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

There are two ways to buy a vehicle:
From a dealer or from a private party

The purchase process in the United States is slightly different for each option.

Buying a vehicle from a dealer

Paperwork

Sign Buyer's Order, a build-up of all of the components that determine the final sale price.

Sign Purchase and Sale Agreement (also known as a Bill of Sale) the legally binding contract for the vehicle purchase.

Sign other paperwork: financing agreement (if applicable), vehicle service contract (if applicable), odometer disclosure statement, "we owe" statement, etc.

Payment

Take the vehicle off the market by paying a non-refundable deposit (usually $500 to $1,000)

Pay the balance due with cash, a wire transfer, a cashier's check, or in installments (if financed)

Title Delivery

When the dealer receives payment in full, it will initiate the title transfer process.

Dealers typically keep vehicle titles off-site (usually in a bank safe-deposit box).

After completing applicable signature and notarization requirements, the dealer mails the title to the address listed in the purchase and sale agreement.

In most states, dealers have 30 days to deliver title (California dealers have 90 days).

You do not need the title to drive your vehicle legally.

Registration

Depending on the state (see Registration, below), the dealer may issue you a temporary registration (paper license plates, valid for a certain number of days) which will allow you to drive legally while your annual registration is in process.

Buying a vehicle from a private party

Paperwork

Sign Purchase and Sale Agreement (also known as a Bill of Sale) and other paperwork (if any).

Payment

Private sellers generally won't take a vehicle off the market for a deposit. They usually want payment in full before telling other potential buyers to go away.

Pay the agreed purchase price with cash, a wire transfer, or a cashier's check.

Title Delivery

Private sellers generally won't take a vehicle off the market for a deposit. They usually want payment in full before telling other potential buyers to go away.

Pay the agreed purchase price with cash, a wire transfer, or a cashier's check.

Registration

Depending on the state (see Registration, below), you may be able to acquire a temporary registration (paper license plates, valid for a certain number of days) from the relevant authority, which will allow you to drive legally while your annual registration is in process.

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