When buying a car in the US you need to take a few important things in mind. For example, which state do you choose for buying and in which state are you registering. First of all, it is possible to buy a car if you register it in your name (in the US the title of a car is personal) and if you get a proper insurance. Look into which states have certain restrictions on registering a car in your name. For example Georgia has a new law (March 2013) which allows a person to register a car in your name, but only if you have a Georgia drivers licence (are you willing to get that on before hand?), so you can buy the car in Georgia (like we did) and drive it to a different state to register it. In the mean time, get a temporary drivers licence or go to the nearest DMV agency to get the state’s rules on temporary tags.
Get insurance right away. It was quiet the search, but we found company that was willing to insurance our car with a European drivers licence. Go to Nationwide and ask for a Victoria Select Insurance (we did the simplest one, read cheapest). Now here is where it gets tricky, you’ll need an address within the US. This is very important for many things, such as, registration and insurance. So find a friend (doesn’t really matter where he or she lives but best is there where you register) and use this address for your credit card payment to pay for the insurance (if you use your own address in Europe it won’t work). I actually used an American address the entire time we were in the US, it is in many ways so much easier (less questions). Buying the car usually happens in cash (people just like money) and the registration is often in cash as well.
We registered our car in Florida where all is possible, but you have to bring a big wallet! There are probably states that are cheaper to register your car, try and call a few Tag agencies or DMV’s in different states to find out what the restrictions are and how much they charge for the registration. One important thing is the tax. Keep in mind that you always have to pay tax over every amount that is presented to you (restaurants, bars, shops, etc.). For a car, the tax is determined by the amount you paid for it. Here’s the next trick: make sure you put ‘gift’ on your title (with this document you register the car in your name) instead of the amount you paid for it. Then you’ll pay no tax!
In our case the previous owner had a title loan (loan to buy the car). For us it took a minimum of 5 days to get the original title (because this title loan company is partial owner). The previous owner sent the title to us later and in the meantime we got a ‘bill of sale’. This is a letter, in which the previous owner claim’s that he sold the car to you and you both sign it with a whiteness (most of the times a bank employee).
Unfortunately for us we all learned these ‘tricks’ but paid for it big time. See my previous blog to read what happened to us in Miami. Despite all the arrangements i still highly recommend buying a car or van if you are travelling in the US for at least three months. We had so much fun in our little van and we are still travelling in it (until half August) and so far had a great road trip. It just gives a nice dimension to you trip and makes you in control of your time table and destinations.
Getting around and tips:
Our van is 8 ft high so most of the parking garages are too small for us in the cities. But with the van we could camp as well because our couch folded out into a bed. And as we mixed nature with city live the van was very welcome. In the cities we stayed in motels (booking.com/Priceline) or hostels and we just found out about airbnb.com, which is a website where people offer couches, airbeds and private rooms or homes (depending on how much you want to spend).
If you go to Wal-Mart with a T-mobile store in it, you can buy an American sim card. I highly recommend this! If you’re travelling in the US you have to have an American phone number. Even more if you’re buying a car. So get that right away. And if you buy the T-mobile starter kit you can text for free, call 100 minutes (this goes faster than you think!) and most importantly, use 3g internet. Very handy to navigate on your smart phone and make reservations as you go.
Another thing that was very useful to us was the allstays app or website. Here you will find all the campsites in the US, per state and per category. We always stayed in state parks, which are nicely preserved campgrounds with very good amenities and always in the middle of nature. Forrest campgrounds are also very nice. Please stay far far away from RV parks; in fact make a detour, these ‘parking lots are ugly, often close to a highway and full of big rigs.
Good luck and have fun!