Should You Take Your Car When Retiring Overseas?

Owning a car in retirement can be a liability, an expense and a hassle. So, when making a move overseas, consider whether you really need your own vehicle. In many of the world’s most appealing places to retire, you could live happily car-free and get around everywhere you would need or want to go day to day on foot.

However, there are some overseas locations where it would be difficult and inconvenient to try to get along without owning a car. Then you must decide whether to bring your car with you from home or buy one when you get where you are going.

[See: The 10 Best Affordable Places to Retire Overseas in 2019.]

Consider whether your current vehicle is appropriate. You may not be able to drive or easily maintain your current car in another country. For example, in Ireland your U.S. car’s steering wheel will be on the wrong side. Also, factor in the quality of the roads. You don’t want to ship a minivan to a developing world beach town. It’ll be no match for the roads, and you’ll constantly need to replace tires and align the front end. In rural areas of Latin America and the Caribbean you need a four-wheel drive truck or SUV.

Factor in the costs of shipping a vehicle. It can be expensive to transport a car to another country. If you’ve acquired retiree visa status in your new country, typically the duty associated with importing your car is waived, but this may not be the case in every country.

Get a new car when you get there. If you want to own a car in your new home overseas, it can be easier and more sensible to sell your current car and buy another one in the new country. The key is to be at least as careful during the purchase process as you would be at home. Don’t buy the first car you see, and don’t buy any car without having it inspected by a local mechanic you trust.

Here are five things to remember when shopping for a car in a foreign country:

Even if you speak the language, take a local shopping with you. Everything, including buying a car, has a protocol that’s different from country to country. Find out how much you should expect to be able to negotiate off the sticker price and what warranties or extras are standard. In Panama, used cars bought through a dealership should come with at least a one-month warranty. A local knows these standards.

[Read: 4 Strategies for Choosing an Overseas Retirement Spot.]

Expect buying a car overseas to take more time and effort than it does in the U.S. In the U.S. it is possible to shop for and even purchase a car for the price you want to pay without leaving your home. In the rest of the world, this isn’t the case. You’ve got to invest the time to visit different dealerships, comb the newspaper classified ads and pound the pavement looking for “for sale” signs in car windows.

Before choosing a car, research repair costs. Different car makes and models are more or less common in different parts of the world, meaning that, for some cars in some places, it can be difficult to find mechanics who know how to repair them and the parts required to make the fixes. In places like Panama and Nicaragua, repairs are generally much cheaper than in the United States, because labor costs are much lower. You can have a flat tire repaired at a gas station in Panama for $2. On the other hand, the standard of typical repair work may not be what you expect. Mechanics, especially in the interior of countries like Panama, Nicaragua and Belize, prefer to weld broken parts back together, for example, rather than replace them.

Know what you must carry in your car. In Panama, you’re required to keep an emergency road kit that includes flares in your vehicle at all times, as well as the current edition of the national driver’s handbook. You can find these books for sale in pharmacies and at newsstands around the country. If you’re pulled over for any reason, the traffic officer may ask to see these things.

[Read: The 3 Best Places to Retire on the Beach.]

Meet the local driver requirements. You’ll probably be able to drive in your new country for some period on your U.S. driver’s license, typically three months to a year. You will need to obtain a local driver’s license in your new country before your ability to drive on your U.S. license expires.

Many countries allow you to exchange your U.S. license for a local one or simply confirm that you have a U.S. license and then issue you a new one. You may have to have your U.S. license “authenticated” at the local U.S. consulate before the in-country authorities will accept it on exchange. However, in some countries you’ll have to qualify for a new license according to the local requirements. For example, to obtain an Irish driver’s license you must take both written and on-the-road driving tests. Take care to study and practice for the exam. Some rules of the road in your new country may surprise you, such as who has right-of-way in a roundabout in Ireland.

You pay an annual fee for license plates and vehicle registration everywhere in the world. However, in some countries these fees must be paid in person, which adds an extra step to the process.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group.

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