How to Register a Car in California

All vehicles must be registered through the DMV of California or through CaReg, which is an online registration approved by the state. If you have just moved to California, your vehicle must be registered within 20 days of establishing residency. You become a resident of California when:

  • You become employed in California
  • Claim tax exemptions for a home located in California
  • Lease or rent a home or apartment
  • Apply for state documents, such as a voter registration or driver’s license
  • Enroll in school or enroll children in school

Registering a vehicle as a new resident

To register you vehicle in California as a new resident, you need to:

  • Complete the application for title or registration
  • Provide proof of vehicle’s insurance
  • Bring an out-of-state title if transferring the title to California
  • Bring your out-of-state registration
  • Provide weight certification, if applicable
  • Provide emissions and smog certification, if applicable
  • Pay registration fees and taxes

In California, there is a different process for registering your vehicle, which depends on whether you bought it from a dealer or a private seller. If you purchase a vehicle from a dealer, they will normally take care of the registration paperwork for you. In addition, they will provide you with a temporary registration certificate until your official one arrives in the mail.

Purchasing a vehicle from a private seller

To register a vehicle purchased from a private party you need to:

  • Bring the vehicle title, which must have the odometer mileage on it if it is less than ten years old
  • If you can’t find the title, an application for a duplicate or paperless title must be completed
  • Complete and submit an application for title or registration
  • Pay fees and taxes

For out-of-state vehicles, a non-transferable registration is given to vehicles that are registered in California without proof of ownership. These vehicles cannot be transferred, sold, or given a title in California.

Non-transferable registration to transferable registration

If you want to purchase or sell a vehicle with a non-transferable title, it will first need to be converted to a transferable registration. To convert a non-transferable title you need to provide:

  • Current non-transferable registration card
  • Title last issued to the vehicle; if this cannot be found, submit an application for a duplicate or paperless title
  • Application for title registration and a bill of sale
  • Odometer disclosure statement for cars less than ten years old
  • Smog certification, if applicable
  • Renewal fees, if applicable
  • Transfer fees or outstanding citations

Military members, or those who are members of NATO, and stationed in California are not required to register their vehicle. To legally drive in the state, you must have:

  • California auto insurance
  • Valid license plate from state or country of residence
  • Current registration

Military members who are residents of California but are stationed outside of the state can register their vehicles in the state they are currently stationed in. Once they return to California, the vehicle will then need to be registered at the DMV.

Visit the California DMV website to find out more about what you can expect from this process.


The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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