Buying a Car In Wisconsin From Out Of State

Buying a car in Wisconsin from out of state can be complicated, but the process for registering an out-of-state vehicle is fairly straightforward.
Written by Andrew Hobson
Reviewed by Bellina Gaskey
If you bought a vehicle from a car dealer or private seller out of state and want to register and title the vehicle in
Wisconsin
, you must pay the 5% Wisconsin sales or use tax unless an exemption applies.
Buying a car can get complicated fast—and doing so from a state other than your home state can get complicated even faster. You’ll need to make sure you have the proper paperwork filled out and pay the applicable fees paid in order to get your car registered in your home state.

How to buy a car out of state as a resident of Wisconsin

Purchasing a car in a state other than the one you call home isn’t uncommon for Wisconsin residents, as the state shares a border with four other states. But if you do purchase your car out of state, how do you make sure the vehicle is registered and the title has been transferred to Wisconsin? 

Pay the 5% Wisconsin sales or use tax on the car

The first thing to know is that a vehicle purchased outside of Wisconsin to be titled and registered in Wisconsin is still subject to the
5% sales tax law
as if the car was purchased in the state of Wisconsin. 
However, in accordance with sec. 77.53(16) of the Wisconsin legal code, if a vehicle is purchased in another state, the District of Columbia, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and a sales tax from that jurisdiction is applied to the purchase, a credit against Wisconsin sales or use tax will be applied for the sales tax paid to that jurisdiction, up to the amount of the applicable Wisconsin tax. 
What that also means is that if the tax paid on the vehicle is less than the Wisconsin sales tax, the difference must be paid for your new vehicle to be registered in Wisconsin. Also, there is no tax refund if the tax paid out of state is higher than what the Wisconsin sales tax would have been. 
If you are due a refund due to Wisconsin sales or use tax being paid in error, you can file a refund claim with Wisconsin’s Department of Revenue. The claim must be submitted in writing with the following: 
  • Description of the transaction and the reason for the refund.
  • Legible copy of
    Form MV-1
    .
  • Proof of remittance of the tax. 
Claims should be sent to: 
MS 5-144
Wisconsin Department of Revenue
PO Box 8906
Madison, WI 53708-8906

Registration and Titling Fees 

If you owe any taxes to Wisconsin on your vehicle purchased out of state, you’ll have to pay when you visit the DMV to register and title your new vehicle. 
When you do that, be sure to also bring with you:
  • The current out-of-state registration documents for your car 
  • The physical copy of the car’s title 
  • Proof of identity 
  • The completed and paid application for title/license plate (
    Form MV-1
    ).
  • Proof of remittance of the sales tax paid to the state of purchase 
  • $5 convenience fee if registered at a DMV Convenience Center 
  • Registration fees
The standard vehicle and registration fees for Wisconsin vary depending on the type of vehicle you are registering.
  • Passenger vehicle: $85
  • Electric vehicle: $100
  • Motorcycle/moped: $23 (every other year) 
  • Duplicate of registration (if needed): $2
  • Title Fee: $164.50 
Also keep in mind that certain counties and municipalities in Wisconsin charge a wheel tax for title and registration. The
wheel tax
varies from $10 to $40 depending on the county or municipality where the vehicle will be registered.  
Once your paperwork has been completed and the proper fees have been paid, your title and new Wisconsin plates will be issued.

How to buy a car in Wisconsin if you live out of state

What if you want to buy a car in Wisconsin but live in another state? For that, you will need to find out what is needed to register your car in your home state, but the process usually doesn’t vary much between states. You’ll need to: 
  • Get a valid bill of sale for the vehicle purchase (make sure to find out if the state you are registering the car in needs the bill of sale to be notarized). 
  • Visit your local DMV with the bill of sale, proof of ID, proof of residency, and any other documentation needed to complete registration. 
  • Pay the necessary fees to complete your vehicle’s registration in your home state. 
You’ll most likely have to pay the local sales tax in the state where you are registering the vehicle, too. 

Pointers for purchasing a vehicle out of state

If done correctly, buying your vehicle from a seller outside your home state can be a smart move. You might be able to find a vehicle you’re looking for that isn’t available where you live or possibly capitalize on lower sales prices that an out-of-state seller may be offering. 
Either way, remember these pointers when making that purchase: 
  • Get the vehicle’s history report. Knowing of any accidents or issues with your vehicle is a must. Use
    CARFAX
    to access the report. Also be sure to verify the
    VIN
    , especially if you are buying from a private owner. 
  • Schedule your vehicle’s inspection in your home state. The car you buy needs to pass vehicle inspection requirements in the state you call home.  
  • Schedule your emissions test. Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, Washington, and Waukesha counties require an emissions test for your vehicle. 
  • Know the sales tax laws of your home state. When purchasing a car out of state, you’ll most likely have to pay sales tax for your home state—not the state in which you purchased your vehicle. 
  • Don’t leave the dealership or seller without buying insurance! Even without the paperwork settled, if you want to drive your new vehicle back to your home state, you will need an insurance policy that meets
    Wisconsin's minimum car insurance laws
    .
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