Montana License Plates – Guide to Designs, Choices & FAQs

montana license plate

Your Montana license plate is more than just a metal rectangle on your vehicle. It serves as proof of registration, signifies your connection to the Big Sky State, and could even showcase your passions and interests. Whether you’re a lifelong Montanan or a newcomer, understanding the ins and outs of Montana license plates is essential.

1. Brief overview of Montana license plates

Montana offers a variety of license plates to suit your preferences. The standard issue plate features a picturesque mountain scene, the iconic “Treasure State” slogan, and a county number indicating where your vehicle is registered.  Beyond the standard plate,  you can choose from a wide selection of specialty plates that support universities, organizations, environmental causes, and more.

2. Why understanding Montana license plates is important (registration, fees, options)

Understanding Montana license plates is crucial for several reasons:

  • Registration: Your license plate is a visible sign that your vehicle is properly registered with the state of Montana.
  • Fees: Knowing the types of plates available and their associated fees helps you budget and make the right choice for your needs.
  • Options: Montana’s diverse range of license plates allows you to personalize your vehicle and express your support for the things that matter to you.

By delving into the world of Montana license plates, you’ll ensure you’re in compliance with state laws while potentially finding a plate that truly reflects your connection to this magnificent state.

3. Standard Montana License Plate

The current standard Montana license plate boasts a simple, iconic design that resonates with the state’s natural beauty and heritage.  Here’s a breakdown:

  • Colors: A deep blue background with white lettering ensures high visibility.
  • Symbols: A white outline of the state of Montana pays homage to its geographic character. The classic bison skull silhouette sits between the county prefix and plate number.
  • Slogans: “Treasure State,” Montana’s official nickname, sits proudly along the top, while the year “10” denotes the design’s issue year.

History of Standard Montana License Plate Designs

Montana’s standard license plates have undergone various design changes throughout history. Some notable design phases include the embossed era, featuring raised lettering, followed by reflective flat plates. The state has even experimented with colorful mountain scenes in the background. The current blue and white design harkens back to the classic plates of the 1970s with a focus on readability and symbolism.

4. Montana Specialty License Plates

Montana offers a dazzling array of specialty license plates, allowing drivers to display their interests, passions, and support for various causes.  These plates typically carry an additional fee beyond the standard registration cost.

University Plates

Show your school spirit with Montana university license plates! Here’s a list of universities and colleges with plate options:

  • Montana State University (Bozeman or Billings)
  • University of Montana (Missoula or Western in Dillon)
  • Carroll College
  • Montana Tech
  • Rocky Mountain College
  • University of Providence

Each plate features unique designs showcasing the school’s colors, logos, and mascots.

Organizational Plates

Montana offers numerous organizational license plates, representing a diverse range of causes:

  • Environmental: Support groups like the Montana Environmental Information Center or the Montana Audubon Society
  • Veterans: Honor your service with plates representing various branches of the military
  • Fraternal and Social: Elks, Masons, Shriners, and more

Proceeds from these plates often go directly towards supporting the work of these organizations.

Scenic and Recreational Plates

Celebrate Montana’s stunning natural beauty and outdoor adventures with these scenic plates:

  • Trout Unlimited A picturesque design featuring Montana’s iconic trout
  • Parks and Environment Showcases the grandeur of Montana’s landscapes

Other Notable Specialty Plates

Montana offers several other specialty plates worth mentioning:

  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Agriculture
  • Amateur Radio

5. How to Get a Montana License Plate

Obtaining a Montana license plate is a straightforward process, especially for new residents. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Step-by-Step Process for Obtaining a Standard License Plate

  1. Establish Residency: Provide proof of Montana residency. This could be a utility bill, lease agreement, voter registration card, or similar documentation with your Montana address.
  2. Vehicle Title and Registration: Visit your local County Treasurer’s Office with your vehicle’s title and apply for registration. If your car is from out of state, you might need an inspection.
  3. Proof of Insurance: You’ll need to show valid Montana-based auto insurance coverage.
  4. Payment: Be prepared to pay registration fees and taxes. These costs vary based on your vehicle’s age, weight, and other factors. Your County Treasurer’s Office can give you a precise estimate.

How to Order a Specialty Plate

If you want a specialty license plate, the process usually includes:

  1. Choose Your Plate: Browse the options on the Montana Motor Vehicle Division website (
  2. Complete the Application: Often there’s a specific form for specialty plates. Check the MVD website or with your County Treasurer’s Office.
  3. Pay the Fees: Specialty plates typically have additional fees beyond standard registration costs.

Replacing or Renewing Your Montana License Plate

When to Replace Your Plate

You’ll need to replace your license plate if it’s:

  • Lost or Stolen: Report this to law enforcement and contact your County Treasurer’s Office for a replacement.
  • Damaged: If your plate is unreadable, you’ll need to get a new one.

Renewal Process

Montana requires you to renew your vehicle registration annually or choose a multi-year option. License plates themselves get replaced every five years. You’ll receive renewal notices with instructions. You can often renew online, by mail, or in person.

Personalizing Your Standard Plates

While customization options are more extensive with specialty plates, you can personalize your standard Montana license plate. This often involves paying an extra fee and requesting a specific letter and number combination, subject to availability.

Also Read: Mass Registry of Motor Vehicles: Your Ultimate Guide

6. Montana County Codes

Montana has used a numbered county code system on its license plates since 1934 to easily identify where a vehicle is registered. The numbers themselves were generally assigned based on county population at the time of the system’s implementation.

Here’s how it works:

  • Placement: The county code is found at the beginning of the standard license plate number. It’s typically one or two digits.
  • Exceptions: The most populous counties have lower numbers (ex: Yellowstone County is #3). There are some exceptions to the population-based ordering to accommodate earlier changes in county boundaries.
  • Finding Your Code: The Montana Department of Transportation has a comprehensive list of county codes on their website or (

Collector Plates

Vintage Montana license plates are popular among collectors, showcasing the state’s history and evolving design aesthetics. Here’s what you should know about collecting them:

  • Rules and Regulations: Montana allows the use of vintage license plates on collector vehicles, but there are specific guidelines:
    • The plates must be from the vehicle’s model year.
    • You need to apply for “Year of Manufacture” registration through the MVD.
  • Where to Find Them
    • Antique Stores and Flea Markets: Keep an eye out for vintage treasures.
    • Online Marketplaces: eBay and Etsy often have vintage license plates for sale.
    • Specialty Collector Shows: These swap-meet style events are excellent places to find and trade collector plates.

Important Note: Before displaying a vintage Montana license plate on your vehicle, always verify the current regulations and registration requirements at your local motor vehicle department.

Frequently Asked Questions About Montana License Plates

Q1: Can I transfer my existing license plates to a new vehicle in Montana?

A:  Yes, you can generally transfer your Montana license plates to another vehicle you own. Visit your local County Treasurer’s Office to make the transfer and pay any associated fees. If the new vehicle has a significantly different value or weight, there might be adjustments to your registration fees.

Q2:  I’m moving to Montana from another state. What happens to my license plates?

A:  You’ll need to surrender your out-of-state plates and register your vehicle in Montana. This involves getting a Montana title, completing an inspection (if necessary), paying registration fees, and receiving new Montana license plates.

Q3:  How do I get temporary plates in Montana?

A:  If you purchase a vehicle from a dealership, they’ll often provide a temporary permit.  If you buy from a private seller, or need a temporary tag outside of a dealership purchase, you can get one from your County Treasurer’s Office. Temporary permits have a time limit, usually around 90 days, to allow you time to complete the full registration process.

Q4:  I need to replace my license plates. What’s the process?

A:   If your license plates are lost, stolen, or damaged beyond readability, contact your County Treasurer’s Office. Report any theft to the police. You’ll likely need to fill out a form and pay a replacement fee to get new plates.

Q5: Do I have to renew my Montana license plates every year?

A:   You need to renew your vehicle registration annually, but Montana issues new license plates every five years. You’ll receive a notice with renewal instructions. Renewal can often be done online, by mail, or in person.

Q6: Can I customize my Montana license plates?

A:  Yes! While specialty plates offer the broadest range of customization, you can also personalize your standard Montana license plate.  Subject to availability, you can often choose a specific letter and number combination for an additional fee. Contact your County Treasurer’s Office for details.


Montana license plates are more than just a way to identify your vehicle – they’re a symbol of your connection to the Big Sky Country. Whether you choose the classic blue and white standard plate, a specialty plate showcasing your favorite cause, or even display a vintage plate on your collector car, there’s an option to suit your personality and passions.

From highlighting the state’s majestic natural beauty to supporting organizations that work to preserve it, Montana license plates let you take a piece of the “Treasure State” with you wherever you drive.  The range of choices reflects Montana’s diverse interests and the deep sense of pride its residents have in their home state.

If you have further questions about Montana license plates, don’t hesitate to visit the Montana Motor Vehicle Division website or contact your local County Treasurer’s Office.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *