Financial Travel Tip #20: Buying a Car Abroad

by Nora on March 17, 2012

If you’re traveling around a country or region for a while, does buying a car abroad make sense? In Australia and New Zealand where many young people visit for up to a year on a working holiday visa, it’s common to buy an old station wagon and use it to drive around the country and sometimes camp out of.

In fact, when I was in Australia myself, I bought a second-hand car, since I planned on living and volunteering rurally for at least six months and owning a car was necessary.


The good news: I got a lovely little Nissan with amazingly low mileage given its distant year of manufacture. I was assured that it was previously owned by a little old lady who never drove it and took impeccable care of it.

The bad news: Shortly after I drove away in my new wheels (but too far to turn back), I discovered the odometer didn’t work…in addition to a host of other things that strategically fell apart after the transfer of ownership.


There were a number of other minor frustrations I experienced in the course of owning a car abroad, such that if can avoid it, I’ll never buy a car on the road again.


Here are some things to be aware of if you plan to buy a car abroad:

Registration requirements. In Australia for example, you need a mailing address to register your car. Many travelers don’t have this, and instead simply renew the car under the previous owner’s name. So, buyer beware (you need an address), and seller beware (a new buyer might not transfer ownership, creating potential liabilities for you in the future).


Condition. If you buy a second-hand car from another traveler advertising the sale of their car on a hostel bulletin board, be prepared for a car that hasn’t exactly been babied.


International / Local Driver’s License. Some countries require you to have an International Driving permit in order to rent or buy vehicles abroad. And if you stay beyond a certain timeframe (three months for example), you might be required to register for a local driving license.


Leave Time to Re-Sell. Assuming you plan to re-sell the car when you depart the country, make sure you leave ample time to find a buyer. For me this is one of the more stressful points to owning a car somewhere I don’t live; the eventual need to find a buyer and (properly) sell the car just before leaving!



Here’s some more food for thought with regards to buying a second-hand car:

Seven Tips for Buying a Second-Hand Car – and Walking Away Happy

My Car is a Lemon! What Now?

How Much Does it Cost Every Time You Get Into Your Car?




{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Baron's March 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm

You’re quite right about what you say here…it’s a headache to own a car in your own country let alone abroad….unless you are mechanically inclined and can tend to the little quirks that will undoubtedly pop up. You got a point about the legal requirements…ie ownership, insurance, etc…not to mention that heaven forbid you got into an accident and a local was fatally hit…you will probably have to pay blood money in some countries


2 Christopher Crockett March 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm

I don’t know much about the international driver’s license. Just that it exists. Have you found that this is something worth having for someone intending to long-term travel?


3 theprofessionalhobo March 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm

@Baron’s – You bring up a whole other can of worms I didn’t get into, called insurance! (Which of course differs from country to country. It’s another thing that bears bringing out the reading glasses to examine the fine print).

@Christopher – Although I haven’t had to use my International Driver’s Licence many times, I have indeed needed it on a few occasions. It also makes for a nice additional piece of photo ID to have on you if you don’t want to carry your passport on certain occasions.

It’s a bit of a bother that it must be renewed annually, and they won’t mail it internationally (at least at the CAA in Canada won’t), so you’ll have to get somebody to forward it to you if you renew it from abroad.


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