California Law ordinarily requires that a person register their vehicle in California within 20 days, “after gainful employment is accepted in this state or residency is established in this state.” C.V.C. ÃŸ 6700. However, C.V.C. ÃŸ 6701, provides a specific exception for active-duty military members, when the following conditions are met:
- The out-of-state license plates are valid and current.
- The vehicle registration and license plates were issued in the name of the military member or his or her spouse.
- The out-of-state license plates and registration were issued by the state where the member was last assigned, or the state where the member claims permanent residence.
- The vehicle/driver of the vehicle is properly insured.
Please note that this exception does not apply to vehicles that are used for commercial purposes – so if you or your spouse has a business requiring the use of a vehicle, that vehicle must be registered in California.
Instead of registering or renewing your vehicle out-of-state, it may be more convenient to simply register your vehicle in California – active-duty military members who register their vehicles in California are exempted from paying a portion of the normal registration fees. California vehicle registration has two components: a flat rate fee based primarily on the class of vehicle (which military members must pay if registering in California), and the vehicle licensing fee, which is essentially an annual property tax based on the value of your vehicle (which members are exempted from paying).
Keep in mind that even with the VLF exemption, your annual California registration fees may run between $50 and $125. To receive the VLF exemption, a California DMV form REG 5045 must be included with your registration application.
When deciding whether to register your vehicle in California, it is important to consider that your state of permanent legal residence may interpret this as an indication that you want to change your state of permanent legal residence to California – which could lead to unintended state income tax consequences. In other words, if you are a permanent legal resident of a state with no income tax, you may not want to register your vehicle in California.
Finally, if you are buying a new vehicle and will be registering it in California, in addition to California registration fees, you will also be required to pay California sales tax.
For more information, please contact the Base Legal Office at (661) 277-4310. Legal assistance attorneys are available 10-11 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 3-4 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday. Paralegals can provide power of attorney and notary services 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Friday.