How to buy a car in the U.S. – for non-U.S. citizens

If you’re an international student or working professional in the United States, you may have come to the conclusion that you need a car. The American way of life is appealing to many, but not everyone realizes how important vehicles are to this way of life. The United States was one of the first countries to explore the use of cars in everyday life and the US was the nation that revolutionized mass car production many years ago. Today, cars are heavily institutionalized and an integral part of American society.

Buying and driving a car in the United States is possible for foreign nationals, but the process of getting there is a bit lengthier.

1) You Need a Driver’s License

If you’re staying long-term, like in the case of an international student or working professional, you may apply for a US driver’s license. You must have the required documentation to apply at a local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Usually, this includes Form DS 2019, Form I-94, passport with visa, proof of legal presence or residence, a Social Security Number or Form SSA-L676 and any other documentation required by your particular state DMV. For international students, the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has a detailed fact sheet and set of resources to help aid foreign students get a driver’s license.   

2) You Need Auto Insurance

US law requires all drivers to have insurance. You will not be able to acquire an auto loan without it. In some states, you will not even be able to apply for a driver’s license without auto insurance. Luckily, there are few barriers for international students and expats who need to find auto insurance in the US.

3) You Need an Auto Loan

While some international students have the funds required to purchase a car outright, most do not. There are not a lot of financial institutions in the US that will provide an auto loan for international students or working professionals. The tricky part isn’t just gathering all of the required documents for the loan application. The required documents will vary from institution to institution and from state to state so it would be best to collect everything. At the very least, you will need:

  • Finance Qualification Form: Because you have little to no credit history in the US, you will have to provide your lender information about your employment, living and financial situation
  • Visa: Whichever visa you have, you will need to bring a copy – acceptable visas include F-1, H-1B, L-1, J-1, O-1, TN, etc.
  • Letter from Employer: You will need a confirmation of your employment status, salary, benefits, and terms of employment.
  • Payment Documents: Bring copies of your utilities, rent, phone bill, cable, medical/life insurance, etc.
  • Proof of Lawful Presence: You must prove you’re in the United States lawfully. These documents include permanent resident or green card, driver’s license, employment authorization document card or visa with appropriate stamp.

The next and most important step is acquiring financing to pay for your car. Many Americans simply apply for a loan while at a dealership. If you’re a foreign national, you may have some issues. While some banks may offer you an auto loan, most will not. You could try your luck, or instead, you could use a service like Stilt. Companies like Stilt help non-US citizens acquire low-interest rate loans. The founders of the company recognize how difficult it is to get a loan without a credit score, which is the case for most non-US citizens. Stilt can help automate much of the loan process for international students or working professionals. No SSN is required to apply for a loan, the interest rates on the loans Stilt offers are low and the company can help immigrants deal with currency conversions and fluctuations (instead of asking money from parents). Many of the common issues non-US citizens face when applying for a loan can be avoided by using a services like this.

About Stilt:

Stilt provides loans to international students and working professionals in the U.S. (F-1, OPT, H-1B, O-1, L-1, TN visa holders) at rates lower than any other lender. Stilt is committed to helping immigrants build a better financial future.

We take a holistic underwriting approach to determine your interest rates and make sure you get the lowest rate possible.

Learn more about us on Wikipedia or visit us at If you have any questions, send us an email at