To us one of the essential parts of becoming full time RV’ers was to establish residency, or domicile, in a state other than California. This is something most full timers do if they no longer intend to have a permanent residence or home base in a state. There are several reasons both financially and logistically to take this step and although it takes a little bit of work it is a fairly easy process and well worth the time.
When it comes to full time travelers some states are more beneficial than others. Have you ever noticed that many RV’s on the road are to be registered in South Dakota, Texas or Florida? This is because these three states are considered full time friendly states and make it very easy to become residents even though you don’t intend on being in the state most of the time. Another thing these three states have in common is they have an income tax rate of ZERO!! That’s right, if you are a resident of one of these three states you do not have to pay a state income tax. Contrast that with California who has one of the highest state tax rates in the nation and you can start to understand our motivation for getting out of the state.
While each of these three states make it easy to become domicile residents they are not equal in every category. If you are also looking to make the leap to full time make sure you check out what each state offers before making your choice. For instance, Florida seems to have better healthcare options than both Texas and South Dakota with a nationwide coverage plan. South Dakota on the other hand doesn’t have restrictions on drivers licenses and there are no vehicle inspections or driving tests when you arrive. As a licensed driver in South Dakota you can drive any size RV you want without having to take tests and get special endorsements. In Texas once your RV reaches the 26,000 pound threshold your are required to obtain a non-commercial license to operate your RV. So as you can see there are tradeoffs, but all three states are great for full time RV’ers. After doing our research we chose South Dakota as the state seemed to fit the things we are looking for.
The next step in the process was choosing a mail forwarding service. The two most utilized service companies are Americas Mailbox and Escapees, but there are many other companies you can choose from. Each of these companies offer a variety of plans depending on what level of service you are looking for and how much money you are willing to give them for it. You can have all of your mail opened and scanned directly to you and if you don’t like junk mail they will dispose of it for a price.
We decided to go with Americas Mailbox because the price was right for what we needed and we also paid them to handle getting our RV and Jeep registered in South Dakota before we even arrived in the state. In fact we had our license plates and registration in hand the next morning after we pulled into the campground.
The process of obtaining our vehicle registrations and license plates was pretty simple overall. We had to fill out a couple of forms and email them to the team at America’s Mailbox. These forms were used to obtain the paper titles from California as South Dakota requires them to be submitted in order to obtain a registration. If you own your vehicle outright and have the title already then you just submit it. However, if you have a lienholder the paperwork goes to them first and they have to submit it to the state who then sends the title to the lienholder who then sends the title to the South Dakota county you are registering your vehicles in. And hopefully the lienholder remembers to include the paperwork with the title so the County knows to contact Americas Mailbox to finish the process. This was really the only nerve racking part of the process because we were relying on the geniuses working for the State of California and the lienholder to do something in a timely manner and follow the instructions from Pennington County South Dakota.
Once the titles were received by the county they contacted Americas Mailbox and to let them know and gave them the registration fee amounts. That information was forwarded to us and we had to get a notarize limited power of attorney so Americas Mailbox could act on our behalf, fill out a document verifying our odometer and obtain a money order for the fees. We overnighted that information to Americas Mailbox and they stood in line at the county office for us and took care of everything. We paid for this service but it was well worth it, especially after everything we have been through.
Once we arrived in South Dakota it was time to obtain our drivers licenses. This was the part I was dreading most because going to the DMV in California is probably one of the worst experiences you can possibly have. I would rather have a root canal without anesthesia than deal with the miserable people that occupy the California DMV. Anyway, on the day of our appointment we received a text a hour ahead of our scheduled appointments saying we could come in anytime between now and our scheduled time. We quickly headed over to the local office arriving 30 minutes before our scheduled time and were greeted by a super nice worker who had us fill out an application for a new license. The application was very simple and just asked for your basic identifying information. Once we completed the form we gave it back to the worker and waited for our number to be called.
Due to the real ID requirements we came prepared with every possible piece of documentation we could find because in California the experience of getting our real ID was awful. Even when following the posted requirements in California the miserable DMV people would find reasons to deny people’s attempts to get a real ID and send them away. In fact, Mrs. RVF had to go back three times because every person seemed to require a different set of documentation. Some of it was stuff that wasn’t even posted as a requirement in the paperwork or on the DMV website. But that’s that California DMV for you, inefficient, inconsistent, poorly trained and everyone that works there has a horrible attitude.
We expected it to be just as difficult in South Dakota so we came prepared for battle and boy were we wrong. Once our numbers were called we walked up to the window and the workers asked us to surrender our California drivers license which we happily did. They then asked for our social security cards or passport as a second ID. They then asked if we were full time travelers. Since we are full time travelers they gave us an affidavit form to sign agreeing to return to the state at least once every five years to continue our residency. After that we did a quick eye test, took a photo and in less than five minutes had our new drivers licenses in hand. And best of all the workers were some of the nicest people we have ever spoken with and performed their jobs with a smile. We actually finished the entire process 10 minutes before our scheduled appointment time. Quick, efficient and a positive experience without attitude. You don’t get that at a California DMV.
Once we were finished with this entire process it was such a relief. A lot of the stress and anxiety turned out to be self imposed based on past experiences we had in California. Looking back the process was very easy and only took about 4 weeks to get everything in order. When you are dealing with government and banks that is not a long period of time from start to finish.
If you are thinking about making this transition we hope this helps provide a little insight on the process. Again, make sure you research each state as there are different requirements and benefits that might work better for your situation in Florida or Texas.
With our transition to do list now empty and officially being South Dakota residents it feels like we have finally set sail on our full time journey.
Thanks for reading……………..