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Renewing Your Driving Licence at 70

On reaching your 70th birthday, your freedom behind the wheel comes into question – are you safe enough on the roads? Undoubtedly in Bulgaria where the locals drive like frustrated versions of Michael Schumacher, you should have no problem in convincing the authorities that you are totally roadworthy unless of course you are now blind – even the Bulgarians draw the line at this.

Whilst you may still be the holder of a British driving licence issued long ago by the DVLA, you can no longer renew your licence with them if you are permanently resident in another country. For the new generation of Bulgarians, the British expats, the speedy opportunities to fill out your documents online with minimum hassle and effort is impossible; in Bulgaria renewing your licence means hours of queuing and reams of paperwork.

The Medical Certificate

At least a month before turning 70, you should visit your doctor and ask him for a medical certificate, proving your fitness to drive legally. The doctor will either examine you himself or send you to various departments of your local hospital. You need to collect four stamps for tests to your eyes, ears, psychology test and blood pressure. The doctor then makes a final stamp at the top of the document to say you are fit to drive. The cost for this certificate is 10 lv.

Form-filling with KAT

Your next post of call should be an approved photographer to get a passport sized photo for your new application. The Bulgarian authorities are very particular about the size and content of the photo e.g. if you wear glasses you will be asked to remove them. There should be an office specialising in these pictures close to your local traffic police building.
Driving licences are renewed with the traffic police known in Bulgaria as KAT. Your first port of call should be to the Information Office (often located outside of the main building) where you need to obtain an application form and make copies of your British driving licence, Lichna Karta, passport and medical certificate. You will also have to pay for this service as well as for the processing of your application and any local taxes. This amounts to around 27 lv.

Proving your Educational Worth

Once you have completed your application form, you need to present your documents to the driving licence application and renewal desk (usually in the main hall). Do not be surprised if you are asked for a “Diplom,” basically a certificate of education. All Bulgarians must provide this document in order to renew or obtain a driving licence and even expats must provide some form of evidence that they have attended school, no matter the level. Naturally for people approaching 70, this is nigh on impossible unless you were fortunate enough to have a university degree or some form of NVQ. In incidences where you have no proof of education, you must apply for a certificate of education to your local education authority in the UK asking them to detail the years you were at school and the names of your schools – you will not be penalised if you only attended school until the age of 14 or 15. The authorities are really only looking for official evidence that you can read and write. Once you have some form of documentation from the UK it needs to be translated into Bulgarian by a registered translator.

Approaching 70

Michael Cockram is 70 years old on 12th October 2008. He has lived in Varna for four years with his wife, Jayne. Michael is in the process of renewing his driving licence, which is totally clean after 53 years of driving, “I’m sure I am not the British oldest expat here, but after my trip to KAT Varna I felt like I was!” Michael continues, “I took a translator to KAT with me as I could not have found my way round the building let alone the paperwork without her. It took three hours of queuing and collecting documents, before I was ready to make my final application.” Michael queued at the relevant desk for a further 20 minutes and on handing in his application he was told that it couldn’t be processed he did not have a diploma of education, “I was dumbfounded, I left school when I was fifteen and in my day I we didn’t get any kind of certificate to say we had been to school – they didn’t even have GCSE’s then!” Michael’s translator secured a meeting with one of KAT’s police inspectors who reiterated that without some formal documentation of education, the application could not be processed. The translator ascertained that no other British expat had applied for a licence renewal at 70, but with the growing expat community in the Varna area, the inspector could see that there could be potential problems. He telephoned his boss in Sofia, who was also perplexed by the situation, but sadly in the end there was no way round the law and Michael was told to find some sort of evidence from the British authorities. “I was so disappointed, I had passed my medical to drive, but was going to be banned from driving because I could not prove any form of education. His translator took up the case with SOLVIT, the European Commissions on-line problem solving network, where EU Member States work together to solve problems caused by the misapplication of Internal Market law by public authorities without the need for legal proceedings. Christine Korcz of SOLVIT said, "in the case of a citizen who has no other option and will lose his right to drive without an educational certificate we would take up the matter, it is unlikely we will succeed as the Commission needs to see more than one complaint on SOLVIT before it will decide to pursue a matter." Michael has made a complaint through SOLVIT, but in the end,he emailed his local education authority and they sent him a letter confirming that he had attended school in the UK.” Finally, Michael’s licence was renewed 10 days after he made his full application and once again he is king of the road!

SOLVIT can be contacted at www.ec.europa.eu or you can contact Christine Korz at the UK SOLVIT centre on 0044 20 7215 2833