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Buying and Insuring A Car in The USA

We are going to USA on an extended holiday (3-4 months) from New Zealand and we are planning to buy a Dodge Ram and a fifth wheeler to travel round whilst we are these. We have seen a vehichle in Tennessee that we are interested in but am finding it difficult to find info about buying, registering and insuring. Once we have finished our holiday we will be shipping both back to NZ. My brother in law lives in Oregon. Can we buy in Tennessee and register in Oregan?


It’s all possible, but the inter-state aspect of it will be difficult. The motor vehicle regulations and procedures vary widely from state to state, so we can only really talk in generalities. Generally, when you buy a vehicle in a state other than where you’ll be registering it, either the dealer or the local motor vehicle department issues you a temporary permit good for anywhere between 10 or 30 days. You’ll have to check and see if Oregon requires you to actually be there when you register a vehicle-- some states will let you do it all by mail, whereas other states require you to actually come into the local DMV or courthouse. Either way it will definitely be a bit of a juggling act somehow getting it permanently registered before the temporary tag runs out. I think you would be much better off finding a rig in Oregon that you can have your brother-in-law check out before you buy and maybe even have him register it so you can have the whole thing ready when you get there.

Also, have you looked into renting an RV? It’s not terribly expensive-- for a longer rental, it usually winds up costing about as much as renting a car here. I can’t imagine it’ll be cheap to ship the whole setup back to NZ and, I don’t know what you’ve heard, but a Dodge Ram is nothing too special nor would I say are most of the 5th wheels avaliable here. The RV’s they have in other countries usually make ingenious use of limited space, but the American ones are just massive-- they make much better houses than vehicles!

Google Oregon or any state’s DOT for their Department of Transportation. Apparently Oregon requires you to be a resident so possibly your brother could have his name on the titles as co-owner. Investigate Oregon’s requirement for a smog test and the property and sales tax and insurance impacts too. A state such as South Dakota may be a better place regarding smog tests and taxes. If you must be a resident there, you can rent a mail drop address from a place such as UPS or Federal Express. They will hold your mail and ship it to your current location on request. You can have your mail sent to any Post Office in care of General Delivery.

Consider having the titles transferred to your NZ address too to skip the complications if you will later ship the vehicles to NZ. You should have no legal problem driving here with NZ license plates.

You can get a temporary license plate from TN or OR, whatever is appropriate to hold until the process is completed to obtain permanent license plates.

One state that I know of, Wisconsin, does not require a license plate for a trailer but your address must be in Wisconsin.

Tennessee is the most liberal state in the union when it comes to titling a vehicle. It wouldn’t surprise me if Tennessee would license it for you at any of their court houses. You might have to go rent a po box at a local post office, but they should do it.

Insurance is going to be your problem. Most insurance companies in this country will not insure a non-us citizen. I’m in the insurance business, and it’s prohibitive for most of the companies I write through. Likely you’ll end up having to go through the state auto insurance plan who is required to insure anyone. Most of those only offer liability, and the premiums are astronomical.


It might be easier and cheaper to do a long term lease/rent. Especially if insurance is the problem. I have no idea about foreigners getting insurance. If that’s the case then your only option may be a long term lease.

OR, simply let your brother-in-law buy and tag the truck in his name, your money of course. Get the insurance in your name, and transfer to your name when you move it back to NZ. You can buy in Tennessee, and tag & title it in Oregon under the BIL’s name, where he lives.

You really should investigate renting a motorhome or RV during your visit. It may seem costly, but so is buying a car sight unseen in a place you would not normally go to, and ultimately shipping it across the Pacific. What if your Tennessee hot deal proves unsound? You’d be very poorly placed. With a rental agreement you’re good to go immediately. Return it at the finish, end of worries.

You can’t insure something you don’t own.

If you tag it in the brother in law’s name, it’s legally the brother in law’s vehicle. Should you be in an accident, the one who would get sued would be the brother in law because he owns it, his name is on the title.

If you did that, you would have to insure in the BIL’s name and list whoever as a driver on the policy. Again, most insurance companies won’t allow a non-US citizen to be a listed driver. There are all sorts of legal ramifications from that. With the way insurance regulations vary from state to state in the US, it’s a difficult prospect at best for a resident. Throw in the added difficulty of a foreign resident, and it’s a whole other deal.

I’m sure the rental companies have special language in their policies that allow them to rent to foreign citizens, at least for rental cars, it’s probably the case. An RV might be a different animal. I’ve never dealt with that situation on an RV. However, the situation he’s talking about is a personal lines policy on an auto and camper. The rules in Kentucky are very plain, I can write insurance for a Kentucky Resident, not a Tennessee Resident and certainly not someone from New Zealand.

I don’t know about all states, but I do know that in Kentucky if you buy a vehicle out of state, even if it is a brand new vehicle from a dealer, you have to physically take the vehicle to the county Sheriff to be inspected. I’d imagine that would be a difficult prospect for a guy from New Zealand buying a vehicle in Tennessee and wanting to tag and title it in Colorado.

As I said, Tennessee is one of the most liberal states in the nation to tag a vehicle in. It’s also one of the cheaper states (They don’t charge property tax, some counties have a wheel tax though. Average registration in Tennessee is probably under $150 these days, when I lived in Knoxville, it was $24, but that was before the wheel tax was added, and that varies by county)

My best guess, having lived in Tennessee and currently just 24 miles across the line into Kentucky is he’s going to be better off trying to tag it in Tennessee. The hitch is going to be finding someone to sell him insurance. The best bet is going to be Progressive or Geico and if they won’t do it on a foreign national, then it likely can’t be done other than a state insurance plan.


You insure yourself, not the vehicle. That is why you are insured when you rent a car. The insurer wants to know what you normally drive and the estimated annual mileage so that they can factor that data into your rates. You might talk to your local DMV to see what the rules are. Also make sure that you can import a car from the USA before you attempt to do so. Here’s a place to start:

Not in all states.

In Kentucky, the party that is going to be sued in an accident is the legally responsible party that owns the vehicle which may or may not be the driver.

The test case on this was a local dealer that I know personally who sold a vehicle to an individual. 12 months later the individual wrecked the vehicle, but had failed to change the title out of the dealership’s name. Guess who became financially liable? The Dealer. Of course it all depends on who’s pockets are the deepest at the time of the accident.

If you put a vehicle in someone’s name who’s from Colorado and drive it with you being from New Zealand, I’d lay a $500 bet on the fact that the plaintiff’s atty is going to sue the guy that owns it, the one in Colorado. Yeah, he’ll probably name both parties, but his intent is to collect off the guy in Colorado. Why? Who’s going to serve process to someone from New Zealand? How you gonna get him here for the trial? It’s a heck of a lot simpler to sue someone who lives in the USA than it is someone who doesn’t. Trust me, have an accident with a Semi sometime. Many times you’ll find that the company semi is leased from a Canadian Firm somewhere, and they, the Canadian Firm are the ones responsible for the tractor’s liability. It will take you about a year to figure out who to serve the summons to and if you did get it served, do you think they are voluntarily going to show up at the courthouse with checkbook in hand?

The long and short is, if you want to allow someone to drive a vehicle registered in your name in Kentucky, you had better have insurance on it in your name.


You insure yourself, not the vehicle.

Every state I’ve lived in you insure the vehicle…NOT the person.