Now that we've got it done, I thought I'd offer a few tips.
1. Figure out what to call it. Over here, a "van" means a vehicle of any size with seats in the front and panels instead of windows in the back, with an open cargo space. If you want a "minivan," look for a "people carrier." If you want something with more than 9 seats, it is called a "minibus."
2. Check Ebay motors everyday. Craigslist hasn't caught on here very well, and the base lemon lot doesn't see any minibuses.
3. Forget trying to see a vehicle on a weekend. The owner is either working or away for the weekend and isn't available to show the bus. Also, lower expectations about email response time. Selling the bus isn't a priority - if you don't make it, someone else will.
Now that you have these basics down, you can make some progress. :-)
We found a cheap 15 passenger on Ebay, and were "watching" it. Wednesday Bob happened to get off work by 3pm, so we contacted the owner. They finally replied, and we high-tailed it down to the village of Braughing. It was just over an hour's drive, through a couple of lovely villages. The minibus looked in good condition for the age and price, so we decided to buy it. Only one problem - it wasn't taxed. Now taxes here are a bit different than in the states. Here, the tax is for the privilege of using the road; you can pay 6 or 12 months at a time, and as receipt you get a little "disk" to stick in the window. The tax disk is for the vehicle, not the owner/driver. But... To pay taxes on a car, you have to have proof of insurance and ownership. And we weren't sure at the time about grace periods for new owners.
So, it was decided that the previous owner would put the bus back on her insurance, just for a couple of days, and pay the tax online. This would put it in the database, and if we were to get stopped the police would see that we had paid the tax, just the disk hadn't arrived yet. Bob took some pictured of the ducks, we ate at McDonalds, and went home to bed.
Thursday morning the lady emailed, saying it was too expensive to insure, even for a few days, so she gave me the info so I could insure and tax it. Fine. I tried to get the insurance online, but as our company (USAA) is based in the US it didn't recognize the British style VIN number. So I called, even though it was 3am Central time, and got transferred to a live person with an Australian accent. It was no problem to get the insurance; she emailed me proof of insurance to print and take with me, and sent a hard copy in the mail. The bus owner said it would show up on the database in 24 hours, so I waited impatiently for a day.
Friday morning I checked the database, and the bus wasn't listed as insured. The result came back with a big warning that if we drove it uninsured we would be stopped and the vehicle destroyed. So I called USAA again, and they said it usually takes "several days" to get in the database. The woman was helpful, and tried to find some other way for me to get the tax disk, but we didn't come up with much. I got my insurance letter in the post Friday. So some things work better over here.
After a few frantic emails to the bus owner she (or her husband) had a thought, and we got it sorted rather quickly, as follows.
Saturday morning we met at the bus. We had the proof of insurance and the money. She had the V5 (sort of the title) and the proof of MOT (inspection) which we also needed. She hopped in her car, and we followed her through three villages to her local Post Office. She and Bob went in, she signed over the V5, showed the MOT and the insurance, and Bob paid the tax. Viola! We were all done. Bob got the tax disk, and we should get the new V5 in our name next week in the mail. Phew.
On the way out to the minibus we stopped a few times and took pictures - Bob has a few on his Flickr.
Bob drove it home, I followed in the minivan, and we stopped at McDonalds again for lunch. Bob also got some petrol at the station there. Once home, Bob took the wheel of the minivan again, and we went to look for car seats. As part of the SOFA (standard of forces agreement), we have to use American certified car seats in American cars, and British/European car seats in British cars. So everyone but Taryn has to have a new booster seat. We went to the thrift shop on Mildenhall, but they didn't have any. Stopped at a yard sale, but they didn't have any. Bought a Spirograph. Went to the furniture store in Feltwell, as that is the AAFES branch that sells baby stuff. They had a dozen models of American booster seats, starting at $20, but only one British seat and it was $62. So we decided to check the internet.
Back home for naps, play, and dinner, etc.
I did find a few seats on Ebay. I think Bob bid on a couple of them just now. And so another misadventure has come to a close, and we can cross one thing off our list of "Things to get done before Mom and Dad get here."