in Life

What to do with your car when you move to California

Here’s a topic that constantly comes up when I talk to people who have moved or plan on moving to California: what do I do about my car? License plates, insurance, registration, etc.?

Here’s the simple answer: the answer isn’t simple.

Here’s the deal, based on what I’ve learned having gone through the process recently:

When you move to California—or any state—you are supposed to get a state driver’s license, register your car, and get insurance for your car in that state. The process of switching everything over can be expensive and time consuming. This is the reason why many people opt not to go through with the process.

Insurance is a state-by-state policy. Geico, All-State, State Farm, etc. are all companies that exist nationwide. However, the state you live in is the state in which you need to sign up for insurance. Why? That’s just the way it is.

But what about if you’re just visiting another state? Driving through? In these cases you don’t have to get a license for every state you drive through or register your car or get insurance. You’re just passing through. If you get into an accident in Texas and you live in Florida, your insurance company will investigate it and, depending on the circumstances, cover it.

If you’re in California for more than 30 days you’re required to get a license (it might even be fewer than 30 days). And if you plan on living here you’re required to register your car within 12 or so days.1

But wait, you say. What if I just never switch anything over and just say I’m visiting. Who’s going to know if I’ve been in California for one day or one hundred days?

The answer: most likely no one.

You can just say “I’m visiting” or “I work here off and on, but I live in Florida.” I know people that do this and they’ve never had a problem.

But let me run a scenario by you: you’re driving home from work and another car slams into you and kills the passenger of your car and seriously injures you. Who’s going to pay your hospital bills? Oh yeah, that’s right—that insurance you have. Right? Let’s think. Even when there’s a simple fender bender, insurance companies love to investigate an accident. It’s in their best interest to try and prove that they aren’t required to cover an accident. That way they don’t lose money.

Don’t you think they’d investigate the hell out of a serious accident like this? It wouldn’t take much work to find out that you are signed to a lease in California and that there’s no proof that you live in Florida anymore. No bills go to your Florida residence now. Who’s going to pay your thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars worth of hospital bills now that you don’t have insurance? Not to mention the fact that you’re now driving without legal insurance. What are the chances that you’ll get out of this still having a license to drive at all? How are you going to get work as a production assistant now?

See what I’m talking about?

You’re done.

Again, this has been my experience, as well as my roommate Michelle. She and I both switched over our information pretty much right when we moved. It cost Michelle less than me to switch it over, and it cost me about $250 total. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, I know many people who don’t switch over. Yes, it’s illegal not to switch it. Yes, you can “get away with it.” Most of all: yes, it’s a ridiculously large gamble that I’m certainly not willing to take.

If anyone has any questions or comments, please post them here. I’m always happy to answer questions about moving to Los Angeles. If you have any other ideas for future blog posts about LA, please let me know them, too.

  1. It’s also important to mention that in Calfornia there’s something called a smog check that you need to have done. It’s around $35-$50 and pretty much no one with cars built in the last 20 years fails it. But it’s required. []