What it Actually Takes to Buy a Car in Iraq

Having just purchased a new 4WD for our family here in Iraq, I thought it would be a worthwhile read to discover what it actually takes to buy a car in Iraq.

 Waiting our turn to withdraw cash at the Bank of Iraq

Waiting our turn to withdraw cash at the Bank of Iraq

Cash is King

First stop after the two and a half hour drive from Soran to Erbil is the bank to withdraw the money needed to purchase my car. So after hitting the road at 6am to drive through numerous army checkpoints and several mountain ranges we take our place in cue at the Bank of Iraq just minute after it opened. 

Almost everything is paid for in cash here in Iraq, with US dollars being the currency of choice. I don't blame them either, I felt rather sorry of the guys ahead of us who literally needed 2 shopping bags to carry his Iraqi Dina out of the bank. What looked like a bank heist was probably only the equivalent of $5,000 USD. 

With cash in hand, and kept in a secure location off we went to the car bazaar (district) to find that car with my name written on it.

White or White

The first thing you will discover when it comes to choosing your car is that you better like the color white. I'm not sure if it is a conspiracy, but it is a sea of white when it comes to car shopping here. I almost wanted to buy a black just because it was so rare. In fact, I can't even remember seeing one red car the entire day. As a joke, the first question you will get asked after buying a car is "what color is it?" 


After one hour of walking from car dealer to car dealer I can honestly say that I felt like I was starting to hallucinate from the searing heat. With temperatures at 108 degrees (43 celsius) all day it's akin to walking around in one big fan forced oven. I don't remember how many bottles of water I consumed, but it wasn't nearly enough. 

 Blue cars in Iraq - A rare find!

Blue cars in Iraq - A rare find!

Always Another Day

After spending 6 ridiculously hot hours scouring for that perfect car, and one failed bid to buy what seemed to be great bargain from a local Arab who was leaving Iraq for the US for safety concerns, we headed home empty handed. But, as the saying goes "hope springs eternal" and my good friend Hersh was willing to drive back to Erbil the next day to snag that elusive vehicle. 

Always Buy with a Local Kurd

Another 6am departure and a toasty 107 degree day awaiting us, we forged on through the mountains of Kurdistan to the bustling city of Erbil. Things were looking a little more optimistc and by 11am it looked as though we had found our car - a 2011 Nissan Armada (basically a Pathfinder on steroids). It was the perfect car for hosting teams and hauling items back and forth from Erbil to our home in Soran. 

Thanks to the incredible bargaining techniques of my friend and translator Hersh, we had made a deal on the car $3.5K less than the asking price. All I did was sit back and watch Hersh do his thing.

Celebratory Lunch

After making the deal and with a few final tests and registration details needing to be sorted out we decided to break for a celebratory lunch. Nothing like a Turkish feast to cap off a hard mornings work. 

 Hersh & I about to dig in to our Turkish feast

Hersh & I about to dig in to our Turkish feast

My Worst Nightmare

After taking the car for a test drive and watching it pass all the regulatory mechanical checks, we handed over the cash and began the long drive home, and boy did it feel good... until... you guessed it - my car broke down just 10 mins down the road. I can't tell you how awful i felt inside. My stomach churning and in complete disbelief I called Hersh who quickly came to the rescue. 

In just 20mins the owner of the car dealer drove to where we had pulled over on the side of the highway and looked at the car and equally shocked that it had broken down. Now, in most cases there is no way I would have any chance at getting my money back, but thanks to Hersh we received a verbal guarantee that we could get our money back tomorrow. 

A Long Ride Home

As I sat in the car with Hersh driving home it felt like I had had the wind punched out of me. The trip felt that much longer knowing that we would need to get up early again the next morning to drive back to Erbil and get our money, only to begin a third day of car shopping in the scorching heat. 

All I can say is that I am so glad that we broke down only 10 minutes down the road. It would have been simply disastrous had I broken down half way home somewhere on a hazardous mountainside. Not to mention the chances of getting our money back virtually nil.

Groundhog Day

It was starting feel like Groundhog Day, but the great company of Hersh made the drive so much more bearable. After looking at a few more car yards we made a beeline for the dealership that sold us our car. I was expecting a little resistance to getting our cash back, but thanks to Hersh it wasn't log before we walked away with my cash in hand.. what a relief. 

You Better Like Tea

I don't think I have consumed more tea in the last years than I did during the last three days. You see, it is customary for the dealer to offer tea whenever you show interest in a car that they are selling. Despite being welcomed into a nice air conditioned room, it's great to catch your breath and sit down for a moment. Discussions about the car won't begin until you are at least half way through your tea and you have spent a good few minutes of small chat (mostly about family or politics). 

Third Time's a Charm

Five cups of tea (served in a small glass handleless cup) later and 4 more hours of walking around in the blazing heat, we finally found the perfect car. This time we decided on a trusty Toyota 4WD with only 27,000km on the dial. It didn't take long and the deal was made. 

After the regulatory test drive and mechanics test, once more we were on the road back to Soran with just one more hurdle to overcome. 

 Inking the deal

Inking the deal

Fuel Shortage

I had purchased my car with the fuel gauge already on empty so our first stop was to fill 'er up! Sounds easy right!? Not when there is a gas shortage going on and the lines for the fuel station stretching for a few hundred meters. With the hopes that the car would run on a the smell of a wet rag we decided to head towards the outer limits of Erbil in the hopes that the lines wouldn't be so long.

Sure enough, we made it to the station, evidently just in time. The money guy at the pump informed us that they only had around 8,000 liters of fuel left and they would have to shut down the station in the next 30mins or so. Boy was I grateful to be driving home with my new car and a tank full of fuel!

And that's what it actually takes to buy a car in Iraq! 

 A Toyota Fortuner in Action

A Toyota Fortuner in Action