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Registering an out of state leased vehicle in California when you move here.

This is just a quick post to hopefully help others who also find themselves in a similar situation as I did, and have to register a car they leased in another state in CA when they move here.  I very recently moved from Boston, MA to Palo Alto, CA. My family moved with me and we brought our leased car(s) with us.

I knew that I would need to register my car in California, get new license plates and change my license. I spent a lot of time on the phone with the leasing companies, their finance departments, on CA DMV website, and even showed up at the DMV during a CA trip to see if I could get some arty around the process. Unfortunately there is scarily little available online (at least my experience) on how to register a car, that you may have leased in another state and hence are not the owner and title-holder, in CA.

Car lease companies actually gave me some if the most confusing information. They kept telling me to go to the DMV and ask them to contact the car lease company and request a copy of the original title. They told me there is a special firm for this at the Dmv but didn’t know its name/number, and i searched the DMV website but didn’t find any such form. I was told by the lease company that somehow once the DMV gets that information I will need to go back to the DMV and fill out the application forms etc. That process didn’t make enough sense to me – I just didn’t see how I could just show up and say “Hi Mr/Ms DMV: can you please, ummm, call my leasing company on this number and get whatever you need?” I didn’t want to waste a day at the DMV.

Anyways – I asked friends on FB and Twitter if they had any advice, and lo and behold, social media came to the rescue. A friend had gone through this process herself and guided me. It is actually quite simple. And it worked for me today. Here’s how it goes…

1. Have your out of state car registration document with you.
2. Make sure you get a smog check done and have the report with you. Cost me $34.99.
3. Ask your lease company to send a “limited power of attorney for registering car in another state” and a copy of the original title to your home address. Bring those with you.
4. Bring your out of state drivers license (and your passport if you also want your CA drivers license). By the way: you need to do all this within a few weeks of arriving in CA so start the process with your lease company even before you move.
5. Get an appointment in advance with the DMV by going online. It can be a zoo if you don’t have an appointment.

Once you get to the DMV, look for window that says “By Appointment”, and let them know you have arrived. They will give you applications to fill out and make you go outside to bring your car to the appropriate place for “Verification Check”. Basically somebody will walk around your car, peek under the hood, take mileage information etc and give you a filled out verification form.

Fill out the application for registering a car that you will be given (don’t worry about price of car, just guess, and write in “lease” since there is no option for that).

You will be given a ticket number, wait for your turn, go up to the designated window/desk, hand over the documents with the filled-in application form and you will soon have new number plates and registration documents in your hands. Fee is $241 and you can only pay in cash, check or Debit/ATM card. No credit card.

I also filled out my driver’s license application on the spot and paid the $32 fee. They needed to see my passport as a second form of ID. I didn’t have to take a driving test but did take a written exam. I had not prepared but thankfully I only got 3 answers wrong when I was allowed to have 6 wrong answers out of 36. I didn’t know better, but you would be better off grabbing a CA driver’s handbook (copies lying around DMV) and reviewing it for 30 minutes before the test. Smile for your photo as you will be stuck with it for a while.

Good luck!

  • Fausto Flores

    Bilal, this is awesome, thanks so much! Did you also happen to have to deal with paying use tax on your remaining lease payments? I recently moved from Maryland to California. In Maryland, the state charges 6% sales tax up front on the full purchase price that the lease payments are based on, and now I’m being charged 9% on my remaining payments by California. That’s a lot of tax!

  • greenawayj

    Thanks Bilal. Just also moved from Boston area to the East Bay (Walnut Creek). this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Toyota was easy to deal with and I should have the POA and title in a few days…. Unfortunately, I’m now at day 30 since moving so I hope they don’t lock me up!!