9 Tips for Buying a Car Overseas

Girl holding a beach ball globe.

If you think buying a new set of wheels stateside is daunting, try doing it while you're stationed overseas.

"Whether you're purchasing a vehicle overseas or looking to have one ready upon your return, buying a car in an unfamiliar country can be complicated," says Steve Harrison, executive director of Auto Integrated Solutions at USAA.

To help make the process easier, follow these nine guidelines.

1. Find a reliable source.

"At many duty stations, you'll see dealerships clustered around the base advertising new and used cars, low prices, tax-free sales and cars built to U.S. specifications. But you need to do your homework," says Stephen Garza, director of USAA International Financial Foundations. "Be sure you choose a reputable seller who is familiar with the particular needs of the overseas military community."

Not every overseas car dealer understands the intricacies of bringing a vehicle back to the United States, and not every stateside dealer knows the complications that may arise with overseas purchases and deliveries.

2. Budget for taxes.

Taxes on your car's purchase will be due when it's registered in the States. If you register your car before shipping, you would likely have to pay taxes before it arrives in the States. If you've been driving the car overseas for a period of time, the tax on the depreciated vehicle generally will be less than the tax on a new vehicle. Regulations vary by state, so check with your state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

3. Understand warranty repairs.

Find out if the car is covered under the manufacturer's warranty while it's overseas and if the warranty service is available at a repair shop located close to your home overseas. Dealers offering cars built to U.S. specifications should be able to direct you to a facility that can service and repair your new car.

4. Prepare for a change of plans.

What if your military orders change unexpectedly? Can you change your delivery date or location without penalty? Because military life can be unpredictable, you need a dealer who can accommodate your needs.

5. Find out about shipping the car to the United States.

If you purchase a car (built to American specifications) from a reputable source while you're deployed, you should be able to ship it back to the States. Depending on your permanent change of station orders and entitlements, you may be able to ship it at the government's expense.

6. Ask if you can special-order your car.

A special order from the factory can take several months to arrive, but it might be worth the time to get the car you want. If you order a car to be delivered several months down the road, ask about the dealer's price-protection policy. What if the manufacturer raises prices before you take delivery? What if a new or bigger rebate is offered? Make sure you get the best price possible.

7. Find out what happens if the car isn't what you expected when you take delivery.

If you order a vehicle for stateside delivery, you're essentially buying it sight unseen. Does your source offer a satisfaction guarantee when your car is delivered?

8. Evaluate your insurance coverage.

If you are driving overseas or shipping a vehicle for delivery overseas, understand your coverage. Will the shipper cover your vehicle if it is damaged or lost at sea? Will your auto insurance cover the vehicle overseas? You may need to purchase your own auto insurance coverage.

9. Shop around to find the right auto loan.

The rules for financing a vehicle do not change whether you are purchasing it to use overseas or stateside. Do your homework and find the best auto loan terms that are right for your situation.

Why Buy Overseas?

Despite the complexities, buying a car in a foreign country can have several advantages:

  • Overseas dealers often have special arrangements with manufacturers and often offer low, no-haggle military pricing and discounts you can't get stateside.
  • You won't pay taxes on the vehicle you purchase overseas until you register it in the States.
  • You can usually specify the exact vehicle you want and aren't limited ot a dealer's inventory, which often occurs when you purchase a vehicle on a local lot.
  • Some dealers offer a delivery satisfaction guarantee. This comes in handy since you usually aren't able to test-drive your new car before it's delivered.
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