One of the fun things about moving from state to state in the US is that you now have a car with “out of state” plates! And by “fun” I mean “oh crap, this stinks.” Out-of-state plates can make you a target for cops, and some states even require that you title and register your car within 30 days of moving or else face a penalty. But there’s so much to do to get your car titled and registered! It’s a little maddening, and definitely a touch overwhelming.
I just had to go through all of this, moving from New York to Virginia. As such, my experience is going to be Virginia-focused. But at the end of this, I’ve given you links to the Department of Motor Vehicles websites of all 50 states. So read over the general process, and then check out your state’s DMV website for specific information.
Keep in mind that this process can take a while, and will probably require at least two trips to a DMV branch. It’s best to start the process rolling before you even move!
Get car insurance and renters insurance too, while you’re at it. Most insurance companies that offer both will offer you a package deal or discount for getting both. A friend of mine once went into an insurance agent to inquire about car insurance for his new car, and found that adding renters insurance actually lowered the total cost of his insurance! Yep, it was cheaper to get both auto and renters insurance than just auto on its own. Even for me, renters insurance cost a measly $84/year for $20,000 in coverage. So worth it.
You can work up quotes online, but know that you will get emails and phone calls when you do this. Still, its worth it to shop around at least a little. Insurance quotes can be confusing, but there are plenty of guides online to help you figure out the coverage you need.
As long as you have your future address, you can start shopping for insurance before you move. Then you’ll have the quotes with you and be able to pick something quickly once you’re in your new digs. Before you make the final decision, make sure you’re ordering enough coverage. Check your state DMV’s website (see below) to see what the minimum required coverage is.
Get Your License
Smile! (Actually, no, don’t smile. At least, not in Virginia. We aren’t allowed to smile on Virginia licenses.) In some states, this will be as easy as filling out a form and getting your picture taken, as long as you have a valid license from your previous state. In others, an out-of-state license may not be enough, and you may be required to take a written exam as well. Check your state’s DMV website first, and download the driver’s manual to read up on local laws. You’d be surprised at the differences between states.
Before you go in to get your license, make sure you have all of the identifying information you need with you. Again, checking the DMV website for your new state is a big help here. Generally, you’ll need some combination of: previous state license, Social Security card, valid passport, birth certificate, and “proof of address” (a USPS “change of address confirmation” worked for this in Virginia). Don’t worry if you don’t have all of those things, just figure out what it is you do need, and make sure to have it with you.
Tip: Take your official papers with you in a folder or envelope, so that they’re not hanging out for all of the world to see! Also, see what DMV forms you can download from the website, and print them out ahead of time. Showing up with an already-filled-out form can save you a lot of time.
Many states require a safety inspection before you can register your car. Some states will also require an “emissions inspection” as well. The DMV website should have information about this for you, and in some cases, you can use your previous state’s inspection sticker. For example, I could have used my New York emissions inspection when registering my car in Virginia. But my New York emissions inspection was set to expire in six months, and a new Virginia inspection would last for two years. So I ponied up $28 to get the Virginia inspection at a local mechanic.
Title and Register Your Car
You can probably title your car before you get it inspected, and possibly even before you get your license. But some states allow you to title and register at the same time, with the same form, so find out ahead of time. The fewer trips you have to make to a physical DMV branch, the better! Titling and registering your car can require quite a bit of paperwork, too. If your car was previously titled and registered to someone else (e.g. your parent, like mine was), you’ll need the title signed over to you, and possibly notarized. I also needed a second notarized form, one that said I didn’t have to pay sales tax because the car was a gift from parent to child.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the information you need about titling and registering your car should be available on your state DMV’s website. Once your car is titled and registered, you’ll get your new license plates and possibly some stickers to put on them. Then, all that’s left is to get a screwdriver and replace your plates! Oh, and check your old state’s DMV website — you may need to return your old plates, as well.
DMV Websites by State
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, District of Columbia
This article is a part of a series of posts on moving out on your own.