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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Reality of Car Registration for Foreigners

If driving a car in Moscow seems like a challenge, that probably means you are lucky enough to never have tried anything more demanding, like registering one with the local traffic police or passing their car inspection.

However, chances are pretty high that life will throw you into the jungle of legal and practical obstacles put in the way of an ardent car-lover who also has a predilection for abiding by the laws of the country where he lives.

There are three main documents that prove the car you are driving is legal. The one you can generally leave at home is the vehicle's "passport" or PTS — a pale blue sheet of paper issued at the moment of purchase or import into Russia, with essential technical information such as the number of the car's engine and its body. You'll probably only need the PTS when receiving or prolonging your registration.

The pink, laminated, credit-card sized registration document, or STS, on the other hand, you should always carry when behind the wheel. It proves that the car is legally owned.

The third, increasingly important piece of paper is the confirmation that your car has passed the technical checkup, or the dreaded tekhosmotr. It's an achievement that, according to many a drivers' stories, has nothing to do with your car's actual condition.

Both of these documents can be acquired at one place only — the neat-looking red-brick offices of the traffic police's department for foreigners in the far-flung southern suburb of Tsaritsyno.

The way to get there is by car, the one you're registering. If you bought a new car in Moscow, you will be issued temporary license plates for five days, during which you are expected to finish the registration process.

If you're buying a second-hand car, the former owner is obliged to unregister the car and give you its PTS and the temporary plates issued by the traffic police.

In case you imported your car — permanently or temporarily — customs officers will provide the PTS and temporary license plates.

The first problem you encounter upon arrival in the vicinity of the police station is an acute shortage of parking spaces. You may have to park a good 10 minutes away and then go right back to fetch your car to have it inspected by the duty officer.

Luckily, the station itself is hospitable with carpeted halls, comfortable chairs in the waiting room, coffee machines, a small canteen and — verging on a miracle — clean and functioning toilets. It's kind of a five-star hotel compared with the other traffic police offices in town.

Moreover, every institution you might need to deal with on your thorny path toward finally picking up your documents has its offices on the premises: a bank, a customs office and insurance companies.

In case you run out of cash or need to make an urgent call, there is also a functioning ATM and a public telephone.

But all these luxuries are there only to cushion the sting of the harsh bureaucratic reality — the procedures for obtaining car papers are as complicated and time-consuming as any in Russia.

To have an easier time of it make sure you have all the necessary documents with you when you arrive. This is easier said than done, since the burly officers on duty refuse to give out any information over the telephone and do not speak any foreign languages.

The instructions are, however, pasted on the walls and bulletin boards all over the waiting room, so it may be worth making a reconnaissance visit to Tsaritsyno first.

According to the deputy head of the traffic police's department for foreigners, Nikolai Litvinov, the easiest procedure is registering a car in a person's name — registering a car for a company, a representative office or an embassy is far more complicated and, if possible, should be avoided.

To register in a person's name, you need your car's PTS, the bill proving the purchase of the car — even if the car was second-hand — both the originals and copies of your passport and visa and, if you are accredited at either the Foreign Ministry or the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, the original and a copy of your accreditation.

After you have gathered all the documents, you may wish to head right to the Main Administration for the Diplomatic Corps, or UpDK, window.

For a hefty fee, UpDK will complete the rest of the paperwork for you. Otherwise, be sure to bring some patience, as you will have to wait in several lines.

The first line is on the ground floor, where you hand over all your documents and then wait a few minutes while a secretary types a request for registration.

After this, your name will be called and you will be given your papers back, together with the forms to be filled by the police inspector who will be taking a look under your car's hood.

The line of cars waiting to be checked will depend purely on your luck — you might get your turn immediately or have to wait hours, in case a foreign transport company has decided to register its whole car park before you.

Once your turn comes, the officer will check the number of your engine and the car body with the ones in your PTS.

If you're lucky, these numbers will be easy to find and legible, so the whole procedure will take a few minutes.

However, if you bought a second-hand car, and the number is unreadable, you can count on making Moscow taxi drivers happy for a long time to come — your car papers will be sent to the local criminal police unit who will check whether it has been stolen or simply corroded.This takes no less than a month, and more likely two, Litvinov said.

If you are lucky, though, all it takes is waiting in a few more lines and you will leave the office a proud owner of a set of yellow number plates. This procedure you'll have to repeat once a year — with every new visa you get.

At the very end, you will still be asked to submit your car to the nearby instrumental checkup. An officer will check the state of your breaks, the steering mechanism and the gases that come out of your exhaust pipe.

But even if the car is new and straight off the production line, that's not a guarantee it will be let go just like that.

The tekhosmotr — as the procedure is called — is the most likely place where, according to many seasoned drivers, you might have to bribe your way through.

If your car is less than 5 years old, inspectors will look at it on the premises. Otherwise, they'll send you to another location.

For a long time many drivers didn't bother to have their cars checked, since the fine for not doing so was only 50 rubles (less than $2).

But a recently published Interior Ministry decree allows the traffic police to stop you if the tekhosmotr card is not displayed and, if he develops a suspicion that something is wrong with the vital technical mechanisms, impound your car.

Traffic Police Department for Foreigners:
2 6th Radialnaya Ul.,
Tel. 327-9947

Main Administration for the Diplomatic Corps (UpDK) Center of Complex Service, Foreign Contingent:
2 6th Radialnaya Ul.,
Tel. 327-000, 327-5615, Fax 327-9233,