Best Guide For Moving to Los Angeles: Part 7 – Get a California License and Register Your Vehicle

cars, moving to los angeles

You bought your car (paid in full, not financed or leased because you read Fighting Broke and you refuse to be another cog in the Hollywood system.)

Or, you were fortunate enough to move to Los Angeles with a car.

Here’s what you need to know (these regulations are subject to change, so double-check with the California DMV)…

Get Your California License

  1. Upon entering California, you’re required to apply for a California license within 10 days. In order to apply, you’ll need a California address, so decide on a place of residence first.
  2. The DMV allows you to make an appointment, which speeds up the process dramatically. With an appointment, I was in-and-out in 30 minutes. Without, I planted myself on those pine wood benches for 3-hours. It’s worthwhile to book an appointment. There’s usually at least a week wait, so book in advance. Here’s what you should bring with you:
  3. Social Security Number
  4. Valid out-of-state license
  5. Proof of your true full name (this can be covered by a birth certificate or passport)
  6. Proof of birth date and legal presence (this can be covered by a birth certificate or passport)
  7. 2nd proof of Los Angeles residency that has both your address and name (this can be your utility bill or lease agreement)
  8. Form DL-44, which can’t be downladed online, it must be picked up at the DMV office
  9. $31 to cover the license fee in Cash, Debit, or check
  10. If you’ve come in with an out-of-state license, there’s no Driver’s Test. However, there is a written exam. It has about 30 questions. The day of your appointment, I’d recommend sitting down for 20 minutes and reviewing the CA Driver’s Handbook, just in case. Knowing the rules on the road and knowing them on paper are two separate things. 20 minutes is a worthwhile investment, to guarantee you pass the exam the first time around.
  11. Take an eye test
dmv line

What happens when you don’t make an appointment at your DMV

Register Your Vehicle in the State of California

With your temporary CA license in hand (the real one will be mailed to your address in a couple weeks) your next step towards becoming a contributing member of sunny California society is getting your vehicle registered:

  1. First, if you’d like to avoid the line again, make another appointment at the DMV.
  2. Next, get your smog check completed. This is done in California to ensure that your car meets specific emissions guidelines. You know, so our planet isn’t a toxic dump for our children’s children 100 years from now. Smog check sites are all over — they’ll generally run you ~$50, and take 20 – 30 minutes to complete.
  3. With your appointment already set, you’ll gather your paperwork which consists of:
  4. Temporary License / Regular License
  5. Out-of-state title
  6. $136 to cover registration fees in Cash, Debit, or check
  7. With your Smog Certificate in hand, get to your appointment a few minutes early and complete a Vehicle Verification. This is usually done outside of the DMV building, and an employee will check your VIN, your odometer, and your paperwork.
  8. They’ll send you inside the DMV, where you’ll fill out another form, which you’ll present to another DMV employee. She’ll take your paperwork (and your money) and in return, give you a set of California plates (sweet!)
  9. Go home. Switch out your plates. Now, you’ll send your old plates back to where they belong: your former-state’s DMV. This must be done before you switch your insurance over to the state of California

Switching Over Your Insurance

In case you skipped over that last sentence, I’m repeating it for you: do not switch your insurance over to California until you’ve sent back your plates and received confirmation. There’s a fine for EACH DAY the state of your insurance and registration don’t match up. 

You’ll get a confirmation (a form called an FS6) and once you receive it, you can go ahead and call your insurance provider to switch over their coverage to your new state.

99% of the time, when switching your car insurance to California coverage, your premiums will go up. Read about how you can save $1,200 in car insurance premiums with four simple steps by clicking here. 

What Happens If I Don’t Register in California?

Well, if you don’t get caught — nothing happens. You’ll keep driving your out-of-state vehicle with out-of-state plates and no one will be any the wiser. You’ll get to brag about it at parties, you’ll show off your out-of-state license, and everyone will think you’re really cool. You’ll also probably save some money by not switching over to the higher California insurance premiums.

If you get pulled over, and you want to take your chances lying to a cop, you can tell them you’re from out-of-town and just visiting friends. I wouldn’t advise this, but it’s an option. I don’t know how many times you could possibly get away with this, though. And allegedly there’s a hefty fee if you get caught.

The biggest risk? Getting into an accident, and your insurance company finding out that you’ve been living out-of-state for like, 12 years. They may decide they’re not responsible for covering any of the property or bodily injury damage. Which, depending on the accident, could be a significant amount of money.

It’s a risk you have to decide for yourself.

Did I Miss Anything?

Getting your California License and your car registered in-state can feel overwhelming when you first arrive in California, and you’re also figuring out how to get your first job, or where to live. Everyone’s experience is slightly different. If I missed any details, please let me know in the comments and I’ll address them. Thanks!

Next week we’ll cover our final chapter in the Best Guide for Moving to Los Angeles: Your First Month in LA. It’s been an amazing journey to write this for you, and as we’re wrapping up, just want to say that I hope you enjoyed it too.


Photo Credit: 27147

17 comments… add one

  • I never comment on blog posts ever, but I appreciated this post so much I felt that I had to comment and say THANK YOU! I just moved to LA, arrived about 2 weeks ago, and I’ve been stressing out about sorting all this out for days. This is the best most helpful advice I’ve found.

    Thanks so much!

    • Chris Ming

      Awesome, so glad it was helpful Chrissy! Really happy to hear that, and best of luck in LA!

  • Jasmine

    Can you please provide more information about sending the old plates back to the former state’s DMV and receiving confirmation?
    Thank you very much

  • Christina

    Thank you!!! You saved me so much time and effort calling NY and CA DMV to figure out how this process works! You are the best for posting these guidelines!


    • Chris Ming

      Glad it was helpful, Christina!

  • Rich

    Chris, thx a lot for all these Si valuable tips and mostly for your honesty and interest in helping others but I beg you to please refer too to spine off us who will move God the first time to L.A. Without anything having to buy a car for the first time.
    I appreciate your comments and God bless you


  • Mehran

    You saved me a lot of time. This is the best guideline I found online. Thank you.

    • Chris Ming

      Hey Mehran, you got it. Glad you found it helpful!

  • Paola

    my son is moving to Burbank to attend a private college for one year only. Does he need to change his driver’s license and plates? He will be moving form Florida.

  • Peter

    Just to note – when you go in to get your new license you now have to provide two documents which prove your new address (utility bill, lease agreement, etc). Needs to have both your address AND your name on it. This is a new policy in the last couple months.

    • Chris Ming

      Thx so much Michael!

  • Isabella

    If I am transferring my Massachusetts license, I will need 2 forms of residency and have to pass the written test again?

    I am subletting until I find a job and secure a place. Although it’s ideal to get my plates and license squared away ASAP, I worry because I’m subletting so I can only have a phone bill, not much else I’d want to risk getting mailed to a sublet.


  • Evan

    If I get my license first how long do I have until I have to get my car registered as well?

  • Glenis

    this site is great.. I have all my questions answered

    Now i just need to move already

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