Guide on how to purchase and register a vehicle in the USA

Travel Forums North America Guide on how to purchase and register a vehicle in the USA

  • 1
  • 2
Last Post
1. Posted by TravelingTanja (Budding Member 3 posts) 19w Star this if you like it!

We are a couple from The Netherlands and we are currently half a year into our 1 year trip through Canada and the US in a motorhome. As we had a hard time finding all information that we were looking for to prepare for this trip regarding how to purchase and register a vehicle, we wanted to share our experiences in this way.

We decided to do the trip with a class C motorhome, which we wanted to purchase second hands either in Canada or in the US. As you might know, purchasing a vehicle isn’t the issue, the question is more on how to register it and get the license plate. Main issue here is that a proof of residence is required, and in many states and provinces a local driver’s license. In addition, sometimes an emission check of the vehicle is required, which means that you will need to go to that province or state once per year. Especially the resident issue is hard to solve; a tourist visa isn’t sufficient, a working or student visa are not easy to obtain when you actually want to go traveling. After a lot of research we discovered a solution for our situation: in some states it is possible to start a Limited Liability Company (LLC) and register the vehicle on the company. I can’t remember exactly which states this trick could work, but we decided to go for Montana. Main reason: there are plenty of companies in Montana arranging this process for you. This is because there is no sales tax in Montana, so this trick is also used by residents to avoid taxes ;). Note: using it in this way can be seen as tax avoidance which is illegal. As we are from Europe and we don’t require to pay any taxes in the US, there won’t be anyone bothering about this. Another advantage of this Montana LLC process is that no emission check is required in Montana and they don’t need to see your vehicle in order to provide you with the license plate. This means that you can purchase the vehicle anywhere in the US and do the whole process from a distance.
So, we started an LLC in Montana and used one of the companies (-snip-) to help us with the process. We started the LLC before we went RV shopping in the US, so we knew everything was ready for the registration.

We decided to purchase our motorhome in the autumn before we wanted to start the actual trip in spring the next year. This will save you a lot of worries at the start of the trip as your vehicle and house is already waiting for you. We chose to purchase our motorhome in Virginia. There were several dealers quite close to each other. Finding a used class C motorhome at a dealer wasn’t as easy as we expected. A Class C model is very popular and the dealer told us that if one would come in in the morning, it would have been sold by the afternoon. This means that it takes a lot of time and waiting and we only had 3 weeks to arrange it. We didn’t look into Craigslist or comparable websites, but it would probably be the same with only a few models being available and many people that are interested. Side note: this is in autumn 2022 right after the covid pandemic in which camping became super popular. Our back-up option was to see if the rental company Cruise America had one of their older vehicles for sale. They had several, we liked the model (Thor Majestic 23A from 2018), and we could sleep a night (or two) over it before we needed to decide. Although it might not be the most recent or fancy model, we definitely see the advantages of this motorhome as a first-time motorhome owner. The motor, battery, air conditioning, kitchen appliances are all sturdy and super standard and therefore easier to fix if needed. As the rental company doesn’t want anything to break down, they do regular maintenance. Another advantage is that Cruise America offers 5 year warranty plans for both the car and the home, which we purchased for the ease of mind.

First challenge: the payment. Cash will usually not be accepted, credit cards won’t work for this amount of money, so a wire transfer is the best option. We called our bank in advance to announce that a wire transfer would be on its way and we are not sure if it was because of that or just because they were fast, but the transfer came through within a day.

During the purchasing process we made sure to use the name of the LLC as the new owner of the vehicle, we signed the papers with our personal signature with the note ‘signed as member of LLC xx’ or something comparable.

Before you start to drive in the vehicle, make sure that the insurance is arranged. Same as for the purchase, the insurance should be on the name of the company rather than you as person. However, as insureds within the policy you will need to register the persons that might be driving the vehicle. Our dealer has helped us a lot with this process. Rather than starting with explaining the whole situation with the company and the fact that we don’t have a local driver’s license (which means that this counts as 0 years of driving experience, which means a major increase in price), he just asked for an insurance on the company with two people as insureds and we ended up for only 30% of the original price. We have our insurance with Progressive, through American Adventure Insurance and they were clearly familiar with the LLC method, so I can recommend them.

At the time of purchase, we received a temporary license plate of the state of purchase. This license plate is usually valid for 3 months, which allows you to organize the registration of the vehicle. This temporary plate is actually just a waterproof piece of paper that you can attach on the outside of the vehicles with the screws or just with some tape. With this temporary license plate we drove through several states without any issues. We even crossed the border into Canada with this plate!

For the registration process of the vehicle, we shared all the original purchasing documents with the 49dollars registration company. We sent the purchasing contract, year model disclosure statement, odometer disclosure statement, purchaser's statement of tax exemption and insurance policy documents, and we did not get any additional questions. The vehicle was registered within 3 weeks after the documents were received in Montana. Successful registration means that you’ll receive two license plates for the vehicle. Note that the license plates should be shipped to an address where priority mail can be received (not sure if a mailbox only would work).

One of the license plates will have a label with a date on it, this will be the rear license plate. The date is the renewal date of the registration. This is also just an administrative process and doesn’t require to go to the state itself. (Our label says 11/23, so I’ll be able to update you on this process in a couple of weeks.)

After a year of traveling we would like to sell our motorhome, so if anyone is interested, we can update this topic also with our experiences of how to sell.

Moderator comment: please see Forum Rules

[ Edit: Sorry, no promos please. Link to Forum Rules added. ]

2. Posted by BeateR (Full Member 266 posts) 19w Star this if you like it!

Only a few remarks: As for CruiseAmerica: you are wrong if you await that this rental company do maintenance. It doesn't. Cruise America and their sister company, Cruise Canada, have the worst reviews with rental RV's. They don't do regulare maintenance, they give their RV's away to renters whith broken brakes, no waterpump working, bad tires, a.s.o. I could give a a thread of more than 600 posts in a different forum. We rented RV's in Amerika and Canada so often, but the ONLY RV's we saw broken on the way where from CA.
As for register and insurance: legally you have to have an adress from where you live. Maybe (and ofcourse it seems so) the one or other insurance company will accept it in any other way. But if you are involved in an accident, every insurance-company can and will refuse to pay, because you don't have a "legal" insurance.
So, when during your trip nothing bad happens, you can call you happy. But please, don't recommend it to other users, they could make a lot of bad and costly experiences.

[ Edit: Edited on 20 Oct 2023, 17:30 GMT by BeateR ]

3. Posted by TravelingTanja (Budding Member 3 posts) 18w 1 Star this if you like it!

Thanks for the reply, BeateR! We were not aware of the bad reputation of CruiseAmerica. All I can say is that our RV has been running perfectly for the past 6 months! Except for one flat tire, but such things happen.

Do you know if there is a different way to arrange an insurance in our situation? We really thought this would work. The insurance is on the LLC including the address of the LLC, so this should be fine. The insureds on the ID card are the two of us and indeed the address below our names is the same as our LLC address but this isn't were we live personally.

We were a bit frustating trying to figure how we could organize this, as we only found information on how not to do it. It would be great if we could create a complete story for the future travellers with similar plans with a clear description on how to organize this! So this input is much appreciated.

4. Posted by BeateR (Full Member 266 posts) 18w Star this if you like it!

Tanja, sorry, but I don't know what "LLC" means, I never heard this.
I know from another travel-forum that it is almost impossible to get a car insured in America. You have to have a living adress in USA.
I wrote you a PM.

5. Posted by jonesli8811 (Inactive 1 posts) 18w Star this if you like it!

Quoting BeateR

Tanja, sorry, but I don't know what "LLC" means, I never heard this.
I know from another travel forum that it is almost impossible to get a car insured in America. You have to have a living address in USA.
I wrote you a PM.

I think LLC stands for limited liability company (LLC) that contains characteristics of a corporation or sole proprietorship.

6. Posted by AndyF (Moderator 2909 posts) 18w Star this if you like it!

Great explanation of how to dodge these bureaucratic hurdles. Thanks for posting.

I see the links were stripped out of the original post due to our approach to spam and newbie posters. In this case it looks to me like they would be useful to future readers, if they could be reposted and the forum moderator would permit?

7. Posted by BeateR (Full Member 266 posts) 18w Star this if you like it!

Jones, thank you. We don't have such companies in Germany, or maybe we call it different. So I don't know how reliable these companies are.
Andy, for sure, everey socalled "insurance Company" will take your money and tell you, you are insured. This is true as long as nothing happens. But in case of an accident, where you or the insurance company would have to pay, they would say, NoNo, you don't have the proper insurance, your "insurance" is illegal, because you don't have a living adress in USA. It's up to you if you'd take this risk.

8. Posted by AndyF (Moderator 2909 posts) 18w Star this if you like it!

Quoting BeateR

Andy, for sure, everey socalled "insurance Company" will take your money and tell you, you are insured. This is true as long as nothing happens.

I'm sure we are all aware of insurance companies trying to dodge responsibility in the event of a claim.

However, this is a case of insuring it via your own company. Do you know anything specifically about that? Probably not, since that was the whole point of the post and you appeared not to have read it since you asked what an LLC was despite it being stated in the first post.

9. Posted by BeateR (Full Member 266 posts) 18w Star this if you like it!

Andy, Imagine, I am not omniscient either. And as I'm from Germany, we have different abbreviations. Do you really know al OUR abbrevations? I doubt. So please, don't harrasing me.

10. Posted by AndyF (Moderator 2909 posts) 18w Star this if you like it!

BeateR, my point was that the first post was all about setting up a company to own the campervan, but you seemed not to read that. Nothing to do with the abbreviations. I'm not familiar with LLC either but in the first post he said that's a type of company.

You seemed to be telling the guy not to recommend it when you hadn't bothered reading what he was saying. I thought his post was useful. Sorry you feel harrassed.