Vehicle Information for Military Personnel in California

Nonresident Military Personnel Operating a Vehicle in California

Nonresident military personnel, and both military or civilian members of NATO who are not citizens of the United States are permitted to operate a vehicle in this state with valid license plates from either:

  • the individual's home state or country or
  • the state or country where the individual was regularly assigned and stationed when the license plates were issued, if the following requirements are met:
    1. The license plates displayed on the vehicle are valid plates issued by a foreign jurisdiction.
    2. The vehicle registration and license plates are issued to the military person or spouse of the military person.
    3. The vehicle registration and license plates are issued by the foreign jurisdiction where the military person was last regularly assigned and stationed for duty by military orders or a jurisdiction claimed by the nonresident military person as the permanent state of residence.
    4. If the vehicle is a motor vehicle, the owner or driver has insurance.

NOTE: Military orders do not include military orders for leave, for temporary duty, or for any other assignment of any nature requiring the military person's presence outside the foreign jurisdiction where the owner was regularly assigned and stationed for duty.

This section applies to all vehicles owned by the military person or spouse except any commercial vehicle used in any business manner wherein the military person or spouse receives compensation.

Resident Military Personnel Operating a Vehicle in California

Military personnel who are also residents of California but deployed to a location outside the state may qualify for a renewal penalty waiver.

To qualify for the renewal penalty waiver, the registered owner must be ordered to temporary military duty during a period when a Presidential Executive order specifies the United States is engaged in combat or homeland defense and the registered owner is a member of one of the following:

  • Armed forces,
  • Armed forces reserve, or
  • National Guard.

Deployment does not include:

  • Temporary duty for the sole purpose of training or processing.
  • A permanent change of station.

Only penalties incurred during deployment may be waived.

The application for registration renewal must be submitted with the appropriate fees within 60 days after termination of deployment to qualify for the penalty waiver.

Complete a Miscellaneous Statements of Fact (REG 256) stating:

  • That you are a member of the armed forces, armed forces reserve, or the National Guard.
  • The termination date of deployment.

Make an Appointment(s) and take the renewal and REG 256 to your local DMV.
Vehicle Code §9560

Discharged Military Personnel

Any person entering California following discharge from the armed forces of the United States is exempted from registration of passenger vehicles and trailer coaches provided the vehicles have out-of-state plates and registration.

Registration becomes due when you accept gainful employment in California or become a California resident and must be paid within 20 days following that date to avoid penalties.

Commercial Vehicles Owned by Military Personnel

If you are on active duty you may operate a commercial vehicle owned by you without obtaining California registration provided the vehicle has valid registration in your home state or the state of military assignment at the time of registration, and is not used in a trade or business.

NOTE: Any commercial vehicle owned by military personnel used in any business manner that provides that person with compensation is subject to California registration.


Military personnel, stationed in California are exempt from payment of the vehicle license fee (VLF) on any vehicle owned or leased and registered in California provided:

  • The nonresident military owner is shown as a lessee or registered owner of the vehicle.
  • The vehicle is not operated "for hire."

In order to obtain the VLF exemption, military personnel must complete a Nonresident Military Exemption Statement (REG 5045) form and NATO members are required to complete a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Status of Forces Agreement (REG 5046) form.

NOTE: The duty station must be located in California in order to receive a VLF exemption.

See Nonresident Military Personnel Operating a Vehicle in California above for more information on nonresident military owned vehicles.


Is there a nonresident military exemption from the smog inspection?

No, if the vehicle is to be registered in California, a smog inspection certification is required.

For more information on vehicle smog requirements in California click here.

Nonresident Military Personnel

Any nonresident owner of a vehicle registered in a foreign state and a member of the U.S. armed forces or spouse of a member of the U.S. armed forces on active duty within this state. Any person on continuous active duty in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard is considered military personnel. This does not include civilian personnel employed by a branch of the armed forces.

Use Tax

A sales (use) tax based on the new registered owner's county of residence will be required when registering a vehicle purchased overseas with the intention of using it in California.