To Long; Didn’t Read:
Most US states require residency to register/title a vehicle.
For non-US residents, you have two options:
- Use an AirBnB address (as described in another answer to this question by Lg102), or
- Form a company. A US company is a US resident, and can therefore register/title a vehicle.
I had this problem myself, and realized that forming a company and registering a vehicle to it takes a lot of pain out of owning a vehicle in a foreign country.
So I started a business, visitor.us, that helps international visitors buy, register, and insure vehicles in America by forming a US company for them.
Ok, now on to the detailed answer...
Buying a car as a non-resident is simple: give someone enough money, and they’ll give you their keys.
Driving that car legally is another matter. You need to register, title, and insure it.
US states handle registration and titling, and each of the 50 have different rules/requirements.
Across all the 50 states, registration and titling basically link a vehicle to an identity.
A title says that this vehicle (as described by the unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)) is owned by this person (as described by the unique “identity number”).
A registration says that this vehicle, owned by this person, conforms to the relevant laws and regulations and its taxes have been paid.
For all 50 states, the default “identity number” is an in-state driver’s license. A handful of states (like Virginia, as mentioned by Lg102 in another answer to this question) will create a non-driver’s license “identity number” for you if you can demonstrate proof of residency. This, of course, requires coordination with your AirBnB host, agreeing to a “lease,” accessing their mail, etc.
However, all 50 states can link a VIN to another type of identity: a corporate one. In the eyes of the law in the US, companies are people too. Millions of cars are titled and registered to company "identity numbers," all over the country.
Anyone, regardless of citizenship, can own a company in the US. And you don’t have to be physically present to form one.
So, if you’re a non-US resident, and don’t want to mess around with using an AirBnB address to create a residency (or if you want to start in a state that requires an in-state driver’s license), form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in the state in which you wish to register your car.
Legalzoom and incfile are two of the larger company formation services in the US. However, they won’t help you actually register your vehicle, or provide insurance.
I started visitor.us in 2017 specifically to help international visitors buy, register, and insure vehicles in the US. We form a company owned 100% by you, register your vehicle to it, and get you insurance. In most cases, we can have it all done before you even arrive, so all you have to do is pick up your keys and start your road trip.