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How to Register a Car in the US

In order for a car to be legally allowed on the road, it must be registered with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (the official title may vary in your state). If you bought your car at a dealership, they should go through the process of registering the vehicle for you. However, if you’ve bought a car from a private seller or otherwise need to change a car’s registration into your name, you’ll need to register the car yourself.

Car Registration Process in the US

The car registration process in the US does differ from state to state, so always check with your state’s DMV for updated information on the process and required documentation. However, the process generally involves the following steps:


  1. Gather the necessary documentation. Most states will require the following documentation: 

    • Valid US driver’s license or an International Driving Permit and/or driver’s license from your home country

    • Social Security Card 

    • Proof of insurance

    • Title of Vehicle

    • Bill of sale (if recently purchased), including the car’s year, make, model, selling price, and vehicle identification number (VIN)

  2. Make an Appointment. Most DMVs will require you to register your vehicle in person the first time you do so. You can usually make this appointment online with your local office. 

  3. Submit Your Documentation, Pay the Fee, & Collect Your Registration. Fees are usually determined by your car’s age, make, and model. You will pay these fees annually. If you have just bought your car and are transferring the title, expect to be issued an entirely new license plate. You will want to replace the old license plate with the new one as soon as possible. You will most likely also get a temporary registration letter or sticker on the day of your appointment. The permanent registration document and the sticker will arrive in the mail. Ensure you attach this sticker to the appropriate location (often on your license plate), so you don’t get pulled over by the police!


Your vehicle registration will only be valid for a certain period of time. You will be mailed a notice when it is time to renew your registration. Make sure to do so to avoid getting a ticket or paying extra fees.