As I continue to refine my plans for the trip through South America, I of course also have to think about how I will get around. To be independent I need a car.
With a girlfriend and a small child, it needs a larger car with sleeping and cooking facilities. For maximum flexibility on the South American continent and fewer forced stays in mud holes, I also want a four-wheel drive vehicle.
It can’t be that hard, I think. Many vanlife nomads travel between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego. One of them must want to offer a usable car. I don’t really care where I buy the car. Our journey begins wherever I find the car.
It can’t be that hard
– can it?
Option 1: Buy from other Overlanders
Obviously, the best and easiest way for overlanders to buy cars is from other overlanders. If you come from the EU, the ideal case is that you buy an EU-registered car from another EU citizen. If you are from the USA you will find another American. This makes communication and payment the easiest. This is a legal gray zone because the state in which you are located is left out of this transaction. However, there is no concept and probably no official from Chile to Colombia could tell you which papers you would have to fill out. There are also ways for EU citizens to buy vehicles from Americans and Canadians.
To do this, the registration in the USA for US vehicles must be changed. I found a specialist on Facebook who has remotely helped many travelers here with the formalities of their US vehicle transaction: Alex Smith.
Alex is also able to find vehicles for you in the USA. But then you have to travel to the USA and drive or ship your dream car to South America!
What if I have to leave South America for a longer period of time?
Go to Uruguay! This is the only place where you can park your car without penalty for up to 12 months.
According to some other travelers, you can apparently keep your car in the border area between Paraguay and Brazil without a TIP (temporary import permit). The cities of Foz de Iguacu and Ciudad del Este are only separated from each other by a bridge and are TIP free. You can leave your car there indefinitely.
Where can I buy a car from others? – In every South American country
How do I find a car?
Of course on the internet. But you know this. The big marketplace for overland travelers is on Facebook. There is the Marketplace where you can search locally, but also a large number of groups where you can buy and sell cars:
You can also try Tripadvisor forums:
Another platform is Expeditionmeister, where you can find professional listings from private sellers from all over the world:
The Panamericana-Forum is also available for German-speaking travelers:
I couldn’t find a suitable Instagram group. If you find one, please send it to me. But you can ask other travelers in groups. Maybe someone saw an offer along the way:
Option 2: Buy from locals
Of course, you can also buy a car directly on the local market, but this will be difficult for you as a foreigner in most countries. The easiest way for EU citizens to buy a car legally is in the EU. And this also includes French Guyana and Suriname. However, hardly any overland travelers come there. In all other countries, buying a car without a permanent residence permit is impossible – except in Chile and Paraguay! I found at least one report about Colombia that said it was a success.
To find vehicles in these countries, you can use the same options as described under option 1. Locals also advertise in Facebook groups and on the websites listed.
Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia
Don’t get your hopes up – in these countries it is not possible for a foreigner to purchase a vehicle or it is so difficult that the effort is not worth it – as of 2023.
Apparently it is possible to buy a car in Brazil as a non-resident, but still you need a Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas (CPF), a Brazilian tax ID, to be able to purchase the car. The beaurocracy might be complicated – especially, if you don’t speak Portuguese. But the market in Brazil is the biggest in all over South America.
I found what I was looking for in Paraguay. The country is still a blank slate for travelers on the car market, as the country itself does not attract many travelers. With its location in the heart of South America, it is ideally situated for an expedition in any direction. And the laws are very loose. I need an address in Paraguay when registering a car, but it doesn’t bother anyone if it’s a hotel where I’ve only stayed once. And no one checks that either. Esteban Gordo (Whatsapp +595 991 214682), who buys, sells, restores vehicles and also takes care of the bureaucracy, is ideal help here. He can be found on Facebook as Travelin Gordo:
I have written a detailed report for you about the purchase of my van “Dusty”, which describes which trips to which offices are necessary and which insurance you need. First of all: surprisingly little is necessary to buy a car. It only took a week from signing the contract to driving the registered vehicle!
If you are still looking for a suitable car, take a look here. Dusty has completed his journey with me and is now waiting for me to have time again or for a new adventurer to set off with him.
The country on the Pacific is a popular marketplace for overland travelers, as many want to start from here to Patagonia. Accordingly, a few people have already specialized in buying, selling, renting and converting vans.
However, the bureaucracy is not easy and it can take weeks until you can finally drive off into the sunset happily in your own vehicle. There is a great article about the Car Buying in Chile project on the PacktoLife.com website in their article HOW TO BUY A CAR IN CHILE?
One of the largest platforms in my opinion for travelers looking for a car is SuziSantiago. The guys are based in Santiago de Chile and buy, sell, restore and rent vehicles to those interested. They also take care of the bureaucratic aspects. They offer various services to any extent. At the time, SuziSantiago was out of the question for me because there was no vehicle in their range that met my criteria. Other travelers found SuziSantiago to be expensive compared to the service.
Another great source for vehicles is Juan Pablo (Whatsapp +56991655165) in Santiago de Chile and his Instagram group Overandes and the webseite. I had personal contact with Juan Pablo and found the conversations with him very pleasant. Unfortunately, there was nothing suitable for me in his range at the time.
You can’t buy a car in this country, but you can park it! Uruguay is the only country that offers the opportunity to park a car for up to 12 months without penalty. In all other countries, your vehicle can only be in the country for as long as you have your passport. Unless, of course, you park the car in the South American country in which it is registered.
A little later I also found an article from people describing how they bought a car in Colombia: How to buy a Car in Colombia from MappingTheVoid.com. However, I have heard from many other sources in Facebook groups that it is not possible for a foreigner to legally buy a car there.
How do I transfer abroad?
This is indeed a challenge that you are spared if you as an EU citizen buy a car from another EU citizen, the same applies to you as an American or Canadian. There are a few options, such as direct transfer through your bank, Revolut or Paypal. But you have to expect high transfer fees. In my research, the cheapest option was to use Wise. I used the app in the Playstore for this.