Discover the Best of Baja...

South Dakota License Plates

Why are there so many cars in Baja with South Dakota plates?  Is there a large percentage of South Dakotans living here?

Not at all...  South Dakota registration is very friendly to ex-pats from the US living in Mexico.

Vehicles registered in South Dakota do not need to be inspected, nor do they require a smog test.  You are required to carry proof of insurance in the vehicle with you when the vehicle is in the US, proof of insurance is not required for plates and registration.

Compared to the cost of maintaining full-time insurance in the US to keep US plates in most states, the cost for an occasional trip to visit the US can be hundreds of dollars just to keep the insurance and plates.  

With South Dakota plates, insurance can be purchased and kept in the car when needed for trips to the US.  The downside is that this makes crossing the border something that must be planned in advance, to have the insurance coverage in place.

How to do it

South Dakota does not require a South Dakota driver license, nor a South Dakota address to register your vehicles and buy license plates.  You must be a US citizen.  You can NOT register online for SD plates the first time, as far as we know.

Señor Sabrosisimo registered his vehicle in Clay County SD which is very friendly to those who live in Mexico.  If you have no US address, there is an affidavit that you must complete and get notarized.  If you have a physical street address in the US, you do not have to complete the affidavit.  The plates arrived within a week and the title within two weeks.

This is the phone number and address: 

Clay County Treasurer

211 W. Main St.

Suite 201

Vermillion, S.D. 57069

Phone: 1-605-677-7123 


You will need to download and print these forms: 

The Clay County Treasurer's office is very nice.  The toughest part is getting through on the phone, it's busy a LOT.  Once they answer they are very helpful and friendly.  We suggest that you call with any questions before you decide. 

The lady at the Clay County Treasurer's office helped Sabrosisimo complete the initial application while on the phone.  Most of the form is left blank for just getting plates, so don't worry about all the fields on the form.  We suggest that you print the forms and have them ready for reference when you call.

 Here's what Sabrosisimo had to mail to them… 

  • Copy of driver's license
  • Copy of Social Security CARD (not just the number)
  • Current title for the vehicle
  • A completed application for SD plates
  • A personal check for payment  (cost varies, Sabrosisimo's plates were about $50/yr)

That was a year ago.  Sabrosisimo just renewed his plates over the phone using a credit card.   There is a small surcharge to pay them by credit card, and they will tell you the amount in advance if you ask.


Things to keep in mind

Every US state has rules about residents registering vehicles in another state.  Be sure to check your state first.  

Baja's in Rosarito provides a service to help you with all of this process.  Give them a call if you prefer to have someone do the process for you.

One important thing to keep in mind is you will still need US insurance if you ever drive that vehicle to the US.  The US tourist insurance policies from many places in Baja, including those sold at the border line and at Pemex, are only valid for cars with MEXICAN plates.  Be sure to check the terms of the policy before you buy and rely on it.  


Through a friend, Sabrosisimo found an insurance agent in Ensenada that speaks excellent English and sells tourist insurance policies for US by the day/week, up to a month at a time.  The policy covers those who live in Mexico full time, there is no requirement that the car have Mexican plates.  The agent requires you to have your full-time Mexican liability insurance with her, though her prices were good.  She keeps our information on file and when we need a policy for US, we call or send her an email.  The policy usually is returned by email in a couple of hours and charged to the card on file.  When this was written the cost for one day is $8 US and two days is $9 US, we buy an extra day for extra margin of coverage.   We have been advised that these policies meet the requirements for California and SENTRI. 

The agent's name is

Elena Bretts

Ave. Reforma 1320


Ensenada, BC, Mexico


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

She is in office only 8:00-10:30 and 3:00-5:00 Monday through Friday.

To get to her office...

  • Go into Ensenada on 10th St./the truck route . . . turn left and go over to 12th and turn right.  Take 12th until you cross an arroyo . . . after the arroyo go one block past the first stop sign and turn right she’s on the left at 1320 Reforma (note that this is not the same street as Bulevar Reforma/Transpeninsular Highway).  
  • Or, if going north on Bulevar Reforma / Transpensular Highway, turn left on Bronce just past the new WalMart.  Go to Ave. Reforma and turn left.  It's on the left at 1320 Reforma.

Bernie's Insurance in Rosartio also sells US Tourist Policies for cars with South Dakota plates, for up to 30 days each time.

Their information is:

Bernie's Insurance

Quinta Shopping Center

Playas de Rosarito, BC, Mexico


South Dakota plates are not for everyone.  However, if they fit your needs and travel, they can save you a lot of money and effort to keep your plates and registration up to date in Baja.




Deckmans? Definitely!

vineyard views © erin dunigan 2013

I’ve been meaning to try Deckman’s – one of the seasonal ‘campestre’ pop-up restaurants that are making their mark on the Guadalupe Valley’s culinary scene – for quite some time. As it happened, last night was the night.


Be sure to like us on


For more news and updates