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.
You aren’t allowed to smile… 🙁
I was one of those people where renters insurance + auto insurance made the whole thing lower. It surprised me at first, but it’s pretty cool.
I remember what a hassle it was when I stayed in Rochester after college and had to transfer all my stuff from Connecticut to New York. It’s not terrible, but can be a little costly when all the fees are done.
John Kelly says
It also helps to call the state’s Motor Vehicle Department ahead of time to get questions answered. A 20-minute wait on the phone to get info from an actual person beat the heck out of the 20-minute drive (both ways) to the actual office to sit in a hour-plus long queue. The person on the phone can also let you know about off-peak times to lessen the invariable waiting.
The phone call also helped to reveal the various fees I would be charged, which were numerous and heavy (the Maryland MVA website is notoriously confusing).
I also learned that the interstate registration/inspection/insurance process in some areas amounts to legalized theft. Some states have good reciprocity, others not. It helps to know exactly what you need, and can get away with.
Great tip, John. Some state DVM websites are much better than others, which is something I noticed while putting together the list of all of them at the bottom of the entry. Some have hardly any info at all, and some have everything you need (including prices, current wait times for each DMV location, downloadable forms). I was very lucky that Virginia seems to be in the latter category. Calling is definitely a good idea if you can’t find what you’re looking for on the website!
Sounds like quite the hassle you had to go through, Stephanie. I’ve never had the ‘fun’ of moving from one state to another and getting a new license, but it sounds like there’s quite a bit involved that you need to know. Hopefully, your tips will save some time and money for others.
Namey McName says
I would like to mention that what John is referring to in his last sentence is called the “Interstate Driver License Compact” and there are five states that are not members of the compact. meaning that they do not freely reciprocate information with the states that are members of the compact.
The following five states are not members of the Interstate Drvier License Compact: Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
well, Is renters insurance for an apartment quoted at 150.00 dollars a year with a deductible of 500.00 dollars reasonable. This will include theft, fire, hail and wind damage, liability and any overflow damage. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.
That’s pretty reasonable, although it’s hard to say not knowing the size of your apartment, the area you live in, etc. etc. You could try shopping around some more, but if it’s a company that you feel comfortable with, then it’s probably a good rate.
N-n-n-n-name! @ Hid lights says
I am planning on moving from Minnesota to Texas at the end of the year. The links to the DMV will help out. Thanks for the information.
@N-n-n-n-name! @ Hid lights, if you are looking for info in applying for a new license in Texas, this might help.
Be careful what you tell your car insurance what you use your car for. A mileage difference of 3,000 could save you fifty bucks, if you really only use it for commuting.
The state by state resource you gave is a great time saver as some states enable you to do much of the paperwork online.
I agree with John’s comment. I always call to speak with a ‘real’ person when dealing with a government office. A lot of times the info on the website is outdated or incomplete and
in many states the registration and titling authority do not oversee drivers licensing.
My husband and I moved to a neighboring state and he had a nervous breakdown. I don’t know where he is and a church put me in a secret place and I’ve got a temp job, a 12 month lease. The problem is that my registration and insurance ran out while I was in hiding and not only is my paperwork 12 hrs away, I doubt my car will pass emissions testing (part of my husbands breakdown was that he thought surveilence items were hidden in my car and I’m afraid he tampered under the hood. The church made me sign a paper I must find my own way and my new landlord put a heavy duty sticker that states that they will tow my car if not registered. We are in an industrial area with no public parking off the lot. Talking to my coworkers just got me tales how employers and landlords do this regularly in conjunction with the police…they told me I should have done it their way (sign my car over to the church or a car repair shop where they told me my car was a hazard and I did not need that worry at this time.) It’s all I have. This town is very spread out and I need to find permanent employment…I am currently in AZ. No local domestic abuse or social agency will touch this. My church is full of monied yet frugal people. They pay well for premium service and don’t know what people like me do. I am formerly a middle class mom…
A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I believe that you need to write more on this subject matter, it might not be a taboo subject but generally folks don’t discuss such subjects. To the next! Many thanks!!
Kairi Gainsborough says
I didn’t realize that you can get quotes on auto insurance before you move, as long as you already know your new address. Can you also title and register your car ahead of time, or do you need proof of address first? I’m moving soon, so it will be good to get as many things taken care of ahead of time as I can.
@Kairi – that will probably vary by state. I know that in Virginia, I needed proof of address and to go to a Virginia DMV location in order to title and register my car.
Callum Palmer says
Getting all of the proper legal work done for your car after a move really can be quite a hassle. Fortunately, the article does a great job of breaking some of the necessary stuff down. In particular, I’m really glad that it reminds readers to get the car registered as you really need to make sure your vehicle is roadworthy according to the state’s laws.