Tips for Navigating Full Time RVing
RV travel is one of the best ways to see the country. If you’re dreaming of selling your house, downsizing, and living full time in your luxury RV, there are many things you’ll need to consider before you can hit the road full time. Yes, you’ll want to make sure you have the right RV for you and your family like the Bowlus Terra Firma or Endless Highways Edition, the right tow vehicle or dinghy, and a plan for all the amazing things you want to see and do. But before you begin your extended road trip, you’ll need to manage the mechanics that’ll make your full-time RV lifestyle actually feasible.
We’ve outlined some of the most important things to know as you’re planning your transition to having a RV lifestyle. If you take care of these things before you go, you’ll reduce the stress of having to manage the details from the road.
Home is Not Necessarily Where You Park It
A lot of people use the terms residency and domicile interchangeably, but there are some critical differences, especially for full time RVers. Legally, residency is where you live right now – it’s where your RV is parked. Domicile, on the other hand, is your legal permanent residence. In the eyes of the law, your domicile is your home base. You can only have one at a time, and you must have one to handle all the business of being a US citizen including paying taxes, voting, and banking.
Some states require you to spend 183 days in the state in a fixed dwelling – a home or an apartment, not an RV – to be able to consider the state your domicile. If you’re full-timing it to travel the country in your luxury travel trailer, having to spend half the year in a house somewhere defeats the purpose. That’s why many full timers choose to set themselves up in Texas, Florida, or South Dakota. These three states make it very easy to establish and maintain domicile, in part because they don’t have the fixed dwelling requirement. They also don’t have a state income tax, which could be a benefit for high earners.
There are many factors to consider when choosing your domicile state, and what makes sense for you may not make sense for someone else’s situation. Keep in mind that there will be pros and cons to whichever state you select. I
Regardless, if you change your domicile state when you go full time, you’ll want to cut ties with your old state as thoroughly as possible, or else you could wind up owing taxes in both locations. A dispute over your domicile state could also lead to a denial of insurance claims.
Establishing a Permanent Address
The first thing you’ll need to do when changing your domicile is to establish your new permanent address. Since you won’t have a house or apartment, you’ll likely need to use a mail forwarding service. While there are options in all 50 states, there are several popular programs used by RVers that have established domicile in South Dakota, Florida, or Texas. One is offered by Escapees RV Club. The club has several benefits such as discount programs and an online community, but one of their biggest draws is their US Postal Service licensed mail forwarding services. Escapees assigns you a permanent address in Texas, South Dakota, or Florida, depending on your domicile state. They then receive and hold your mail until you notify them when and where to send it. They can even collect packages from UPS and FedEx. They’re optional scanning service emails you a scanned image of each envelope you receive.
State Registrations Are Important Too
Once you’ve established your permanent address, you’ll need to get a driver’s license in your new domicile state. Check the laws to make sure that you don’t need a special driver’s license for your type of RV, especially if you’re driving a large Class A motorhome or towing a fifth wheel.
When you get your driver’s license, you’ll also want to register to vote. This is another key step in establishing your domicile state. One thing to consider when selecting your state is how easy or hard it is to get an absentee ballot. If you don’t plan on being in the state every November, you’ll likely want a state where you can vote by mail.
You’ll also want to register your vehicles in your new domicile state – that includes your luxury RV and your tow vehicle, dinghy, motorcycle, or any other registered motor vehicles you own. Find out if the state you’re switching to requires regular safety inspections or emissions tests. If they need to be done annually, you’ll need to be back in the state at least once a year.
You will likely still get called for jury duty by your domicile state, so when picking your state, you should consider how easy or hard it will be to get excused from serving.
Another way to establish your domicile is to start a relationship with a bank in that state. That could mean a large national brand with a presence in the state, a local credit union, or even an online bank. But opening a bank account when you’re a full time RVer is challenging. The Patriot Act requires that your bank have your physical residential address on file – and that address can’t be a mail forwarding service. You may have to use the address of a friend or family member – unless the bank requires proof that you live at the address, such as a utility bill with your name on it. There are ways to legally navigate these requirements, but you’ll need to do it carefully.
You’ll also want to consider how accessible your money will be while you’re traveling. Look for a bank that offers online bill pay and has a large ATM network that charges minimal (or no) fees.
If you don’t have health insurance through your employer, you’ll need to get a plan based out of your domicile state. As you’re shopping for plans, consider the type of coverage you’ll have if you should get sick or injured while traveling. There are very few nationwide plans, so you’ll want to opt for a private health plan that has wider coverage. It’s a good idea to engage a health insurance broker to help you find a plan tailored for your situation and the people who will be covered. They can provide you with advice specific to your domicile state as well. Regardless of which health plan you select, you should establish care with physicians in your new state as further proof that it is your domicile state.
While we’ve covered some of the biggest considerations for the mechanics of full time RV living, there are other things to consider. Research the laws and requirements for your top choices before you make your decision on which state to call home. Here are a few other things you can do to help establish a state as your new domicile:
- Have all your personal legal documents drawn up in that state, including wills, powers of attorney, and such.
- Move your stored items to the state in which you’re establishing domicile.
- Transfer your RV insurance policies as well as the policies for your vehicles and possessions to your permanent address in your domicile state. Also, make sure that your plan covers you if you live in your RV full time. Many plans do not.