Thinking of taking a road trip across Australia and/ or the USA? There are a lot of other things to take into consideration before hiring or buying a car abroad. I’m from the UK, so driving abroad in most countries fills me with utter anxiety. I’d have to drive on the other side of the road for a start!
Being the safety conscious, and thrifty, traveller I am. I wanted to share my research so I can be better prepared for driving abroad. As well as some information to help you (and me) decide if it’s better to rent or buy a car for a road trip (around 3 months long) in the USA and/ or Australia.
IDP – International Driver Permit
My number one tip would be to apply in your country of residence for an International Drivers Permit. If you are in the UK you can do this at the Post Office, In the USA through AAA and in New South Wales, Australia go through NRMA. This MUST be applied for in your home country, it can’t be applied for while you are abroad.
This is an internationally recognised licence that you should carry with your normal licence. It’s required or recommended in over 140 countries. In some it’s a legal requirement, in others, it may be a compulsory requirement of car hire companies. In most English speaking countries you may be ok, the IDP basically translates your licence into different languages so it can be understood globally.
Renting a Car
1. Make sure you have good insurance.
This is a bit of a no brainer really. If you are hiring a car make sure you are fully covered by them. Or if you are staying a bit longer, even better get your own. Cars are expensive and you don’t want to get caught out if anything were to happen.
If you are planning to hire a car to make sure you pre-book as its almost always the cheapest option. You can also compare different companies. When doing this the cheapest isn’t always the best. Don’t forget to look for things like how much the deposit is and if it has free breakdown cover etc. I always check out Skyscanner first as they are international and compare most companies. I always check a second search engine too just to be sure but it hasn’t let me down yet!
For more information about hiring a car abroad check out this post from Independent Traveler. Their article goes into much more detail about car rental.
Buying a Car
Ok so there is plenty of information out there about renting a car abroad but what about buying? Hiring a car/ van for 3+ months is going to get very expensive and so it may be worth buying and then selling it on at the end of the road trip. So here is my quick guide to buying a vehicle in Australia and the USA as a foreign national.
Full disclosure, I have not done this yet, this is just my research so please feel free to drop me a comment below if you have any more advice to add to what I’ve found out.
In both cases, you need to decide on a budget and make sure you haggle. Go in $500 lower and take it from there.
If you want to road trip Australia you are going to need a campervan, or a car big enough to sleep comfortably in. A good site to start your search is Cars Guide for cars or Campervans for vans or if your budget is minimal you can’t go wrong with Gumtree!
The first thing you need to know is that each state has its own regulations with regards to buying a secondhand vehicle. You can find out more about that here. Like in the USA you must have at least 3rd party insurance. This is for the van and not the driver (link in the UK). I would also strongly recommend becoming a member of NRMA who covers New South Wales. NRMA offer a lot of different services from replacing your car/ van batteries to vehicle servicing and most importantly roadside assistance. They have New South Wales’s largest network of roadside assistance and offer a lot of great FREE advice including safety advice for drivers which is vital if you are new to driving in Australia.
If you are buying a second-hand vehicle to drive in New South Wales or anywhere in Australia I can’t stress enough the importance of getting it serviced and checked out by professionals like NRMA before doing any road trips!
Here is a tick list of things you need to do:
- Get CTP insurance – This is Compulsory Third Party insurance and covers you for personal injury. It is included the government registration fee in all states except New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.
- Register your car/ van with Australia.gov – This is REALLY important to avoid fines.
- Get insurance
- Get roadside assistance
- Learn the rules of the road
- I’d also recommend getting the vehicle inspected before taking it on any long road trips!
Some of the best advice I have found for further reading (they go into much more detail!)
Buying a car in the USA is a lot more problematic. You need to buy and register the car in the same state. If you decide to sell the car in a different state you will need to sell it at a lower price as it is a lot of hassle for the new owner to register a car in a different state. The best place to look for a second-hand car or van is Craigslist.
If you do decide to buy a car the best place to look is Craigslist.
Once you have bought the car/ van you will need to register it. To do this you will need a US address, this could be a friends address or even a UPS store address. This MUST be in the same state that you bought the car in. Your ownership papers will be sent to the registered address 4-8 weeks later so you will need to speak to the post office about forwarding your mail to wherever you think you will be in 8 weeks time as you will need this document to sell the car later.
After you have registered you will need insurance. Again like Australia, it’s the car that is insured. To get insurance if you are not a resident you should try Travel Guard they are the recommended international insurer by AAA. You actually get 90 days FREE AAA cover which is a pretty great deal. It’s a bit more complicated to do any longer and requires you contacting your local AAA agent. You can find more information on their website.
You will also need to get the car inspected this is different from state to state so check in the state the car is registered in.
There aren’t many blog posts on this topic but I did find these two threads. One of Lonely Planet and one on Trip Advisor. The general advice seems to be if it’s only a 2-3 month trip don’t buy a car, it’s better to rent unless you have a USA address and either mechanical knowledge to fix things if they break or enough of a budget to buy something decent!
I think I’m going to stick to renting or maybe persuade my mum (who lives in the USA) to share a car that I can drive when I’m in the USA. That way I can take it on road trips and not have to worry about registering it or not being a resident. In Australia, it looks like it might be a good idea to buy something there so I’m going to do some more research and start planning my road trip!
So my conclusion? I think I’m going to stick to renting or maybe persuade my mum (who lives in the USA) to share a car that I can drive when I’m in the USA. That way I can take it on road trips and not have to worry about registering it or not being a resident. In Australia, it looks like it might be a good idea to buy something there so I’m going to do some more research and start planning my road trip!
Do you have any personal experience or driving (hiring or renting) in either country as a non-resident? I would love toy hear from you, please leave me a comment below.
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