How to buy a vehicle in the United States as a non-US resident

If you've never bought a vehicle in the US, you might be unsure about the process.

Don't be. Learn how vehicle purchases typically happen in the United States.

International visitors researching the rules, regulations, and laws for buying, registering, and insuring a vehicle in the United States of America

Are you thinking about buying a car, RV, or motorcycle in the United States, even though you don’t live here?

If so, you’re in the right place.

Vehicles are essential to getting around the United States, but renting can be insanely expensive, and rental companies only have a handful of boring choices.

But buying a car, RV, or motorcycle in the United States can be intimidating and confusing.

Don’t worry - visitor.us is here to help.

visitor.us is an auto dealer, an insurance agent, and registration agent focused exclusively on international visitors to the United States.  We know the process inside out.

We think visitor.us is the best solution for international visitors to the US, but we want to explain how buying a vehicle from a dealer, a private party, a broker, and visitor.us works, so you can decide for yourself.

Buying a vehicle from a dealer in the US

Buying a vehicle from a dealer can be a good choice.

Dealers inspect and service vehicles before putting them up for sale, so chances are good that a vehicle bought from a dealer is in good working order.

But an auto dealer has to fulfill a number of requirements before selling a vehicle to anyone - and those can be a challenge when the buyer is an international visitor.

Here are the steps that you and the dealer need to take for you to purchase a vehicle in the United States:

Identity verification

American auto dealers are required by law to verify the identity of all vehicle purchasers.

The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 required all US financial institutions to screen transactions for money laundering, terrorist financing, and other criminal activities.  After 9/11, the USA Patriot Act expanded the Banking Secrecy Act’s definition of financial institutions to include auto dealers.

These laws require auto dealers to comply with Know Your Customer and Anti-Money Laundering rules.

In practice, it’s simple for auto dealers selling to Americans to fulfill their Know-Your-Customer requirements because most buyers come to the dealership in person.  The customer provides his or her driver’s license, and after checking that the license is authentic and belongs to the customer, the dealer makes a photocopy of the front and back of the license and files it.

For international visitors, however, Know Your Customer rules pose challenges for dealerships.

As an international visitor, your time in the US is limited by your visa - and therefore, valuable.

But completing Know-Your-Customer requirements ahead of your arrival is difficult.  

Because digital copies can be altered, most dealers do not accept emailed ID’s.

This means that international visitors usually have to visit the dealership in person to complete the purchase process.

Unlike most American dealerships, the visitor.us platform allows us to fulfill our Know-Your-Customer requirements online, so we can complete the vehicle purchase process before you arrive.

Credit check

While dealers accept credit cards for a down payment (usually, $500 to $1,000) to take a vehicle off the market, they usually don’t accept full payment for the vehicle on a credit card because credit card companies charge fees of 3-5%.

Instead, dealers accept full payment via ACH (Automated Clearing House, the American interbank payments system), wire transfer, or financing agreement.

Because these forms of payment take time to complete, dealers usually run a credit check on prospective buyers before putting a purchase contract in front of them.

For buyers without a US credit score, the dealer has to make a judgment call.

If the buyer is physically at the dealership, the dealer may decide to go ahead with the sale (especially if the buyer has cash).  

But if the buyer doesn’t have a US credit score and is not physically at the dealership, the dealer may decide not to go ahead with the sale.

Unlike most American auto dealerships, visitor.us does not require a credit check or a US credit score to buy a vehicle.

Ink signatures and notarization on key forms

Most dealers require your physical presence at the dealership for another reason: to sign and notarize key forms.

Key forms include
  • The Buyer’s Order, a build-up of all costs that determine the final sale price,
  • The Purchase and Sale Agreement (also known as a Bill of Sale), the legally binding contract for the vehicle purchase
  • Other paperwork, such as a financing agreement (if applicable), a vehicle service contract (if applicable), odometer disclosure statement, and “We Owe” statement.

Auto dealers are constantly protecting themselves from fraud.  E-signatures introduce the possibility for the customer to say “My account was hacked - I didn’t sign that.”  This is why most dealers require ink signatures on their key forms.

Dealerships usually capture a Power of Attorney from the customer, which authorizes the dealership to transfer the vehicle’s title into the customer’s name.  

Power of Attorney forms must be signed and notarized, whereby a licensed notary (usually a secretary at the dealership) verifies the customer’s identity and witnesses their signature.  

Power of Attorney notarization is another reason that most auto dealers require a buyer’s physical presence.

Unlike most American auto dealerships, visitor.us accepts electronic signatures and remote online notarizations (whereby a licensed notary verifies your identity and witnesses your signature via video conferencing software).

Registration plan

The last thing a dealer wants is for a customer to return a vehicle because he or she can’t register it.  

Dealers ensure that buyers have all the documentation required to register the vehicle: a US address, and (where applicable) a local driver’s license and/or proof of in-state residency.
  • A US address
  • An driver's license issued by the state of registration (where applicable), and/or
  • Proof of in-state residency (where applicable).

Unlike most American auto dealerships, visitor.us helps international visitors complete registration requirements - even if they don’t have a residence in the US.

Insurance

Each US state has different requirements for its auto dealers.  Many states require dealers to capture a customer’s insurance information before allowing the customer to drive the vehicle off of the lot.

Unlike most American auto dealerships, visitor.us is also a licensed insurance agency, solely focused on international visitors.

Payment

Above all else, the dealer wants to get paid.  

While it may allow the vehicle to be driven off the lot while the payment is in process, the dealer will wait until receiving payment in full before releasing the vehicle’s title.

As discussed above, auto dealers are subject to Anti-Money Laundering requirements.  

Selling to Americans makes it easy to fulfill these requirements because most Americans pay for vehicles from an American bank account (or are financed by an American financing company).

Each dealer (or dealership group) has its own process for fulfilling Anti-Money Laundering requirements.  For many dealers, this means only accepting funds from a US bank account.

Unlike most American auto dealerships, visitor.us accepts payment from (almost) anywhere in the world.

Taxes and fees

If you plan to register your vehicle in the state in which the dealer is located, the dealer will collect taxes and registration fees on behalf of the state.

Most states allow dealers to exempt buyers who will register the vehicle in another state from sales tax and registration fees.

Unlike most American auto dealerships, visitor.us helps international visitors register their vehicles in the US sales-tax free.

In summary, in order to buy a vehicle from a traditional American auto dealer in the US, you and the dealer have to complete a number of requirements, which include
  • Identity verification
  • Credit check
  • Ink signatures, notarizations on key forms
  • Registration plan
  • Insurance
  • Payment
  • Taxes and fees

If any of these requirements are a problem for you, check out visitor.us.  

We’re an auto dealer, insurance agent, and registration agent focused exclusively on helping international visitors buy, register, and insure any vehicle for sale in the US.

Buying a vehicle from a private party in the US

While dealer sales are the most common way to buy a vehicle in the US, Americans often buy vehicles sold by their current owners (a private party sale).

Individuals selling their own vehicles aren’t subject to the same requirements as auto dealers, so the process for buying a vehicle from a private party in the US is slightly different than buying from a dealer.

Most of requirements that you have to fulfill when buying a vehicle from a dealer don’t apply to private party sales, but thorny problems remain for international visitors wishing to buy a vehicle from a private party.

Here are the steps that you and a private-party seller need to take for you to purchase a vehicle in the United States:

Paperwork

While most auto dealers require signatures on several documents, private sellers often need just one document: the Purchase and Sale Agreement (also known as the Bill of Sale).

The Purchase and Sale Agreement primarily protects the seller by specifying the vehicle, the sale price, and the terms of sale - usually, “As-Is,” without any warranties or representations about the fitness of the vehicle.

Some states, such as Florida, require sellers to capture the buyer’s signature on a Liability Release Form.  The seller sends this form to the state authorities, ensuring that the seller isn’t liable for parking tickets or tolls that the buyer incurs after the sale.

Payment

While many auto dealers will allow a customer to drive off with a vehicle while the payment is still in process, private parties will almost always require payment in full before releasing the vehicle and the title to the buyer.

Most private party sales are done in person.  The seller brings the vehicle, the keys, and the vehicle’s title.  The buyer brings the money.  Cash, Venmo, or PayPal are usually used for purchases up to a few thousand dollars in value.

For higher value purchases, sellers often request a cashier’s check, a form of payment in the US that cannot be cancelled or reversed by the buyer.  For these transactions, the buyer and seller usually meet at the buyer’s bank.  The buyer requests a cashier’s check for the amount of the vehicle’s purchase price, then hands the check to the seller in exchange for the vehicle, keys, and title.

Certain states require the seller’s signature on the vehicle’s title to be notarized.  Banks usually have notaries on staff, another good reason to meet at a bank.

Insurance

While private sellers aren't required to verify that a buyer has insurance, third-party insurance is legally required by every state in the US (and every province in Canada).

Taxes and registration

Private parties aren’t required to collect state tax or registration fees on vehicle sales.

You must register the vehicle in the state of your residence.  When you register the vehicle, the state will collect applicable taxes and fees.

If you don’t have a residence in any US state, visitor.us can help.
We’re an auto dealer, insurance agent, and registration agent focused exclusively on helping international visitors buy, register, and insure any vehicle for sale in the US.

Buying a vehicle through a broker in the US

Shopping for the best deal on a car (or motorcycle or RV) can be stressful and time-consuming.

Many vehicle buyers outsource the job to auto brokers.

Here is the process for buying a vehicle through an auto broker in the United States:

Paperwork

An auto broker’s primary job is to deliver you a buyer’s order (or purchase and sale contract) for the best-priced vehicle that meets your requirements.  

While brokers add services such as financing, delivery, and warranties, an auto broker actually doesn’t sell you a vehicle - they simply provide you a contract to buy a vehicle from a dealer.

Payment

Auto brokers charge $400 - $1,200, depending on the broker and the vehicle’s value.  

In exchange, the broker finds the best-priced vehicle that meets your requirements.  

In other words, they show you the vehicle - you have to buy it from the dealer.

A traditional auto broker is simply an on-ramp for a dealership purchase.  You must follow the selling dealer’s process, which, as discussed above, includes
If any of these requirements are a problem for you, check out visitor.us.  

We’re an auto dealer, insurance agent, and registration agent focused exclusively on helping international visitors buy, register, and insure any vehicle for sale in the US.

Buying a vehicle with visitor.us

Buying a vehicle as an international visitor in the United States is hard, whether you buy from a dealer, a private party, or an auto broker.

But it doesn’t have to be.

visitor.us is an auto broker, registration agent, and insurance agent whose processes are designed from the ground up to cater to international visitors to the United States.

visitor.us makes it easy to buy a car, RV, or motorcycle in America, even if you’re just visiting.

We know that the more administrative requirements you can complete before arriving in the US, the better you can plan for - and enjoy - your visit.

visitor.us’ technology stack makes the purchase process easy and seamless.  

When you use visitor.us to buy a vehicle, we purchase the vehicle from the seller, and you purchase the vehicle from visitor.us.

Simply complete visitor.us’ online-only process from anywhere in the world, and behind the scenes, visitor.us completes the seller’s "traditional" processes.

Or, if you buy a vehicle on your own, visitor.us can register and insure it for you.

Here's the process for buying a vehicle with visitor.us:

Find the perfect vehicle for your visit

visitor.us can help you buy, register, and insure any vehicle for sale in the United States.  Car, motorcycle, or RV; new or used - if it’s for sale, we can help.

The best place to start looking for a vehicle is the visitor.us vehicle search app.

visitor.us can help if you find a vehicle for sale on another site or by a private party.

If you have already identified the vehicle you’d like to buy, let us know about it here.

Sign up for visitor.us

Signing up for visitor.us is easy.

Simply agree to our terms and conditions, securely pay the visitor.us registration services fee via credit or debit card through our payment processing partner Stripe, and securely verify your identity less than five minutes with our identity verification partner Stripe Identity.

When you sign up for visitor.us, we create a legal presence for you in the United States, which allows you to register a vehicle here, even if you don't have a US residence.

We create your legal US presence in the State of Montana. Why?
  • Vehicles registered in Montana never have to physically enter Montana, so you can buy your vehicle anywhere in the United States. visitor.us registers your vehicle in Montana and Fedexes your documents to you.
  • Sales tax and registration fees are levied where a vehicle is registered, not where it is purchased.  So even if you buy your vehicle in New York City, where sales taxes are 8.8%, registering your vehicle in Montana means you pay Montana’s sales tax rate: 0%.  This can save you hundreds (or thousands) of dollars.

The legal presence that visitor.us creates is a Montana Limited Liability Company (LLC), owned 100% by you.  You can read answers to common questions and learn more about owning a Montana LLC here.

Make down payment (if purchasing through visitor.us)

After you identify the vehicle you'd like to purchase, visitor.us invoices you for US$ 500.

After receiving payment, visitor.us calls the seller and deposits these funds as a down payment, taking the vehicle off the market.

(If the vehicle you want to buy has already been purchased by someone else, visitor.us will hold your down payment to be used towards the next vehicle, or return the funds to you, at your request.)

Sign Purchase Agreement (if purchasing through visitor.us)

visitor.us will send you a link to electronically sign the agreement to purchase your desired vehicle from visitor.us.

Pay balance due (if purchasing through visitor.us)

When you use visitor.us to buy a vehicle in the United States, you automatically tap into the power of Wise.

Using traditional bank transfers to send money internationally can be expensive.  Transferring funds with Wise is 3x cheaper than old-school bank transfers.  When you’re buying an automobile, those savings add up!

If you already have a Wise account, you can pay the balance due to visitor.us directly through Wise.

If you don't have a Wise account, you can pay the balance due to visitor.us via a local bank transfer in Australian dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros, Great Britain pounds, New Zealand dollars, Singapore dollars, US dollars, Hungarian forint, or Turkish Lira.

Sign and notarize the power of attorney form

Authorize visitor.us to register your vehicle to your Montana LLC by signing and notarizing the power of attorney form.

visitor.us’ notarization process is powered by NotaryCam, which connects you via a video conference to a licensed notary, who verifies your identity and witnesses your signature.

Secure insurance

visitor.us is a licensed insurance agent. We offer liability (third party, legally required) and comprehensive & collision (first party, optional) insurance policies for drivers who don't have an American driver's license.

You are welcome to shop around for insurance: the top two American insurance companies that don't require a US driver's license are Progressive (best for cars, trucks, and motorcycles) and Good Sam (best for RV's).

Receive your license plates, registration document, and vehicle title

visitor.us completes the selling dealer's requirements, so you don't have to.

We authorize the dealer to check our credit history, we sign their forms in ink and Fedex the documents to them, and we make payment from a US bank account.

And because visitor.us is a licensed auto dealer, the selling dealer can easily verify our identity.

visitor.us stands in line at the department of motor vehicles, so you don't have to.

With your notarized power of attorney form and the vehicle's title (Fedexed by the seller), visitor.us registers your vehicle with the Montana Department of Motor Vehicles.

visitor.us registers your vehicle in Montana to save you money.

Sales tax on vehicles is levied by the US states, and rates vary widely from state to state - from Washington State's 10.1% tax rate to Montana's 0% tax rate.

Sales tax is levied by the state where the vehicle is registered, not the state where it is purchased.

So registering a vehicle that you buy in Washington State (10.1% tax) in Montana (0% tax) can save you hundreds - or thousands - of dollars.

visitor.us arranges delivery of your documents so you can enjoy your visit

When visitor.us registers your vehicle, we receive your vehicle's license plates and registration document. We Fedex your items to a location most convenient for you: to the seller, to a friend or family member, or to a Fedex location to be held for pickup.

Several weeks after visitor.us registers your vehicle, we receive your vehicle's title. As with the license plates and registration document, visitor.us will arrange delivery of the title to a location convenient for you - even if you're on the road.

Getting started with visitor.us

Search for vehicles now

Haven't decided on a vehicle yet?

Our search partner, Marketcheck, scours more than 50,000 auto listing websites every day, delivering millions of active vehicle listings to your fingertips.
Search vehicles

Already found a vehicle?

Found a vehicle in the US that you want to buy?

Great!  Tell us about it here:
Thank you! We received your vehicle and will be in touch with next steps!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Have a question?

We would love to hear from you!

Let us know what's on your mind.
Thank you! Your submission has been received! We'll be in touch with next steps!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Buy a vehicle in the US, even if you're just visiting.

Let visitor.us help you buy, register and insure a vehicle in the US - tax free!
Get started