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Living in the US

US Auto Insurance and Registration

Once you have imported your car from home or finished the purchase of a US vehicle, you will need to register it. Read this guide to learn more about the registration process, including where to register and what possible prerequisites you need to keep in mind, such as getting a US auto insurance.

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It doesn’t matter whether you have bought a US vehicle or imported your car to the United States, the next step is always the same. After transferring the title or getting the car through US customs, you need to take care of registration and any pre-requirements connected to it, e.g. getting a US auto insurance. As is the case for getting a US driving license, the details and requirements for registering a car in the US vary from state to state. However, in this article you can find a general overview of the necessary steps and documents.

Insure your Car

Having US auto insurance is not necessarily compulsory in every part of the United States. In some states, being able to prove that one has enough money to cover the minimum liabilities in case of an accident is enough. And in others, for example New Hampshire, you do not even have to do that. Nevertheless, we highly recommend getting at least a third party car insurance to cover any liability claims. In most states this is mandatory anyway and you could get into quite a lot of trouble for driving a car without any US auto insurance cover there, even if it is registered in a state where this is not compulsory.

In order to get a good deal, you’d best get and compare free quotes from several different US auto insurance providers. Make sure to check which maximum amounts are covered by your US auto insurance in case of property damage, injury, or death and whether these are in compliance with the minimum requisites of the state you want to register your car in. In California, to give you one example, your US auto insurance needs to cover the following minimum liabilities:

  • $5,000 for damage to property
  • $15,000 for injury/death of one person
  • $30,000 for injury/death of more than one person

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Necessary Safety and Emissions Inspections

In a number of US states, getting certain safety and emissions inspections done is not only a pre-requisite for the initial registration of your car, but also a regular thing. In Utah, for example, your vehicle needs to pass a safety inspection when it is four and again when it is eight years old. Cars which are 10 years or older all have to have a yearly inspection.

Similarly, regular – typically biannual – emissions inspections are necessary in various corners of the United States, particularly for older cars. However, vehicles typically exempt from emissions inspections are for example motorcycles, hybrids, electric cars, and those qualifying as antique motor vehicles.

Of course, these are just some examples and regulations vary. What is important, though, is that you are aware that safety and/or emissions inspections could very well be a regular obligation or at least a requirement for registration. So make sure to inform yourself about whether or not this is the case for your particular car in your particular state and/or county of residence.

Register your Car

Once all necessary pre-requisites are taken care of, you can finally register your car. In order to do so, visit your local office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Motor Vehicle Division (MVD), Department of Revenue (DOR), or whichever department is responsible for car registrations. Typically, this is the same office as the one responsible for driving licenses. Therefore, you should try and use the agencies’ websites as linked on the homepage of Government Made Easy as a first source of information.

Generally, you will have to provide the following documents during the registration process:

  • Original title of the vehicle
  • Driver’s License or other valid form of ID
  • Bill of sale (often only necessary for new cars)
  • US Customs and Borders Protection documents (imported cars only)
  • Proof of US auto insurance or financial ability (if required)
  • Proof of vehicle safety (if required)
  • Emissions/Smog inspection certificate (if required)

Do not forget to pay the registration fees in a timely manner. Once your registration has gone through successfully, you will receive your number plate(s), which must be attached to the back (and front) of your vehicle. After the initial registration, you will also have to renew it, usually every two years. In most states, you can do this online.

Updated on: December 06, 2018
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