Buying a car to travel the UK and Europe is easier than you might think. We had the idea that buying a car for our recent 3 month trip would be much more economical than car hire and public transport for a family of 7 to get around during our stay. It would also allow us to cover a greater distance, choose our own route, and have the freedom to go wherever, whenever we want.

Our initial plan was to buy a cheap (but hopefully reliable) large family car in the first few days of our trip and then re-sell the car in the last week of our trip. We figured even if we were having trouble selling and had to let it go at a ridiculously low price to get rid of it, a $1000 (AUD) or so loss on the transaction would still be much cheaper than trains, buses and hire cars would have cost us over the 3 month trip.

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It took a little research to work out the way to go about it all but in the end we did manage to execute our plan and we bought a great little mini-van, travelled all around The UK then through Europe, all the way to Rome and back again, covering over 12,000km (7,300 miles)We then sold the van in the last week of our trip for more than we had paid for it!

Here’s how we did it:

The Car

After spending some time researching what was possible, we found out that the only viable place to buy the car was from the UK. European registration, insurance and ownership laws make it just too hard, too expensive and basically impossible for non EU residents to buy and drive a cheap car. The UK, however, has much more lenient laws and transfer of ownership of a vehicle is a much simpler process than most other countries. So after arriving in London we set to work searching for ‘the one’ , mainly using Autotrader.co.uk and Gumtree.com and after a few days we had found it. We bought a 1999 Citroen Synergie 7 seat people mover for £500! We were pretty excited to have picked up what appeared to be a quite clean and reliable family vehicle for well under what we had expected (we had budgeted to spend around £1000). We were surprised to find that there were so many decent quality cheap cars in the UK which in Australia would be double or triple the price.

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Transfer of ownership

It was such an easy process! The vehicle transfer laws are a little different than in Australia. Where in Australia a car must be sold with a Road Worthy Certificate (RWC) or safety certificate, in the United Kingdom the equivalent is known as an MOT test. The MOT must be done every year but is not needed when selling a vehicle, meaning that if buying or selling a vehicle that is not due for its MOT test (eg. Has passed MOT within the last 12 months), then all that is required is a simple transfer form to be filled out and sent to the Department for Transport. Note that it pays to look for a vehicle that is not due for MOT until after the end of your trip so that you don’t need to take it in for the annual test.

You DO NOT need to be a UK resident to transfer ownership but the only thing you DO need is a UK address. This could be a friend or family member somewhere in the UK that is happy for your Department for Transport correspondence to be sent to them, or if you don’t know anyone in the UK, you could just use the address of the place you are staying, or work something out with the seller to arrange a temporary mailing address. We were lucky to have a family friend in Lincolnshire that allowed us to use their address.

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Registration/ Annual Tax

Registration (known as annual tax in the UK) does not come with a vehicle when you buy it. Upon purchase you need to pay the annual tax amount before going on the road. The seller of the vehicle will be refunded any tax that was remaining on the vehicle at the time of sale. The amount to pay varies depending on the vehicles size and emissions and there is the option to pay six months (we paid six months costing £135). Tax can be paid by contacting the Department for Transport by phone or online.

Insurance

Insurance is a tricky one for non-UK residents. We found that regular car insurance companies will not cover drivers that are non-UK residents.

After much research on the subject we found that there are 3 options:

  1. Get a friend or relative that is a UK resident to insure the car for you. (You will still be covered as a driver but may have to pay a higher excess if not a listed driver). This option would mean regular insurance costs of £20-£30 or so per month.
  2. Temporary vehicle insurance for Non-UK residents. There are several companies that provide temporary cover (up to 28 days). The rates are quite high though at around £10 per day/ £280 per month ($600 AUD approx. for 28 days cover.)
  3. Take the risk and go without. But be careful and be prepared to pay for the damage if you have an accident where you are at fault and be prepared for hefty fines if caught in the UK. The laws about insuring your vehicle vary from country to country in Europe. Be aware that there is the risk of being fined and being liable for any damages caused.

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Selling the car

Make sure you allow enough time to sell the car at the end of your journey. We began listing the car for sale around ten days before we had to fly out and ended up selling the Citroen that had cost us £500 for £550, four days before we left. Major cities are always a better option to attempt to re-sell your car as there are so many more potential buyers. We advertised on Gumtree while we were still travelling in rural areas but then sold the car in London. On the first day we arrived back in the city we changed the ad to the London location and within a few hours a buyer called, arrived and paid cash without negotiating. Easy as that! The paperwork was just as simple as when we purchased the car, just filling out the simple transfer form and taking a photo copy for our records and the deal was done.

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Buying a car to travel the UK and Europe worked out really well, costing much, much less than any other method of travel would have.

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