New jobs, better educational opportunities, and a change of scenery are just a few of the many reasons 10% of Americans moved last year. Maybe you’ve considered your own move for similar reasons. 

When you start planning and packing for a move, there is a lot to take into account. Amid everything going on inside the home, one thing that might be easy to overlook is in the garage or on the driveway: your car. Your car will likely be making the journey to a new state with you, so at some point it will be helpful to take a step back and figure out what you’ll need to make your move a happy one for your car, as well.

To help you plan your move (or at least the parts having to do with your car) we’ve identified and compiled all the commonly expected fees, documents, and steps it takes to move to all 50 states and D.C. Every state is different in terms of laws, policies, and coverage limits; this guide will help you manage all the forms, fees, and files you’ll need to ensure your trip to the DMV isn’t longer than necessary.

Most states require new vehicle registration in-person, which also gives you a chance to familiarize yourself with the motor vehicle agency in the state you’ll be moving to. Many car owners also aren’t familiar with the finer points of their vehicle’s documentation, so taking yourself to the DMV lets you ask questions that may be more specific for you. 

What’s Changing?

When it comes to moving your car to another state, these are the key documents to get familiar with:

  • Title – your certificate of legal ownership of your vehicle
  • Registration – a document that establishes a legal link between you and your vehicle
  • License – your certificate of operation of a passenger vehicle
  • Plates – your evidence of official state registration

These are the most important documents tied to you and your car, since they prove your ownership, ability to operate, and legal status of your vehicle. Without them you run the risk of ticketing, added stress, and the prolonging of an inevitable trip to the DMV you’ll need to take, or subsequent trips entirely. 

Title & Registration

Every state has a different protocol when it comes to proper filing of title and registration. Often states will let you title and register your car in one transaction. Other states like Alabama, for example, require that you title before you register. Small details between how states register and title cars add to the potential confusion when it comes to moving with your car. 

If your car is being leased or held in lien (aka financed), additional information will be needed on your application for title and registration. For example, in North Carolina the DMV may need to see  a notarized title with all owners’ signatures or your out-of-state registration, if your car is in lien/lease/financing. We recommend you contact your lien holder or lessor and ask for any pertinent information you’ll need regarding your title transfer. It’s also a good idea to check the department of motor vehicles website for the state you’re moving to. If your car is registered and titled in someone else’s name, like a family member or close friend, you should consider re-titling, in your current state, before you move. This is because some states require the physical presence of all parties listed on the title, meaning if you don’t transfer beforehand you might not be able to title or register your car in one trip. 

License & Plates

Your license and license plates make up the most recognizable of your car’s documentation, as they are documents more applicable to your operation rather than ownership of a vehicle. Licensing is similar across most states, but there are key differences. Make sure you are getting the correct “Class” of license since every state has their own class of license for passenger vehicles.  Your state may also require or urge you to get a REAL-ID. REAL-ID cards are federally compliant ID cards that follow a set of standards in compliance with the Department of Homeland Security. These forms of identification are present in 47 states and D.C so be prepared to bring additional documentation to verify your identity, like proof of state residence and lawful status. Then there are your license plates, which can be easy to overlook. This can be a huge mistake, as these are the most visible documentation your car has. Extra visibility means it can easily prove your car’s state registration, or lack thereof. Jake McKenzie of Auto Accessories Garage, tells us: 

There are a million things going through your head during an out-of-state-move, but getting new plates is one that you really shouldn’t put off. Some states have late penalties they may enact and it’s widespread folklore of the road that cops tend to target out-of-state plates when it comes to writing tickets.

Insurance

Moving gives you an opportunity to re-evaluate your current insurance coverage, since in many instances you might be switching providers. Your premium may be affected by different factors from your new residence, so it pays to be prepared. If you’re moving to a new home you’ve purchased, consider different providers or bundling discounts to maximize your savings. During this transfer of insurance you may notice your new state has lower premiums, which while enticing can make you less safe. As Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor of U.S News Best Cars tells us: 

Even if a state has higher minimum insurance requirements than the state you moved from, getting extra coverage is still worth it. Even the highest state minimum insurance requirements are dwarfed by the medical costs that can result from a car accident.

Be sure to inform your insurance company of your change of address. If left unnotified, your insurance could be cancelled in transit, meaning you’ve lapsed on coverage and are liable to have your premium hiked up. As Deaton puts it: 

A coverage lapse is a period of time – even only a day – where you do not have car insurance. So if you’re moving from one state to another, you need to make sure that you have coverage throughout the move. A lapse in coverage, even if it’s short, leaves you open to risk if you have an accident.

What Next?

Now that you know what your car will need, the next step to take is planning your physical move. You can never be too prepared for any kind of road trip, especially one that requires the movement of everything you own. We asked Richard Reina at CARiD.com, for some tips on making your move safe and speedy, here’s what he had to say:

All regular servicing at your mechanic or dealership should be up-to-date. This includes fluid changes, tune-ups, battery test and brake checks. Pay close attention to your tires they should be free of cracks, bubbles or splits., Right before departing for your move, do a final check of all fluids, tire pressures, A/C and heat.

Your car should be in top shape before any state lines are crossed, but you should also have some essentials packed for roadside emergencies. The last thing you want to deal with while traveling cross country is an unexpected breakdown. So be prepared, Richard recommends that anyone undertaking a road trip should have ample supplies to deal with any potential mishaps along the way. Supplies like extra oil and brake fluids, flashlight, tire pump, and reflector triangles will serve you well should your move be interrupted.

Things to Consider 

  • This guide assumes your car is both registered and titled in your name, and the information presented is tailored to this assumption. 
  • In every state you must transfer and register your car, so the state is aware your car is in their jurisdiction. Be mindful of the allotted grace periods for titling and registration offered by your new state; that way you can avoid unwanted fees or worse, tickets.
  • Moving to a new state means getting acquainted with a new DMV, so make yourself familiar with its policies regarding your car. While some states let new residents file some of their documentation by mail, there are benefits to visiting in person so you can have a more guided experience. 

More Moving Resources

About the Authors

Brett Benningfield

Brett Benningfield Staff Writer

Brett Benningfield is a staff writer for Reviews.com. He has spent countless hours researching and writing about insurance and financial services. Joining in November of 2018 Brett has helped Reviews by delivering research and expertise on a variety of topics like insurance, finance, and more.