Last Thursday I was coming home from running errands with my Portuguese neighbor. As we came to the highway intersection before our neighborhood, a policeman pulled me over. Apparently he and other police at the intersection corners were checking each car for registration papers. The officer, and then another lady, came over and spoke to me in Portuguese. I would turn to my neighbor, Isabel, for a translation. Then the woman began to speak directly with me in English (so well that Isabel said she couldn't follow her!). She asked for my car's registration. I searched through the glove compartment looking for something different than our insurance. I had never been taught what else you might need to have in Europe! I called Scott; he didn't know where the other paper would be, but I knew he started praying because right after that I found a folded piece of paper that was what she was looking for!
The woman asked me when we brought the car into Portugal—June 20th. She said it was over the 6 month allowance to have our registration changed from Germany. We read that we had 12 months from a website that gave instructions in English to people coming into the country. I told her we had planned to get the car inspected next week just so we could change the registration over. Isabel kept saying we had been out of the country for 3 months (for our recent furlough)—didn't that count? The lady clarified that we had not driven the car out with us. No, we flew to America. She took my papers and was gone for a long time filling out paperwork. When she returned she said my car would be in their custody, but I would be allowed to drive it that night only. After that I could not drive it until I had changed registration and paid the fine for not doing it in time. I asked how I could take care of the registration if I couldn't drive the car. She asked if we only had one car—Yes. So she made a note on the paper that we would be driving to the customs office the following day.
The next day at the customs office in a beach town about 30 minutes from here, we went first to a counter that appeared to deal with the car registration. One woman there spoke English. She read our papers from the officer the day before. She said we could not register the car as usual because we were over the 6 month mark. We would have to pay taxes on our car to be able to register it (or get it back from the government's custody!). We told her we'd read that because we'd owned our car in Germany for over one year we wouldn't have to pay taxes. She said that would be fine if we had registered within the 6 month mark. We asked if they'd consider that we were misinformed about the time period. She said we'd have to speak with her boss. In the mean time, she would figure the taxes for us. Scott and I discussed that God would not require more than He could take care of. She came back with a list of numbers that totaled 9, 350 Euros! Unbelievable! Yet peace prevailed. We asked what if we could not pay that? She said they can keep the car instead—our only car. Then she took us to her boss's office.
This manager we talked to was a nice man who spoke in broken English. He had my car papers that the officer took on Thursday and appeared to be informed about our situation. He spoke specifically to me, since I was the law offender. He began to tell me my rights under Portuguese law, one being that I could lie. I said I didn't understand, surely he had a word mistranslated or something. He repeated, "You can lie!" We told him we didn't want to lie. He asked me what I wanted to do. He repeated that my options were to pay the taxes and register, to give the car to the Portuguese government or take the car back to Germany. That brought up many questions in our minds but first we told him our story about having the wrong amount of time to get the registration changed. He said that because we were Americans and not European Union citizens that we would have had to pay taxes on the car within 20 days of us crossing the border because we were coming to live here. The only exceptions were for people here to vacation. He said we weren't even allowed to drive in Portugal as Americans because we weren't licensed to drive in the EU. Thankfully we had our German drivers' licenses that we'd worked so hard to obtain! When we showed him this, he said he needed to speak with his boss. He said he's studied the law and complained that there are too many exceptions in the Portuguese law, almost like he was suggesting that we would not be the next exception.
He was gone for a while, and everyone else was out of his office. We prayed there by ourselves for God to move on our behalf. Tears welled up in my eyes, not because of the enormity of the problem before us, rather that I knew God would not forsake us. Even if we had to pay the money, turn the car in, or drive the car to Germany to sell it (and then buy a new car in Portugal), He was going to come through for us somehow. Sea gulls seemed to float in the air right outside the only window there above a beach inlet. They had no cares in the world (Matthew 6:26-27). The manager came back and escorted us to the Director of Customs office for that area.
It was a large office with a large desk and a conference table. The director was in a suit and spoke very good English. He kindly asked us what we were doing in the country. We explained and made sure he knew we received income only from America. We showed him the papers saying we had 12 months to take care of the registration change. He looked at our German drivers' licenses and Scott's Portuguese visa. Then he spoke Portuguese with the manager for some time. He came back and asked to see any evidence that we'd lived in Germany for over one year. Thankfully Scott had done his homework and had every paper that was requested of us.
Then he said, "OK, let's go back to the other office and get your car registered." We said that's fine, but we could not pay the taxes. He said "Oh, you will not need to pay anything." Can you feel the relief we felt?! He took us to the first counter, told the ladies a bunch of stuff in Portuguese, and they got right to work preparing our paperwork to be done. I stopped the director on his way out and asked if my name would be cleared because of the citation or if I needed to do anything else. He said it was taken care of!
We think the Director used the date on Scott's residence visa (mid-August) to begin our 6 month time frame, rather than when we crossed the border. That is also the time we closed on our home—so our residency became official at that time. The manager stayed in that office for some time looking at legal books. As he was leaving, he stopped to tell us he didn't agree with his director, that he thought we didn't have "the right" to get this exception. We were thankful nonetheless that he wasn't the one with the final say.
We drove home that day in our car without a dime less having all the necessary paperwork to drive in Portugal and get further in the process of having new license plates, etc. We ended up ahead rather than behind. We laughed at how we had started to make plans in our head about how we'd take care of this. Scott leaned toward giving them the car (and calling someone to pick up the girls from school!). I leaned toward driving back to Germany. I missed our friends and familiar things there and driving back would surely be easier without so many of our household items in tow as when we drove out of Germany in June '09! God truly parted the Red Sea for us in the easiest way. Back at home, I felt most victorious in the fact that we didn't succumb to unbelief at the sea's edge. Rejoice with us!