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License plate question: When a foreign tourist on holiday purchases a car in the USA

I’m a fan of Sam Glover’s column in the British-published magazine Practical Classics. Sam writes about how to keep 20- 50 year old cars of common descent, Fords, Volvos, Toyotas, MG’s, various Russian and Eastern European makes … all running well and remaining on the road as daily drivers. So you might understand why someone like me w/a 40+ year old Ford and a 20+ year old Toyota is interested in this kind of info. Anyway, he’s got this catch-22 conundrum he’s come up against, and I got to thinking that I have no idea how I’d handle that situation either.

What he’s trying to do is fly over from England & take a vacation to the USA, buy a 60’s Chevy Corvair currently located in South Carolina, and drive it across the country, then ship it back to his home in England on a boat from California. The trouble he’s running into, the South Carolina DMV won’t give him license plates and registration unless he’s a resident of South Carolina, which of course he isn’t. And driving across the USA w/no license plates might be problematic.

There must be a simple way to handle this situation, right? Anybody have any experience doing something like this?

Colorado DMV will register a car to anyone with a state address regardless of their citizenship. We have a lot of foreign nationals (temporary visitors, students, etc.) who buy and register cars. Not having a local address may be the problem, not their residency. I’d ask around to other SC DMV offices and the state auto dealers’ association to see if you get the same answer. Another option would be to register it in a more lenient neighboring state. Or, tell the DMV they are a university student.

I’m thinking there must be a way around the state specific problems, like when a foreign diplomat has to own a car in the USA. Maybe the US State Department handles this kind of thing for foreign tourists routinely? Also, were I in that situation, I’d ask the folks at the nearest British Embassy their opinion.

I sure don’t know but this may be a situation where you simply need a lawyer to act as the go between agent for the guy. The lawyer handles the purchase, rents it to Sam, then handles the export papers. Maybe the law firm is the owner. Sam provides the POA to the lawyer. He just needs someone with a permanent US address to intercede. Don’t even think about misrepresenting yourself as a student. That’s falsifying a public document worth 7 years.

I sure would like to go to England though and pick up a cheap Morris Minor for a couple thou and ship it home, but the import hoops makes it a real challenge. Even bringing one in from Canada where they are more plentiful is a challenge. Maybe someone could just sneak it across the border and then I could grind the VIN off and . . . and . . . Oh never mind. That’s a bad idea. Too many laws.

Driving a 60s Corvair across the USA is NOT A HOLIDAY. In any case he will need temporary plates and insurance since most states won’t let you drive without insurance. What this guy is planning is a really dumb idea.

Years ago I bought an old Pontiac for a German Exchange Student who properly titled and insured it for 6 months since he was touring North America (Canada & USA) and wanted a hassle-free vacation before returning back home.

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If the state you licensed your vehicle in doesn’t require insurance - you can still drive in ANY STATE without breaking laws. Happens all the time in MA with many drivers from NH driving into MA and not having ins.

Perhaps it’s possible for the foreigner to get the car registered in advance in his home country and use those plates to drive across the country?

And what happens what that guy driving around with no insurance has an at-fault accident?

It must happen from time to time

Perhaps one of us has experienced this, or heard about it?

The other person us screwed. Most people who don’t have ins also don’t have any assets. So I suggest you have good insurance on yourself…including uninsured coverage.

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I believe there is a provision for a “Transport Tag”…basically the only thing the country cares about is Insurance… While the state of residency is up in the air…a transport tag on an insured vehicle fills this gap until it gets to its new home. Dont quote me on this but Im about 80% sure that is the way you would go…or look into.

This is one of those instances where you asked the wrong “Authority” as they only quoted you the laws of that particular state and only that state for ownership of a vehicle in and of that state…


Sam Glover should contact his auto insurer and ask if he can get overseas insurance on the Corvair when he buys it and then convert it to GB insurance when he imports it. Since the vehicle is for personal use and is over 10 years old, he can register it without jumping through the usual hoops. If he can insure it, he should then contact his DMV and see if he can register it for use in GB even though it is in the USA. We can buy new cars in Europe, drive them, and bring them back. It isn’t hard to believe that GB has similar benefits, even for a used car. The Brit’s version of our DMV should know if it can be done and what steps are required. He can’t be the first Brit to do this. He might be able to get temporary state (US) or temporary GB tags for his US stay.

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Just got a copy of the issue in question, the Insurance wasn’t the issue since Hagerty would offer coverage for the trip (For $500)but the car was in the care of a corvair specialist in South Carolina but with a title from North Carolina where there the seller lived. From his conversations with the North Carolina DMV it would be possible to get temporary plates with the bill of sale and title, the plan was to fly to North Carolina to get the temp plate and travel to SC to get the car.

Maybe I’m a little off or dense but doesn’t the car have plates on it now? Current plates like mine sitting in the driveway? If he just gets a bill of sale from the owner and the signed off current title, and all is well and he gets insurance, what does he care if he gets a new North Carolina title or not? Its being shipped to England so who cares as long as he can be legal while driving in the US. What does he need a title for?

Some states won’t transfer plates to a new owner.

Here is Wisconsin, the plates belong to me. I sell the car…I remove the plates and put them on my next purchase after sending the state the transfer form and money. This is usually done with the change of registration and payment for the sales tax.

I would think that the plates from Great Briton would stand out like a sore thumb, and you would be pulled over once a day by a cop that just is not sure what is going on, but he’s going to find out.


Some states don’t require insurance? A NH vehicle does not need insurance in conn? But a NH car needs insurance in NH?

The NC temporary plate sounds similar to how it works in Oregon although here it is made of paper and is taped inside the rear window. Proof of insurance is required.

My wife has had the same plates for the last 3 cars. They are the combination of the initials of the hospital where she trained and the number of days she trained; all available by pure luck! They are getting a bit scratched and harder to read so they may not make it to the next car. Last week I saw a car with 30 year old plates and virtually unreadable; the owner was obviously fond of them, but all the reflective paint was faded and no policeman would be able to read it unless close up.
Still, it is legal as long as the little sticker in the corner says you have up to date ownership.

Delaware never requires replacement. You could use plates from 1941 if you can find them.

In Minnesota the plates go with the car. You get stickers but a new plate every 3-5 years. I have no idea what South Carolina does but if the plate stays with the car, like I said who cares if the DMV will re-title the car or not to the new owner, as long as he carries insurance and as long as he can register it in GB? So the question is what does SC have to do with it anyway? I understand the owner needs to release himself, but if he has the bill of sale document and a copy of the signed old title, he can prove the sale, no? OTOH how is he going to fit a big GB plate on that car?