How to buy a car in Ireland: Useful tips for expats

How to buy a car in Ireland: useful tips for expats to consider before they buy a car

Buying a car in Ireland as an Expat

We finally caved and bought a car this year, so I thought I would share some useful tips for other expats looking to buy a car here in Ireland. When we first moved over, we were quite keen to keep to public transport and walking/cycling for as long as possible. Buying a car and owning a car is such an expensive thing, and since we lived close to public transport – we wanted to avoid the added expense of owning a car. It not just the cost of buying a car, but then that car would need parking, and road tax, and insurance. Living in the city of Dublin you don’t need a car really, and it is not like South Africa where every person in the household needs to own a car. But well, then we moved a little but out of the city, and my work is situated in a tricky spot when it comes to direct public transport from home to work – it involves 3 bus connections and the route would boggle your mind. To get to work, I really need to go almost into the city, then back out again. Dublin transport, it might be better than what we are used to, but it ain’t great. The routes are currently being relooked – but for the minute, it made sense for us to consider getting some wheels and a bit more flexibility. Because lets be honest, owning a car has some pro’s too. Like now we can do bigger day trips out into the country, I can get to work in 20 minutes, and it means when this baby eventually arrives – I wont need to take a bus and a tram and walk to the hospital to deliver!

I think for a lot of expats, buying a car is a bit of a daunting task. And in truth, there were a few obstacles we had to overcome to be able to get a car. Some people come over and automatically replicate the life they had back home – big house in the country, with two cars – done and sorted. Perhaps that is a good way to get all that admin sorted out in the beginning, but if you are like us, and trying to make some life changes with the move (for one, not getting into further debt!) then you might hold off on buying all the things the minute you first arrive.

Like I said, we only bought a car in May this year – 2,5 years after we arrived in Dublin. And yes, like everything, we made a few mistakes… so here is a post that might help you avoid some of the traps we fell into. Also, some tips on what to look out for if you are wanting to buy a second hand car in Ireland, as an expat.

The three main things you need to buy a car in Ireland as an Expat:

1. Money

Money makes the world go round, so yes, money is needed to buy a car, but you also need money to maintain a car. We decided on paying cash for a second hand car, instead of opting for a new car with monthly installments. When we first moved over and looked at the price of second hand cars, we naively thought they seemed cheap. Like you can get a very old second hand car for under €1000 – bargain! What we didn’t realise (or account for) is that a cheap car, often means that the insurance will be more expensive. In some cases, some insurance companies will not insure very old cars. And as you will come to find out, as an expat – it might be hard to find an insurance company that is willing to insure you in the first place. So we quickly realised that we needed to spend a bit more money, to get a newer car, and pay less on insurance. This meant that we needed some time to save up to buy a car.

Aside from buying a car and insurance, you will also need money to pay for road tax and NCT (which is a roadworthy test). Road tax is calculated based on the year and make of your car – so its worth researching this before you buy a certain type of car. NCT costs €55 – cars under 4 years do not need an NCT. If your car is between 4 – 9 years old, then you need to get an NCT done ever two years. Cars that are over 10 years old need to do this every year. So another good reason to get a newer car.

2. Drivers License

Top tip, come over with a valid drivers license – don’t let it expire! If you are coming over with a South African drivers license, you can drive with your SA license for up to one year. However, if you are planning on buying a car, it would be a good idea to exchange your driver’s license as soon as you can. This is because a lot of insurance companies look at irish drivers license history – so the sooner you have this, the better.

Exchanging your drivers license is fairly straightforward, I wrote a post that goes into all the details, read it here.

3. Insurance

Another major learning we learnt too late was that if you are like us, and cancel your car insurance back home – your no claims bonus expires after 1 year. Because we waited and bought a car after 2.5 years, our no claims bonus basically expired and was deemed no longer relevant. This meant we were penalised in the car insurance rate we could get. Some insurance companies will not even accept a no claims bonus if it is outside of the EU… so we really had our work cut out for us in terms of finding an insurance company willing to not charge us a ridiculous amount on car insurance. This is where a newer car model does help a bit, but still, car insurance here in Ireland is really crazy expensive. Prepare yourself, save as much as you can, and shop around with lots of insurance companies before you buy the car. This is very key top tip – do not buy a car until you know you can get insurance for it.

What to look out for when looking at buying a car in Ireland, as an expat:

All of the below are areas that can help keep the cost of car insurance down, and so its a good idea to consider these points when looking at buying a second hand car in Ireland as an expat.

  • NCT: As I mentioned above, try find a car that is under 10 years old. This will mean that you only need to get an NCT done on it every two years. We chose a second hand car that was six years old, but also it had recently past its NCT and was valid till 2021, meaning that it was one less thing to worry about straight after buying a car.
  • Road Tax: If you have the vehicle registration number then its a good idea to check how much road tax you will be paying. Road tax is an annual cost that will need to be accounted for, and is based on engine capacity and CO2 emissions of the car. You can check your road tax rate before you buy a car here. You can renew road tax online fairly easily, here.
  • Year of the Car: Another good reason to get a car under 10 years is that most car insurance companies will not insure a car that is over 10 years old.
  • Make of the car: Certain types of cars are more easier to insure and cheaper to finance or buy.
  • Size of the engine: The bigger the engine size, the greater the road tax and car insurance will be.
  • Other things to look out:
    • If possible, check how many previous owners the car has had, especially if you plan to buy a second had car from a private person.
    • Also, check the mileage on the car – I think this is fairly universal where ever you are in the world.
    • Check if the car is from Ireland or Northern Ireland – as a car from Northern Ireland means you are buying a car from UK and will need to pay vehicle registration tax on that car. You can check this here.
    • Private sale vs dealership – a lot of people are hesitant to buy a car privately, and yes, there is a bigger risk if that person is with holding information about the car history. Buying from a dealership is always going to cost a bit more, but there are added benefits of buying a car with a service plan, which could save you money in the long run. We found our car by looking at


Live Simply & Travel Slow,


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How to buy a car in Ireland: useful tips for expats to consider before they buy a second hand car in Ireland

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