Baku, Tuesday 22nd May 2007
The local weather has parted longingly with cool, calm Winter, flirted fleetingly with temperate Spring and rushed headlong into the burning embrace of Summer. After weeks of mixing and matching impulsively with an extensive variety of rain, dry, warmth, cold, gales and stillness, we have been treated to calm blue skies and sunshine for several days in a row and temperatures climbing through the high twenties. Apparently there was a weather forecast today that predicted temperatures in the sixties around July/August time but I think that might be a little far-fetched.
After all the hedging of the last couple of weeks I can finally declare that I am a car owner. A six month old Niva (old-style, not Chevrolet) now stands parked under the watchful eye of the CCTV cameras and security guards of the BP office next to my building and a certain feeling of achievement has been lifting my smile this last day or so. The satisfaction is not gleaned from the simple knowledge that I have bought a good vehicle for a good price (though I am told that I have done so) but from the relief to have survived a purchasing process far more lengthy and complicated than I could even have dreamed about after conducting my initial research. The following account may aid foreigners who consider buying a car in Azerbaijan:
Two Sundays ago I made a morning visit to the Car Bazaar to see what was on offer. My friend, Riz, accompanied me as speaker and advisor plus we ran across a friend of his while we were there who added further tyre-kicking experience to our endeavours. A couple of hours and twenty Nivas later we had chosen the car we wanted, made an offer to the seller and exchanged ‘phone numbers. That same afternoon the seller ‘phoned to accept the offer, a test drive was arranged and after a lengthy question-and-answer session the sale was agreed. I paid a small deposit, we all drove to a nearby underground car park to store the Niva safely while I spent the following few days obtaining the rest of the money and I parted with the keys in my hand. Deal done.
With generous help from a friend at work I had the requisite amount of dollars in my hand by Thursday and a meet was arranged to conclude the sale and sign over the car into my name. While Britain only permits one way of doing this (via the vehicle’s registration document) there are choices to be made in Azerbaijan. The car comes with a Technical Passport (similar to the British registration document) and you can wholly register the car in your name to get your name put on this passport. It is also permissible though to have the registered owner sign a General Power of Attorney certificate (GPA) at a notary’s office and surrender all rights to you in that manner.
Being a foreigner it made the most sense for me to take the GPA route and this was all agreed prior to completing the sale. A detail that had guided my choice of car was that the GPA only lasts for a set period (typically ten or fifteen years) and it can only be passed on three times within that period. I therefore wanted a car that was either being sold by its registered owner or being passed on by its first GPA owner as this way my purchase would constitute the second pass of the GPA and I would have one pass left for when I sell-on (are you keeping up?).
Fortune was smiling on me that Sunday: I found a car that was on its first GPA owner – a friendly bloke named Rovshan – and the registered owner was a personal friend of his. When we went to the notary’s office last Thursday to sign over the car, Rovshan arranged for his friend to come along too and as registered owner he was able to authorise a fresh GPA with me as first owner. A further lucky detail was that the notary agreed to give me a full ten years. Most foreigners are only granted GPA for the duration of their police registration cards and those have to be renewed annually. The notary seemed to take the view that while the card will keep changing my details on the central computer will not so I was permitted the full duration; very decent.
One important detail that is missing from a foreigner’s police card though is proof of address and it is a vital detail when registering a car. Overcoming this hurdle required a call to my agency to obtain an official “spravka” letter from the government to act as proof of address. I learned about this requirement early enough to make arrangements prior to the Thursday meeting (imagine the embarrassment had I not…) and the agency efficiently sorted things out quick-sharp. The fee was twenty Manats and for that I received a hand-filled A6 form that was obviously a quarter of an A4 page that had been torn by hand. The only thing on that piece of paper that I could not have produced in five minutes myself was the ministry’s rubber stamp that made it official. Some things never change…
Everything was quick, simple and good-humoured at the notary’s on Thursday but when we bid a cheery farewell to Rovshan and his friend the process was not yet complete. For a GPA to be wholly official it must be stamped at a certain police office fifteen kilometres out of town within ten days of issue. There is also the question of mandatory ‘insurance’ which must be bought from the same office for ten Manats. Riz and I visited the police office on Saturday afternoon to find that they shut early on Saturdays and we had just missed last orders. Usefully there was a specific petrol station back in town where we could sort out the ‘insurance’ and we claimed that as our consolation prize for the afternoon.
Return to the police office was set for Monday morning. I got permission to be late into work and as Leyla had the day off she saved my life by agreeing to come along as interpreter. The process of course is not as simple as turning up, queuing for a counter and having your documents attended to; this is Baku after all.
Step One: drive your car into a drive-through building, within which a uniformed official will give your car a cursory visual inspection (thirty seconds is the long version) and mark your GPA as pass or fail. As the previous owner had decided to stick a black film inside the rear screen for that ‘tinted’ effect I was an instant fail and I was told to come back after removing it (Rovshan had said it would be alright so curses were uttered, I can assure you). I parked and spent a few minutes scraping with a screwdriver, after which a friendly onlooker took pity on me pointed me towards a nearby garage where I could get the film removed properly. The mechanic did indeed find the edge of the film that I had failed to locate earlier and peeled it off in ten seconds – superb. Back into the drive-through and the uniformed official gave a pass mark.
Step Two: park your car and walk into a claustrophobic little box office with a small hatch, on the other side of which is a uniformed man with a computer (linked to “the” computer I must assume) who will check to make sure that your car is not on the stolen vehicles list. Queuing doesn’t really happen much in Baku at the best of times and making progress to get into this office required a level of assertiveness not usually associated with queue-trained Englishmen. Once I had got in though I was most grateful (and not a little surprised) to have the men in front me step aside and usher me forward to the hatch; thoroughly decent chaps. My GPA gained the requisite stamps to prove that my car was straight and I moved on to the final stage.
Step Three: walk to an other office and hand over GPA plus vehicle Technical Passport plus police card plus copy of spravka letter plus ten Manats to a plain-clothes official who will process the paperwork and get the sacred stamp put on the GPA. After a quick interview (hats off to Leyla) and the document handover it was a ten-minute wait outside the office until my name was called over a speaker and I could go back in to reclaim my stamped GPA – hurrah. From that point forward my car was one hundred percent legally mine.
Getting from agreement of sale to that point took eight days, sixty Manats in documentation fees and extensive support from Riz and Leyla above and beyond the call of duty. Admittedly three days could have notionally been saved if I had not needed time and a saviour to sort out the money but the process remains a long one. In comparison some of my vehicle acquisitions in England have taken as little as half an hour to complete once the sale has been agreed; without doubt this is a new record.
The story isn’t over yet. The world of actual insurance cover for vehicle, passengers, third parties and so on is only just being revealed to me and looks sure to provide further education and ‘amusement’. There is also the matter of gaining a resident’s permit for the Old City. I located and visited that office this afternoon thinking that all my paperwork would see me right but no. This time the senior gentleman behind the desk (as translated by the good-natured young carpet seller from down the road who I had only just met) told me that the office address on my spravka was not good enough and that I would need a letter from the agency confirming my home address. I now have the required letter – in both English and Azerbaijani – and hope to conclude the business tomorrow.
Let it be said that the effort required to legally obtain this car has not dented my enthusiasm one jot. The joys of the open road await and the driving I have done so far has been a lot of fun. I must admit though: compared to the process of car ownership here in Azerbaijan, answering letters from the DVLA back in Britain will never seem like a chore again.