Are you moving to California or have you recently settled down in the state? You may not have given it much thought, but it’s a good idea to take steps toward establishing California residency right away.
Becoming a resident of a new state doesn’t require any official steps, but you will need to prove residency for in-state tuition, income tax purposes, and even getting a driver’s license. Especially when it comes to taxes and college, you’ll want to establish residency as soon as possible.
How long does it take to establish residency in California? You are typically considered a California resident when you live in the state for 6+ months within a 12-month period and intend to remain in the state. There are exceptions, however.
This complete guide to California residency requirements covers everything you need to know!
Important Reasons for Establishing California Residency
Here are some of the most important reasons to understand residency requirements for California.
- You need to prove residency for reduced in-state tuition. If you are under 24, you have a high burden to prove residency and financial independence – the sooner you begin, the better!
- Two states may attempt to claim you are a resident and subject you to double taxation if you have a vacation home or spend long periods of time out of California.
- Your former state may try to pursue taxes after you move to CA. Establishing residency in California can help you prove your permanent state of residence.
- Proof of residency is necessary to enjoy special benefits and privileges available to CA residents. This includes everything from hunting licenses and discounts to Medi-Cal health care.
- You will need to prove your residency to enroll your children in public school.
- Establishing residency is crucial if you want to vote in local or national elections.
How to Become a California Resident: Steps to Establish Residency
Here are the steps you can take to meet California residency laws. Note that not all of these steps are required.
#1. Establish a Domicile by Renting or Buying a Home
The most important step to take to become a CA resident is also the most obvious: establishing a home in the state. Buying a house in California or signing a lease to rent a home can both be used to essentially “start the clock” on your residency. However, for the purposes of tuition, taxes, and even getting a license, you will still need to follow through with additional steps to prove you are a resident.
#2. Set Up Utilities
Once you have a signed lease or you have closed on a house, the next step is setting up utilities. While this step is also obvious, make sure you save your utility bill as proof of residency. You can also request a Letter of Residency or a Letter of Service Verification. This can be useful to get your driver’s license before you get your first bill.
#3. Change Your Address
Once you have signed a lease or close on your new home, have your mail forwarded. You can submit a permanent USPS change of address request which will have your first-class mail forwarded for 12 months.
Do not rely on USPS mail forwarding to ensure you receive important correspondence. Change your address with any important businesses or organizations. Don’t forget to change your address with the Social Security Administration and IRS.
#4. Sever Ties with Your Former State
It’s very important to take steps to sever ties with your former state that may indicate to an auditor you plan to return. Some states, particularly states with high taxes like New York, California, and New Jersey, are known for pursuing former residents for income taxes.
To avoid this double taxation, start by submitting a change of address with your former state’s Department of Taxation or Revenue. Consider whether you are doing anything that may make it hard to claim you intend to make CA your permanent home, even simply renewing a resident hunting license in your former state to use when you visit.
#5. Get a California Driver’s License
The next step in becoming a California resident is getting a driver’s license in CA. If you are transferring an out-of-state license to CA, you will need to take the written exam and pass a vision test, but a driving test isn’t needed if your out-of-state license is valid and unexpired. You will need to provide the following documentation:
- Proof of identity with your full, true name (including middle name) and date of birth such as a birth certificate or valid U.S. passport.
- Name change documents, if necessary.
- Proof of Social Security number.
- Two forms of California proof of residency. You must have two, different printed documents with your first and last name. Preferred documents include a lease agreement, mortgage bill, or utility bill. You can also provide a tax return, insurance documents, Change of Address Confirmation from USPS, a property tax bill, and other types of documents.
You can use this REAL ID checklist tool to make sure you have all the documents you need.
According to the DMV, you must get a CA driver’s license within 10 days of becoming a California resident. This means voting in a CA election, paying resident tuition, filing for a homeowner’s exemption for property taxes, or using other privileges or benefits for residents.
Click here to complete the CA driver’s license application online to save time. When you visit the DMV, an employee can access your completed form and process it.
#6. Register Your Car
When you get your license, make sure you also register your car in CA. You will need to complete an Application for Title or Registration. If you have a lease, the lessor must also sign this application. You will also need to bring:
- Your out-of-state title to get a California title to surrender, otherwise, your CA registration will be marked “nontransferable.”
- Your last issued out-of-state registration
- A Verification of Vehicle form completed by a DMV employee, law enforcement officer, or licensed vehicle verifier
- A smog certificate from a CA smog station for most vehicles
#7. Register to Vote in California
Another important way to meet residency requirements for California is registering to vote. This helps establish not only your presence in the state but your intent to maintain CA as your permanent home.
When you submit an application for a driver’s license or ID, or change your address, with the DMV online or in person, you are automatically registered to vote unless you opt out.
Otherwise, you can register to vote in person at your local election office or on election day or register to vote online here.
Other Ways to Establish California Residency
There are other options for meeting California state residency requirements. These options can be especially useful to prove residency for tuition purposes or tax purposes if your former state challenges your residency.
- Get a job in the state.
- Enroll your children in private or public school.
- Start a business in the state.
- Get or transfer a professional license to California.
- Get a license for your dog.
- Open a bank account in CA.
- Get a passport (or renew your passport) with your new CA address.
- Join a local church.
California Residency Requirements for College & In-State Tuition
California residency laws require students prove California residency for more than one year to qualify for in-state tuition. Universities may have their own provisions for establishing California residency for tuition purposes. These requirements may be different than California residency requirements for community college.
You will need to prove you have been a state resident for 366 or more days by the first day of each term. There are two components to proving residency:
- Physical presence in California for more than one year
- Intent to establish residency in the state and remain in the state
You may submit many forms of evidence to prove your intent to establish residence. Here are just some examples of proof that may be accepted:
- Voter registration
- CA driver’s license or ID
- Car registration
- Federal and state income tax returns
- Proof of employment in the state
- Utility bills in your name
- Petitioner for divorce in the state
- Professional license
- Membership in a California organization including a gym or club
- Mortgage statements
- Signed lease
- Proof of receipt of public assistance
- Bank account statements
- Designating your CA address as your permanent address on employment, school, military, and other records
Colleges and universities can consider behavior and whether it is consistent with your claim for residency. You may be denied in-state tuition for issues like:
- Maintaining your voter registration and voting in a different state
- Being a petitioner in a divorce in another state
- Declaring you are a non-resident of California for tax purposes
- Attending an out-of-state college as a resident of another state
Be aware that if you are under 19, you are unable to establish your own residency and your status will be based on your parent or guardian’s residence. If you are under 24, an undergraduate, unmarried, and your parents are not CA residents, you will be required to prove financial independence for the 24 months preceding the start of the term for in-state tuition.
The more evidence you can submit, the easier it will be to establish residency and meet California in-state tuition requirements. You may find it helpful to review this Residency Form from Glendale Community College and this California State University Residence Questionnaire to see what information is requested to establish residency for tuition.
If you feel you are wrongly classified as a non-resident, you have the right to appeal your residency status. Cal. Code of Regulations Title 5 §41908 has requirements you must meet to make a written appeal within 30 days.
California Residency Requirements for Tax Purposes
California tax residency rules are different from standard rules for residency. You are considered a resident for tax purposes if you are present in CA for anything other than a temporary or transitory reason. You are also considered a resident if you are domiciled in California, but you are outside CA for transitory or temporary reasons.
Of course, that sounds very vague – and it is. California will want to classify you as a resident to tax your income. You are presumed a California resident if you spend more than nine months in the state, but there is no reverse presumption that you are not a resident if you spend most of your time out of the state.
As a resident, all your income from all sources is taxable by California. It’s important to take steps to establish residency in case you need to prove to which state you should be paying income taxes.
Some states pursue former residents, particularly states with high taxes like CA and NY. Your former state may try to pursue you for income taxes, potentially long after you move to California. The state in which you have the closest ties is generally considered your state of residence. If there are any disputes during an audit, state tax agencies may consider factors like:
- Physical presence of you, your family, your belongings, and the origin of bank or credit card transactions
- Professional and personal associations like employment, school, bank accounts, professional licenses, business interests, and memberships in religious or social organizations
- Registrations and filings like a homeowner exemption for property taxes, voter registration and voting history, driver’s license, and car registration
California State Residency Requirements FAQ
How long does it take to be considered a resident of California?
This depends on the purpose for establishing residency. For tuition purposes, you must be a resident for at least 1 year to qualify for in-state tuition. The California DMV residency requirements are different: you are considered a resident when you vote, file for a homeowner’s tax exemption, or use any privilege or benefit for residents only.
What are the residency requirements for Medi-Cal?
Medi-Cal residency requirements are important to know if you are considering enrolling in Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program. You must show you are a resident of California. This proof can include a current, valid CA driver’s license or ID, documentation you are employed in the state, proof you or a child are enrolled in a CA school, or proof you are registered to vote.
What are the California residency requirements for divorce?
The petitioner for divorce in California must have been a resident for at least 6 months and a resident of the county in which the case will be filed for at least 3 months.
How do you avoid California residency?
California has a six-month presumption of residency. Still, you can be considered a resident even if you spend less than six months in the state. Here’s how to avoid California residency: do not establish ties beyond what a guest or visitor would make. Owning a vacation home is fine, but registering to vote, getting a CA driver’s license, and enjoying perks of residency can classify you as a resident.
Now that you know how to become a California resident, are you ready to complete your move to the Golden State? Whether you’re still in the planning stages or you already have a new home waiting for you, Republic Moving & Storage is here to help! Give us a call today to get started with a personalized, affordable moving estimate.