If you are looking for information on how to buy a car from overseas, you are in the right place. As a family who has moved abroad we have had the interesting and often confusing experience of buying a car from another country.

Getting a car, once you arrive in a new country is on the top of most expats to-do list. We have witnessed dozens of individuals and families navigate the experience. There are several ways to go about procuring a car overseas, with some processes being much easier than others! So we wanted to share what we have gleaned about how to make it the most successful and least stressful experience. 

Why Buy a Car Overseas

There are several reasons people might want to buy a car from overseas. Here are a few of the most common…

Cost Savings- Oftentimes buying a car from overseas and shipping it is actually less expensive than buying where you are currently living. For us, while living on an island, this was very true!  Car prices in our location were much higher than if we bought a car on the mainland and either had it shipped or drove it over on the ferry.

Preference- Many people have specific needs or criteria when it comes to the car they need or want to buy. Buying overseas opens up significantly more options, as it allows for much more inventory and choice. People need or require certain things based on their lifestyle and job that limits the cars they can buy. In one such case for us, we needed a car that fit seven people, could fit our surf boards and was an automatic transmission. This was impossible to find in our current location, so we had to look in other countries and locations.

Luxury- There are a lot of serious car enthusiasts out there and many people are very picky about the kind of car they want to drive. Luxury vehicles are an indulgence for so many people and billions of dollars are spent each year on these vehicles. Getting your dream car is a common reason to buy from overseas.  

Advantages and disadvantages of buying a car from overseas

There are several advantages and disadvantages to consider when buying a car overseas. Before you move forward, here are a few important ones to think about. Buying a car is a serious investment so considering all these factors is critical!

Advantages… 

Access to higher quality cars- You may find yourself in a location that does not have access to a wide range of inventory and quality cars. Because vehicles are a significant investment, being able to choose a car that is made well and reliable is critical. 

Better Value- In many cases buying in your local market might not be the best value. Often times you can get a higher quality car for less money overseas.

Financing- Historically it was challenging to get a loan on an imported car. However, with the world changing it is not uncommon to find good financing on an imported vehicle. If you do an internet search will you find dozens of companies eager to help you with financing an imported car. 

More affordable- New cars can be extremely expensive. Importing a used vehicle in good condition oftentimes is much more affordable than buying new or even used in your particular location. 

Disadvantages…

Unable to see the car in person- Not being able to see and test drive a car in person can be a downside of buying a car overseas. However, viewing a car remotely is easier than ever with video and detailed pictures and information. Make sure you get a live video of the car to ensure you are getting a real time view of the car you are purchasing. In some cases you can travel to see the car in person, but oftentimes this expense can offset the savings. 

Importing Process- The paperwork process of importing a car can indeed be a tedious and confusing undertaking. In many cases you are doing it in a different language as well!  We had to buy a car and complete all the paperwork in Spanish which proved to be very challenging. There are many companies for hire that can help you with the documents and bureaucratic part of importing a car, which can be very helpful. In our case we did 80 percent of the research and paperwork on our own, but with the last very complicated steps and documents we hired a company that was knowledgeable, experienced and spoke Spanish. This gave us a degree of confidence that everything was done properly. 

Finding spare parts- Many car parts from overseas can be difficult or impossible to get in your current location. So make sure you consider the availability or price of getting parts for your particular make and model in the event you need them. You may also find it difficult to find qualified mechanics who can service the vehicle. This can make maintaining and repairing a car more challenging and expensive in the long run. 

Warranty- Many times when buying a car overseas you might not be able to get a warranty. For some people this is a big deal, while for others they are willing to take the chance. In either case make sure you understand the risk involved in getting a car with no warranty. 

Scams- Unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers out there trying to sell you a car. There are fake online auctions with virtual carts where people transfer money only to find out the car and website vanishes once the transfer is made!  Make sure you do your research and find a verified and reliable dealer with multiple verified references. 

Researching and Finding the Right Car

Researching the right car is more than just finding the vehicle that you like. It is important to consider many other factors. Here are a few…

Determine your budget

Beyond just the cost of the vehicle there are several additional fees to consider that can impact how much you are able to spend when buying a car. The costs of importing a car are different across the globe so make sure to research the numbers in your particular situation.

Here are a few of the costs to consider that can add up quickly…

  • Import and customs costs  

  • Car Inspections

  • Car and plate registration

  • Import tax 

  • Shipping costs 

Research Car Make and Model

Be sure to do a thorough review and deep dive on the car make and model you are interested in. Not all cars and brands are created equal, and you want to make sure you know as much as you can about the car you are hoping to buy. 

Regulations

Every country has different regulations when it comes to importing and exporting cars. Some are much more stringent than others. Make sure you are aware of the requirements before you get your heart set on what car you want.

Research the dealership and seller

Vetting and doing a lot of research on the dealership is critical. There are a lot of dubious and fraudulent operations in the overseas car market. So make sure you thoroughly examine and vet the company you are working with. 

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Financing and Payment Consideration

Financing a car overseas can be a bit more complicated than financing locally. 

Some options to explore are below…

Personal loan

Taking out a personal loan from a bank or financial institution. This allows you to borrow a fixed amount and repay over a period of time. You may find that interest rates are higher with this model. 

International Auto loan

These types of loans are increasingly becoming more common. There are many institutions that allow loans for imported vehicles and often at lower interest rates. 

Dealer financing

Many international dealers are eager to sell their inventory and therefore may provide financing. These loans are similar to traditional auto loans, but might come with higher interest rates due to greater risks.

Shopping around and comparing different financing options is important in order to find the best deal. Make sure you read all the fine print, fees and repayment terms. 

Currency rate 

When buying a car in a foreign currency it is important to understand how the exchange rate can impact the overall cost of the purchase. In our case we waited to buy as there were indications that in a few weeks the exchange rate was going to be better. This ultimately paid off as it saved us thousands of dollars when we finally made the purchase. 

Payment Methods

Different payment methods have different fees so make sure you are aware of these factors. For instance paying with a credit card may have fewer fees than paying with a bank transfer. 

Shipping and Transportation

Determining how to transport your new vehicle is an important and often time consuming part of buying a car overseas. Finding a reliable and experienced shipping company is important. Make sure to do your research on the company you use to ship your new vehicle. Several ways to do your due diligence are below…

Research Online

The internet is a valuable resource for researching your shipping company. Make sure to explore reviews in Google, and Yelp and with previous customers.  

Get recommendations

Ask colleagues, friends and family who may have used a company to ship a car overseas about a company they may recommend. Word of mouth is the best way to get a first hand account of a company and their performance. 

Check licensing and insurance

Make sure the company you use has all licensing and insurance in place and verified. There is a lot on the line when shipping a new car, and making sure the company has insurance in place should something go wrong is important. 

Compare quotes

Make sure you contact multiple companies to get quotes and information about shipping. In our case we received four different quotes that ranged greatly in cost. 

Read the Contract Carefully

Make sure you understand the timeline of delivery, storage fees, and any other hidden costs or fine print before singing and moving forward. 

Customs and Regulations 

Make sure you understand the rules and regulations of the country you are importing your vehicle into. Be sure to complete this research before you begin the purchasing process. You will want to make sure you obtain all required documentation as well as comply with safety emissions. 

You will likely have to obtain the following documentation:

  • Purchase receipt

  • Registration

  • Insurance

  • Customs clearance.

Inspections and Maintenance

Once you receive your car it will be important to follow a few key steps to make sure the process is successfully completed and your car is legal and safe to drive. While we were living in Spain, routine and spontaneous traffic checks by the police were commonplace, and it was important that we had properly taken care of everything to avoid tickets or impounding the car.

Inspect the car

Make sure you do a thorough examination of the car and photo document it once it arrives. You want to make sure the car arrived exactly as promised and without damage during transportation. 

Register and Insure the Car

It is important to make sure you are driving your car legally in your new country. We found insuring our car very easy, but the process of registering was a bit more challenging. This was one of those steps where we hired an outside agency to help walk us through the process. Their fees were modest and it made things so much easier. 

Service and Maintenance

We found a great mechanic familiar with our car make and model who was extremely helpful and knowledgeable in servicing our new vehicle. He was also invaluable in helping us understand the required maintenance in order to pass the tests for registration. 

Final Words

As you can see there is A LOT to consider when buying a car from overseas. It depends on your personal circumstances, finances and needs with regards to importing a vehicle. 

In many cases it can make a lot of sense to purchase a car from overseas. In our particular case we are glad we took the extra steps to make it happen. 

However, this is not the case for everyone. So be sure to do your research and find the best path forward given all that you now know!  Wishing you the best in the process!

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