Cars provide freedom. If you’re new to the United States, however, how do you go about getting one?
When shopping for a car, it’s important to have a plan of action. From getting your driver’s license to acquiring loans and auto insurance, here is our Car Buying Guide for U.S. Immigrants:
Step 1: Getting A Driver’s License
If you are legally residing in the United States, you’ll have no problem getting a driver’s license. Simply go to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) website and learn how to apply.
If you are an undocumented immigrant, however, there’s good news: as of June 2020, sixteen states will allow you to obtain a driver’s license. Click here to see if your state provides these protections.
When you apply for a driver’s license, your local DMV will require the following documentation:
- Proof of Identity: identification with your name and date of birth (like your passport and/or visa)
- Proof of Residency: most DMVs require two documents to prove residency, so be sure to bring paperwork like your utility bills, tax returns, or lease agreement that feature both your name and address
Click here to learn more about your local DMV’s specific requirements.
After you are approved, you’ll then have to pass two tests to get your license: a written test and a driving test. Once those are completed, you’ll receive your driver’s license and can begin the process of selecting and financing your car.
Step 2: Acquiring Loans
While paying cash might be the easiest way to buy a car, most people don’t have the available resources to do so.
Auto financing provides a great alternative. While it can often be difficult for immigrants to acquire loans without first providing a strong credit history, several companies make it easier than ever for immigrants to finance their cars.
Though auto dealership financing is always an option, we recommend the following immigrant-friendly providers that bypass certain fees often associated with dealership financing:
- Stilt: Dedicated to providing loans for immigrants and the underserved, Stilt offers up to $35,000 in funding without requiring a cosigner or even a Social Security Number (SSN). Click here to learn more.
- International Auto Source (IAS): Branded as “the vehicle experts for expats,” IAS can help you buy, rent, or lease cars without a credit history or SSN. Their low financing rates are also accompanied by access to low-cost insurance coverage. Click here to learn more.
Step 3: Getting A Car
Now for the fun part! It’s time to start looking for a car.
Ask yourself these three questions before you start shopping for a car:
- How much do I want to spend?
- What’s the primary use of the car? (i.e. getting to and from work, long-distance travel, etc.)
- How many people will need the car? (i.e. you and your spouse, a large family, etc.)
Your answers will quickly reveal the right make and model to pursue. Plus, when you use websites like Edmunds, you can quickly compare vehicles across every category, from drivability and handling to crash ratings and more.
So, where should you buy your car?
At face value, dealerships provide the best in-person experience to buy new and used cars. While car dealerships are a great way to start, you will get an even broader view of the marketplace online.
Sites like TrueCar and CarMax offer immediate access to thousands of new and used cars for sale. You can filter searches by make, model, and type, tailor search settings to within 25 miles, or even expand them nationwide.
You can also use Facebook Marketplace or other classified websites to find great deals close to home. While these platforms won’t deliver the high level of guarantees and refunds like CarMax, they often provide the most affordable options.
Step 4: Getting Insurance (& Registering Your Vehicle)
In the United States, having auto insurance isn’t an option. It’s a requirement.
Each state provides their own insurance requirements, listing the minimum coverage according to bodily injury liability per person and per accident. Most state requirements do not go below $10,000 for bodily injury or exceed $50,000.
Click here to view the minimum requirements in your state.
Because recent immigrants are regarded as “new drivers” in the United States, they are often charged high insurance premiums.
Shop around and get multiple quotes before deciding on a policy. Your patience will pay off. For example, according to Insurify, companies like Farmers and First Chicago offer rates as low as $38/month, whereas firms like Arrowhead charge up to $323/month.
Don’t settle with the first policy you see. And after you decide on a provider, remember that the safer you drive and the more you improve your credit score, the lower your premiums will be. It just takes time.
If you cannot afford car insurance, however, some states offer various programs to help you manage costs. Income-eligible California residents, for example, can access the Low Cost Auto Insurance Program and pay as little as $400 a year in premiums.
Click here to see if you qualify for this program.
Once you get car insurance, you’ll then be able to register your vehicle with your local DMV. You’ll be charged a fee that gets you your license plates, registration documents, and more.
Be sure to check up on your state’s registration (and registration renewal) requirements.
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