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How to transfer your car registration in 5 basic steps

Understand the registration process after buying a car or moving states.

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You may need to transfer your car registration after moving states or buying another car and selling your old one. The process of transferring the title and registration can have slight differences based on your state or how you’re buying your new vehicle. In either case, pay attention to your state’s registration timeline to avoid registering late.

When do I transfer my car registration?

Any time you buy a car or move states, you need to register your car in that state to receive a license plate and tags. The tags show the month and year you’ll need to renew your registration. Registering your car links the vehicle to you as the owner in your state and ensures you’re up-to-date on taxes, fees and car insurance.

Technically, you only transfer a car registration if you move states or want to use the license plate from your previous car. If you buy a car without selling or trading in an old car, you would register that car with your state and receive a new license plate.

Every state requires you to register the car or transfer registration within a certain timeframe, typically 30 days from your purchase or moving date.

What’s the difference between a car registration and title?

Your car’s title is an official document that names you as the owner and proves ownership anywhere in the US. Registration is an official record linking you to your car in the state where you live for tax and insurance purposes. You’ll need the car title to register your car in your state.

5 steps to transfer your car registration

Register for the first time or transfer your car’s registration by visiting your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or county tag office. The process might look like this:

  1. Visit your state DMV’s website. Find the documents you’ll need to bring for registration. Many states let you print off the application or start the registration online. Before heading to the DMV, gather these documents to complete the registration in one pass.
  2. Get an emissions inspection, if required. If your state requires an emissions certificate, search online for a nearby emissions inspector and complete the inspection before going to the DMV. You can typically find several near the DMV, and the car emissions inspection should take a few minutes.
  3. Register at your DMV. Most states require you to register in person when going for the first time. The DMV attendant will review your application, let you know if you need other documents and finalize your paperwork. The attendant may also inspect your vehicle to cross-check that it wasn’t stolen.
  4. Sign on the dotted line. Once approved, sign the paperwork, choose the style of your license plate and pay the registration fee and taxes. You can sometimes choose whether to keep or surrender your old license plate.
  5. Put on your transferred license plate. Remove your car’s previous license plate or temporary tag and screw on the new plate. Follow the instructions on the tag for applying that to your car. Some states have different requirements on whether the license plate goes on the back or front.

What documents do I need to transfer my car registration?

When you get to the DMV, you may need to have these items with you:

  • The car title, naming you as the owner
  • Your completed vehicle registration form from the DMV or county clerk
  • Proof of insurance, such as your policy declarations page
  • Your driver’s license or government-issued ID
  • Proof of a passed vehicle inspection
  • Evidence of your address — You may need two forms of proof, such as your utility bill, paycheck stub or another bill mailed to your address
  • An emissions certificate — Some cities or counties require this certificate to prove your car stays below the threshold for emitting greenhouse gases.
  • Your previous license plate and registration papers
  • Card or cash for the registration fee
  • The necessary tools to put your license plate and tags on before you leave the appointment, like a screwdriver

How do I transfer my car registration from one state to another?

Transferring your car registration after moving states follows the same general steps for registering a vehicle. The main difference is that you may need to mail your old license plate back to your previous state if it’s required. Otherwise, ask what to do with your old license plate when registering in your new home state.

Also, make sure to transfer the registration within your new state’s timeline by verifying the limit with the DMV. Although most states allow transfers as far out as 30 days from your moving date, some states have shorter time limits like 20 days.

How do I transfer registration when I’m buying a new car?

Registering your new car is a simple process if you’re going through a car dealership. Otherwise, you and a private seller will need to take care of the correct paperwork yourselves.

Purchasing from a dealership

You can ask the dealer to complete the vehicle registration steps. Let the dealer know if you want to use your previous car’s license plate. Then, sign the forms and pay the registration fees. If you’re not using your old plate or have moved from out of state, the dealer will usually give you a temporary tag until you receive a new one by mail.

If the dealer can’t take care of the entire registration process for you, follow the general steps for registering your vehicle at your local DMV or county office.

Private purchase

To transfer your vehicle registration after buying a car from a private seller:

  1. Check the car’s VIN and lien information. Check with your DMV for liens on the car you might purchase and ensure the seller takes care of any liens before driving off. Run the vehicle identification number (VIN) through the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck tool for theft or salvage title reports.
  2. Check the car title. Look at the car title for anomalies like the wrong VIN or higher mileage than your odometer shows. Some sellers tamper with the odometer to make the car more attractive to buyers. If you see mismatching details, consider walking away from the purchase.
  3. Get a bill of sale. Your DMV may offer a bill of sale form that you can use. Otherwise, verify the details you need for the bill of sale on the DMV’s website. Then, pay the seller and let them take care of any outstanding liens.
  4. Receive the car title, signed. The title should have a place on the back where the owner can fill in all purchase information. Both the seller and buyer should sign the title before you take possession of the car.
  5. Take the signed documents to the DMV. Register your car with the signed bill of sale and title in hand. If you’re using your old license plate, let the DMV attendant know when you arrive.
  6. Finalize paperwork. Get the application approved, read and sign the paperwork. Then, you can attach your old license plate to your newly bought car.

How do I transfer registration when I’m selling my car?

The process for transferring a registration can differ based on how you sell your car:

  • If you’re selling your car privately to buy another car, you can follow the steps for transferring your car registration. Rather than applying for a new license plate, you can tell the DMV attendant that you’d like to use your previous plate. However, a transferred registration may still expire on the same date as before unless you pay for your next renewal during the transfer.
  • If you’re trading in a car with a car dealer, you can ask the dealer to transfer the old registration and license plate to your new car. They can complete the registration so that it’s on your new car or no longer in your name. Keep a copy of the registration form to show that the transfer happened in case you need to prove you sold the car in the future.
  • If you’re not buying another car, you’ll need to cancel your registration with the DMV. You can do this in person, by mail or online, depending on your state’s cancellation process. You can print off the cancellation form online or get it from your DMV office. You may need to surrender your license plate by mail or in person.

Car registration costs by state

You can make sure you register or transfer your car registration on time by understanding your state’s time limit. The time limit begins from the day you purchased your new car or move states. Find out the timing for your state:

Alabama$2320 days
Alaska$10060 days
Arizona$2315 days
Arkansas$1730 days
California$4630 days
ColoradoCounty ownership tax ranges from 2.1% of your car’s taxable value in the first year to 0.45% after the fifth year90 days
Connecticut$8060 days
Delaware$4030 days
District of Columbia$7230 days
Florida$22530 days
Georgia$2030 days
Hawaii$4530 days
Idaho$6930 days
Illinois$10130 days
Indiana$21.3545 days
IowaPercent of the vehicle value by category, typically between 0.5% and 1%30 days
Kansas$3060 days
Kentucky$2145 days
Louisiana0.1% of the value of the vehicle40 days
Maine$3530 days
Maryland$13560 days
Massachusetts$607 days
MichiganBased on the price of the car, title and license plate15 days
MinnesotaBased on the value of the vehicle10 days
Mississippi$1530 days
Missouri$1830 days
Montana$21740 days
Nebraska$1530 days
Nevada$3330 days
New Hampshire$31.2060 days
New Jersey$33.5060 days
New Mexico$2790 days
New York$2610 days
North Carolina$3628 days
North Dakota$4930 days
Ohio$34.5030 days
Oklahoma$8530 days
Oregon$4330 days
Pennsylvania$3615 days
Rhode Island$3020 days
South Carolina$4045 days
South Dakota$3630 days
Tennessee$23.75Depends on county
Texas$50.7530 days
Utah$4360 days
Vermont$7660 days
Virginia$40.7530 days
Washington$3015 days
West Virginia$3030 days
Wisconsin$7530 days
Wyoming$3045 days

How much does it cost to transfer my car’s registration?

Along with the registration fee, you’ll also pay a title transfer fee to transfer the title from the previous owner’s name to yours if you bought a different car. You might also pay an additional electric vehicle (EV) fee or get charged a higher registration fee for driving an EV. Other county or state fees and taxes may apply.

    Fee typeCost
    Registration$20 to $75
    Electric vehicle$130 to $250
    Title transfer
    • $15 to $50, typically
    • Up to $260
    Emissions inspection$15 to $20

    Electric vehicle owners may pay an extra road fee that goes towards road maintenance. For regular gas-powered cars, this road tax is built into the cost of fuel.

    Looking to save on registration fees? In some states, you can land a discount for being a senior or paying in advance for several years at once.

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    Bottom line

    Transferring a car’s registration works similar to registering your car for the first time. The main difference lies in what you do with the license plate: either surrendering it to your previous state or using the old plate on your new vehicle. Either way, you’ll need to buy car insurance beforehand since your state likely requires proof of insurance to complete the registration.

    Frequently asked questions about transferring a car registration

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