Being young, mobile, work-from-home entrepreneurs for many years, it was only natural that the sweet Siren’s call of the open road would eventually woo Mike and I into full-time RVing. We spent the last 11 years bouncing from city to city, on both U.S. coasts, without ever really choosing a place to “settle down” or purchase a home.
At first, we thought that full-time RV life would be simple: “minimize your things, pack your rig, go.” This, of course, wasn’t realistic. We started the journey in Pennsylvania, so there were several financial and locational hurdles: both state and local income taxes, expensive and limited healthcare options with small local networks, and annual vehicle inspections.
Now, if one really wanted to maintain voting rights within their resident state—and had a sizable savings to fall back on—one could overlook the high income tax, and maybe even switch to a high-priced health plan with nationwide coverage. But requiring a return to the state once per year, at the same time every year (for us, dangerously close to winter) just to get a vehicle inspection? That was a deal breaker!
How We Chose Our Full-Time RV Home Base
The internet is replete with information about how to choose a new resident (or domicile) state. The most thorough article on the subject was written awhile back by Cherie of the Technomads: Picking a Domicile State, Getting Mail & Voting as a Nomad. Other excellent articles included Choosing a Home Base by RV-Dreams.com, and Changing State Residency by Changin’ Gears.
There are many others, but these articles were a great starting point for considering our specific needs in choosing a new state. Our needs included:
- A Mail-Forwarding Service
- A Physical Location for Residence and Tax Purposes
- Reasonable Income Tax and Insurance Rates (RV, Car, Health, Life, etc.)
- Out-of-State Vehicle Registration
- Rare or No Vehicle Inspection Requirements
Financial And Locational Decisions
Being self-employed, and nearly double-taxed for it, state income tax rates are incredibly important to us. Pennsylvania charged state, county, and local taxes, plus a hefty school tax. The county/town in which my family resided was far from cheap, so we started by narrowing down our choices to states that did not require income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.
South Dakota eventually won out for several reasons. They have no state income tax and no vehicle inspections, full-time travelers can be exempt from jury duty, the cost of insurance is slightly less than that of Pennsylvania (or California, our former resident state), and it’s a nice, central home base between the two coasts.
Getting The Mail And A Place To Call Home
America’s Mailbox, a mail forwarding facility outside of Rapid City, ended up being our permanent “residence” of choice. They’re well-rated and it’s advertised that they make the transition very easy—and they really did. Their staff was very friendly and they talked us through all the procedures. They made what initially seemed like a daunting experience a lot easier. Awesome! Well kind of…
5 Challenges We Encountered When Becoming A Full-Time RVer
There’s no need to write another article covering the hows and whys of choosing a new domicile state. But here are a few words of warning concerning the challenges you may encounter after you make the move.
- Do not trust that your mail forwarding form was entered into the USPS system correctly. You will receive a confirmation in the mail in about a week if everything went okay. Read it carefully to ensure that everything looks correct. If you fill out a mail forwarding form and you use a commercial mail forwarding facility, you must put the letters PMB before the number on line 8a! Don’t just use the pound symbol. Apparently leaving those three little letters off the form will cause a whole lot of problems for the local post office and will hopelessly delay your mail.
- When you switch to a commercial mail forwarding facility, you cannot easily switch back. I wasn’t told this before I signed up. Apparently you can’t just set up mail forwarding OUT of a mail forwarding facility with a change of address form—you have to personally contact each and every person or business that sends you mail in order to change your address. Nobody mentioned this. When I heard about it, I asked both USPS and America’s Mailbox, and they both said “Oh yeah, that applies for every mail forwarding facility.” So… take note of that one.
- Double-check your health insurance options before you move. We’re a little late to the party because South Dakota apparently has a big issue with limited carriers providing policies for full-time RVers in 2015—so that sucked. I didn’t really look, so I dropped the ball on that one, but we only needed very basic insurance. Also, health insurance is freaking expensive wherever you are. It’s a little cheaper in South Dakota (by about $50 a month), but it was no where near price difference I was anticipating.
- Banks do not like PMBs. Changing my credit cards to the new address online was no problem, but apparently because of national security issues, you can’t easily say that you reside at a personal mailbox—even though it’s not technically a P.O. Box. I had to call our banks individually, deal with many difficult to understand customer service reps, and have them override the system to get my permanent residence to match what’s on my license.
- The transition takes longer than any other move you will ever make. Unless you’re going to camp outside of your mail forwarding facility, it’s going to take a long time to ensure that you have all your ducks in a row. You’ll make a dozen changes and then hold your breath as you wait for the mail to get there and then get forwarded on to you. Weeks may pass before you realize there is a problem and even more weeks will pass as you get them corrected.
At the moment, it’s been about a month since we made the move and we are still in the process of getting things settled. The car had shiny new SD plates before we left town, but the rig hasn’t even been registered in South Dakota yet. It’s late October as I’m writing this, so we’re presently dodging the cold—slowly heading to a warmer climate where we can park for a week and comfortably wait for our second infusion of (now hopefully correct) mail. It’s a slow process, but the open road and the freedom it provides is worth it.