How do you get your hands on an affordable mode of transportation in Europe? With countless years of travel experience and having lived in multiple European countries I know my way around it’s bureaucracy.
Can You Buy a Car in Europe As a Foreigner?
Buying a car is not the problem. Registering the vehicle without an address and/or a temporary residence permit is almost impossible in any European country. Without the ability to register the car, driving it around is illegal. The other challenge is to get it insured.
However, there are a few methods available that might make your European road triop come true. After hours of research digging deep through the trenches of the internet I have composed a list of 8 different methods you could try and fulfill your dream.
There are a few things you need to know before we dive into the different methods of buying a car in Europe. First of all, Europe is not a single country and not all countries on the European continent are a member of the European Union.
Even within the Union each country has its own rules when it comes to buying and registering a car to your name. For example, in the Netherlands the licence plates come with the car and don’t change over the lifetime of the vehicle. In the neighbouring country Germany, the plates come with the insurance. Meaning you receive the licence plates for your car when you have purchased insurance for it and you have to give the plates back when you change or end the insurance. A vehicle will have multiple different plates over its lifetime.
I’m also assuming something about you as a reader, namely that you are planning a longer road trip (1 month - 1 year or longer) through Europe as a non-resident. Meaning you are from outside of the continent and do not have an address where you can or plan to legally register in the country you are thinking of buying a car. If you do have distant relatives with a home address that might allow you to register there, go ask them first. It would save you a lot of hassle.
I’m assuming that you are planning to stay on the continent and are able to drop off the vehicle in the country where you bought it. Legally selling a car in another country, even within the European Union, requires the buyer to pay import tax which can be more than the cars worth. Some countries outside the EU, like Morocco, stamp the car in in your passport meaning you can only leave the country with proof you legally sold the car, scrapped it, or while driving the car. It is just a whole lot easier (not impossible) to sell the car in the country you bought it in.
I’m assuming you are not interested in using public transport to get around Europe nor in renting a car for your roadtrip because that exceeds your budget or any other reason you might not want to do that.
Lastly, remember that you can only stay in the European Union for as long as your visa is valid. The short-stay visa is a Schengen visa which allows you to stay in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period. This means you would have to stay outside of the Schengen area for 90 days before being allowed to reenter.
Alright, then after all these caveats, let’s dive into the different ways you might obtain your European Exploration Vehicle.
The United Kingdom seems to be the most relaxed when it comes to non-residents buying and owning a car. Maybe because in their island mentality they assume you are a resident and don’t bother to check. You can register the car if you have an address to receive correspondence about the vehicle. (source) This can be friends or family, or maybe you can convince a hotel or a car dealer to use their address.
The next challenge is to find an insurance company that is willing to insure you without needing a UK drivers licence. I’ve found the following companies who claim to be able to do this for you. Make sure you get the green card insurance and triple check if it will cover all the countries you intend to travel to. Standard UK car insurance won’t cover all of Europe or will only allow you to stay “abroad” for 60 days. UK insurance companies are known to do this so as with all insurance policies, read the fine lettering to make sure you are covered during your adventure.
UK is not the cheapest market to buy a vehicle in. What you spend in pounds, you also spend in Euros on the other side of the channel. Meaning you get more bang for buck in the Netherlands or Germany. Lastly, most of the cars on sale in the UK will naturally be a left hand drive, while the rest of Europe is right hand drive only. This can be annoying and even dangerous some times.
Insurance Companies for non-uk licence holders
Walkabout Car Insurance from Herts Insurance
The French Government established a unique scheme letting foreigners from outside the EU buy a car without having to pay VAT and drive it around Europe before buying it back and selling it to car rental companies and such. Yes this is legal in France and you can ride around in a shiny new car from Citroen, Peugeot or Renault.
Technically you own the car, making it possible to register it in your name and get an insurance. Because you drive it around the continent it is considered a used car when you sell it back to the manufacturer who does’t have to charge the VAT to the next customer. A pretty good deal and insurance and road tax are all included in the price.
The minimal lease period is 17 days and you pay less when you pick up and drop off the car in France, but there are plenty of locations outside of France to get or leave the vehicle. It’s not the cheapest option out of all the methods but it is a guaranteed hassle free method to enjoying the freedom of your own car and really exploring Europe to its fullest.
A big advantage compared to traditional renting is
- No restrictions on where to go
- Minimum age is 18
- Unlimited milage
- No extra costs for adding a driver
- Full, zero-deductable coverage
- 24 hour hotline for service
A pretty good deal for a new car!
Where to book your French lease car
After digging through stacks of blogposts and forum questions I came across a few different companies from the Netherlands offering the same buy back guarantee service for cars and vans.
These companies all offer to assist you in buying a car or van from the Dutch market, check it technically and arrange all the paperwork. Most of the time this can be done from abroad, so that the vehicle is ready to roll by the time you arrive in Amsterdam.
You either pick a vehicle from their website or go looking for one online yourself. Dutch society is very digitally savvy so actually most cars are sold online these days. Find your dream van on websites like marktplaats.nl autotrader.nl and autoscout24.nl
There will always be risk involved in letting a thrid party handle so much of your money without ever meeting them in a foreign country. It is up to you if you are willing to accept the risk and it is your duty to research to company you are planning to trust before doing business with them.
That being said, there are positive and negative reviews about the companies mentioned below. I personally don’t have experience with any of these. I’m just here to tell you about the options and save you the hassle of googling for hours. Check out these blogs for a personal experience
These companies guarantee to buy back the vehicle after your trip is over. How much of the value you will get back is uncertain and depends on how you treated the vehicle, how much you drove with it and how long it has been in your possession. My advice would be to not spend more on the vehicle than you are willing to lose.
Some of the companies mentioned will also arrange the mandatory third party insurance for you. In other cases you are required to arrange this yourself. Be sure to discuss this with the company you are working with beforehand. The premium won’t be cheap as your deductible will be 0 since there are no damage free years for you on file. Expect to pay around €100 per month.
Make sure to check that the insurance covers all the countries you are planning to travel to as standard green card insurance doesn’t include all EU countries, but can usually be extended for free or a small fee to Montenegro, Romania, Turkey and even Israel.
Companies are listed alphabetically
Europe Roatrip / Camperfun
Mention the code ADVENTURISM and get €150 off your booking!
Dutch Camper Vans
Turner Cars and Campers (Donna)
There seems to be a possiblity to register a car on a company in your name in Bulgaria. Although there is not much experience with this route out there, there is a company who claims to be able to arrange te paperwork for you.
The service costs €430 (excluding the price of the car). Bulgaria is undoubtedly going to be the cheapest country in this list to buy, register a car, pay tax and pay insurance.
It is not a problem to travel around Europe with Bulgarian plates.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve dealt with them and what your experience was
Bulgarian Plates http://www.bulgarianplates.com/
This method is not going to save you any money, but for the sake of a complete picture I wanted to present it to you anyways. Every manufacturer that has a US presences has a European delivery program. You buy the car in the US and have it delivered in Europe where you pick it up, enjoy your time and drop it off at the manufacturers facility after which it is shipped to your home country at their negotiated rate. Maserati, BMW, Porsche and many other car brands have a similar scheme set up. Some even pay for your flights and your first night.
It won’t save you money compared to a long term rental, but it’s undoubtedly the most fun way to buy a new car. I’m not sure if this scheme is also available for Canadians, Australians or any other non USA citizens.
Buying a car in Germany the normal way requires you to have an address there, pay health insurance and so on. But, when you buy a car intended for export none of this applies. This is also possible in the Netherlands or Belgium but the cool thing about Germany is that the validity of export plates (Ausfuhrkennzeichnung) is governed by the extent of their insurance coverage which must be for a minimum of 15 days and may not exceed 12 months.
This is a great loophole for travellers intending not to stay longer then 12 months. There is no options to extending so you will have to sell the vehicle before the 12 months are up. I’m not sure you can sell it again in Germany or that you will have to sell it in a different country.
The good news is, is that the cars are usually cheaper in Germany then the rest of western Europe so it won’t be difficult so sell even though the buyers will have to pay import tax over the vehicle. The rules regarding import tax in the Netherlands state that the age of the car reduces the amount of tax to be paid. So it is a good idea to buy an older vehicle in order to make it easier to sell. Vans are particularly popular in the Netherlands right now.
Apart from having to pay the full German vehicle use tax in advance the other downside is that the insurance rate for export plates is exceptionally high. About €1700 for 12 months, €140 per month for 3rd party liability cover only.
Another legal option in France is to set up a company. Do not worry about not speaking a word of French, there is a company that is able to help you out. They specialise in RVs and the prices are not cheap.
- Company registration fees; €2000
- Vehicle registration fee: €495
- Fully comprehensive insurance (annual premium): €750 - €950 per year
They have a selection of new and used vehicles available, usually ranging in price from €25,000 to €70,000 depending on model and age.
This gets you a traditional RV ready to roll and explore Europe with. If this is within your budget and style is up to you to decide. It could be a great way to explore the continent in a stages, coming back to your vehicle every year to explore a new set of countries.
Maybe you have the perfect car for adventuring right there in your driveway and you love to travel in it. Why not ship it to Europe so you can explore all the continent has to offer in your own time before shipping or driving it back.
Shipping a car is across the planet is not cheap, but it might be worth it if you have spent thousands of dollars on creating the perfect adventure vehicle over the years. You can expect to pay roughly US$ 1500 for each shipment. You don’t have to pay any taxes and you can stay as long as you as your visa allows, there are no restrictions on the vehicle.
If you are limited to the Schengen Visa, which is maximum 90 days, then you can spend the next 90 days outside the Schengen area in the East, before heading back in for another 90 days.
And the best idea is yet to come, instead of shipping it back you can cross the continent to Asia or Africa and continue traveling or drive home instead. This is called overlanding and this is what this blog is all about. Stay a while and read some of the other articles to get to know this style of traveling.
Buying and owning a car is not as simple as in Australia or the USA as a foreigner. Without residency or an address you will find it hard in any European country to do so legally. I’ve provided 8 different ways you could legally own a car to travel around the continent with. Some are a bit of a loophole solution such as driving around on export plates from Germany. Others are expensive because factually you are buying a new car. The cheaper and most common methods are buying a car in the UK or using one of the buy back scheme companies in the Netherlands. Whichever method you decide to go for, I hope you enjoy your time in Europe.
Let me know in the comments what your experience was with any of these methods and if I forgot to add one.
8 Ways To Buy a Car in Europe As a Foreigner for Travel
How much we spent overlanding 3 months in Europe
How to book a ferry from Europe to Israel
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The ugliest coastal road of Europe, Montenegro
A fascinating lesson in the Balkan wars
How To Find a Backpackers Car in Europe?
Backpacker cars in Europe are not really a thing, because it is impossible to legally register one without an address or residency. Using public transport and hitchhiking is the cheapest way to get around. There are a few loopholes on how to purchase a vehicle in Europe to travel with.
Can You Buy a Car in Europe as a Foreigner?
Buying a car in Europe as a foreigner is possible, but legally owning it is not. Registering a car in your name without an address and/or residency is almost impossible in any European country. There are a few loopholes such as companies that offer buy back schemes or setting up a company in France or Bulgaria.
Can You Buy a Car in Europe as an American?
Buying a car in Europe as an American is possible, but legally owning it is not. Registering a car in your name without an address and/or residency is almost impossible in any European country. There are a few loopholes such as companies that offer buy back schemes or setting up a company in France or Bulgaria.
Can you Buy a car in Europe to Travel?
Buying a cheap car in Europe to travel is possible, but legally owning it is not. Registering a car in your name without an address and/or residency is almost impossible in any European country. There are a few loopholes such as companies that offer buy back schemes or setting up a company in France or Bulgaria.