South Dakota South of The Border – México

by | Jan 31, 2018 | Getting Around | 2 comments

When we arrived in San Miguel de Allende (SMA) in 2016, one of the first things we started to notice was all the cars with South Dakota (SD) license plates. I thought “Wow, SMA sure is a popular destination for South Dakotans!” Little did I know at the time that this was not isolated to just SMA but that we would see SD plates everywhere we went. Shortly thereafter, we began to understand why.

Before we moved to México, there were about 1,000,001 things to plan and do as we discussed in a prior post, Eating The Elephant. That included whether or not to bring our car. I hear both sides of the argument on a daily basis about whether it is better to bring your car with you or buy one down here. Bottom-line, it’s an individual decision. There is no right or wrong answer. Both sides will vehemently defend their positions but I don’t believe it’s that black and white. For us, there were a multitude of reasons why we decided to bring our SUV down from Atlanta and why for us, it was the best decision (i.e., kids, large dogs, our possessions, our travel plans, etc.) It simply boils down to being a personal choice and what works best for you.

For those of you, like us, that do decide to bring your foreign-plated vehicle with you, there is a good chance that you will want/need to maintain your vehicle’s registration for a variety of reasons. For the sake of brevity, I will not go into the details of those reasons here since that’s a whole separate topic that merits its own discussion. We needed to maintain our U.S. vehicle registration (at the time was registered in the state of Georgia) but maintaining it in the state of GA was simply not a viable long-term option for us as Residente Temporal (RT) visa holders for several reasons. Firstly, it wasn’t feasible to drive thousands of miles annually for the mandatory annual emissions inspection. And secondly, the state of GA requires you to maintain auto insurance coverage in order to have a have a valid vehicle registration. Spending hundreds of dollars a month for insurance in the U.S. was not something we wanted to do if it could be avoided.

We began to research our options and quickly saw the reason for all the SD license plates in México. SD has a program where you can title and register your vehicle in the state as a non-resident. Please note that this only applies to U.S. plated vehicles and not all counties offer this unique service. We decided to apply in Clay County and for the purpose of this post will speak in regards to the process with them.


Like I stated above, not all counties in the state of SD choose to offer this service. By far, the most popular county to complete your vehicle title and registration is Clay County. Their staff have helped hundreds (if not thousands) of individuals over the years and are, of course, very familiar with the requirements and process. Additionally, they are all extremely helpful and will guide you through the process step-by-step. Aside from Clay County, you would need to call, typically, the treasurer’s office/department of revenue for that particular county to see if they offer this service.


Clay County will allow you to complete the process by mail/e-mail/phone but other counties that offer this service might require that the application is completed in-person. You will need to check with that respective county as to their specific application procedures.


  • Complete the South Dakota application for title and registration (the staff at Clay County will assist you in completing this).
    • Provide a social security number for anyone whose name will appear on the title as an owner.
    • Provide a mailing and a physical address in the U.S. (if you do not have a physical – actual residence – in the U.S. and only have a mail box or mailing forwarding address, you will need to complete the non-resident affidavit. If you do have an actual residence in the U.S. that you receive mail at or if you have a physical address but receive mail at a P.O. box then you do not need to complete the non-resident affidavit but you need to provide both the P.O. box address and the physical address).
    • Indicate color of your vehicle.
    • Complete the odometer section.
    • All persons who are listed on the title as an owner should sign the application.
  • Complete the non-resident affidavit (you only need to complete this if you do not have an actual residence postal address – actual residence – in the U.S.)
    • Do not possess a SD driver’s license.
    • Do not possess a residence P.O. box address in the state of SD or any other state in the U.S.
    • Address provided is for mail forwarding purposes (one must provide a U.S. address though it doesn’t explicitly indicate that).
  • The original title to your vehicle (cannot be a copy).
  • A copy of a valid (unexpired) U.S. driver’s license for all listed owners (if you only have a foreign driver’s license, you will need a copy of that and a copy of your passport that verifies you are a U.S. citizen).


As part of this service, you are not required to maintain an active auto insurance policy in order to have a valid registration nor is it required for renewal purposes.


As part of this service, you are not required to have an annual emissions/smog/etc. inspection in order to have a valid registration nor is it required for renewal purposes.


Upon receipt of the above listed required documents and fees (see below), your application for title and registration will typically be processed within 1 to 2 business days. At that time, Clay County will mail out the plates and registration via USPS. The new SD title will be issued directly the the state DMV and will arrive several weeks later.


Each transaction is different so in order to figure the license fee (based on vehicle age/type/etc.), you would have to contact the Clay County office. Additionally, the following fees will apply:

  • Title fee – $10.00 USD
  • Mailing fee – $5.00 USD
  • Administrative fee – $20.00 USD
  • License fee – TBD

The fees can be paid over the phone with a credit card or you can have a payment link e-mailed to you and pay online. We opted for the latter.

*Please note that these fees are current as of 1/31/2018.


We are due to renew our registration later this year. As such, I will update this post afterwards to detail the steps and process around renewals.


Everyone at the Clay County office was super helpful and responsive both over the phone and via e-mail. The process went exactly as described and they were able to mail out our license plates and registration the very next day. The title showed up a few weeks later as promised. We still maintain a U.S. mailing address for mail forwarding purposes. Once everything had been received, we had a friend bring it all down for us who was coming to visit. The timing couldn’t have worked out better. And we got everything shortly before our GA registration was set to expire. As long as you have all your documentation in order, the process is very straight-forward and pain free.


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