Changing your CRS with QGIS

Not sure what a CRS is? Check out What is a CRS?.

Need to change NY State Plane to WGS 84 (a.k.a. latitude/longitude)? It’s called reprojecting your data, and you’ve come to the right place.

Step One: Open up your shapefile (or other GIS-y file)

Whether you do this through Layer > Add Layer > Add Vector Layer or Layer > Add Layer > Add Delimited Text Layer or however, you just want to end up with your successfully-imported geographic stuff sitting pretty on the Layers list, and your content viewable on the right-hand side.

If you can’t see your shapes or dots or whatnot, right-click your layer and select Zoom to Layer. It should take you right there.

Step Two: Double-check the CRS with On-The-Fly Reprojection

I’ve been guilty of inputting the wrong CRS when importing, which means that exporting is a pain in the neck as well.

You can see in the image above I appear to be using the USER:100000 projection (the note in the bottom right-hand corner). QGIS didn’t know what to name the NY State Plane projection when I imported the shapefile, so it gave us that confusing result. What if it’s wrong!!!

We’re going to enable on-the-fly reprojection so we can take a look at what the shapefile will look like when we project it into another CRS (hence reproject).

First, we’re going to edit the Project CRS. You could simply click the little square on the bottom right-hand corner that lists the current projection (see below), or you can use the top menu and select Project > Project Properties.

Now you’ll have open a page that sets the CRS of your entire project (a.k.a. all of the layers).

  1. Click “Enable on-the-fly reprojection” from the top
  2. Then pick WGS 84/EPSG:4326 from either the top or bottom panel. If it isn’t there automatically, just type 4326 into the Filter field.
  3. Click OK.

Your view might shift a little bit! Mine sure did.

To check that reprojection is going to work, wiggle your mouse around in an area you’re familiar with. At the bottom of the screen, there’s a box marked Coordinate - take a look and see if those numbers make sense. I’m wiggling around in New York City, which is definitely around -74.2, 40.6, so I’m going to be okay.

Step Three: Export your shapefile as WGS 84

Right-click your layer, then select Save As....

It will open up a window that allows you to set all sorts of options for the new shapefile. I have a picture below of what your finished screen should look like.

  1. Set a format: I’m assuming you want a shapefile, so pick ESRI Shapefile under Format. If you want GeoJSON or anything else, you can pick that, too.
  2. Set a filename: Click Browse and select where it’s going to live. I always name mine the original filename + wgs84, just so I can keep track.
  3. Set the CRS: Now it’s time to pick your target CRS, which I’m assuming is WGS 84. If WGS 84 doesn’t show up in the CRS dropdown, click the little icon next to the dropdown. It will open up a screen where you can search through all of the CRSes that QGIS knows about.
  4. Click OK

Step Four: Relax, bask in the comfort of a job well done

Your new shapefile will probably be automatically added to your list of Layers. It’ll look like your old shapefile just changed color, but you’ll notice a new item in the list to the left.

You’ll also notice that you have not one but many new files. An .shp, but also a .prj to hold the projection, a .dbf to hold the attribute data, and a handful more. Read more at parts of a shapefile

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