For maximum convenience, many international students choose to buy a car in the U.S. If you don’t live with a host family or close to a city bus route, owning a car might be a good option for you. This post will explain how to find, choose, and pay for a car in the U.S. We’ll also cover some important legal issues for car owners.

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Where to buy a car


You can choose to buy a car from a dealership or an individual. Dealerships sell new and/or used cars. They are the best place to go if you want plenty of choices. Ask friends for recommendations or check online ratings. You want to deal with a trustworthy business.

Car salespeople work for commission; that means they get paid more if you buy a car. Remember that they want you to make a decision quickly so that they will earn a commission. Take a friend with stronger English skills with you to be sure you understand everything. Be sure to carefully read and ask questions about any document before you sign it. Even if you find a dealer who speaks your native language, be very careful. Some car salespeople will take advantage of you.


Private sellers

You can also buy a used car from a private seller. Check Craigslist,, or Autotrader, or ask friends if they know someone who is selling a car. For safety, always meet private sellers during the daytime, and take a friend with you.

How to choose a car


Think about several questions. How much money can you spend? Do you prefer a manual or automatic transmission? What size car you need? What features are important to you? Also consider the fuel economy (how many miles the car can go per gallon of gas).

For a used car, always get an inspection from your own mechanic (not one suggested by the dealership or seller). Ask friends and teachers to recommend honest mechanics. You’ll pay a fee for this service, but you don’t want to buy a “lemon” (a car that doesn’t work well).

Ask about the history of a used car: Has it been in any accidents? What mechanical problems has it had, and how were those problems fixed? CARFAX is a paid service that can give you vehicle history reports on any used car.

To check the reliability of a car model, check the magazine Consumer Reports. It gives detailed reviews of most cars from the last several years. You can find their car buying guides at public libraries or pay for a subscription to their website.

How to pay

Many Americans take out a loan to buy a car. However, since international students don’t have credit history in the U.S., they have to pay cash. Most dealers and private sellers prefer ask for a cashier’s check. You can purchase this at your bank, and the bank guarantees the money to the dealer or seller.

Title and registration

tn-title.pngWhen you purchase a car, you need to get a document called a title. This proves that you own the car. You also need to register your car. This involves paying a tax and receiving a license plate and registration card. You can get your title and registration at your county clerk’s office (here are Nashville locations).

For a new car, the dealership usually will apply for your title and registration for you. If you buy a car from a private seller, they must give you the title with their name on it. You will need this to get a new title in your name. You cannot legally sell your car to someone else without a title and registration in your name.

Keep the title in a safe place at home. Carry your registration card in your car, and put the license plate on your car right away. You must renew your registration every year. When you renew your registration, you’ll get a new year sticker to put on the license plate.



Finally, you need car insurance. It is illegal to drive without car insurance. You could face a large fine and lose your license, and you will have a criminal record.

There are two types of car insurance: liability and collision. Liability insurance is required by law. It pays for damages or medical bills for the other person if you cause an accident. Collision (or comprehensive) insurance is not required, but we strongly recommend it. It pays for your expenses in an accident that is your fault. If you do not have collision insurance, a car accident can be very expensive.

There are many insurance companies that will give you quotes on their websites.