach 2063, 24932 Flensburg, requesting a verification that the car has not been registered before. This form needs several weeks to be issued if mailed. To speed this up, an "Eilauskunft" can be requested via FAX. The document will then come "collect" with a fee of about 15 € and is due within about 5 days.
With this letter and the following documents you go to the Zulassungsstelle (registration) in Germany:
US and foreign documentation might have to be translated into German (legalized).
The Zulassungsstelle will then issue a new title (Fahrzeugbrief) which is empty. That's why it's called "Leerbrief" and it will not have any technical data in it.
Now you have to go to the technical inspection to the TUV or Dekra branch. They will do a "Einzelabnahme" and decide what you have to change on the car. If you lived in the U.S. as in my case, it is not a lot. Small items, including a rear fog light, but it still came down to several hundred DM. This is probably also when you start to feel sick about this whole process. Hang in there, its only going to be a little longer. Even if you have a catalytic converter it might not be registered in Germany yet. To get that tested will cost about another 1000 €. If you don't do that, you will get a "Plakette" for your windshield that you have one but you will still pay the highest tax in German for the car, depending on the ccm of your motor. Make sure that your car complies with California emission laws and you should be fine.
New cars have to come up to the standards in Europe, i.e. a Scheinwerfer-Hoehenverstellung has to be installed. U.S. cars don't have those. For this and other stuff you need to get exemptions from various governmental agencies. I for instance had to get two papers from the "Regierung von Oberbayern" which required me to drive from the Zulassungsstelle during rush hour to the center, find parking, get the papers, was told that I didn't need some of them, went back to the Zulassungsstelle and then back to the Regierung to a different room. (That's when I cracked down!)
But after that I got my German registration, the new license plates and the U.S. plates were gone. They won't let you keep them as a souvenir.
Now you can set things straight with the insurance. If you find one which will insure the car for the trip from the port to your home and during the registration, they can't really tell what car it is and which coverage applies for it. They will now need the new KFZ Schein to issue a new insurance policy to you.
Exporting: about 1500$
Registration: a few hundred €
Exemptions: a few hundred €
Required changes: a few hundred €
Well, good luck. I put this on one html page, so you can print it out. I might have forgotten something, so there is no guarantee that this is a complete list. You can get in touch with the German ADAC branch who will provide you with a document on car import in German (if you are a member).