When you live in your rig full time, “home” is… well, wherever you park it.
The spontaneity and perpetual adventure of not having firm roots is a huge part of what draws many full-timers to the lifestyle in the first place. Rather than settling down in a geographically-based community, campers form their ties on the fly, creating a worldwide network of adventurers linked by discussion forums, online communities, and camping clubs. (Psst: Are you a member of Passport America yet? Especially as a full-timer, the 50% savings on your campground fees is a huge help!)
But as it turns out, our country’s system isn’t exactly set up for us intrepid wanderers. And although it’s easy to say, “Who needs the system?” — well, if you want to vote in the next election, register your vehicle, or get health care… you do.
Many of these logistical, paperwork-intensive issues are dependent on your state of residency. Where you live determines your voting registration, requirements for taxes, and much more.
But don’t worry: lots of other people are full time RVing, and they’ve been doing it for years. Establishing the state residency you need for these day-to-day tasks is totally possible. Here’s what you need to know.
How State Residency is Determined
First things first: How does state residency work? What constitutes state residency in the first place? And what are the legal state residency requirements?
Well, officially, being a resident of a state is about actually living there. And although the residency laws vary significantly by state, most of them have a clause about living within the state for a given amount of time before you can apply for state residency, generally a year.
Obviously, that won’t work in the case of a full timer. Not staying anywhere that long is the whole point!
But there are still ways of fulfilling state residency requirements for taxes, mail, and other purposes, even while you’re on the road.
Guide to State Residency Requirements
The easiest way to deal with this, for most RVers and full-time nomads, is to see if there’s a friend or relative whose home address you can use as your own for the purposes of your driver’s license, mailing address, vehicle and voter’s registration. That way, you officially have an “address” in the state no matter where you actually may be physically.
However, this can be an imposition on your family member or loved one, who will now have to deal with all your junk mail and may end up being involved if for any reason your residency is ever legally questioned.
You might be thinking, “How about a P.O. box?”
Good question, but unfortunately, a post office box can’t be used as an official residence location. You need a real street address to do the job.
So how do so many full-timers get around this issue?
Benefits of Changing State Residency
Since we’re not the first people to want to take on full-time travel, it turns out there are lots of mail forwarding services that will set you up with the street address you need to officially establish residency. That means you can travel but still have an official stable address.
However, keep in mind that you will need to spend at least a little bit of time in the state in order to take care of legal documents and paperwork associated with establishing residency. For instance:
- You need a driver’s license from that state, which must be done in person and may require taking the driver’s test again
- You must register and insure your vehicle in that state, which can sometimes be done by mail and over the phone but may also require a trip to the DMV if anything goes hinky.
- You must register to vote in that state, which will sometimes be done at the DMV. Once you’re registered, you can vote in national elections from afar with an absentee ballot, but laws regarding local elections vary.
- You should acquire your health insurance through that state unless you’re already covered in some other fashion.
- You’ll be responsible for paying income taxes for that state.
This is where things get interesting — and why you may consider changing your state residency in order to go full time. As you probably know, not every state actually assesses income tax, and vehicle registration fees vary, too… which means you could potentially save thousands of dollars just by choosing the right place to have your license printed.
Establishing State Residency
There are three states that are very popular amongst full-time RVers because they offer substantial savings when you choose to establish your residency within them. Those states are Florida, Texas, and South Dakota.
All three of these states share the benefit of not having a state income tax, which obviously means you’ll save a bunch of money right from the get-go. They also have middle- or low-level rates on vehicle registration and insurance, although again, the exact fees will vary.
There are other benefits to becoming a resident in each of these states — for example, Florida residents get great discounts at Florida State Parks, which are a great place to ride out winters in your RV. Texas, on the other hand, is well-known for having a great mail forwarding service based in Livingston, which is used and recommended by many full-timers.
Of course, if you feel strongly attached to your own state or don’t want to have to deal with doing any in-person dealings in one of these places, you can establish residency anywhere else. The other states that don’t have income tax, however, are Alaska, Washington, Nevada, and Wyoming.
Establishing residency is just one part of the huge (but fulfilling!) project of becoming a full-time nomad. For more information, keep your eyes here on RVshare, where we write about ways to make your mobile life easier every day. You can also check out any of the following books, written by successful full-time nomads:
- Complete Guide to Full-Time RVing: Life on the Open Road
- RV LIVING: An Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To The Full-time RV Life
- Solo Full-time RVing On A Budget: Go Small, Go Now
- Yes, You Can Full-Time RVing for the Single Person
- Motorhome and RV Retirement Living: The Most Enjoyable and Least Expensive Way to Retire
Enjoy making your home — your real one — wherever the road may take you!
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