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When a person moves to California from another state, and brings their vehicle with them, are they required to register the vehicle in California? Or do they have the option of extending the registration of their vehicle with their home state?

According to pages of the CA DMV:

  • New vehicles bought outside California must be registered in CA
  • Unregistered vehicles must be registered within a few days of establishing CA residency
  • Driving a vehicle with expired registration, whether with CA or another state, is unlawful

However, it is unclear to me what happens with old vehicles. Let's say someone lives in Arizona, buys a car there, registers it with Arizona for several years and has Arizona plates. This person then moves to California and obtains a California Driver's License. Do they have the option to simply extend the AZ registration of their car, while driving the car in CA? Or are they required to get CA plates soon after they become a CA resident (by getting a CA DL)?

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If you move to California, you have to register your vehicle in California. You can't continue to operate under the registration of the state you moved from. See California DMV brochure HTVR 33. Even if you don't become a California resident, you might have to register the vehicle in California: "A vehicle must be registered in California if it is based in California or is primarily used on California highways (located or operated in this state for a greater amount of time than any other individual state during the registration period, even if registered to a nonresident owner." California Vehicle Code section 4000.4.

Also, getting a California driver's license is not what makes you a California resident. Rather, once you become a California resident, you are required to get a California driver's license. Again, from HTVR 33:

"You are considered a California resident if you are present in this state on more than a temporary or transient basis for 6 months or more in a 12-month period (California Vehicle Code section 516) and/or California is the state where:

  • You are registered to vote.
  • You are gainfully employed.
  • Your place of business is located.
  • Resident tuition is paid at a public institution of higher education.
  • Dependents attend a primary or secondary school.
  • Homeowner's property tax exemption is declared.
  • Property is leased for use as a residence.
  • Residence is declared to obtain a license, privilege, or benefit not ordinarily extended to a nonresident.
  • Your current driver license was issued.
  • You are determined to be a resident as evidenced by acts, occurrences or events that indicate presence in the state is more than temporary or transient."
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    "Also, getting a California driver's license is not what makes you a California resident." Yes, but getting a CA DL would make it much more difficult to claim that you haven't established residency. – Acccumulation Oct 9 at 15:02
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    Not registering vehicles in California has been such an issue there's a website for reporting violators, if you've noticed a neighbor who still has their plates from Texas or wherever: chp.ca.gov/notify-chp/… . One of my former bosses met her future police officer husband when he cited her for her Georgia plates... – jeffronicus Oct 9 at 16:24

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