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Can a Foreigner Visiting the US Buy a Car Instead of Renting One?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro March 2017

Hello and welcome to the latest round of Ask Doug, your favorite stop in the world of Oversteer, where you ask me a question and I respond to it in a polite and timely manner, and also potentially I make fun of your grammar.

If you'd like to Ask Doug a question, you can! Just e-mail me at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, and I'd be happy to answer any possible question you might have, except that really I only answer one question per week. So make it good.

Anyway, today's question comes to us from a reader I've named Hans, who lives in Germany. Given that last week's question came from a reader in Australia, I'm proud to say that Oversteer has officially gone global, in the sense that we have one reader in Germany, one reader in Australia, and approximately 11 readers in America, two of which are my mother constantly reloading the page on different browsers to boost our numbers. Hans writes:

Hey Doug! I really like your Videos and I hope you can help me with something.

I was planning to go on a road trip through the U.S. with my Friends this Summer, but we don't want to spend a lot of money on a rental car (they want like 2k$ for a Toyota Yaris, yikes!). We had the idea to just buy one from Autotrader, drive it from Coast to Coast and then trash it somewhere in California. But you don't find anything on the internet about insurance, or if it's even possible for a foreigner to buy and drive a Car through the country(?)

I hope you could shoot me some Ideas :)

Anyway, keep up the good work!

Greetings from across the big lake

Hans

Hans, you ask an excellent question, and I can tell you're actually German -- and not some Italian masquerading as a German -- because you capitalize all your nouns. This happens in the German language; they capitalize words like Brother and Toothpick. Of course, they also place words together, so that Volleyballcontactsolution may actually be a viable German word, presuming that it has the nationally required number of German umlauts (one per 10 characters).

Anyway, the question here is: Instead of renting a car in America, can a foreigner buy a car, drive it around for a while and then sell it at the end of the trip?

Hans is undoubtedly asking this question because, believe it or not, this is pretty common practice in Europe. If you're spending several months at a time in Europe, there are several companies that will act on your behalf to purchase a vehicle, have you drive it for a while, and then sell it for you when you're done. If you're overseas long enough, this can be a lot cheaper than renting a car.

Unfortunately, Hans, I've never heard of this occurring in the U.S. -- and it's not hard to see why. Lawsuits are commonplace here in America, and the idea of a company setting up to let foreign drivers loose on American roads without an American driver's license just seems like the giant mother of all humanly possibly lawsuits. Which leads us to the next question, which is: Can you just buy the car yourself?

Unfortunately, Hans, I think the answer here is once again "no." In every U.S. jurisdiction where I've ever lived, you needed a valid U.S. driver's license and valid U.S. insurance in order to register a vehicle. It's very unlikely you'd be able to quickly obtain a U.S. driver's license during your trip to the States, as you generally need to establish U.S. residency in order to do so -- and insurance probably wouldn't easily cover you with no previous driving history here in America.

As a result, Hans, I think your best bet is a rental car. It's certainly your cheapest bet, as I suspect the purchase, sales tax, registration fees, resale time and costs, and insurance costs of purchasing your own car would definitely be higher than the $2,000 you mentioned for a rental car. For instance: if you purchased a $20,000 car, sales tax alone in most jurisdictions would be around $1,400.

I'll now take this opportunity to mention Turo, which is a service (which, admittedly, gives me a monthly budget) that lets you rent other peoples' cars instead of normal, boring rental cars. I have no idea how Turo works for foreigners in America, but you may want to look into it, as virtually everything I can find on Turo seems more exciting than spending the summer driving around America in a Toyota Yaris.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Used 2016 Toyota Yaris L
Used 2016 Toyota Yaris
$10,950
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Can a Foreigner Visiting the US Buy a Car Instead of Renting One? - Autotrader