How Long Can You Live in California Without Registering Your Car?

Let’s face it, going to the DMV doesn’t rank highly in most people’s list of priorities. For starters, it can be a real headache, and it often is. That may explain why a dependable and licensed service provider such as Quick Auto Tags La Puente, CA comes in handy when you need to renew your registration.

Plus, if you’re driving a vehicle from out of state, you might be wondering how long you can go without registering your car. We have you in mind if you’re ever in such a predicament.

Typically, you have a 20-day window to register your car in California. But, this can vary depending on various factors. Let’s break some of them down, specifically how they affect residents and nonresidents.


If you’re a resident of California, you’ll need to register your out-of-state car within 20 days of moving or using the vehicle in the state. This could mean a car you acquired from a different state. The same applies if you get the vehicle from a nonresident intending to use it in the state.

The process is relatively simple: you’ll need to fill out a registration form and submit it to the California DMV, along with proof of insurance and your out-of-state vehicle title. Your car must pass California’s emission inspection (aka smog check) and undergo a VIN verification for first-timers. Once your vehicle is registered, you’ll be issued a California license plate.

You’ll also pay a registration fee based on your vehicle’s weight. In some cases, an inspection of your car may be required before registration. But once you’ve taken care of all the paperwork, you’ll be able to drive your vehicle in California legally. The law also assumes you’re a resident in the following cases:

  1. Attending School

If you’re attending school in California, you’ll need to register your car within 20 days. This ensures your vehicle is adequately insured and that you have the necessary paperwork. To put it plainly, the law regards you as a resident by paying fees and going to a state-based learning institution.

  1. Renting Property

Leasing an apartment or other residential accommodation in California implies you are a resident. As a result, car registration rules for residents apply in such a case. Otherwise, you may be exempt if you stay for 28 days (max) in a hotel- commonly dubbed “transit occupancy.” However, you’ll need to vacate the premises every 28 days for the exemption to take effect.

  1. State Documentation

If you apply for a California state document, the 20-day rule applies. Registration to vote or an application for a driver’s license exemplify residency. Hence, you need to register your vehicle, pronto! Also, if you file your taxes in La La Land, you’re considered a resident, meaning the same registration requirements apply.


Nonresidents can take advantage of some privileges when they relocate to California. The Golden State is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. However, if you’re not a state resident, you may find it challenging to get around without a car.

Fortunately, you can drive your out-of-state vehicle in California until you find employment or become a resident. But first off, register your vehicle with the DMV within ten days of arrival. Then, you’ll need to obtain a California driver’s license and comply with all other California driving laws.

You may also drive the vehicle without registering it in California, provided it’s registered in your home state. The DMV also requires you to display the license plates issued by your state. Otherwise, leasing or lending your vehicle to a resident voids your privilege.

Another scenario arises if you’re a nonresident and your vehicle’s registration doesn’t display an expiration date. In such a case, you’ll need to register your car within a year of first use in the state. This is deemed as the statutory expiry date. But, if you opt to register your car in California as a nonresident, you’ll have to do so within the 20-day grace period to avoid penalties.

Generally, active military officers or their dependents are exempt from the 20-day rule. For the rest of us, failure to register our cars within the required time frame may lead to penalties. In addition, you cannot legally drive an unregistered car on public roads. For these reasons, it’s advisable to be aware of the registration requirements in their state.

So if you’re planning on moving to California, make sure you budget for the cost of registering your car. And if you’re a resident, the onus is on you to ensure you’re not in the traffic law’s crosshairs.

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