What is our stance on questions about moving to a different part of the same country (e.g., moving to another state in the USA)? Are they on-topic or off-topic?

Example 1:

I have a Massachusetts driver's license and I moved to California: how long do I have to get a California's driving license?

I am a French citizen. I have a Massachusetts driver's license and I moved to California: how long do I have to get a California's driving license?

Example 2: How to exchange out-of-state license in NY State after 30 days of residency

3 Answers 3


These are definitely off-topic, as they do not have anything to do with expatriates.

Moving from one US State to another is just moving from one part of a country to another part of the same country. The government system is the same, the facilities are (basically) the same. The answer to the question asked above is "go to the DMV and ask", as it would have been if you had moved to Connecticut or New Hampshire.

For an expatriate, it's not the distance moved that's important, it's the differences in the way government departments work, difficulties with language and culture, all the things that are different for non-citizens rather than for citizens of the host country.

  • 1
    In the USA, states have their own laws, agencies, etc. It's a bit different than moving from London to Bath. However, I agree that changing states doesn't make you an expatriate, if we stick to the dictionary definition. Sep 26, 2017 at 2:42
  • "The answer to the question asked above is go to the DMV and ask" -> that's not ideal as, in addition to be time-consuming, whatever the DMV tells you, eventually you are the one responsible to abide by the laws. If the DMV tells you something that is legally incorrect, it may help you in court if you can demonstrate the DMV told you something incorrect (hard to prove), but you'll still be responsible. When is ignorance a legal defense? Sep 26, 2017 at 2:45
  • The government structure is the same though. There IS a DMV to go to. If you moved to Thailand, would you know where to go? And when you got there and found that everything is written in ภาษาไทย would you know how to go about it? Whereas moving to another part of the same country - you are familiar with everything.
    – Scott Earle Mod
    Sep 26, 2017 at 2:49
  • I agree, there are fewer differences. Let's see where the others want to cut the line. I don't have any strong preference, however I would observe that as far as I know there isn't any other Stack Exchange website to accommodate state-specific questions in many cases (though in my example I think I could ask on law.SE). Sep 26, 2017 at 2:55

This site is mainly for people who face extra challenges living in another country because of their nationality, and the questions should tie to these extra challenges. The question as stated does not have anything in particular for this regard, e.g. a local would have the exact same problem, hence it is off-topic.

However if the question is clearly around these extra complications, then they are definitely on topic, even in the context of moving from one state to another. For example I would deem the following question on-topic:

As a French citizen I just moved from Massachusetts to California. My passport is at the consulate however. Will I be able to exchange my licence to a Californian one without my passport?

However, while as stated the original question is most likely off-topic, if the question states that the asker is not a local citizen I usually prefer waiting a bit before closing the question. This is because there might be actual complications because of someone's nationality that are not apparent at first sight, and are only visible once someone answers and/or writes a comment proving this.

  • I also prefer to wait a bit on marginal questions like this because they might just get a sterling answer which would still be useful to visitors even if the question has been subsequently closed.
    – ouflak Mod
    Oct 14, 2017 at 7:18

Many a times I felt foreign in my own country (and I’m not referring to instances of “re‑entry culture shock”). Therefore I posit the role of expatriate is subjective.

  • Language, take Switzerland: Four languages are spoken in Switzerland. If you move to a different canton at the other end of the country, you can feel like an expat although technically you are not.
  • Prior approval necessary, take China: Historically, you (as a Chinese citizen) needed to apply to move between parts of the country. Today, moving to Beijing and other “popular” cities still requires paperwork. Citizenship is a heuristic yet no guaranty that you may move freely.
  • Substantial difference in governance, take the USA: The legal system of the US is a trainwreck: Legislative power is assigned to the federal government, state, county, city, essentially without doing some thorough legal studies you’re lost. In particular traffic law is state law, so moving across state lines can introduce a certain amount of unfamiliarity.
  • Amount of difficulties faced, take the State of Palestine. Oppression will make you feel foreign.

In conclusion I suggest to make an assessment on a case-by-case basis and respect the poster’s gut feelings (assume good faith principle). Furthermore, any restrictions can be circumvented by merely claiming “I’m from a different country, so I’m definitely an expat.” Any regulation is therefore futile.

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