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Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

Last post 04-19-2012 9:15 AM by nigelmark. 110 replies.
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  • 02-25-2008 11:23 AM

    Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    I keep getting e-mails from foreign visitors, mostly young people, who want to purchase a car in the USA, use it to tour the country, then sell it before returning home.  I do not recommend this plan.  There are several problems and a nearly insurmountable barrier to driving a car in the USA.

    Buying a car in the USA is not a problem.  If you have the money, you can easily find someone to sell you a car.  You can ship the car overseas or you can sell the car with little difficulty.  Driving the car in the USA is, however, very difficult.

    In order to legally drive a car in the USA, you must have license plates from some state affixed to the car.  Those license plates are issued by the state bureau of motor vehicles, and prove that the car is registered in the state.  In order to register the car in any state, you must have a permanent address in that state.  If you are living and working in the USA, you will probably have a house or apartment where you live.  That can serve as your permanent address in whichever state it is located.  If you are a tourist traveling around the USA, you are not likely to have a permanent address in any state.  Without a permanent address, you cannot register a car in any state.  Therefore, you cannot obtain license plates to drive a car.

    • Can you use someone else's address to register the car?  Legally, you cannot do this.  If someone allows you to use their address, and they get caught, it might cause them quite a bit of trouble with the police.
    • Can I use the previous owner's license plates to drive the car?  Not unless the seller is willing to break the laws and risk possible trouble with the police.  A seller will always remove his license plates from the car.  Otherwise, the buyer might go off and commit some crime or some act of terrorism anywhere in the USA, and the law enforcement authorities would immediately use those license plates to track the car back to the seller.
    • Can someone living in the USA purchase the car for me?  Yes, but the car will be registered in their name and will be insured in their name, so they will be the official owner of the car.  They might lend that car to you, but they and their insurance will be assuming full responsibility for the use of the car.
    • Can I use a temporary address or a post office box to register a car?  Most states will not allow you to use a temporary address as your permanent place of residence in the state.  In parts of Wyoming, they do allow you to use temporary addresses to register a car.
    • Are these rules strictly enforced by the police?  Yes, since the terrorist attacks in 2001, the police, the FBI and all law enforcement agencies are very sensitive about people who use false information to obtain driver's licenses and car registrations.
    • If I purchase a car for export how do I deliver it to the shipping port?  If you purchase a car near a port city, you might have the seller deliver the car to the point of embarkation.  You can also hire a car shipping firm to transport the car via truck to the port.

    I am sorry to be the bearer of such negative news, but there is no easy way to purchase a car to drive while touring the USA.  I usually suggest that you compare the prices on long term auto rentals or on short term auto leases.  They might be expensive, but they are a lot easier than attempting to buy a car, and may even be cheaper if you consider all of the ramifications.

     

     

  • 03-09-2008 3:32 PM In reply to

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    I just received another question pertaining to buying a car in the USA for export overseas.  I previously wrote on my car buying tips page that you can usually avoid paying the state sales tax on any vehicle you will export.  The person asked me how to do this.

    As a general rule, most states require you to pay a state sales tax, up to 6 or 7% of the purchase price, when you register the vehicle in the state.  If you will not register the vehicle in the state, you are typically not required to pay the tax.

    This is quite common for people that live near the border between two states.  They may cross into a neighboring state to purchase a car.  They will not register the car in the state where they bought it, and they will not pay sales tax in that state.  When they bring the car home, they will register it in their own state, and pay the sales tax in that state.  Most car dealers in those regions will know what must be done to avoid the tax on a car sold for export to another state.

    I cannot tell you the exact rules that apply in every state as each state has its own laws.  This is the normal practice in most states. 

    If you purchase a car for export overseas, you can usually avoid the state sales tax, because you will not register the car in the state.  Unfortunately, you will not be able to drive the car in that state, because you cannot get license plates from the state on a car that is not registered in the state. You can have the seller deliver the car directly to the shipping company, or you can hire a truck to deliver the car to the shipping company.

  • 03-25-2008 3:33 PM In reply to

    • Steve G
    • Top 75 Contributor
    • Joined on 03-25-2008
    • England (UK)
    • Posts 4

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

  • 03-25-2008 3:33 PM In reply to

    • Steve G
    • Top 75 Contributor
    • Joined on 03-25-2008
    • England (UK)
    • Posts 4

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

     

  • 03-25-2008 3:50 PM In reply to

    • Steve G
    • Top 75 Contributor
    • Joined on 03-25-2008
    • England (UK)
    • Posts 4

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    Great info about buying a vehicle in the US.

    I am a Brit intending to purchase a truck and a 5th wheel in the US in the fall of 2008.  We are selling our sailing yacht in the Mediterannean after 6 years living aboard and intend to travel the US for a similar period of time, before returning back to live in Europe.  We are both retired and able to finance ourselves in America.

    Our initial plan is to travel from Florida (where one of my sisters-in-law lives and we are hoping that we can use her address as ours and register the vehicles there and get Florida plates), up the East side of the US, taking about 6 months to do this, to arrive in Canada in May 2009, where another sister-in-law lives.  We then intend to travel Canada for 6 months, before coming back into the US as "Snowbirds" for another 6 months stay.

    We know, that as UK Citizens, we are only allowed to stay in the US for 6 months and have then to leave. Hence zig-zagging North to South of the US and gradually East to West leaving every six months to visit Canada would seem to work. 

    We know we have issues about US Visas and staying in the US and will hopefully overcome these, but can you advise about any issues that are involved in taking a Florida registered truck and 5th Wheel, by Brits, across the US border to Canada.

     Any Information will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks ............ Steve G 

     

  • 03-28-2008 12:57 PM In reply to

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    Hi Steve,

    It sounds like you are in for an experience of a lifetime!

    Unfortunately I cannot give you an absolute answer to your question.  But I would guess that the border guards are more interested in the contents of the vehicle (passengers with legal documents, no illigal materials) than the vehicle itself. 

    But since you will be traveling with British Passports and driving a Florida vehicle, you may be asked about it's ownership.  Some rental cars are obvious.  Some are not.  The border guard may assume that your car is a rental, if it is a newer model.

    To be certain I suggest checking the official US and Canadian sites for the border. 

    Here's the US site for non-citizens.  http://www.customs.ustreas.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/

    And here's their FAQ page.  http://www.customs.ustreas.gov/xp/cgov/toolbox/questions/

    Hre's the Canadian site for non-citizens.  http://cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/travel-voyage/visitors-eng.html

    And their FAQ  http://cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/travel-voyage/faqs-eng.html

    If you don't find an answer on their sites, they do each have a contact us page.  Good luck!

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  • 03-28-2008 4:41 PM In reply to

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    It sounds like you have researched this matter fairly well. 

    Technically, your sister-in-law's address in Florida is not your permanent residence, but you could probably make a good argument that this is your permanent home or base of operations while you are visiting the USA.  As long as your sister-in-law is willing to corroborate your story, It might be sufficient to register your truck in Florida.

    There should be no problem taking the vehicle across the border into Canada.  As long as you have the proper registration papers and insurance, it should not be difficult.  Numerous US registered vehicles cross the border into Canada and numerous Canadian registered vehicles cross into the USA every day.  You should verify that your insurance coverage will be valid in Canada.  Most insurance is valid for short trips into Canada, but you are taking an extended sojurn.

    Check the visa requirements.  I believe, you can come to the USA for 90 days without a visa.  I believe you can extend it to 6 months with little difficulty.  I don't know if there is any requirement for you to return to your homeland before you can return to the USA?

  • 03-29-2008 5:30 AM In reply to

    • Steve G
    • Top 75 Contributor
    • Joined on 03-25-2008
    • England (UK)
    • Posts 4

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    Thanks for responding to my 2 posts.

    re Visa's - you are correct about UK citizens visting the states. The UK has an arrangement with the US (Visa Waiver Programme), whereby UK citizens can visit the US for 90 days max without a formal visa in their passports.  They must however have proof of a return ticket, before they are allowed through immigration.  Since we intend to visit the US at 6 monthly intervals, over a period of years, we are currently exploring our best options for this "return ticket" requirement, so that we don't have immigration problems.

    We are not sure either whether we have to return to the UK every 6 months, before a re-visit to the US, but are currently working on the premise that leaving the US to go to Canada every 6 months is sufficient - we'll get more info when we attend out visa interview in London later this year.

    Again, thanks for the useful info.

    Steve G    

  • 06-30-2009 11:47 AM In reply to

    • Alex
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    • Joined on 06-30-2009
    • Posts 1

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    Hi to all,

     

    first of all thanks to Mike for all this helpful information...

    I'm an US citizen (with Passport and Social Security Number) living in Germany. I have never lived permanently in the US, but my mom originates from Indiana (she lived there for about 25 years until she moved to Germany).
    I'm an 18-year-old student finishing school in summer 2010, and my friends and I are planning on travelling by car around the US - maybe also Canada and Mexiko.

    So my question is: Does anybody know if I can buy a car in the US?
    If I can't buy a car would it be possible (and legal) to put down the address of one of my aunts or uncles? I mean their family, right? And we would spent a long time at their places.

    Thanking you in anticipation (and I hope my English isn't too bad),

    Alex

  • 06-30-2009 4:24 PM In reply to

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    You can certainly buy a car in the US, and you can probably register the car and drive it in the US.

    I can tell you that it is certainly possible for you to use your aunt's or uncle's address as your permanent residence in the USA.  I cannot tell you if it is legal to use your aunt's or uncle's address.  That is a question for a lawyer or a judge to answer.  

    I guess that it would be difficult for anyone to prove that this is not legal.  If you say that It is your intention to live with your aunt while you are in the USA, and she agrees that you can live with her, how can anyone prove that it is not true?  I think that would probably make her address your legal permanent residence in the state.  Of course, I am not a lawyer or a judge, so I cannot definitely tell you what is legal.

    If you are only 18 years old, it may be difficult to find insurance.  When you do find an insurer, they will charge you a very high price.

  • 07-17-2009 6:19 AM In reply to

    • gustav
    • Top 50 Contributor
    • Joined on 07-16-2009
    • Posts 9

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    Hi. I wonder if anyone out there can give me any advice. I am a UK citizen who owns a boat which is kept all year-round in a Florida marina. I travel to Florida from the UK every couple of months and stay for around three weeks at a time as a liveaboard on my boat. Up to now I have rented hire cars for the period I am in Florida, but I feel sure it would work out a whole lot cheaper to either share a car with a US citizen or buy a car and leave it at the marina. I have read the various messages already posted on this subject, but I was wondering whether my boat in the marina would count as a residential address. I do have mail and deliveries shipped to that address already, so as a postal address it is not a problem. It is the address I register with Immigration when I arrive in the US, but would I be able to register and insure a vehicle using this address? I would be quite happy to take a US driving test, if that was necessary, but I don't know if that would even be possible. Another possibility might be to find someone who was prepared to lend me the use of his car while I was there, but he would presumably have to add me to the insurance as a named driver and I don't know whether that would be possible. Has anyone out there had any similar experience of this problem? Any advice would be welcome.
  • 07-20-2009 10:12 AM In reply to

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    I believe that your boat would qualify as a permanent address in Florida.  As you stated, it is a live-aboard, and you already have mail delivered to that address.  I think you could register a car and obtain Florida license plates using that address.  To be certain, you should contact the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles for a definite answer.

    You should verify that the parking spot on the marina is safe for long-term parking.  Sometimes the local authorities tow away cars that are left parked for long periods.

    You do not need a US drivers license.  Your UK license shoud be fine in the USA. 

     

  • 08-12-2009 5:25 PM In reply to

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    A little more straightforward maybe - we own a property in Florida and spend about 12 weeks a year there, so a car purchase may be viable. Do we need a social security number to be able to register the car? Is there anything else we need to be aware of? We have UK licenses. Thanks for your help.
  • 08-13-2009 10:02 AM In reply to

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    I am not an expert on the Florida state motor vehicle regulations, but typically you do not need a social security number to register a car in any state.  You only need a social security number to seek employment in the USA.

    As long as you have a Florida residence address, and valid liability insurance for the vehicle, you should be able to register a vehicle.  Once you register the vehicle and obtain the license tags to affix to the vehicle, you can drive that vehicle not only in Florida, but in any other state.

    Most states also have safety inspection requitements for all registered vehicles.  When you own a vehicle that is registered in the state, you must take that vehicle to a state inspection center or to a garage (in some states).  The mechanics check your vehicle to see that it meets the state dictated safety standards for operation; and if it does, they affix a safety sticker to the windshield of the vehicle.  If it does not meet the safety standards, they direct you to repair the equipment and return for another safety check.

  • 10-01-2009 11:13 PM In reply to

    Re: Buying a Car to Drive in the USA

    Dear Mike your answers being very clear and brief. One more question may be usefull to all seaman arriving in US and intending to buy a car. I am a seaman on board vessel on steady line to US and European ports. It would be very convenient for me to buy a car in US and bring it in Valencia, then drive it to my home Croatia. Since I have no residence in US, except our Shipping Company agent address in Charleston, what shall I do with car with no plates and no insurance. I even canot land it in Europe. can you help. I will be in around in USA until end of November 2009. brgds Luis
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