Navigation Irritation

What do you do when something you take for granted is no longer there…

We were super excited to pick up our car from the importer on February 19. I happily followed Won back to our place in the BMW, while he drove the rental car. When we got home I had him snap a picture of me to show that we had successfully completed the process to bring our car to Portugal. Yay us!!

Our excitement was slightly diminished the very next day when we got in the car to drive to the supermarket. We couldn’t figure out why the navigation system in the car wasn’t functioning. It didn’t take long before we learned that when you bring a car from the US to Europe the integrated navigation system will no longer work. No way. Yes!

Why is that? Well, I’m glad you asked. The computers of cars sold in the US are specifically programmed to reflect North American automobile standards and measures and the maps that come with the car are only of the United States. Blast! Were we doomed to rely on our phones for all our navigation needs going forward? We decided to find out.

Won started with a good old Google search which led him to a YouTube video on how to add European Union maps to the car. Seemed promising, but the first thing you had to have were the maps in some kind of a digitized format that could be downloaded to the car’s computer system. He found a company that sold them on a USB stick for $210.00 and placed an order for one. He then continued to educate himself on the process to load the maps. Even though Won exudes confidence in everything he does, he was becoming increasingly concerned about whether he could do this on his own. It looked like it was going to effectively require reprogramming the car’s computer system. I mean, what could possibly go wrong when you start tinkering with that?

He decided to reach out to the local BMW dealership to see if they could do the work. It seemed a much safer approach. He drove over to talk to them and returned to tell me it was a no-go.

What?! Evidently, because the car was built for sale in the US, the entire on board computer system is geared toward US standards. They told him they couldn’t do it and still maintain BMW standards for the car. Groan. (This same issue comes back to bite us at a later date). On the plus side, neither one of us had to worry about being accidentally ejected.

Won contacted the company from whom he had purchased the USB stick and told them what the situation was. They offered to send him a link which would allow him to change the car’s computer system. He reconsidered and decided to try. I immediately contacted our insurance provider and upped the coverage amounts for accidental ejection. However, after he received the link and continued to read about the process, he realized it was really too complicated and he wasn’t sure it would actually work. In the end, we both decided using Google Maps on our phones was the safest approach. The company was very understanding and agreed to cancel the order and refund the purchase price.

If using our phones was going to become the norm, we thought it might be prudent to find a better way to do it safely. Up to that point, Won had been propping the phone up on the dashboard partially obscuring the control panel. With no way to secure it, it tended slip all over the place often falling under the seat. Not ideal. Won went out and purchased one of those air vent phone holders and we resigned ourselves to this new reality.

Fast forward several months. While scrolling through the news feed on my phone, I stumbled upon an article about Android Auto which enables you to route Google Maps from your phone directly into your car navigation system. I have a Google Pixel phone so I’m thinking this could work. I excitedly run to tell Won that I might have found a solution! He agrees and we are both hopeful until I learn that Android Auto supports 43 global auto brands except two. Guess what one of those two brands are. Yup, BMW. [And Bentley. So, for all you US-based Bentley owners out there looking to bring your car to Europe, be forewarned.] Apparently, BMW, and the aforementioned Bentley, have exclusive agreements with Apple. I grumble for a few minutes and sulk off to pout in the other room.

However, this jiggles something in the back of Won’s mind. He remembers that Apple has a similar feature through an app called CarPlay. Would his old Apple iPhone 7 have this feature and would it work? (Yes…he’s still using that ancient relic and won’t change it for a new one until the parts literally throw themselves out of the phone and on to the floor and yell, ‘Oh, for Pete’s sake!! Upgrade, will ya!!??’)

Won tells me he’s going to see if he can get this to work. He returns a short time later to report that he has solved our integrated navigation problem!! He successfully set up Apple CarPlay, which means that every time he gets in the car with his phone, it automatically connects. Navigation is now routed through the car speakers and comes up on the dashboard display. This means our music playlists now come through the car too. Bonus! Of course, both our Android phones are on standby should his iPhone 7 suddenly expire, giving its last full measure to get us to wherever it is that we are going.

Oh, and for anyone who might be thinking what does Beth do if she’s driving without Won? At this point, I don’t drive anywhere on my own that I haven’t been to before. I’m still too chicken to do that, but even if I did, I’ve got that trusty old-school air vent phone holder at my disposal.

Next week I will be providing an update on where we are in the in multi-month effort to get our car registered. For anyone looking to bring their car, this one will be incredibly useful. For all others, it will simply be amusing to read the machinations we went through.

Until then, I hope you stay safe, stay healthy and stay in touch!

From Portugal with love,


Published by Beth Thomas-Kim

After working in corporate America for companies like Mattel, Nestlé, and Johnson & Johnson, I retired and moved to Portugal in January of 2020 with my husband Won and our 12-year old wire fox terrier, Sweet Pea. We now live in Monte Estoril, a lovely seaside town just outside Lisbon. We spend our days happily exploring this beautiful country and learning about its fascinating history, engaging culture, warm and welcoming people, delicious food and wine, and stunning architecture. This blog was started primarily as a way to keep family and friends updated on our transition from the US to Portugal. Now, my subscribers include people from all over the world. Enjoy!

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