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All The Things You Need To Know About Domicile As An RVer

In our four decades of service to RVers, we’ve learned a few things about helping you navigate the unique issues faced as an RVer. From finding ways to stay in touch before cell phones and internet to getting mail while you’re frequently moving, Escapees has worked with RVers to provide solutions that make this lifestyle more enjoyable.

Once you decide you want to hit the road, there are SO many things you have to think about that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The toughest part is understanding the ways many of those things are intertwined, and where to start unraveling that tangled mess. Thankfully, we’re here to help.

When you live in a house or apartment, you may not realize just how much of your day-to-day life is tied to your address. Your license, your vehicle registration, your health insurance, your auto insurance, your bank accounts and credit cards- all of those, and plenty more, are tied to the address at which you reside in one way or another. Your insurance options and rates are based on your zipcode. In order to maintain your drivers license and vehicle registration, the state wants to know where you live. Financial institutions want confirmation that you do, in fact, reside in the U.S. So what do you do when you no longer want to live at a single address? How do you satisfy the requirements if you no longer have a permanent residence?

Domicile Vs Residence for RVers

To understand how to address those requirements, there are two terms you should know: domicile and residence. When you live at a single address, these terms seem interchangeable. Once you set out on your nomadic adventure, the two meanings become more distinct.

As stated by K. Susie Adams, an attorney who specializes in helping RVers with domicile questions and concerns,

“Residence merely requires bodily presence as an inhabitant in a given place, whereas domicile requires bodily presence in that place and also an intention to make it one’s permanent home.”

Come again? She explains this statement more thoroughly in her article Domicile for Full-Time RVers, but to summarize:

  • Residence is where you lay your head each night.
  • Domicile is the place where you intend to return once you have hung up your RV keys for good.

When you live in a house or apartment, you are both a resident and have a domicile claim in the state in which you live. When you travel full-time, your domicile is where you maintain a permanent address while your residency is where you spend most of your time.

Wait – permanent address? If you’re going to travel full-time, how do you get a permanent address without owning or renting property somewhere? Guess what- we can answer that question, too! If you’re ready to cut ties with stationary life, keep reading to learn how to establish a domicile claim while you travel.

Do I Stay Or Do I Go? Choosing Your State of Domicile

Now that you understand the difference between residency and domicile, it’s time to decide on the state in which you wish to domicile. It’s a daunting task- there are SO many factors to consider including income tax, health insurance, how much time you plan to spend in that state, what legal or financial ties you already have in a state, etc.

For many RVers, the choice comes down to two significant factors: whether or not there is a state income tax and what health insurance options are available for the self-employed. Unfortunately, much of the research into healthcare options will have to be done yourself. There are so many variables to take into account with healthcare, plus the market is often changing in what is offered, covered, etc.

It may be easier to start with state income tax and narrow your options from there. When it comes to state income tax most RVers gravitate to one of three states: Texas, Florida, and South Dakota. These three, and a few others, do not mandate state income tax so more of your income stays in your pocket. From there, your choice about healthcare coverage should be much simpler!

Download these free Domicile Guides and Checklists to help you decide where to Domicile!

Wait - How do RVers Get Their Mail?

Even though technology now allows most of our communications to happen online, there is still a need for snail mail when it comes to things like government documents, financial documents, and even the occasional greeting card from grandma. If you’re constantly on the move, how does your mail keep up with you? Answering that question COULD also answer your need for a permanent address!

When you don’t have friends or family who are willing to be your personal postmaster, or who even live in the state you want to use for domicile, you can rely on mail-forwarding services like ours. These services assign you a mailing address which you share with whomever sends you mail. We then receive and hold your mail for you while you’re mobile. When you know where you’re going to land for a few days, let us know and we’ll package and ship your mail to you!

With some mail-forwarding services, including ours, you can also use your assigned mailing address to help establish your domicile claim. This only works when the service offers addresses in your desired state. For example, Escapees offers addresses in Texas, Florida, and South Dakota. If you want to use your address with us to establish your domicile claim, you must be domiciled in one of those three states. However, if you already have your domicile claim established with a different address, maybe your parents’ address or that of a close friend, you can still use a mail-forwarding service to manage your mail while you’re on the road!

There are a few more steps to the process than described here, but instead of getting too far off-topic, we recommend you check out our blog on How RVers Get Their Mail. You’ll also find a list of questions to ask when researching the right forwarding service for your needs.

How To Establish Your Domicile for RVers

Once you’ve chosen your intended state of domicile, and figured out how to get your mail and a permanent address, it is important to make sure you have cut ties with your previous state of domicile (if you are changing states). As explained in Domicile for Full-time RVers, if you fail to make a clean break, you may face legal hurdles down the road when that state goes looking for their share.

There are a few steps you should take to make your selection as airtight as possible. These steps, explained in detail in The Ultimate Guide to Establishing Domicile as an RVer, help you prove your intent to return to your chosen state and protect your assets from conflict with your previous state of domicile:

  1. Acquire new address
  2. Register vehicle
  3. Acquire new driver’s license
  4. File an affidavit of domicile
  5. Register to vote
  6. Plan your estate
  7. Be physically present
  8. Create professional relationships
  9. Create social connections
  10. Move your storage

To make these easier, we created downloadable Domicile Guides for each Texas, South Dakota, and Florida. These handy guides include a checklist of steps and documents so you may track your progress more succinctly.

Download the free Domicile Guides and Checklists Here:

How Long Does It Take To Establish Domicile?

You’ve picked your state, you’ve gathered your documents, and now it’s time to actually make the change. How long should you plan to be in your intended state? There isn’t a quick answer to that, BUT there is good news- as attorney Miri Kim Wakuta says:

“It is not a question of the quantity of time, but rather a question of the quality of time spent in your new state.” 

This means that as long as you have done everything you’re able to demonstrate your intent to reside there one day and consider that state your home, you can spend as little or as much time as you’d like. She discusses a court case that supports this argument in her article Timing Your Domicile.

To be on the safe side, you should plan to be physically present in your intended state for at least a few days. This gives you time to file applications, obtain your new drivers license, have your vehicle(s) inspected, and complete other tasks that are easier to do in-person. Once you leave the state, don’t forget to follow-up on your tasks. You can often register to vote, work on your estate planning, and similar tasks from a distance. Don’t forget to continue strengthening those professional and social connections you made, too!

Voting - Do I Have To Go Back To Vote?

Once you have your address(es), mail forwarding, and domicile all set up, you have one last hurdle to jump – voting. If your travels will have you far from your county of domicile on election day, you still have options for casting your vote.

Luckily, ALL states allow vote-by-mail or absentee voting in one form or another, but the rules and deadlines may vary greatly from state to state.

For example, some states offer no-excuse absentee voting which means that you don’t have to explain why you’re absentee voting. Others require documentation or explanation before your application for a vote-by-mail ballot is approved. For these reasons, we suggest you look up your ‘home’ state’s rules for absentee voting as soon as you’re able so that you have enough time to make sure your voice is heard.

Because our mail forwarding service has locations in Texas, Florida, and South Dakota, we are most familiar with the guidelines around voter registration and vote-by-mail or absentee voting for those three states. To help you find the information most relevant to you, we have created a guide to absentee voting for TX, FL, and SD.

In Conclusion: Domicile As An RVer

If you made it this far, we applaud you. We know from experience that domicile can be a tough topic to wrap your head around, especially when you start thinking about all of the how-to’s and what if’s that come along with it.

Do you still have questions about what domicile means and how it works? Thankfully, our staff have been learning about it since the late 70s and are prepared to answer most questions. You are welcome to reach out to us with your inquiries.

If you have a legal or financial question we aren’t able to answer (we are professionals at a lot of things, but we aren’t licensed attorneys or financial advisors), we are happy to refer you to one of our reputable contacts who can offer more thorough advice for your specific situation. 

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9 Responses to “All The Things You Need To Know About Domicile As An RVer

  • thank you so much for this wonderful and comprehensive information.

  • If you decide on South Dakota, what happens if you get called for jury duty?

  • John Mooney
    2 months ago

    Because California is so aggressive about this issue I would love to see some information aimed specifically at people who want to abandon California as their domicile and move to another state. These posts are really helpful and appreciated! Thank you.

    • I will be leaving California in a couple weeks to move to Texas. I am basically just following the Escapees domicile article, cutting all ties, registering cars and voting in Texas. California might be aggressive but I can’t imagine they would concentrating on small fry. Now if Mark Zuckerberg were to move he would have to watch out.

  • Patricia Johnston
    1 month ago

    Love all of your information. This is extremely helpful. Plan on full-timing starting in 2020. Thank you again

  • John, we abandoned California in Feb 2019 and made Florida our domicile. We got the usual FL drivers licenses, registration, insurance, plates and voter IDs, but went a step further and filed an affidavit with the Okaloosa county Clerk of the Court stating that Crestview Florida was our domicile. We sold our house in CA two years ago so we didn’t have property, but we also got rid of our CA storage locker and transferred ownership of our remaining vehicles to our children who still live in CA. And of course we changed our address with every bank/institution/entity we deal with to FL. We’ll owe some tax in CA for Jan and past of Feb 2019, but we’re locked and loaded if they try to come after us for anything more.

  • We were all up for changing to Texas ….BUT the Auto/RV Insurance was going to double or more. And the reason was told of the high amount of claims in the last year from hurricane,wind, hail damage . Also our health insurance premiums would increase. So…unable to make the move. Just be aware of all costs.

  • Michael
    3 weeks ago

    Question:

    Can a maried couple domicile in two different countries?

    One is an American citizen (no property) and the spouse has dual citizenship us/other. Only real property owned is outside the USA and is property of the citizen spouse.

    Thanks in advance

  • John, John Mooney,
    yes, California is aggressive in their quest for your $$, past, present, and future!
    We left Ca. in 2001, selling our house (everything), establishing domicile in another state. We then left the US and lived abroad for 10 years.
    For me, the California Franchise Tax Board attempted to collect state income tax on my public employees pension. Since I earned my pension while working in California, according to the FTB, it was still taxable to them no matter what state I was now domiciled in!
    Long story short, another public employee took the FTB to court challenging this and his case prevailed, he won…it’s now case law.
    This is regarding public employees (police, fire, etc) so may not pertain to your tax situation.
    Best to check into this and be prepared.

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