Registering a Car in South Africa: An Expat’s Epic Journey (Part 3)

Part 3 of a 3-part series. Read part 1 and part 2.

Picking up where I left off:

Kagiso, the traffic register number man at Langlaagte Licensing Office, tells me on Wednesday that I must come back the following Tuesday — Christmas Eve — to apply for a traffic register number. (I need to get a traffic register number before I can register my car.)

I have now made five unsuccessful licensing office visits. I’m not hopeful about the sixth.

Langlaagte Licensing Department. Tuesday, December 24.

I rise early on Christmas Eve morning and drive to Langlaagte. To my surprise, the office is indeed open. The gang of passport photo hawkers welcomes me at the entrance. I wave them off.

I go straight to the back of the building and join a group of people waiting in plastic chairs outside the traffic register number application office. Kagiso emerges from the office. Within a minute, he has dispatched all of the other people who were waiting in the plastic chairs. Not one of them has the right paperwork.

I hand Kagiso my papers. He shuffles them, looks at me, looks back at the papers. He turns and waves me into the office. I follow, triumphant. We sit.

Kagiso (inspecting my application form): Where are you from?

Me: I’m from America.

Kagiso (pointing to the “Nationality” field on my form): You must write “American” here.

[I had written “USA”.]

Me (correcting the form): Sorry.

Kagiso shuffles some more, then gets up and leaves the office. I wait and stare at the wall, reading the notices that are posted there.

bad planning sign

The sign on the far right says: “DON’T MAKE YOUR BAD PLANNING MY EMERGENCY !!”

Hahaha. Ha.

Kagiso is gone for a while. I squirm. Eventually he returns, bearing a rubber stamp pad.

Kagiso: Eish…I’m tired. Since yesterday I have been out of breath.

Me: Oh no. Maybe you should see a doctor.

Kagiso: Eish! No, I won’t see the doctor. He will put me in hospital and I won’t come out.

I silently pray that Kagiso doesn’t drop dead from a heart attack. At least not before he grants me my traffic register number.

Slowly, Kagiso staples my papers together and affixes my passport photo to the application form. He rubber-stamps a slip of paper and hands it to me. My receipt.

“Come back on January 13th,” Kagiso says. That’s nearly three weeks away but I don’t care. My traffic register number is so close now, I can almost taste it. I bid Kagiso a Merry Christmas and leave.

Langlaagte Licensing Department. Monday, January 13.

I nearly forget about my registration saga over the holidays. But on the morning of January 13th, I steel myself for more misery and head back to Langlaagte.

The building is virtually empty — almost serene. (Apparently January, unlike December, is a good month to hang out at the licensing office.) I walk to the traffic register number application office, looking for Kagiso. No sign of him. Another man emerges from the office and directs me to Window 1.

I go out to the main waiting area, find Window 1, and hand my receipt to the man behind the glass. The man shuffles some papers in a box and pulls out a packet.

Licensing man: Is this you?

Me (seeing my passport photo): Yes.

My application looks the same as it did when I left it with Kagiso three weeks ago, except for some illegible, bright-red scrawl across the front page. The bright-red scrawl looks menacing. (I really hope it has nothing to do with Kagiso’s Christmas-Eve shortness of breath.)

But licensing man is unperturbed by the red scrawl. He turns to his computer terminal and starts typing. He types and he types. I shift my weight from one foot to the other. I feel certain that licensing man will turn to me at any moment and say that my application has been rejected.

But wait, what is this I see? Licensing man turns to the printer. An official-looking green document comes out. Licensing man removes my passport photo from the application form, finds a roll of tape, and tapes the passport photo to the official-looking green document.

Behold: My traffic register number.

Traffic Register Number

It’s a January miracle.

Me: Thank you so much. I need to register my car now. Can I do that?

Licensing man: Yes. You need the original title for the car. And you must make a copy of this. (Pointing to the traffic register number certificate.)

Me: Okay. Is there a copy machine here?

Licensing man: No.

Of course there isn’t.

The security guard tells me that I can make a copy across the road. I’m afraid to cross the gauntlet on foot, so I drive. I make my copy without incident (there are several shops across Main Reef Road offering copies and passport photos — I pay R3 for a copy) and return to the office.

Less than an hour later, I emerge from the Langlaagte Licensing Office with a vehicle registration certificate in my hand. Once I got my traffic register number, registering the car was a breeze.

The good news: My car is registered! I actually own it. I’ve never really owned anything in South Africa before. This is momentous.

Change Lane Egoli

I love my car. The magnetic words on the side are from an art project called “Taxi Poetry” — read about it here. (“Egoli” means “place of gold”. It’s a nickname for Joburg.)

The bad news: My car registration is only valid for one year. This means I will be spending next December in line at the licensing office.

Randburg line

Randburg Licensing Office, December 2013. I imagine it will look much the same in December 2014.

I had planned to provide a list of tips at the end of this post, but I’ve decided against it. If you do want a concrete list of tips for buying and registering a car in South Africa, read this handy post by the Joburg Expat.

But if you’ve read all three parts of my epic journey, then you basically know what it takes to register a car in South Africa: It takes an enormous reserve of patience and every ounce of sanity you can muster.

Oh, and don’t even think about buying a car in December. Just don’t.

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57 Comments

  • Reply Becky January 16, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Mozel Tov

  • Reply Alicia January 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    Next year you will get a renewal form in the mail and with this you can renew at most post offices. Many of them have no lines early in the morning. You won’t have to go through that nightmare again!

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      Oh, that’s good to know. Thanks!

      • Reply David Kirkness January 17, 2014 at 3:23 pm

        you MIGHT get a renewal form in the mail. otherwise you can get one at Melville post office or download from eNatis

        • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 4:56 pm

          Well, we’ll. see what happens next December 🙂

  • Reply Alicia January 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    Next year you will get a renewal form in the mail and with this you can renew at most post offices. Many of them have no lines early in the morning. You won’t have to go through that nightmare again!

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      Oh, that’s good to know. Thanks!

      • Reply David Kirkness January 17, 2014 at 3:23 pm

        you MIGHT get a renewal form in the mail. otherwise you can get one at Melville post office or download from eNatis

        • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 4:56 pm

          Well, we’ll. see what happens next December 🙂

  • Reply Alison January 16, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Hold on. Isn’t your registration good thru January since that’s when you got it? Or are they seriously back-dating it to December even though you didn’t get it until January?

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      I actually didn’t notice this until today, but it appears they backdated it. The registration expired on 31 Dec.

  • Reply Alison January 16, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Hold on. Isn’t your registration good thru January since that’s when you got it? Or are they seriously back-dating it to December even though you didn’t get it until January?

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      I actually didn’t notice this until today, but it appears they backdated it. The registration expired on 31 Dec.

  • Reply Sheryl R January 16, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    You have patience and dignity. I salute you from Sunny SA

  • Reply Justcallmegertie January 16, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Unbelievable….but maybe not really. I have had some horrendous experiences too, but with my driver’s license and municipality accounts.
    But renewing a license is much easier! As long as you get the renewal form in the mail, you can renew your license at most post offices.
    Enjoy the car!

  • Reply Justcallmegertie January 16, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Unbelievable….but maybe not really. I have had some horrendous experiences too, but with my driver’s license and municipality accounts.
    But renewing a license is much easier! As long as you get the renewal form in the mail, you can renew your license at most post offices.
    Enjoy the car!

  • Reply Grahame Hall January 16, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    I think you get a 30-day grace period, so if it expires on Dec. 31 you basically have until Jan 30 or thereabouts to renew without penalty. And, as one Alicia and Justcallmegertie note above, from now on you can do it at the most post offices. I know Greenside post office does it. Congrats on the car…and, to quote the famous line from Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there.”

  • Reply Grahame Hall January 16, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    I think you get a 30-day grace period, so if it expires on Dec. 31 you basically have until Jan 30 or thereabouts to renew without penalty. And, as one Alicia and Justcallmegertie note above, from now on you can do it at the most post offices. I know Greenside post office does it. Congrats on the car…and, to quote the famous line from Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there.”

  • Reply BJ January 16, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Brilliant story The grace period is 21 days from date of expiry but the renewal can be done at a Post Office Thanks for the smile while reading as I know how frustrating it is working with a government department in SA Congrats on the car Have many safe km’s with it!

    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 9:17 am

      Thanks BJ. I appreciate the comment.

  • Reply BJ January 16, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Brilliant story The grace period is 21 days from date of expiry but the renewal can be done at a Post Office Thanks for the smile while reading as I know how frustrating it is working with a government department in SA Congrats on the car Have many safe km’s with it!

    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 9:17 am

      Thanks BJ. I appreciate the comment.

  • Reply jerome January 17, 2014 at 9:13 am

    from now on you can just go to the post office to re reg your car every year and get the disk!

    fun reading!!
    j

    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 9:17 am

      Thanks Jerome, glad you enjoyed it.

  • Reply jerome January 17, 2014 at 9:13 am

    from now on you can just go to the post office to re reg your car every year and get the disk!

    fun reading!!
    j

    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 9:17 am

      Thanks Jerome, glad you enjoyed it.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough January 17, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    What a relief you must feel. Congratulations, my friend! Great series.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Thanks Kathy. Yes, huge relief!

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough January 17, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    What a relief you must feel. Congratulations, my friend! Great series.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

  • Reply wannabepoet January 17, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Wow. That’s just all I can type right now. Wow. *wipes brow*

  • Reply wannabepoet January 17, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Wow. That’s just all I can type right now. Wow. *wipes brow*

  • Reply Sine January 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Wonderful! Especially the heart attack part:-) And yes, no more licensing department for you, next year it will be the annual renewal at the post office. Not that that will be much different – I wrote about just a saga like yours regarding the license disk renewal. You’ll get a renewal notice in the mail, and you’ll take it to the post office, and then you’ll be told that it’s cash only. So you go back for cash, go again, and then it will be closed that day. You’ll go back again and then the machine doing the renewals will be out of order. They’ll send you to a different post office, and something else will be wrong there. Then you’ll eventually go back to the first one and after 5 attempts have your new license disk. And, haha, all this will transpire a year from now in December. LOL!

    • Reply Sine January 17, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Oh, and I also love the stickers. And where did you drive to take that picture?

      • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm

        I took the picture in Golden Gate Highlands National Park (near Clarens) over the holidays.

    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      I had pretty much the same experience you just described when I tried to pay a traffic fine at the post office. Luckily I now know that I can pay them through online banking.

      • Reply Sine January 17, 2014 at 10:30 pm

        yep, EFTs and online banking is probably the lone thing that works really well in SA bureaucracy!

  • Reply Sine January 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Wonderful! Especially the heart attack part:-) And yes, no more licensing department for you, next year it will be the annual renewal at the post office. Not that that will be much different – I wrote about just a saga like yours regarding the license disk renewal. You’ll get a renewal notice in the mail, and you’ll take it to the post office, and then you’ll be told that it’s cash only. So you go back for cash, go again, and then it will be closed that day. You’ll go back again and then the machine doing the renewals will be out of order. They’ll send you to a different post office, and something else will be wrong there. Then you’ll eventually go back to the first one and after 5 attempts have your new license disk. And, haha, all this will transpire a year from now in December. LOL!

    • Reply Sine January 17, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Oh, and I also love the stickers. And where did you drive to take that picture?

      • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm

        I took the picture in Golden Gate Highlands National Park (near Clarens) over the holidays.

    • Reply 2summers January 17, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      I had pretty much the same experience you just described when I tried to pay a traffic fine at the post office. Luckily I now know that I can pay them through online banking.

      • Reply Sine January 17, 2014 at 10:30 pm

        yep, EFTs and online banking is probably the lone thing that works really well in SA bureaucracy!

  • Reply amelie88 January 18, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    Only valid for a year? Ugh, no way to extend to every two years or something? Well at least your car is legal now!

  • Reply eremophila January 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    This story had me rolling and hooting Heather! I’m passing it on to a friend of mine who had HUGE problems trying to register change of ownership on a trailer. He’s turning that into a radio skit. There must be something global about the culture of vehicle/licensing places. Congratulations on successful completion of the task! 🙂

  • Reply eremophila January 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    This story had me rolling and hooting Heather! I’m passing it on to a friend of mine who had HUGE problems trying to register change of ownership on a trailer. He’s turning that into a radio skit. There must be something global about the culture of vehicle/licensing places. Congratulations on successful completion of the task! 🙂

  • Reply Goldilocks February 3, 2014 at 9:27 am

    You had me hanging on every word. This way beats my work permit story and visits to the Prefecture in France. May you and your lovely little car spend many happy kilometers together!

    • Reply 2summers February 4, 2014 at 6:03 am

      Haha, thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

  • Reply Goldilocks February 3, 2014 at 9:27 am

    You had me hanging on every word. This way beats my work permit story and visits to the Prefecture in France. May you and your lovely little car spend many happy kilometers together!

    • Reply 2summers February 4, 2014 at 6:03 am

      Haha, thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

  • Reply Francisco December 17, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Oh my God… I just bought a car like… today. How did the renewal go?

    • Reply 2summers December 18, 2014 at 8:58 am

      Haha. Good luck – just wait until Jan. to apply and you should be fine. Renewal is much easier – you can do it at the Post Office 🙂

  • Reply Anil May 17, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    I am in the process of buying a truck in SA and this story has me nervous. I mean it’s a pain in India too believe me but here “we know people”. I arrive June 2-15 to come see the truck. Buy it if I like it and then apply for the TRN as I am not a resident and once registered have to drive it to Durban and pay through my nose to ship it to India. I really wish I find someone there to help me through this. Hope my universe is listening. Good job describing your ordeal and this has taught me what to expect and hopefully I will move this through the least path of resistance. Thanks. PS a year later the renewal forms will arrive at an address I won’t be and the truck will still be in India well past the 21 day expiry period… wonder what happens then???

    • Reply 2summers May 17, 2017 at 3:55 pm

      Wow, this must be one amazing truck! I wish you Godspeed 🙂

      • Reply Radiowalla May 17, 2017 at 4:09 pm

        Thanks. yes, amazing because it was the only one I could afford after a worldwide search 🙂

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