North Carolina License Plates

Whether you’re commemorating aviation or flying under the radar (stylistically), North Carolina has plenty of license plate options.
Written by Max Werner
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Updated on Mar 23, 2023
From decorative state mottos to the classic “first in flight” design, North Carolina has plenty of distinct license plates to give your ride that extra touch of personality.
License plates aren’t just the numerical representation of your vehicle—they’re a badge of honor! Better yet, they’re a badge you can personalize. Whether you want to commemorate the state’s aviation history or fly under the radar, North Carolina’s plates have something for everyone.
Ready to find your next license plate? We're here to help. In this article,
we’ll break down everything you need to know about license plates in
North Carolina
. Including how to get a personalized plate of your own.
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What are North Carolina license plates and why do I need them?

Let’s get down to basics. License plates serve as ID tags for your car. They allow government personnel to identify your vehicle, verify your registration, and connect a vehicle to its owner. In North Carolina, license plates also confirm that a car has undergone required
safety and emissions inspections
Furthermore, license plates are crucial for identifying the at-fault vehicle after an accident. Without plates, your insurance provider would have a much stricter go when labeling the vehicles—taking more time and costing you more money.
‘Nuff said, license plates are essential for driving. Without them, we wouldn’t know who goes what! North Carolina only requires a back license plate. This means you won’t get in any trouble for letting your front bumper breathe—unlike in, say,
, where the back and front license plates are required.

What license plates does North Carolina have?

North Carolina license plates come in three different forms: 
  • Standard plates
    are the classic option. These represent the state itself, not a particular interest. You’re likely familiar with them.
  • Special interest plates
    bring attention to special causes—like breast cancer. Some even donate to the given cause.
  • Special plates are fun and varied! Some feature a specific design, while others help identify the vehicle itself. A popular example is the blank plates worn by antique cars.

Standard license plates

  • First in flight: This is the most popular plate in North Carolina. It features the classic red, white, and blue color scheme and depicts the Wright brother's first flight over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The type reading “first in flight” oozes state pride.
  • First In Freedom: The
    first in freedom
    plate is similar, color-wise, to its more popular counterpart. However, this plate pays tribute to North Carolina’s role in the revolutionary war—recognizing the
    Mecklenburg declaration of independence
  • National and State Motto: This relatively simple plate proudly displays both the United States (In God We Trust) and North Carolina (To Be Rather Than to Seem) Mottos. Seems rather like a classic.
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Special interest license plates

  • Coastal Land Trust: Purchasing the coastal land trust plate, with its unique look, directly supports land conservation on the Coastal plains of NC. Use this plate to keep our beaches safe with style.
  • Carolina Panthers: “Keep pounding,” reads the Carolina Panther's custom license plate (alongside the panther's logo). It’s no wonder this is one of the most popular specialty plates in the area.
  • North Carolina State Parks: if you love the outdoors, this is the plate for you. Support the local state parks and enjoy a serene image of kayakers moving along a quiet river.
  • Save The Honey Bee: The save the honeybee plate is about as vibrant as license plates get—and it can be yours for a mere $30 fee. The plate consists of a bright orange-yellow color scheme and honeycomb pattern.
  • Watermelon: You heard that right. North Carolina has a specialty plate specifically for watermelons. No—it doesn’t say “support for watermelons” or “for the farmers.” It’s just a picture of a watermelon and the tag WM next to it. It doesn’t get juicer than this.

Special license plates

  • Antique Auto: Antique Auto plates are the exact same as the first in-flight plate—plus the words “Antique Auto” to identify the antique class of vehicle. Classic car plates use a similar design. 
  • Military: Military plates use badges to signify active military members or veterans. Plates differ based on the status of the individual—from air force members to retired Navy personnel.
  • Amateur Radio operators: These plates identify amateur radio operators in the North Carolina area. To apply, a radio operator must send their call signs to the NC DMV and complete the state's
    radio registration plate form
  • Collegiate: Collegiate license plates are different from typical college insignia plates. To obtain a collegiate plate, you must apply via a
    Collegiate Insignia license plate form
    and give the college's name.

How do I get a North Carolina license plate?

Compared to nearby states, North Carolina makes it extremely easy to get new plates. Just make sure the vehicle is titled and registered and meets
safety and emission inspection
requirements. From there, visit any
NCDMV license plate agency
location and request a new plate.
License Plate fees vary based on the type of vehicle and the plate’s properties. For an accurate estimate of plate fees, visit the
NCDOT website.

How to customize your car insurance for savings in North Carolina 

Well done—you’ve just found a new, personal plate for your vehicle! You’re almost ready to hit the road. The only thing standing in your way: Finding the right insurance.
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