To buy or not to buy? Road Tripping in Australia and the USA

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

To buy or not to buy? Road Tripping in Australia and the USA

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.

2. Pre-book

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.

Australia

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!)

The ultimate backpacker guide to buying a van for your Aussie road trip

Buying a car in Australia – tips and info

Buying Betsy – Our First Backpackers Car

USA

To buy or not to buy? Road Tripping in Australia and the USABuying 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.

Registering

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.

Insurance

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.

Further Infomation

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!

For more information about some different ways of travelling the USA (For example Driveways or Carpools) take a read of this article in the Guardian or this article from Traveling Lifestyle.

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!

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.

 

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!

If you need a cheap flight to the USA or Australia check Skyscanner first! Or download their App here, and don’t forget your insurance!

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22 Comment

  1. I’ve only done short two-week road trips while traveling so buying a car certainly wasn’t profitable. I can see this as a viable option if you’re traveling for many months but then I think it would be kind of stressful to go through the whole process of trying to sell it. It’s good to know there are alternative options though!

    1. I know! Especially in the USA. Renting in Australia can be pretty expensive for a van/ something suitable to sleep in if you are there for a while. So it’s an option. I’m not totally convinced myself yet haha

  2. Great tips! I wouldn’t buy a car that fast, but definitely dreaming about renting a car and doing a roadtrip through the USA or New Zealand.. I’ve never done it before, because I didn’t had such long holidays, but also because I’m a little scared driving in a foreign country. However, renting a car makes you more free to see and do whatever you like; I think it gives you the opportunity to see much more from the destination. Would love to try it out once. 🙂

    1. Yes driving on the left scares me but I really want the experience ?

  3. I love road trips. Some of my favourite trips are great road trips. I once did a fab one around the southern states in America and it was fabulous. You just get a better view of life.

  4. I always get so nervous rebting a car in a foreign country. But this post makes me want to do it and go on an epic road trip. And I found the info about the international liscense interesting. Had no idea you could get it via AAA. And yes, I live in NY and buying a car in the US is a big pain in the butt. Lol

    1. Thanks Kelly. Yes me either before I did the research for this article!

  5. Nice post. Well-researched with lots of good info. I’ve done a few road trips in the US, but I’ve got cousins who live there, and didn’t need to rent or buy a car, I borrowed one (can’t get cheaper than that). I’ve never been to Australia but I’d love to go. Touring Australia in a camper van sounds like heaven to me. Good luck and safe travels.

    1. Thanks Raymond. I’m hoping my mum might help me out with the USA car. So much easier. Happy travels

  6. Some wonderful and helpful information here. I agree with you in regards to the anxiety that comes with driving in a foreign country. When I vacationed in Ireland/Scotland we were driving a manual transmission and on the other side of the road. That was intense. Especially in Ireland where the roads are super narrow. But it also was incredibly fun.

    1. Omg I can only imagine! At least when I drive in the US it’s automatic so I don’t have to worry about shifting gears ?

  7. I rented a car when I did a road trip through the US. I bought the extra insurance in the UK as it was 5 times cheaper than buying with the car rental in the US!! I also don’t have an international driving licence though I am thinking of getting one for when I travel through Europe this summer.

    1. Oh really… extra insurance?! I need to do more research and get that I think. Hiring a car is so expansive and I panic so much about things going wrong.

  8. I love how you compared and contrasted the differences between the US and Australia in this post. Definitely very informative; looks like your research paid off! I’ve done road trips in the US, but not in Australia, so your tips will be really helpful when I go later this year.

    1. Thanks so much Julianne. I think I’m 100% going to rent in Australia. Still not sure about the USA though. I might just take the bus ?

  9. We went on a roadtrip in UK. Before that we made this kinda research. Our Indian Driving License was allowed to be used in UK, as it is, for our first year in UK! And yeah, the very comfort that both countries have the same side driving was definitely a blessing.

    1. Ah so in India you also drive on the left! That’s good to know. Although I’m such a wimp I’m not sure I would drive in India either haha

  10. Great tips! Is there a reason why it’s necessary to rent a campervan in Australia as opposed to just a normal car? Is it because there are a lot of remote areas in Australia without hotels? I’ve never been before so just curious! Thanks! 🙂

    1. I haven’t been myself but feo speaking too others I think it’s because it’s remote yes. And there are lots of places you can park up to sleep without paying. So you can save money on hotels. I’ve seen lots of people driving and sleeping in big cars too though ?

  11. I’ve rented and bought in the US and I agree renting is the best. I would however go for a camper can in Australia so I could save on hotels. I agree that insurance and learning the countries driving rules is important.

  12. We love road trips .. no better way to see a country. Your post is quite useful. We have not yet applied for IDP, need to do one and we usually rent a car from local travel agents, haven’t tried Skyscanner though.

    Buying is definitely a good option for 3-4 months but I guess it might be a hassle in some countries.

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