When I first moved to Mexico, I noticed there were a lot of South Dakota license plates on passenger vehicles and RV’s here. They were literally everywhere.
I remember thinking that it was odd because less than one million people live in South Dakota.
The expat community where we live in Mexico is fairly social, so it didn’t take long until I met a few folks who had South Dakota license plates on their cars. After talking to them, I learned that none of them had ever lived in South Dakota.
That’s right, not a single one.
I was intrigued, so I set out to learn more about the whys and the hows of this trend.
The Expat Connection to South Dakota
Many expats choose to bring their car with them to Mexico and just keep the U.S. plates on it, especially in areas of the country that do not require temporary import permits (e.g. the Baja Peninsula).
This can create some logistical problems if your car is registered in a state with annual emissions and/or safety inspections, or in a state that you no longer want to maintain residency in because of tax reasons.
That’s where South Dakota comes in.
Like a bureaucratic super hero protecting Americans living abroad, South Dakota solves many of their problems in one fell swoop.
Take a look for yourself:
- Non-residents can register vehicles (South Dakota has over 58,000 vehicles registered to out-of-state residents)
- No VIN verifications
- Registration and titling can be done by mail
- No emissions or equipment safety testing
- SD will mail your plates, registration stickers and title anywhere in the U.S
- You don’t have to maintain U.S. insurance while your car is in Mexico
- No requirement to get an SD driver’s license to register a vehicle
There are 66 counties in South Dakota but for some reason, the one that many expats choose to register their vehicle in is Clay County. A tiny county of less than 14,000 residents located in the southern part of the state.
According to an article by the Rapid City Journal, Clay County Treasurer Cathi Powell estimates that 90 percent of her county’s 7,241 vehicle registrants from outside the state are expats who spend much of their time in Mexico.
Let’s Wrap This Up
So, the next time you see one of your fellow expats in Mexico getting out of a car with South Dakota plates, don’t even bother to ask them any questions about that state because chances are pretty good that they’ve never even been there.