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I would like to get a GPS device for car navigation in the US, but I have no prior experience with such devices. It is important for me that I be able to use the device in most other countries too (Europe & China in particular).

Can all (major brand) GPS devices sold in the US be updated (for a cost) for use in other regions, or are some of them permanently stuck with US maps? I would like to avoid having to buy a completely new device once leaving the US. I couldn't find a definite answer by googling for specific brands.

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The major brands will definitely be able to sell you maps of other regions. For most that is core to their business model. The hardware is sold only once, so they need to make money on updates or remote maps. If you stick to the major brands (Garmin, Tomtom), you are set.

If you are comfortable linking your devices to your computer and update content, content can be even free. I have a tomtom satnav device in my car, I use to traverse Europe. For my trips abroad I use my handheld garmin vista etrex gps device. For the technical savvy there is Open Street Map. It is possible to load OSM content on your Garmin device. The procedure takes a bit of practice, but once you have done it once or twice it becomes a piece of cake. I now have a little box with prepared micro sd cards with foreign map content.

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I did not know that it's possible to load OSM data to Garmin devices, that's very useful information! I'm comfortable with doing all kinds of hacky things with the device, if that's helpful, I've just never had such a device before, so my research started from zero ... – Szabolcs Dec 2 '13 at 19:58

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