My daughter’s battle against culture shock was won with the purchase of a used red bicycle. It cost
her thirty euros and she’s assured me that the brakes work. She said that a bike is a permanent thing that has helped her feel grounded. “If you own something you can’t fi t into a suitcase, it makes you feel like you’re really living somewhere, and not just fl oating. That’s why you want a car, isn’t it?” she asked me a few weeks ago. “Maybe,” I answered. At that point, what I wanted seemed irrelevant. To buy a car in It aly, and to have an Italian license plate on your car, you have to be an Italian resident with a valid permesso di soggiorno. Or else there’s the tax-free option of buying in Switzerland or Germany and then taking a road trip back to Italy. It means, however, that you have a license plate from one of those countries, even if you can drive in Italy with no problems until the expiration of your plates. I was feeling daunted about the decision because, after all, a car is not a 30-euro bike, and I needed a little encouragement before braving the purchase.
I found it while at a friend’s dinner party as I “mingled” with a group of other expatriates sitting cross- legged at the coffee table fi lled with Tuscan cheeses. In reality we are all completely satisfied with being foreign, bohemian, and lucky enough to share the wealth of one of the world’s most beautiful cities. But soon enough the jokes started and the gripes began, as we treated ourselves to a little community commiseration, forgetting temporarily that things are not, in reality, as perfect and e asy as we remember them to be in our respective home countries.
The conversation turned to bureaucracy, bus strikes, getting ripped off and the requited “trauma-sharing” of “sticker-shock” experiences in Italy. That’s how we got on the subject of car rentals and leases. Two of my friends were paying the same amount for a six-month le ase that I had spent to buy a new car in the states. Peter, my “veteran” friend, (he’s been here a year longer than the rest of us), then told us about how he had bought a new Volvo and was getting to drive it “for free” while he was here.
“Well, why didn’t you say something sooner? I found myself saying. Having felt repe atedly thwarted by Italian restrictions and taxes and shocked at comparatively outrageous rental costs, I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say. What did Peter mean by “driving for free”? We all know nothing is for free, especially any ex-pat in Italy living on US dollars. So I am writing this article in hopes that maybe others will benefi t from this information. I swear I am not getting paid by Volvo, or anyone else to share what I have learned. I am not, however, agajnst taking gifts from anyone who would like to thank me if they benefit!
I called the Volvo executive in Rome, Anthony Beasley (a Brit who runs the ex-pat and diplomat program), and this is how the program works. (Certainly other car manufacturers have a similar program, but I started and stopped with Volvo.) You buy the Volvo of your choice, here in Italy.
Because you are buying it directly from Volvo you get the invoice price (not the phoney “sticker price”) that you see on the car windows at dealers in the US. The invoice price is the same price that the dealer pays. (And all of the prices are in US dollars.) Then you drive the car while you are in Italy, you are given a license plate, insurance, and whatever else you need to drive here. After a year, you take the car to one of several “dropoff” points in Europe, and other than a nominal prep charge (around 200 euros – depending on where you drop it off), your car is shipped – at no cost – to the Volvo dealer near you in the US or Canada. If you want to keep it here more than a year, there’s a fee, but still a small percentage of what shipping would cost.
Maybe, just this once, I can have my cake and eat it too.