Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Foreign exchange Student buying a Car in one State, drive it to another, where School is

I’m a 21 year old exchange studen from Europe. I’ll be arriving in Boston, MA in august 2010 and would like to buy a car there to drive around a bit and finally drive to South Dakota which is where i will be attending school. I will have a J-1 student visa. I’m going to fly to Boston as it’s the cheapest flight from Europe. I will be registering the car in SD upon arrival. Are there some sort of temporary plates and insurance that are valid for inter-state transport? Or is it possible to register and insure the car using a temporary adress (motel, etc.) in Boston?

Thanks for any help

I would suggest that you first check with both the South Dakota Division of Motor Vehicles and the Massachusetts DMV (via their respective websites) about identification requirements and other requirements for registering a car and for obtaining a driver’s license. Ever since the 9/11 attack on the US, identification requirements have become much more stringent, and in some cases can be difficult for non-citizens of the US.

In any event, I highly doubt if a temporary address is going to be sufficient for obtaining insurance on a car. And, you should be prepared for VERY high insurance rates for someone in your age category, with no driving record in the US. While it may be considerably lower in South Dakota, it is not unusual for a young person in more urban areas of the US to pay well over $2,500 per year for car insurance.

P.S. I applaud your excellent skills in English language usage. Each day, there are many posts on this site from native-born Americans who are far less able to communicate in their native language! (I am assuming that you come from the mainland of Europe, rather than from the UK or Ireland.)

You should also check insurers to see if they will allow you to use a temporary address. They might not. It could be best to use your home address in Europe; maybe you could get a PO Box in South Dakota before you leave and have your mail sent there. Just be honest with the insurers when you discuss your idea with them.

Ask if SD will issue you temporary cardboard plates until they can send you metal plates to your address in SD. Ask too, how long you can get by with the temporary plates out of and inside SD. Yes, liability insurance should be lower in SD. You can skip the collision and comprehensive to save a little money if you want to self-insure your car.

I would wonder if you could provide evidence of a good driving record, assuming that you have that, in your home country that could help with rates here. I have not heard of this being done but would ask the question. A good credit score helps a little to reduce insurance rates too when you have time to establish that if you will get a credit card or other loan requiring timely payments.

If you go through one of the online insurance providers, you probably can get insurance (liability at least) with a temporary address. I insured my cars through progressive when my only regular mailing address was a PO box. I would think it would only really be an issue if you’re getting something like collision or theft where your rates vary a lot depending on where you live. They also never asked anything about the registration-- I’ve even insured cars through them that didn’t belong to me (when I borrowed someone else’s van).

I have a feeling this is not going to work in Massachusetts.

There are some states that are very laid-back in how they deal with motor vehicle registrations, but MA is absolutely not one of them. This site: says they do not issue temporary tags there, so that’s out. Actually registering a car in MA requires paying sales tax, a safety and emissions inspection and the registration fees themselves are on the high end. I’ll bet that just the difference in cost of registering a car in SD vs. MA will pay for a couple weeks of a rental car. It will probably be a lot easier just to get a car once you get to South Dakota.

Thank you all for your replies, I haven’t been able to check back before now. I’ve gotten a pretty negative reply from MA authoroties: “The RMV does not issue temporary a registration in Massachusetts. You can either have the vehicle delivered to you on a flat-bed truck or register the vehicle in your home state before picking it up.” Sadly the person who wrote this didn’t fully understand my situation (I have no home state, etc.)… I’ll send an e-mail to SD DMV right now and see what they’ll have to say.

Where I live there are many different insurance companies offering differing rates for car insurance. Do any of you know of a good company? As of providing a driving record, I can maybe get some from my country but what do you think it must contain? Date issued, number of tickets, times revoked, attempts at driving licence tests, number of accidents, etc. ? If that’s all, I have a “perfect” record, Tests passed at 1st attempt, never an accident or ticket in 3 years and 40,000+ miles.

As of renting a car is probably a good idea with regards to unforeseen expenditures, but totaling at $2200 for a week (small car at hertz) it’s not very cheap either, as I’m planning a week-long drive from Boston, see some things then go to SD. And $2200 is around half of what I’m planning on using to buy a car.

As of what kind of car I’m planning to buy I’ve looked at a few cars:

-Lincoln Mark VII, or 90s Town Car
-Mid-90s Mustang, Camaro, or Firebird/Trans-Am (must be V8)
-Mid-80s Corvette
-90s Thunderbird or Cougar XR-7

…or similar.

I don’t know how reliable these cars are but i am aware of their high fuel consumption. However we pay $7.50 per gallon here, so I’m not concerned about fuel cost. It’s not however the gas prices that kills us here, its the road tolls. Perhaps the worst example is one stretch of road where you have to pay around $10 to drive 75 miles. (You pay both ways!)

Thanks again, everyone for your help!

FORGET buying a car in Massachusetts!! Just buy and register the the car in S.D. for a FRACTION of the cost and hassle of dealing with Mass rust buckets and the Mass DMV…

Boston has one of the highest insurance rates in the US and South Dakota some of the lowest!! It will be much cheaper for you and easier to fly directly to South Dakota, buy the car there, if you can, (you must have an address), insure it there and then see the USA from S. Dakota.

Good luck.

I agree with most of the posts. You will find it very diffficult and expensive to buy the car in MA. In addition to the high fees and the high insurance rates, you will pay 6.25% in sales tax. We do not have temporary plates. You could always re-register in SD and cancel your MA insurance, getting a refund on the unused portion, but you would have to return the MA plates.
You should be able to rent a car for far less than $2200 for a week, even with a drop-of charge for brigning it to SD. Try other rental companies.

None of the cars you mention are very reliable. Not because of their make and model ,but because of their age. Expecting to step off the plane and find a reliable car that is 13 to 25 years old is unrealistic to say the least. I suggest you get a lot closer, say Chicago, Denver, or Minneapolis and then find a car. Maybe you will find one in Fargo. If you must drive from Boston, find a cheap rental, like Rent-a-Wreck, that uses older cars to cut the cost.

You may have high gas prices, but out west we’ve got huge distances. Those $4 per gallon go by pretty quick when it’s 200 miles to the next town!

If you want a real American experiance, wait until you get to South Dakota and buy a full-size 4 wheel drive Ford, Chevy, or Dodge pickup. The best parts of the Dakotas aren’t accessable from the paved roads, especially if you’re in the western part of the state. And most of these trucks come with pretty big V8’s, so they should be plenty fast for you if that’s what you’re looking for-- they’re generally the cheapest way to buy lots of horsepower.

I would agree with JT about shopping around for a rental. Maybe also try some of those discount travel sites like Expedia, etc. Of course, taking the Greyhound bus out there will show you a side of the USA most exchange students don’t get to see!

S.D. has one of the easiest DMV’s in the country. A P.O. box is all the address you need. No safety or emissions tests. ALL registrations are $15. How many would you like?? I have a friend who has 50 vehicles registered there, mostly motorcycles and trailers. He does it all by mail after making one trip up there to establish the “lay of the land”…

After considering your replies I’ve settled on a rental from Boston… and finding a used car later… Hastily buying a car without knowing anything about how things work isn’t a very good idea right?

Good decision!

I am of the opinion that this is a very good decision. I think it is best to go to the US and then look for a car and check the car insurance opportunities. Each state has its own car insurances and it is definitely best if you compare the car insurances and then decide what is the best for your requirements.

I think when you get to Boston you’ll find out that having a car there is outrageously expensive anyway. Just getting a parking space will cost you upwards of $1000 a month if you can find one to reserve. The public transportation system is the best way to get around Boston.

When the time arrives to go to SD, you can then fly there and buy there.


I ended up renting a car from Boston and drove across. It was $1500 for 7 days. Bought a car ('99 Crown Vic) for $3500.

Bought it without a state drivers licence and had temporary “plates” that were valid for 30 days. All I needed was a temporary insurance (for that I needed a verifiable adress). After taking the driver’s licence (easy and only $20), I could register the car and get plates. So to answer my own questions: Yes, you can buy a car, get temporary insurance and drive it to where you want to register it. Of course this varies from state to state, but here in SD it works.

$4400 won’t buy a you much in the way of a mid-90’s F-Body or Mustang GT. The ones you do manage to find for that price will be absolute beaters, same thing for a Corvette. You probably can find a Lincoln Mark VII or Town Car in slightly better condition, but still they aren’t going to be in fantastic shape. Insurance for a young exchange student will be significantly higher on the Mustang/Camaro/Trans-Am as well.