Buying a Car Abroad
There is no better way to really appreciate and explore a country than on a road trip. Problem is, planning a road trip in a foreign country can be really complicated, and if you are looking to buy a car rather than rent one, having a good plan of action will help to circumvent any unnecessary hurdles. 

Caleb and I have been on road trips through the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, with each destination visited having their own list of problems to overcome. Below is some information to help you figure out the best way to buy a car and plan a road trip- as driving is one of the best ways to see a country, especially if you planning on being somewhere for a month or more. 

Benefits of buying a car 
One of the benefits of buying a car, is that you can sell it at the end of the trip, which can help offset some of your travel costs. However, it is easier to do this in some states/provinces than others, so knowing where you can buy and sell a car first is vital.  

Also, you can modify your own car to meet your needs, like building a bed in the back, or hanging curtains, or buying a sub and putting it in the boot! It's still cool...right?

Basically, having your own car gives you a much more personal experience and you don't have to deal with the same travel restrictions as you would with a rental. Like whether or not you can drive on desert roads, sandy beaches, or rough terrain. With your own car it's no problem, do it all at your own risk! 

I love the feeling of getting in my own car and traveling with wet sandy hair while smoking a cigarette and throwing my stinky shoes in the back...What, I'm just being honest here guys. The point is, there is a tremendous amount of freedom in your own car. 

Planning your route:
It is wise to plan out your journey before you set off, or-at-least have an idea of where you would like to go. Consider how much you want to spend for your trip, how long you plan on going for, and what aspects of your trip are most important to you. Make sure your first couple of drives are easy so that you can monitor what kind of distances you are able to drive per day- this should help manage time for the rest of your trip.

Our Beloved Van "Mr Poo" in Medicine Bow Forest, Wyoming 

What kind of car should you buy?
Firstly, before you look at buying a car from a dealer or private seller, ask around at a few hostels, or check bulletin boards, to see if any travelers are looking to sell a car they have just used on a road trip. You'll be surprised to find that these kinds of advertisements are not uncommon, and some of these vehicles go really cheap as the owners are looking to sell quickly. 

The car you buy should best reflect your needs, budget, and driving requirements. So plan your trip carefully to ensure you don't have to sacrifice the quality of your vehicle or the journey you have planned. 

Figure out what kind of terrain you will be driving through. Be prepared for any seasonal complications you may encounter as well, such as flooding, landslides, and storms. If you plan on doing any off-roading, you will want to make sure that you have a car that can handle the terrain- like a 4WD. However, if you will be sticking to highways or main roads, a front or rear-wheel drive should be adequate. If you plan on sleeping in your car, or if you will need lots of storage space for gear and equipment (surfboards, snowboards, bicycles etc.) you should look at buying a van.    

On a side note, make sure you have the right tires for your trip as winter tires will not fare well on hot summer roads and vice-versa. This is an important point, as you will probably buy the car out of season, so ask the dealer to change the tires before you buy the car (if this isn't possible- get them changed elsewhere before you depart).

This will be your biggest hurdle when it comes to buying a car. Insurance is compulsory in many countries and you will need to have it organized before you buy your car. In some circumstances, foreign drivers may not be eligible to purchase insurance at all, or the cost will be so high, that the trip itself would be impossible.

Make sure you research insurance legalities thoroughly and try to search for loopholes that may help you circumvent the system- even though you may not be eligible for insurance in one province/state, you may be eligible in another. For example, before we set off on our road trip across the US we were living in Ontario, Canada. As foreign drivers, we were not able to buy a car in Ontario without first being insured, and Ontario would not insure us. Luckily, we were able to buy a car in Montreal as Quebec law would allow us to be insured for a low rate on a foreign drivers license. Make sure you research your options thoroughly and when the occasion requires you to be flexible- be flexible.  

Once you have found the vehicle you are looking to buy, research the quality and ratings of all the insurance companies that will cover you, and compare them to make sure you get the best policy for the best price. Keep in mind, if you will be sharing the driving with another passenger, see if you can get a policy that allows you to add additional drivers. If the cost of this is too expensive, be prepared to do all the driving. Also, third-party property insurance is the cheapest policy to apply for, as comprehensive insurance may end up costing more than the car itself.  

  • You must be over the age of 18 and in most countries and you will need to provide a proof of address in the state/province/country you are purchasing your car in. You can use a friend or family members address or alternatively you can buy a postal box and use a PO Box address. You will also need a local phone number; buy a cheap sim card or use a friend’s number.
  • Before you depart, look into getting an international driver’s permit and make sure you have all the appropriate documentation, such as your passport (with validity) and your driver’s license.
  • You will also need to register the car, or buy plates, from the DMV and you will need the title forms to transfer ownership.
  • You may need to obtain a roadworthy certificate; however this is not always a requirement, if it is not, bring someone who knows about cars to the dealership or seller or bring it to a mechanic for inspection.

Ila Cooking Lunch

Obviously, the cost of buying a car depends on the country you are buying it in. So, for the purposes of this article, I am going to use Canada as an example. In Canada, the cost of purchasing a van, including insurance for 6 months, plates, registration, paperwork, road worthy certificates and a few check-ups/repairs at a mechanic was around $4500 CND. FYI, the car we bought had just under 100 000 km on it, we had to replace the bushings and it had a bit of rust on the chassis. Which is normal for a used car in Canada.

If you keep the car immaculate you should be able to sell it for the same price paid. If you make any alterations to the vehicle you should look to sell if for around ¾ of the price paid.

If you are going to buy a car for a road trip, it is worth looking at making it your primary form of accommodation- because it's fun and because it will save you money. For this reason, it may be in your best interest to buy a van or a larger 4WD.

Rip out the back seats and build a frame for a bed in the back, or just put a double mattress straight in. You can still sell the car with the alterations you have made. Place advertisements up in hostels or on craigslist (or equivalent). You will be surprised how many people are looking to buy a car that is purpose built for a road-trip. Alternatively, bring a good quality tent and find free/cheap campsite where you can stay.

Our Camp spot in Diablo Canyon near Santa Fe

Useful Apps and websites:

  • Road-trippers – This will help you manage your journey and help you find places of interest.
  • Along the way (Mobile) – Will help you locate rest-stops, grocery stores and other amenities on your journey.
  • Rent-a-bomb – They come under all sorts of names across the globe. But they are essentially cheap rental services.
  • Gasbuddy – will help you find a petrol station.
  • Craigslist – to buy and sell
  • AAA – For roadside assistance
  • Google Maps – To find your way
  • Trip-it (Mobile) – To log accommodations, sites, and routes
  • – To find a cheap place to stay on the fly
  • Stay-du – To meet up with people along the way and potentially have a free place to stay
  • – To find cheap or free campsites
  • – Where you can pitch a tent in someones garden    
More Tips & Advice