The Complete Guide to Buying a Car Out of State

You’ll need to pay extra attention to sales tax, titling, and registration when you buy an out-of-state vehicle.

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When you’re shopping for a new vehicle, you may struggle to find exactly what you want at dealerships in your area. However, you may find a dealership or private seller in another state that has what you’re looking for.

The good news is you can buy a car out of state, and the process isn’t all that different from any other car purchase. However, because state laws differ and you need to register your new vehicle in the state where you live, buying a car out of state has some added complications. 

Can you buy a car out of state?

Yes, it’s perfectly legal to buy a car out of state, and you might choose to go this route for several reasons. 

For example, maybe you live near your state’s border and one of the dealerships you’re shopping at happens to be over the state line. Similarly, it could be that you’ve found a specific car you want — from a dealer, an acquaintance, or an online seller — and it’s in another state.

While there’s nothing that prohibits you from buying a car out of state, the process may be a bit more complicated. For example, you have to pay your home state’s sales tax[1] and meet its emissions standards.[2] You may also need to retitle the vehicle when you get home if it has an out-of-state title or plates.[3]

How to buy a car out of state

The process of buying a car out of state is similar to buying one in your state in many ways. But there are some logistical differences, as well as legal requirements to follow.

Buying a car out of state from a dealership

If you’re planning to buy a car from an out-of-state dealer, here are the steps:

  1. Shop around for your vehicle. The first step in buying a car, regardless of where you’re buying it, is to shop around. You want to make sure you’ve found the perfect car for you at the best price available. If you’re shopping through a dealer, you may be able to have them put the car on hold until you arrive.

  2. Verify your state’s requirements. Check ahead of time to find out your state’s requirements and what will be expected of you after the purchase. Ask your local DMV about titling and registration, emissions testing, sales taxes, and more.

  3. Get a vehicle history report. If you’re buying a used car, a vehicle history report will provide information about the car’s past, including whether it’s been involved in any accidents.

  4. Complete or arrange for any necessary emissions testing. A handful of states require smog or emissions testing on vehicles to make sure the exhaust system is working properly and that it meets the state’s emissions requirements.[4] Some dealerships do emissions testing in-house, which makes the process easier.

  5. Insure the car. Nearly every state requires drivers to have at least some amount of liability coverage. Failure to insure your car could result not only in out-of-pocket costs, but also in legal fines. In addition to the liability requirements the state sets, you may also want full coverage to protect your new purchase.

  6. Complete the purchase. Once you know the car is ready to go, you can complete your purchase. The dealership will have paperwork for you to sign, and there may be additional steps if you’re financing the vehicle.

  7. Title and register the vehicle as needed. When you buy a car from a dealer, it’ll often take care of titling and registering it for you. However, the title and plates may be registered in the state where you purchased it. In that case, you’ll have to take care of registering the vehicle in your state and getting appropriate plates.

  8. Pay the sales tax in your state. If you bought the car from a dealer, you probably paid sales tax. But your home state may also require you to pay its vehicle sales tax.[1]

Learn More: Minimum Car Insurance Requirements by State

Buying a car out of state from a private seller

The steps for buying a car out of state from a private seller are very similar to buying from a dealer. You’ll follow many of the same steps above, but here’s where buying from a private seller versus a dealership will differ:

  • You may want to get an inspection for the vehicle if you’re buying a car from an out-of-state private seller. Make an appointment with a local mechanic to get the car checked over to ensure it’s in the shape they say it is. Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay for this out of pocket — the seller probably won’t foot the bill.

  • The purchase process with a private seller is likely less formal than with a dealership. However, you may still want to write up a purchase contract that you and the seller will sign.

  • Unlike dealerships, private sellers probably won’t help you with titling and registering your vehicle. Once the seller has signed the title over to you, visit your state’s DMV as soon as you can to retitle it in your name and get the proper plates and registration.

Chances are that a private seller won’t collect sales tax. You probably have to pay the full sales tax amount when you title the car at your local DMV or title office.

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Pros and cons of buying a car out of state 

Buying a car out of state comes with a few added complexities. However, sometimes the benefits outweigh the downsides.


  • More options: You’ll have a wider selection of vehicles to shop from since you aren’t limiting yourself to just your area.

  • Potentially cheaper: Depending on your local vehicle market, you could save money by shopping out of state and driving the car home.


  • Additional steps: There could be more steps to buying a car out of state since you’ll still have to meet your own state’s requirements for registration, taxes, emissions testing, and more.

  • Travel or shipping costs: Between the extra steps and the travel required to buy a car out of state, the purchase will likely cost more time and money.

What to consider before buying a car out of state

Here’s what to expect before you start your car-buying journey in another state.

  • State sales tax: In most states, buying a car requires sales tax on your purchase. If you buy from a dealer, the dealer will probably collect sales tax when you pay. But when you buy from a private seller, chances are they won’t collect any sales tax. Either way, your state may still require you to pay some sales tax if the tax rate is higher in your state than in the state where you bought the car.[1]

  • Temporary license plate: When you buy a car, a dealer may put temporary plates on the car until you can buy official plates. Your state may limit the amount of time you can drive with the temporary plate, so make arrangements to get a permanent plate as soon as possible.[5] [6]

  • Title and registration: Your state may require that you properly title and register your vehicle within a certain number of days. Keep in mind that your car may have an out-of-state title, meaning it will have to be retitled for your state.

  • Insurance: Some insurance companies have a grace period where, if you’re already a customer, they’ll cover your new vehicle for a certain number of days. But it’s important to check if this is the case with your insurance company. Either way, it may be safer to insure the vehicle immediately to make sure you’re complying with the laws in the state where you purchased the car and the state where you live.

  • Emissions and inspections: Some states require emissions testing or other inspections on vehicles. Depending on where you’re buying the car, you may be able to have the testing done there. But keep in mind that the standards where you buy the car may be different from the standards in your home state. Plan to take your car for emissions testing when you get home, if your state requires it.

Check Out: The 6 Critical Things to Do After Buying a Used Car

Out-of-state car purchase FAQs

Are you considering buying a car out of state? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about out-of-state car purchases.

  • Can you buy a car in a different state than your license?

    Yes, you can buy a car in a different state than your license. However, you’ll ultimately have to title and register the vehicle in the state where you’re a resident.

  • Can you buy a car in another state and drive it home?

    Yes, you can buy a car in another state and drive it home. States generally have a grace period to give you time to title and register your new vehicle properly.

  • Do you have to pay taxes twice if you buy a car out of state?

    You shouldn’t have to pay taxes twice if you buy a car out of state. Sales taxes are usually paid based on where you live. If a dealership in another state collects sales taxes, you may have to pay additional sales taxes at your local DMV if the tax rate charged is lower than the vehicle sales tax rate in your state.

  • How do you register a car you bought out of state?

    Depending on your state, you can register a car you bought out of state either online or by visiting your local DMV. The process shouldn’t be much different from registering a vehicle you purchased in your home state.

  • Are there any disadvantages to buying a car out of state?

    Yes, there are some disadvantages to buying a car out of state. It can be more complex to title and register a car purchased out of state, and you’ll have to meet your state’s requirements for sales taxes and emissions testing. Buying a car out of state can also be more time-consuming and expensive.

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  1. State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue. "Sales or Use Tax on Vehicles Purchased Outside Wisconsin." Accessed February 13, 2023
  2. Arizona Department of Transportation. "Purchases from an Out-of-State Dealer." Accessed February 13, 2023
  3. Michigan Department of State. "Buying, selling, or leasing." Accessed February 13, 2023
  4. Kelley Blue Book. "Car Emissions Testing and Inspections: What to Know By State." Accessed February 13, 2023
  5. Wisconsin Department of Transportation. "Temporary license plates." Accessed February 13, 2023
  6. Arizona Department of Transportation. "Buying and Selling Your Vehicle - FAQ." Accessed February 13, 2023
Erin Gobler
Erin Gobler

Erin Gobler is a personal finance writer and journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin. With more than five years of experience, Erin has covered topics such as investing, credit cards, mortgages, insurance, and more. Her work has been featured in major publications like Business Insider, Fox Business, and Time. Erin received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 2013, studying journalism and political science. She also received a certificate of financial planning from Boston University in 2022.