A Newcomer's Guide to Massachusetts

New to Massachusetts or contemplating a move to the Bay State? This practical guide will ease the transition.
Welcome mat to welcome Massachusetts newcomers.
Moving to the Bay State requires steps to establish residency, obtain auto and health insurance, register to vote, and more

Massachusetts is the most populous state in New England, complete with cosmopolitan urban areas, picturesque seaside communities, and quiet rural hamlets that attract throngs of new residents each year. For those new to Massachusetts or contemplating a move to the Bay State, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts provides a host of valuable resources: from help with voter registration to information about the state’s tax structure and health insurance requirements.

Establishing Residency

To vote or benefit from in-state college tuition, newcomers to Massachusetts must establish residency. A Massachusetts voter registration, automobile registration, and driver's license all help establish proof of residency. Typically, process requires a valid Social Security Number and may include some combination of rent or mortgage bills, utility bills, telephone bills, out-of-state IDs, and passports.

Registering to Vote

Vote button

United States citizens who are Massachusetts residents and will be at least 18 years old on or before Election Day may register to vote at a city or town hall in person, or by mail. Walk-in voter registration is also available at social services office, welfare offices, Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) offices, and offices providing services for those with disabilities.

Voter registration in Massachusetts is permanent; residents must register again when they move or change their name. The Secretary of State’s Elections Division provides information for voters, including where to vote, information for voters with disabilities, how to request and complete an absentee ballot, and voting advice for military and overseas U.S. citizens.

Transferring an Out-of-State License

Those with a valid driver’s license from any state in the U.S. (or Canadian province) are not required to take a driving test to obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license; however, an eye test is mandatory. By visiting any RMV location with the required documentation, new residents can apply to have their license transferred to Massachusetts for a fee links to PDF file . An online application and transfer form are available on the RMV website.

Automobile Insurance

Massachusetts requires that all drivers obtain a minimum amount of liability insurance coverage so all parties involved can take financial responsibility should an accident occur. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) offers tools to compare auto insurance premiums, a guide to shopping for auto insurance links to PDF file , and tips to save money on auto insurance.

Automobile Registration

Massachusetts residents are required to register their cars. This can be done at any branch office of the Registry of Motor Vehicles; the car’s title serves as proof of ownership. When converting an out-of-state registration from a state that does not require titles, a bill of sale or a past registration is acceptable.

Prior to registration, drivers need to obtain insurance certification issued by a licensed Massachusetts insurance company. The RMV has a Fee Chart links to PDF file which lists vehicles plate types and associated fees.

Automobile Inspection

Once a vehicle is registered in Massachusetts, within seven days it must be inspected at any official inspection station. Yearly safety and emissions-level inspections are required. The fee for this is $35.

Certain vehicles are exempt from emissions inspections:

  • Motor vehicles that are more than 15 years old;
  • Motor vehicles that have a maximum speed of 25 m.p.h. or less;
  • Motor vehicles that have a diesel engine;
  • Motor vehicles that have a registered weight of 8,500 pounds or more; and,
  • New vehicles registered for the first time. 

Massachusetts Income Tax

Massachusetts taxes most income at a rate of 5.1 percent, while certain capital gains are taxed at a rate of 12 percent. Full-year residents and part-year residents whose Massachusetts gross income exceeds $8,000 during the taxable year are required to file a tax return, as are nonresidents whose gross Massachusetts income exceeds either $8,000 or their prorated personal exemption, whichever is less.

Health Insurance in Massachusetts

All Massachusetts residents 18 years old and over are required to have health insurance. Residents must show proof of health insurance annually on state income tax returns by filing Schedule HC. Failure to buy health insurance can result in a tax penalty.

Massachusetts residents shopping for health insurance can visit the Massachusetts Health Connector to compare plans from the state’s major insurers and learn about low- or no-cost health plans. Residents with limited incomes may be eligible for MassHealth.

Massachusetts Public Schools

New residents with school-aged children may be interested in their child’s public school district and school. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), a division of the Executive Office of Education (EDU), collects a variety of data — including graduation rates, test scores, and class sizes — from schools and districts in the Commonwealth to better enable residents to research schools and districts.

It’s easy to explore charter schools, alternative programs, private schools, and special education programs within each school district. Parents can search by district and city or town; locate a school nearby; or use a map as a guide.

ESE houses information about the students, teachers, and finances of each school district. Parents, guardians, and interested community members can also evaluate a district’s performance based on MCAS and SAT scores.

Public Transportation and Commuting

Massachusetts offers and encourages various alternatives to driving that are environmentally friendly and cost-efficient, including but not limited to public transit , regional or city busses, carpooling, and vanpooling, as well as accessible and door-to door transit options for the elderly and those with disabilities. In addition to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which serves the Greater Boston area, there are 15 regional transit authorities that help commuters travel throughout the state.