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My vehicle is currently in Mexico, and I will not be returning to the US until late July. My license plate expires in June.

Mexico doesn't care that I have an expired license plate, as it's only used for identification purposes here. But as soon as I cross the border into the US, I will be driving an illegal vehicle.

What options do I have to return to the US without driving illegally on an expired license plate?

The car is currently registered in Kansas.

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    I think we need the state, although all the states I am familiar with the license plate does not expire, but rather the registration for the car expires. – StrongBad Mar 25 '14 at 21:55
  • @StrongBad: Saying a license plate doesn't expire is a lot like saying a drivers license card doesn't expire--only the licensure of the driver does. It's called a "license" plate for a reason! – Flimzy Mar 25 '14 at 22:00
  • @StrongBad: In any case, the car is currently registered in Kansas. – Flimzy Mar 25 '14 at 22:00
  • I was thinking more along the lines of a vanity plate or a discontinued plate style. – StrongBad Mar 26 '14 at 13:59
  • @StrongBad: It used to be that you had to replace your license plate every year, when you renewed the registration. The concept of renewable license plates (with attachable expiration date stickers) is a "relatively" modern invention (since the 1950s, I think--which in the context of the history of automobiles is about the middle ages :) ) – Flimzy Mar 26 '14 at 16:16
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In other questions, you were mentioning changing your US tax home state. This can be done for vehicles as well.

A popular choice (in Baja California) is to re-register the car in South Dakota.

South Dakota specifically allows non-residents to register cars there, without the vehicle ever having to be in South Dakota. You have to apply at the county level. Clay County is one county that is very expat friendly. A call to the county treasurer there will explain the process. It's usually cheaper than other states as well.

You'll need a US address (any state) that the plates can be mailed to, they can then be forwarded to you. You will also need to adjust your US insurance.

To get a matching driver's license you have to go to SD in person, but outside of Kansas a mismatch between the license and the plates shouldn't be much of an issue. In Kansas they would likely expect you to re-register the car locally.

On the mainland of Mexico, there are TIP stickers (import bonds) for tourist vehicles. Investigate how changing the plate would affect (or not) the refund of your bond when leaving the country. As that sticker doesn't apply in Baja, it's not an issue among the dozens of people I know with SD plates.

Other states are an option, such as rural counties in Texas. It should be part of a plan to have a matching address, drivers license, and car plates from a single county and state, to keep things simple.

Of course if your state or county allows renewals without the vehicle being present then it would be simplest just to get the new stickers or plates mailed to you from somebody at the registration address in Kansas.

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You'll have to pay the registration fees and have someone mail you the sticker to apply to your license plate. If you need physical examination of the car (here, in California, smog tests are required for certain vehicles as a condition for the license plate sticker renewal) - you're out of luck and better get the car to Kansas before it expires.

Another option is to register the car in Mexico and drive with Mexican plates until you re-register it back in the US.

  • Re-registering in Mexico is in general not a practical option, as the car needs to be imported (customs) to be eligible. Only certain cars from certain years can be imported, it costs US$500-$1500, the car needs to be at the border anyway, and it'll then have to go through a US import process later if it returns to US registration. It's not like changing US states. – Rob Hoare Mar 26 '14 at 2:54
  • @Rob Understood. Well, another option is to take your chances and drive the car with expired plates on your way back and hope for the best.... – littleadv Mar 26 '14 at 3:57
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It looks like registration is handled by the Kansas Department of Revenue. From their FAQ

Can I renew my vehicle registration (license plate) on the Internet?

Yes, you may renew registration via the Internet through the Division's website, www.kswebtags.org. You will need your PIN/Access code number from your renewal notice and a credit card (Visa, Master Card, Discover or American Express) or electronic check/debit card to pay your property taxes and registration renewal fees. Your insurance company must be participating with the Kansas Division of Vehicles to verify insurance coverage.

Further, I think the PIN/Access code is sent in the mail and the registration card and stickers are also sent in the mail after completing the online application. Assuming you can get mail forwarded from the address that you are registering the car to, you should be okay registering online. If you don't have the ability to get mail at the registered address, things are probably going to get more complicated.

That said, registering your car might only be part of the issue. You need to think about insurance and if the insurance company is actually going to cover you. Insurance companies can be reluctant to pay claims for vehicles without current safety inspections or vehicles that are predominately parked/drive far from the registered address.

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