How to Become a Washington State Resident

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You’ve moved to Spokane, Washington and now you’re a Spokanite, right? Well, not so fast! To officially become a Spokane resident, you have to become a resident of Washington. After all, if you’re going to be living, working, and driving in Spokane neighborhoods more than half the time – you’re a resident of Washington state!

But how can you make it official? There’s tons of information online about how to become a Washington state resident, but when we were looking it up, it was pretty confusing. Sites told us to become a Washington resident by getting a driver’s license, but to get a driver’s license, you had to show proof of residency, like a voter registration card. But guess what you needed in order to get a voter ID card? A driver’s license!

Luckily, it didn’t end up being as confusing as we thought to become Washington state residents, and now we’re officially the proud owners of Washington state drivers’ licenses. Here are step by step instructions on how to become a Washington state resident and get your very own Washington state driver’s license.



The Definition of a Washington State Resident

The definition of a Washington state resident can be found at the Department of Revenue, and basically states:

Persons are considered residents of this state for sales and use tax purposes if they take actions which indicate that they intend to live in this state on more than a temporary or transient basis. A person may be considered a resident of this state even though the person is a resident of another state.

The Department of Revenue presumes that a person is a resident of this state if he or she does any of the following:

  • Maintains a residence in Washington for personal use;
  • Lives in a motor home or vessel which is not permanently attached to any property if the person previously lived in this state and does not have a permanent residence in any other state;
  • Is registered to vote in this state;
  • Receives benefits under one of Washington’s public assistance programs;
  • Has a state professional or business license in this state;
  • Is attending school in this state and paying tuition as a Washington resident or is a custodial parent with a child attending a public school in this state;
  • Uses a Washington address for federal or state taxes;
  • Has a Washington State driver’s license; or
  • Claims Washington as a residence for obtaining a hunting or fishing license, eligibility to hold public office or for judicial actions.

Overall, there are a series of steps you have to take to become a Washington state resident, but once you figure it out, it’s pretty easy.

Here are just a few ways you can become a Washington state resident:

Don’t forget to download your handy printable guide to becoming a WA state resident!

How Much Time Do I Have to Become a Washington State Resident?

By law, you have 30 days to get your WA driver’s license. You’ll need your driver’s license before you register your vehicle as well.

Admittedly, it did take us a bit longer to get our WA driver’s licenses because we were a) confused by the process and b) waited to get our voter IDs, which took longer than 30 days. We didn’t have any problems with this, but just keep in mind you are taking a risk if you do go over the 30 day requirement.

Moving Boxes & Supplies 

Washington state has different offices for driver licensing and vehicle licensing, which means you aren’t able to get your license and register your vehicle at the same place. We were so used to getting our registrations in the mail (and our drivers’ licenses) from Arizona since we were Arizona natives that this surprised us, but it’s not a big hassle.

You can find a list of driver licensing offices here.

You can find the list of vehicle licensing offices here.

What Are the Step-by-Step Things I Need to Do to Become a Washington State resident?

First, establish residency in Washington. We did that by registering to vote, which you’ll have to do by mail (not electronically) because you’re a new resident to Washington state.

Once you have proof of residency, decide if you want a standard driver’s license or an enhanced driver’s license. The EDL requires a lot more things and is more expensive, so we went with a standard driver’s license just to get the ball rolling.

You can pre-apply online, which we did, but it ended up not mattering once we got to the driver licensing office.

Finally, visit a driver licensing office and then visit a vehicle licensing office for your tags and plates (we waited until we received a hard copy of our drivers’ licenses to go to the vehicle licensing office, but you may be able to go straight there and get your plates the same day).

Just a quick note: a Twitter follower let us know that you are able to establish residency with utility bills and take your temporary license to get your tags and plates. Follow us on Twitter here if you’re not already!

For the vehicle licensing office, you’ll need to bring:

You’ll leave with your plates the same day. Your registration and tags will arrive later by mail.

Bridge over the Spokane River in downtown Spokane, Washington.

Not yet ready to become a Washington state resident? Want to visit Spokane first and see if it’s right for you? Here’s a list of places to stay in and around Spokane, from hotels to local home stays!

 

Don’t forget to check out our list of the best things to do in Spokane, too!

What Counts as Proof of Washington Residence?

If you’re applying for a standard Washington state driver’s license and are 18+ years old, you’ll need to show an acceptable document with your primary address.

Acceptable documents must:

  • Show your current Washington residence address (unless noted below),
  • Be unexpired (unless noted below), and
  • Be in your or your spouse’s name. If the documents are in your spouse’s name you will be asked to present your marriage certificate.

Note: If you’re between the age of 18 and 25, you can use documents in your parent or guardian’s name. You’ll be asked to show proof of relationship, such as a birth certificate or adoption papers.

Acceptable documents for people new to Washington state:

  • USPS change of address letter dated within 2 months (electronic letters not accepted)
  • Home utility bill for Washington address (gas, electric, water, garbage, sewer, landline phone, TV, internet, ISTA) dated within past 2 months.
  • Washington voter card
  • Washington school transcript – current or previous school year
  • DSHS benefits letter indicating unexpired benefits (medical, food, etc.)
  • Tribal ID
  • Proof of home ownership (mortgage documents, property tax documents, deed, title, etc.)
  • Selective Service card
  • Business mail from state or federal agency dated within 2 months
  • Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) letter from Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Home owners (not renters) insurance policy
  • Auto insurance policy or bill dated within 2 months
  • Consulate ID card
  • Pay check or pay stub with the employer’s name and phone number or address – dated within 2 months
  • Moorage document (bill, contract, etc.)
  • Letter attesting residence in alternative housing (e.g. assisted living, college campus, mission, senior housing, shelter, or retirement home) on company letter head with a phone number that could be used in verification of the facility
  • U.S. military document issued within 1 year
  • Certified marriage certificate, for a marriage within 1 year
  • Form DS-2019
  • If you’re using a verification ID letter to prove your identity from the Stand-Alone or A-List above, that can also be used as your proof of residence.

We didn’t know we could have used a USPS change of address letter or utility bill (this was the first time we became out-of-state new residents!) so we registered to vote, and it took about 3 weeks for our voter cards to arrive in the mail. You could use any of the other acceptable documents to register as a new WA state resident if you don’t want to register to vote.



What is an EDL?

An EDL is an Enhanced Driver’s License that is compliant with the REAL ID Act. It’s an acceptable alternative to a passport for re-entry into the U.S. You can only use it when you cross borders by land or sea.

It’s important to note that after October 2020, you will need an EDL to fly, due to the REAL ID Act. From the governor’s office:

In October 2020, after REAL ID certification is granted, Washington residents flying domestically or accessing some federal facilities will be required to show an enhanced ID or other form of acceptable federal identification.

This is a nationwide requirement, so unfortunately you can’t get around getting an EDL by getting an Idaho license. You’ll need an EDL to visit (even by car) Canada and Mexico, too.

You need quite a list of things to get your EDL, including your US birth certificate or an unexpired passport, your Social Security card, your driver’s license, and a few other things. You can read the full list here.

If you do a lot of travel (including driving to Canada and flying domestically) it may be worth it to eventually (before 2020) get your passport and just continue using your standard ID for driving. To fly internationally, you’d need a passport anyway, and all ports of entry (driving to Canada, for instance) accept passports as valid documents to re-enter the US.

Since we had just moved and still hadn’t unpacked everything, we just went ahead and got the standard license, but we know we’ll have to get the EDL (or passports) eventually!

image of Spokane Fair Ferris Wheel
Visit for the fun, stay for the community!

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Washington State Driver’s License?

If this is your first driver’s license in Washington state, you’ll pay $35 application fee + $54 issuance fee = $89

For the enhanced driver’s license (EDL), you’ll pay $35 application fee + $78 issuance fee = $113

Both licenses are good for 6 years, and if you decide to upgrade your standard license to an EDL, you’ll pay $4 per year for the time remaining on your license.

You can read more about fees here.

Can I Use a Card to Pay My Washington State License Fees?

Yes, at most offices:

Pay with your:For online servicesFor licensing office
American Express – credit/debitYesYes – at most offices*
Discover – credit/debitNoYes – at most offices*
MasterCard – credit/debitYesYes – at most offices*
Visa – credit/debitYesYes – at most offices*
Check
Make checks payable “Department of Licensing”
YesYes
CashNoYes

How Do I Register My Car in Washington State?

You could try to register your car on the same day you get your license, depending on how busy the Spokane driver licensing office is.

On the day we went, it was a weekday afternoon and we waited about 40 minutes, then it took another 30 minutes to process everything. By the time we finished, it was too late in the day to visit a vehicle licensing office.

Moving Boxes & Supplies 

To register your car in Washington state, visit a vehicle licensing office for your tags and plates.

For the vehicle licensing office, you’ll need to bring:

You’ll leave with your plates the same day. Your registration and tags will arrive later by mail.

What About Emissions Testing?

It can be a bit confusing to determine if your car needs emissions testing. For reference, my husband’s 2013 Volkswagen Passat did not need emissions testing.

The following vehicles are do not need emissions testing in Washington state:

  • Various eco-friendly vehicles, including:
    • Hybrid vehicles (i.e. Honda Insight, Toyota Prius).
    • Vehicles powered only by:
      • Electricity.
      • Propane.
      • Compressed natural gas.
      • Liquid petroleum.
    • Diesel vehicles:
      • Weighing under 6,001 lbs.
      • Model year 2007 or newer.
  • Vehicles model year 2009 and newer.
  • Vehicles over 25 years old.
  • Motorcycles.
  • Motor-driven cycles.
  • Street rods.
  • Farm vehicles.
  • Washington dealer-sold vehicles.
  • Collectible vehicles.

If your car does not fall under one of those exemptions, it probably will need emissions testing. You can find out more about emissions testing, including cost and where to go, here.


I Have a Question Not Covered Here

We’re not experts in every case to become a Washington state resident! If your situation is a little more complicated, feel free to reach out to us on our Facebook page with your question and we’ll try to help you out.

Curious about the cost of living in Spokane, WA? We wrote up a comprehensive guide to the cost of living in Spokane, WA here!

You can also check out the resources below for more help on more specific questions:

image of how to become a washington state resident
Don’t forget to download your printable PDF on how to become a Washington state resident!



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