Home is Where you Park it…or is it?
The beauty of RVing is that you’re free-travelling rogues, king of the open road, wanderers off the beaten path so to speak. It’s the freedom of belonging to nowhere and answering to no one. All that’s great and good until you get your car registration bill from the DMV. It’s a real drag on the hippy lifestyle and reminds you that despite disconnecting from regular life the government will still find a way to nail you down. So, what’s a free-loving traveler to do? Well, it’s a question of legal residency (domicile) and like all things in life it takes a little research to get the best deal. So, here’s the low-down:
We’re only going to talk about full-timing here, since things get tricky with a “fixed” home in addition to an RV. My best advice is check domicile and tax requirements for your individual state if you have a home.
For full-timers without a fixed home, however, you can basically set up legal residence just about anywhere as long as you plan it out. Several states are “RV-friendly” and have the bonus of no state income tax. South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee and Florida all come to mind. Tennessee doesn’t tax income, but they do tax investments so we crossed that one off the list right away. Our insurance quote for FL was higher than the other choices so that was off the list too.
South Dakota and Texas were a bit of a toss-up, and most full-timers tend to end up chosing one of these 2 states…both are true “no income tax” states, have low car registration fees and decent insurance rates. In the end South Dakota got our vote since we they don’t require a vehicle inspection or special license (Texas does). We used a mail-forwarding organization (Alternative Resources) to help with the address and registration details and should be getting our brand spanking new South Dakota plates this month. To finish the deal we’re heading up to get our drivers licences in SD next month.
Many other sites talk about domicile and do a better job than me, so I’ll link a few here:
- Escapees RV Club – Domicile Info
- Picking A Domicile State, Getting Mail & Voting As A Nomad (Technomadia)
- Choosing a Home Base (RV Dreams)
- How To Establish A New Residency When Living Fulltime In An RV (Axle Addict)
- Changing State Residency (Changing Gears)
- Tax Expenses by State (Retirement Living)
- Choosing Your RV Home Base (Book on Amazon.com)
So, was the change worth it? Our 2008 Holiday Rambler cost a mere $381 to register in SD compared to a whooping $1889 in CA, plus there’s the bonus of no state income tax and lower insurance rates. Oh yeah, baby. Definitely worth it!SPONSORED LINK:
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this blog post may be affiliate links, so, if you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. WheelingIt is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
The Good Luck Duck says
Nina, we’re now debating between SD and TX. By “debating,” I mean we have set up in opposing camps and are lobbing fact-grenades at one another.
Do you mean that you can set up domicile in SD, and then make the trip to get driver’s licenses later (like after spring hits)? Is this also true of TX?
What type of special license does TX require? Is it weight-related?
Who did you go with for health insurance (if you don’t mind saying)?
Don’t tell Annie you helped. I need a win.
I’m all for helping you win 🙂
Regarding SD…yes you can get your address/licence plates/health insurance ahead of time (through any of the mail forwarding services up there) and then go later to get your drivers licence. I think (if I remember correctly) that the official timeframe is you’re supposed to get your licence within 90 days of registration. Lots of quality mail services up in SD to help you out incl. Alternative Resources, My Dakota Address etc.). I don’t know what the rules are for TX on this one. I would check with Escapees.
Regarding TX…they have licence requirements based on weight. For CAGR > of 26,001 lbs you need a Class B licence. It’s not a huge deal to get, but it was one of the minor points against us wanting to registering there (SD has no such requirement). You can see licence requirements for difference states HERE
As for health insuracnce we went though ehealthinsurance.com and got a high-deductable policy with Coventry.
If you decide you guys still want to register in FL, then look into Good Sams. They offer FL address & registration help. Passport America also offers a FL-based mail service at My RV Mail .
Now GO get that gal!
The Good Luck Duck says
Many thanks! Seriously, many. Eight or 12, at least.
The Good Luck Duck says
Nina, did it make a difference to your insurance where in SD you were domiciled?
For us it didn’t seem to make any difference, but I do know insurance can sometimes vary by county. So, I’d suggest getting a quote for the couple of spots where you’re looking to domicile.
In regards to domicile and mail forwarding, how to you initiate your mail to be forwarded? Is there typically a mailbox at a scheduled campground you are going to visit that you have your mail forwarded to? We have most everything electronic now but are curious if we are doing a lot of boondocking and state campground how we would coordinate mail being forwarded.
For the mail forwarding we’ll either use RV Park address or Post Office, depending on where we stay.
-> Most private RV parks will accept mail so if we happen to be passing thro’ one we’ll usually take advantage of that.
-> While we’re boondocking or staying in public parks the Post Office is the way to go and that’s how we get our mail most of the time. Many Post Offices will accept General Delivery. You just need to call and ask beforehand to make sure they do, plus find out how long they’ll hold it for you. Then, just set-up the mail to get there before you arrive in the area.
I’m curious as to whether you licensed your dog in South Dakota. Have you found it necessary to have your pet licensed as you travel?
No, we didn’t license and we haven’t found a need to licence, although I know (technically) many cities require it. Since we are not living locally (just domiciled) I didn’t go through with the license. It’s a grey area and very good question though!
Joshua Rialto says
I have a few questions in regards to domicile. Let’s say I register in South Dakota, but I decide to boondock/fulltime it in California (I’m currently FROM California, by the way!) Is there a limit to the amount of days that I can stay/work in Cali? In other words, would the local police/DMV/Highway Patrol question why a Class B RV with S. Dakota plates has been seen crossing this road/street/area for over 2 years, etc?
Regarding employment; say you want to get a job at the local Starbucks (in Cali). If you present a South Dakota license at(any)the job interview, would the shy away from hiring you and want somebody local? Would they question if you are renting am apartment? (I plan to boondock by the way.) Would they insist that you have to get a Cali drivers license and a place to live if they were to hire you and you said you planned to work there for years?
These are questions I have not seen directly answered from websites & blogs about this subject. I would like to stay indefinitely in California because here, New York and Texas (and currently North Dakota) seem to have the best minimum wages in the country, regardless of the high cost of living.
Yes, every state has limits. In California it’s something like 5 or 6 months (sorry I don’t recall exactly) before you’re considered a permanent resident of the state. And yes, you would be forced to switch. So, short answer is that you cannot legally reside fulltime in CA with plates and drivers license from another state. Sorry..
Here’s some more links…
This one describes how you have to have CA registration to accept employment in CA:
So, in other words you can’t work in CA without CA registration.
Here’s the laws regarding CA residency and taxes:
Kathy Parker says
Quick question.. did you create your domicile in S.Dakota before you purchased your rv? I was wondering because of sales tax purposes….
Thanks so much..
No, we did not. We purchased the RV a good 6-8 months before we left CA, so we paid CA taxes on our purchase and we were registered there for our first year. Since CA has higher sales taxes than SD, we did not need to repay taxes when we switched there for domicile.
There are folks who wait to buy an RV until they’re ready with their domicile switch. That can certainly save you some sales taxes, depending on where you currently live. I’m not sure of the exact details of how to do this, but the mail forwarding services in SD can help walk you though the details of registration there, and your current home state DMV (or equivalent) can tell you that side of it.
You make no mention about health insurance costs or or residency requirements in S.D. I’m finding lots of negatives in that field, but would like some input from people actually living it. In comparison fields, I’m finding the no state income tax is offset by other financial obligations or restrictions.
Residency requirements in SD are easy -> Just spend a day in the State, bring your receipt with you to the Motor Vehicle Department when you get your driver’s licence and you’re done.
Health insurance is a different matter -> Since we switched residency to SD around 4 years ago we’ve been using Coventry, but with the new Obamacare requirements things are changing. I wrote a long post about health care not too long ago here:
The ACA (aka ObamaCare) & Its Impact on FullTime RV Health Insurance
Also I have many more posts on how we handle health care in my “Health Care” tab here:
Hi. I found your blog as I was searching for auto insurance for shutdown workers. My husband wants to begin working towards retirement, hence the shutdown work. I am having a hard time trying find an auto insurance company willing to insure us. I read your blog, and I say thank you. Though we’re not sure if we would like to “settle” in the north, I know now there is a solution to our situation; something I can now present to him. As for RVing, he has been looking at used pull-behinds with trucks. I get so excited every time he says, “…look at this one.” Though those are a months ahead of us, it’s still exciting to look at them. It keeps me confident, “We’re really going to do this.” Happy RVing and May GOD BLESS you on your journeys.
Hello! I’m loving your website! We are wanting to go to RVing full time. I’m researching first! I’ve always been a “gypsy/hippy” girl and I’m converting my “SO” as he is fed up with home ownership issues. I’m trying to research domicile for permanent RV’rs and wondering if the info on your article “Home is Where you Park it…or is it?” is still the most current.
Also, I’ve always dreamed of having a “shiny”, pretty, Airstream trailer. (I love shiny things ;). my SO is partial to the Holiday Rambler Motorhomes. Any comparisons of permanent lifestyles between trailers or motorhomes?
Thank you and I’m so happy I found your site!
The info here is still fairly current, but I would add one additional, important consideration. The most “popular” fulltime RV states are still SD, TX and FL. You should definitely look at all three and price out registration costs, car/RV insurance costs etc., but in specific I recommend you look closely at health insurance.
Since the implementation of ACA (aka Obamacare) things have changed dramatically in the health care landscape and people getting into fulltime RVing today need to be aware of it. If you are not currently covered by a job and are not yet of Medicare age, then getting nationwide health insurance is a huge consideration.
In specific over the past 2 years the pre-Medicare options in SD and TX have gotten progressively worse, and now only FL offers a good, nationwide plan on their exchange. We are still domiciled in SD (and have been for the past 5 years), but if we were looking today I would choose FL, for health insurance choices alone. If you’re post-Medicare age the situation is much easier and any of the “big 3” states will work for you.
I recommend reading through the posts I’ve written in the “health care” section of my blog, including the one I just published yesterday. That should help you to understand and narrow down your options.
Good luck with everything!
Thank you! My SO is on Medicare as he is partially disabled. Me, I’m 55 years and don’t have any coverage at the moment. trying to figure that one out still. We are just looking for a simpler life so I’ve got to start somewhere. Your site really has great info for someone like me to research. I’m thinking SD would work since we live in Idaho right now. Thank you!
I’ve read through a lot of these posts, and plan to buy a motorhome later
I’m looking for info on surfing in Mexico for a month or so at a time.
I don’t see that you’ve done the same but perhaps you know of a Motorhome
surfing group that does this. I don’t want to go with a tour guided group
that stops to look at pottery and baskets, rather a dedicated group
that camps at or near decent waves.
I’m concerned with a lot of issues, but one is getting me, pets and motorhome back to US in the even of a breakdown, Coachnet looks sketchy for Mexico ,
$1000 reimbursement cap, and some kind of ‘plan ahead’
‘prior approval’ arrangement….,which suggests, they might not care
to even help if I wind up in a certain region, the cap would also suggest they tow me for a while and then just leave me in Mexico…ugh…
Where as Canadian travel looks to be un restricted in service, but then
Canada is not a place I care to surf …lol
Thanks for all the helpful posts and info you have shared, Ted
Just found your blog this week and we’re loving it! We live in Washington State* where there is also no income tax. We won’t consider a state like TX, SD, TN or FL unless and until they adopt death with dignity laws like we have on the west coast. This is a consideration that I rarely see addressed in discussions around domicile.
I’m curious why WA is not considered RV/full timer friendly – can you shed any light?
*I read your posts about Port Townsend and Sequim, and just wanted to point out that the Miller Peninsula is not uninhabited 🙂 If you go all the way to the tip, there is a fairly big neighborhood with stunning views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan islands, Mt. Baker, Protection Island, Discovery Bay, and Admiralty Inlet. Next time you’re out here, take a side trip to Diamond Point 🙂
I love WA and would also love to establish domicile there, but unfortunately they require a physical property address (either via a rental or owned) which we do not have. Some RVers have gotten around this by buying an RV site in WA, or even using a friend or family member address, but there’s no way I know to do it without having a property address. In SD, FL and TX this is not required and the address from your mail forwarding service can be used as your domicile address.
And yes I totally agree that death with dignity is never really discussed. It’s a big consideration (for me too) and one of the many reasons we’ll likely end up living in the PNW ourselves one day.