Mar, 2017: Have you always dreamt of driving from Cape Town to Cairo? Do you like the idea of having your very own overlanding 4WD chariot to take you into the wilds of Africa? Is planning not really your speciality and the budget tight? This was pretty much our situation when, sitting outside a little pub in the Western Cape of South Africa, we decided to buy a 4WD and try and drive it back to the UK. At that stage we had no idea what buying a car in South Africa as a foreigner would entail. But, over the next four weeks through trial and error and many frustrating phone calls we figured it out. Given the epic time we had overlanding through Africa in our 30 year old Land Cruiser, we wanted to create a guide to hopefully enable other adventurers to do the same.
DISCLAIMER: Our guide to buying a car in South Africa as a foreigner is a combination of our experience as two Aussies plus a few other tips and tricks we picked up during our 2017 trip through the African continent. As time wears on we can’t guarantee that the process or inputs will stay exactly the same nor that things will work the same for different nationalities. With any luck though, this will help you get on your overlanding adventure faster and with less hassle.
For ease of reading we’ve broken this guide to buying a car in South Africa as a foreigner into the following six steps:
Step 1: Buying a car in South Africa – Your strategy
To buy or rent?
As a foreigner in South Africa wanting an independent overlanding adventure, you’re faced with the decision to buy your own vehicle or rent someone else’s. Obviously you could ship one in from your country of residence but if you’re unorganised like us or don’t have the money then you need an in-country solution. Renting is probably the least hassle but can be more expensive, especially if you want to do a one way rental. It also comes with the obvious flaw of needing to give your overlander back at the end of your trip. For us buying in-country was our only realistic option as we wanted to drive one way back to the UK. And, it was the best value for our money. To buy a car in South Africa though, you need a Traffic Registration Number (TRN) and officially, getting one of these isn’t possible without documentary proof that YOU have a PERMANENT address in South Africa i.e. via a utility bill with YOUR name on it. Thankfully, as is often the case in Africa, there are a few work arounds. This is what we found.
Get a TRN as a foreigner without a permanent address
We spent many frustrating phone calls trying to find either a way around the requirement for a TRN or how to get a TRN without a permanent address but had no joy. However, a few months later on the beautiful beaches of Mozambique we met some Brits who did. They got an affidavit saying they were staying with friends in Cape Town, had it verified by the police and then used this as their proof of address on their TRN application. At first, like us, they were told that visiting foreigners could not get a TRN and that their affidavit was insufficient. Brits can be rather stubborn though and after waiting for two hours to speak to the manager at the Cape Town Civic Centre they used wording from this gov.za website to prove that in fact, foreigners CAN get a TRN. While this may not work for you, we reckon its definitely worth a crack. Be persistent, show them the wording from the gov.za website and, did I mention be persistent. This is what you need to get a TRN as a foreigner without a permanent address (verified by what our Brit friends did):
- Proof of address: Utility bill from an address in South Africa accompanied by a signed affidavit (verified at a local police station) stating that you’re staying at that address. Obviously be sure to ensure the name on the utility bill matches the name on the affidavit.
- Completed TRN application form (can be collected from the Civic Centre) in your name
- 2 x copies of your passport (verified by the police)
- 2 x copies of your driving license (verified by the police)
- 4 x passport photos (check with the local authorities how many photos they need as apparently this can vary)
Our mates submitted all the above to the Cape Town Civic Centre and despite the stated 6 week turnaround time, had their TRN done in two weeks! Happy days!
Find a friendly Saffa to register the car in their name
If the above doesn’t work, your next option is to find a South African resident (aforementioned Saffa) who already has a TRN to register the car in their name. Then you get them to sign an affidavit to give you permission to drive the car across international borders (get this verified by the police). This is what we did. Alternatively, the same theory could apply if you convince the seller of the vehicle to keep the car registered in their name. Luckily for us, my wife had a very good friend from Cape Town who was willing to register the car in his name and was an absolute legend in helping with the rest of the process.
Some other options
If you’re happy to return the car to South Africa after your overland adventure is complete (either by land or sea) Bushlore in Johannesburg is an option. They were willing to sell us a car but keep it registered in their name to enable us to travel with it. For us, given we wanted to go one way out of South Africa, this wasn’t really an option. We have also heard of people tracking down an overlander coming north to south who is looking to sell their car. In that scenario you need to figure out how to transfer all the car’s paperwork into your name (we can’t verify how or what you need to do here). We investigated all of these but in the end decided that our only realistic option was to buy our own cheap second hand 4WD through a private sale and then register it in a South African friend’s name.
At this point, it’s probably worth pointing out that if you are lucky enough to get a TRN sorted out the rest of our guide to buying an overland 4WD in South Africa as a foreigner will also help you. All the steps and documentation required should be fairly similar if not exactly the same.
Step 2: Buying a car in South Africa – Research
How to get the right vehicle without breaking the bank
So you want to buy your own 4WD in South Africa and you know how you’re going to do it, awesome! Now you need a chariot that you can afford and is reliable enough to take you through some of the roughest and most remote roads in the world. Here are some things to think about:
- Buy second hand: South Africans in general love their 4WDs and as a result there is a fairly raging trade in second hand vehicles. We did most of our looking for private sales on Gumtree but sites such as Autotrader and OLX are also good. We decided against trying second hand car yards because lets face it, who wants to deal with second hand car salesmen!
- Shop in Johannesburg: While we bought our car in Cape Town, Jo’burg and the surrounding regions are full of 4WD nutters so there seemed to be loads more options up there. Cars from this region are also less likely to suffer from the rust that can be common in vehicles from in and around Cape Town.
- Don’t be afraid of older cars: Obviously a new car with low mileage is tempting but something with a few hundred thousand kilometres on the clock (our’s had 355,000km) is going to be significantly cheaper. Plus, the older vehicles have less electronics and computers meaning there are less things to break. Take it to a recommended mechanic for a pre-sale check and they should be able to tell you if it’s a trusty workhorse or an unreliable banger which you don’t want to go near.
- Toyota is the car for Africa: This one is rather controversial and I know Land Rover and Nissan nutters are going to object loudly but…. in our travels through the length of Africa Toyota’s were everywhere. In southern Africa there were lots of Landys where as in the north Mitsubishi Pajeros and Nissan Patrols were popular while Landys were not. Toyotas were popular everywhere though. This means there are more spare parts plus more people who know how to use them. Given all this, generally Toyota’s are more expensive to buy but we reckon they’ll save you money in the long run.
- Diesel is best: A petrol car will be cheaper to buy but a diesel will be cheaper to run. And, diesel is easier to find when you head further north (especially somewhere like Ethiopia). Having said that, we bought a petrol car as we figured the money we saved on the initial purchase compensated for the extra we would spend on consumption.
- Is camping kit included: Kitting out a 4WD so it’s ready to overland through Africa can be quite an expensive exercise. Roof top tents, fridges, second batteries, high-lift jacks and storage (to name a few) can all add up to a fair chunk of cash not to mention the time to research, source and buy them. As a result if you can find a vehicle which already comes with some of these it can save you money (and time) in the long run.
- Road Worthy Certificate (RWC): If possible, get the seller to roadworthy the vehicle as part of the sale. Unforeseen problems or repairs may pop up as a result of the roadworthy. You want to know about these before you buy the car and ideally you want the seller to sort them out. This also means you have one less thing to do before you change over the registration of the vehicle.
While we almost went for a 1993 Petrol v8 Land Rover Discovery for approx 35,000 ZAR, in the end we decided on a 1988 Petrol straight 6 Toyota Land Cruiser for 65,000 ZAR. The seller wouldn’t agree to a RWC as part of the sale but the car came with a brand new roof top tent, a brand new 60L fridge / freezer plus a range of other camping and recovery gear. All in all, we’re pretty confident we got a great deal. We christened her as Bertha!
Step 3: Buying a car in South Africa – The transaction
Tips to ensure a smooth purchase
Once you have found what you think is the perfect set of wheels there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure a smooth transaction. Later on down the line when going for vehicle registration or for your Police Clearance (more on this in step 6) you don’t want to suddenly realise that you’re missing a key piece of documentation. The following tips are things that will make buying a car in South Africa as a foreigner that much smoother. Make sure you get this done before you complete the purchase of your vehicle:
- Check the seller’s ID against the car’s registration: Make sure you physically sight the sellers identity papers and compare this against the registration papers of the car and the registration sticker in the window. If the seller is the registered owner then their ID number should be recorded on both documents. It could also be worth getting a copy of their ID if possible.
- Do a pre-sale mechanical check: Try and get the car to a trusted mechanic to give it a once over BEFORE you agree to buy. It’s worth the peace of mind to pay a little extra to ensure you’re not buying a wreck. If you don’t know any mechanics ask around on forums such as Overlanding Africa or Overlanding Sphere on Facebook.
- Check the registration: Double check when the vehicle is registered until. In South Africa, once the registration ends you have 21 days to renew it before you’re facing fines for driving an unregistered vehicle. If the registration has lapsed before you go to change it over into your Saffa’s name you’ll also have issues.
- Change of Ownership form: The seller will also need to provide their details and sign a yellow Notification of Change of Ownership form (NCO(5)2004/11, see form 1 below) which you’ll need when you take the car to get registered. Change of Ownership forms can be collected from a local licensing office.
- Commercial Agreement: Request that the seller writes up a Commercial Agreement to record the details of the sale e.g. name of seller, name of person registering the car, total paid. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy but will help later down the line.
- Vehicle valuation: While not strictly part of the purchase process, you want to get a nice low valuation of your vehicle from your mechanic. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy but just something on company letterhead of your mechanic which states the value of your vehicle. You will use this later on to pay a lower deposit for your Carnet de Passage (read on in Step 5 below).
Step 4: Buying a car in South Africa – Road worthy certificate (RWC) and registration
Now you’ve bought and paid for your car, the next step in buying a car in South Africa as a foreigner is getting the RWC and registration sorted. First off, the RWC. Ideally you would convince the seller to sort out the RWC as part of the sale but if, like us, the vehicle is being sold ‘as is’ you’ll have to get it done yourself. Find out from your mechanic who they would recommend to do the RWC. Some mechanics are registered to complete RWCs but if your’s isn’t, you’ll need a specialist RWC centre. We went to the Roadworthy Centre Retreat, 15 Bark Street, Retreat, Cape Town, 7945 (+27 21 701 6590) who were really helpful.
After your chariot has passed it’s RWC you need to get to the local licensing and registration office. Find out where your closest one is and what time it opens. We went to the Fish Hoek Traffic Services office at Central Cir, Fish Hoek, Cape Town, 7978 (+27 21 784 2160). Before going, double check that you have all your documentation in order. What you’ll need is:
- Identification / passport plus a police verified copy (if registering in someone else’s name you’ll also need their ID and a police verified copy)
- Proof of address i.e. utility bill (if registering in someone else’s name, this is their proof of their address)
- The RWC paperwork
- The existing vehicle registration certificate from the seller (see form 2 below)
- The yellow Notification of Change of Ownership (NCO(5)2004/11) form completed by both the SELLER and whoever is going to be the registered owner of the vehicle (form 1 above)
- The blue Application for Registration and Licensing of Motor Vehicle (RLV(4)2005/05) form completed in whoever’s name will be registering the vehicle (see form 3 below). Make sure this and the yellow Change of Ownership form are dated with the date you took ownership of the vehicle. This form can also be collected from your local licensing office.
- Finally, if you’re registering the car in someone else’s name, you will also need an affidavit signed by them giving you permission to request a Police Clearance (sounds weird I know, more on this in Step 6)
Once you have all the above sorted aim to get to the registration office 30 minutes before opening time. We arrived bang on opening time and found that about 50 people had beat us to it. When we finally got to the counter we were told that we needed to come back later as the car had been out of registration for too long. As frustrating as this was we just went and backdated and resigned our forms and passed without any issues.
When we finally had the registration sorted, the last piece of the puzzle at the office was getting an official Request for a Police Clearance form. This seemed like bureaucratic overkill but we needed to present it when we went for the actual Police Clearance from the South African Police Service (SAPS) office (read on in step 6 about the purpose of the Police Clearance). The official Request for Police Clearance is just a form which the staff at the licensing and registration centre will print out for you. You want the request to be in your name hence you need the affidavit from your friendly Saffa giving you permission to do the requesting.
Step 5: Buying a car in South Africa – Carnet de Passage
Now you have a car which you can happily drive around South Africa. What about taking it further afield? We were advised by South Africa AA that if we were taking our vehicle out of South Africa permanently, we NEEDED to get both a Carnet de Passage (CdP) and an Export Permit. Having now completed our trip (and with final importation to the UK pending) we’re of the view that we’re very glad we got the CdP (although it wasn’t mandatory) but we really wish we hadn’t got the Export Permit. First lets look at the CdP.
The CdP is basically a passport for your vehicle. It means that you don’t need to purchase a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) at each country you enter. South Africa AA advises that the CdP is recommended for most African countries and mandatory in Egypt. While other overlanders have apparently travelled the length and breadth of Africa without a CdP, from our experience, a CdP makes border crossings that much easier. And, when you’re travelling through Africa, anything that makes border crossings easier is a godsend! It would also appear (even though we didn’t go ourselves) that a CdP for Egypt is absolutely 100% mandatory. As you enter and leave each country you get your CdP stamped by customs and at the end of your trip, you return your completed booklet to AA to get your deposit back. If like us you intend to import your vehicle into another country at the end of your trip you also need to provide evidence to AA that your car has been fully and legally imported into that country.
To apply for a CdP through South Africa AA as a foreigner you need to put down a deposit (with AA) to the value of 100% the value of your vehicle. If you’re going through Egypt, it’s 200%. While this sounds outrageous (and for Egypt we think it is), as we mentioned in step 3, you can help yourself by getting your vehicle undervalued by your mechanic. Required inputs for your CdP application plus further information on fees and the required deposit can be found here. Once you have everything together the easiest way to submit your application is just to take photos of everything with your phone and then email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. You want to make sure you get the CDP in your name (the driver).
Step 6: Buying a car in South Africa – Police Clearance and Export Permit
To take our car out of South Africa permanently we were advised by AA that we needed to get a Police Clearance by SAPS which would in-turn enable us to get an Export Permit (also needed according to AA). Things get a bit murky from here but bear with us.
The Export Permit is apparently the proper documentation required to export a vehicle out of the country. It also removes the car from the ZA licensing and registration database and stops any further licensing fees being issued. You apply for the Export Permit by emailing ITAC and within a few days you should have your permit emailed back. Our Export Permit may still turn out to be a ‘must have’ when we import our vehicle to the UK but thus far it hasn’t been necessary and in fact it’s been a real pain in the a*se. This is because our car was removed from the licensing database before we actually left South Africa creating undue hassle at the border. It will also be painful if we need to renew the registration on our car while on the road. The required inputs, application forms and formal process for the Export Permit can be found here. The Export Permit should be in your name (the driver).
The Police Clearance effectively clears the vehicle to be exported from South Africa. It checks and provides proof that the car wasn’t stolen while also enhancing the car’s traceability through the installation of ‘e-dots’. While it never happened to us, we also heard of people being asked to present their Police Clearance by border officials and highway police. The Police Clearance is a mandatory input to the Export Permit and can only be done while in South Africa as the car needs to be physically inspected by SAPS. We got our Police Clearance done at the Belville South Impound Lot, Osbourne Street, Belville South Ext 14, Cape Town 7530 (Ph: +27 21 950 1120). We got our e-dots done just around the corner of the Impound Lot but someone was waiting just outside who pointed us in the direction of where we needed to go. The required inputs, application forms and formal process for the Police Clearance can be found here. The Police Clearance should be in your name (the driver). Copies of what the Police Clearance looks like can be found below in forms 4 and 5.
Given the above and if it fits with your schedule, our recommendation would be to get your Police Clearance done just before leaving South Africa for the final time. If like us you’re going to be coming and going from South Africa multiple times before you leave permanently then hold off until just before your final departure. As above, we’re yet to see the use in our Export Permit but the official line is that it is a must have which should be obtained before you leave South Africa for the final time. Once we have successfully imported our car to the UK (hopefully) we’ll update this to let everyone know whether it is actually required or just another piece of bureaucratic bollocks!
Buying a car in South Africa as a foreigner isn’t overly complicated or difficult when you know the process and what is required at each step. But, if you don’t know the process it takes more than a few frustrating phone calls and quite a bit of time to figure out. While it took us a little under a month, hopefully this article will help you expedite the process and get you on your overlanding adventure in a few weeks. Happy travels!!
PS…If you disagree with anything above or have been through this process more recently and feel something has changed, please do get in touch so we can update the article.