Establishing State Residency When Living Full Time in an RV

Many RVers Choose South Dakota as a State of Residency

View of Badlands National Park, South Dakota
View of Badlands National Park, South Dakota | Source

Choosing a State of Residency

Choosing a state of residency is one of the important and most pressing decisions that you, as a prospective full-time RVer, will face. You have taken some big steps on the road to full-timing. Your house is on the market and the motorhome is in the driveway. You are whittling down your household goods and organizing things you will keep. Now, for the big decision: If you no longer live in a state, where will you have your legal residence?

Choosing a Legal Residence

You can remain a resident of your current state if you have relatives or friends who will let you use their address, or if you set up a mailbox in someplace like Mailboxes, Etc. Your other option is to choose another state that is friendly to full-time RVers. If you do this, you must meet residency requirements for that state.

Tax Benefits in Some States

States with No State Income Tax:

  1. Alaska
  2. Florida
  3. Nevada
  4. South Dakota
  5. Texas
  6. Washington
  7. Wyoming

(New Hamshire and Tennessee tax only interest and dividend income)

States with No State Sales Tax:
(This is difficult to categorize since these states may have excise or local taxes that are not state taxes.)

  1. Deleware
  2. New Hamshire
  3. Oregon
  4. Alaska
  5. Montana

Why Choose A Different State?

People who have lived in a state for many years, perhaps even their whole lives, may identify with that state and wonder if there is a good reason to become a resident of a different state when they go on the road full-time. They soon discover that there are good financial reasons for changing residency. All states are not equal when it comes to the cost of registering and insuring your vehicle. Also, you can save thousands of dollars if you register a newly purchased vehicle in a state that has low or no sales tax.These costs are a big consideration when purchasing and registering a high dollar vehicle or an RV.

What is a Legal Address?

While the requirements to become a state resident sound simple, it usually means that you have to spend some time in the state to get things organized.

A legal address for residency must be a street address. Post Office boxes are not considered residential addresses, but there are mailing forwarding services in many states which will give you the required street address. This is usually fairly easy, and you do not need to set this up in person.

Things to Consider When Changing State Residency

Driver’s License. You must get a driver’s license from your state of residence. Some states will require you to take a driver’s test, others won’t. Either way, you need to do this in person as you will have to get a photograph taken and show proof of your identification.

Vehicle registration and insurance. Vehicles must be registered and insured in the state where you have your driver's license (your state of residency). This can usually be done by mail and, in the case of insurance, by phone, but there are several forms to fill out for the Department of Motor Vehicles. We found that our mail service, Dakota Post in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has a staff member specializing in helping people through the process. There is a fee associated with this service, but it is well worth it as she walked us through each step and personally visited the DMV to take care of the paperwork.

Voting: Voter registration can sometimes be done when driver’s licenses are purchased. Voting in national elections can be done by absentee ballot. States have different requirements for registering for local elections.

Health Insurance: This should be purchased in your state of residency. If you are on Medicare, you should notify them of your new address after you establish residency in your new state. If you are on a health insurance plan with your employer or previous employer (retirees), you should check with them about your change of state residency to make sure you are still covered.

Taxes: There are seven states that don't have state income taxes: Alaska, Florida, Texas, Wyoming, Washington, South Dakota and Nevada. There are other states that give retirees special consideration at tax time. Some states do not tax Social Security income, some states do not tax pensions. It would be worthwhile to find out ahead of time how changing your state residency will affect your tax liability.

Will you return? Whichever state you choose, you need to consider how often you will be returning. Will you develop some community ties life social organizations, church, charity work? Will you get medical care, financial and legal services there? These are all things that will be looked at if there is a legal question of your residency.

Choosing an RV Friendly State

People have different reasons for becoming residents of various states, but there are three states that are very friendly towards full-time RVers and the most popular choices among full-time RVers. These states have no state income tax and they make it easy for RVers to establish and maintain residency. These states are:


St. Andrews Island State Park on the Florida Panhandle.  Florida residents get discounts in Florida State Parks.
St. Andrews Island State Park on the Florida Panhandle. Florida residents get discounts in Florida State Parks. | Source

Florida as Legal Residence for Full-Time RVers Because:

  • It has no tax on income or investment income
  • It has many retirees and many choices of health insurance
  • It has mid-range vehicle insurance
  • It is convenient to RVers who plan to spend a lot of time on the east coast
  • There are some mail forwarding companies that will provide clients with a street address


View from Magnolia Ridge Core of Engineers campground in the Big Thicket of Texas.
View from Magnolia Ridge Core of Engineers campground in the Big Thicket of Texas. | Source

Texas as a Legal Residence for Full-Time RVers Because:

  • It has no state income tax
  • Vehicle registration fees are low,however they do have an annual vehicle inspection. Texas does allow full-timers to postpone vehicle inspection until the next time they are back in the state after the inspection expires.
  • Driver’s licenses can be renewed by mail.
  • It’s easy to register to vote by mail.

South Dakota

Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Badlands National Park in South Dakota | Source

South Dakota as a Legal Residence for Full-Time RVers Because:

  • When purchasing a vehicle, there is only a 4% excise tax, but no other sales tax to pay.
  • It has no state income tax.
  • Vehicle registration fees are reasonable (rates are increasing in 2015).
  • There is no state vehicle inspection required. This means that you do not have to go back each year to have your vehicles inspected.
  • Vehicle insurance is much lower than many states. For example, insurance in SD is less than 50% of NC vehicle insurance.
  • Driver’s licenses cost about $20 in 2011, but you must appear in person to renew every five years.

Other Considerations for Full-Time RVers

When choosing a new state for legal residence, you may also want to think about what your full-time life style will be. Every state offers discounts at their state parks to their residents.

Florida is a good choice if you will spend a lot of time on the east coast because Florida residents get a hefty discount on Florida state parks, and it's a great place to spend the winters.

Texas is a good choice If you intend to winter in the Rio Grande Valley or spend a lot of time in the Southwest. Texas has beautiful state parks and offers good discounts to residents. Many members of The Escapees Club are residents of Texas because The Escapees Club has a an excellent mail service based in Livingston, Texas and a very helpful staff.

South Dakota has the many financial benefits, and since you are only required to return to renew driver's licenses every five years, it might make the most sense for you. You do have to renew your driver's license in person, so you'll have to travel to South Dakota at least every five years if you choose it as your legal residence. One of the most popular mail services is located in Sioux Falls, SD. Dakota Post (formerly Alternative Resources) staff will also assist you when registering a vehicle or purchasing insurance long distance. There are other mail services, including Escapees, that are also helpful and reasonably priced.

Getting a Driver's License

Since 9/11, some states have put in place more stringent rules for proving citizenship and residency before they will issue a driver's license. Before you go to the DMV in your chosen state, do check to see what proof of ID you will need. In general, you should take along the following:

  • Your old driver's license
  • Proof of identity like a birth certificate or U.S. passport
  • Your Social Security card or a W-4 or 1099 form that shows your social security number.
  • South Dakata requires RVers to stay one night in a campground and bring a receipt showing names of anyone who wants to renew or get a new license.

When to Change State Residency

As you are planning to change your lifestyle from living in a "sticks and bricks" to living a life on wheels, you may be getting anxious about having all of your business affairs in order. Changing state residency can't be done until you actually sell your home and no longer own property in your home state, but there are some things you can do to get ready.

How to Prepare for Change of Residency

  • Check into mail forwarding services in the state where you will become a resident and set up your new mailing address. Changing your mailing address by itself is not changing your residency.
  • Change mailing addresses. When your moving date is a month to six weeks away, start changing your mailing address for memberships, subscriptions, financial institutions, etc. You can call your mail service at any time to have them send your mail to wherever is convenient for you.
  • Plan a visit to your new home state. You have some time before you need to change over your drivers license, registrations and insurance, but that all needs to be changed at the same time. While you don't need to feel pressured, you should make a plan to visit your new "home" state within 2 or 3 months of going on the road.
  • Once you are a legal resident of your new state, be sure to change your address with the Social Security Administration, Medicare and your health insurance companies.Don't forget your retirement plans and any life insurance companies, too.

On the Road

When it's time to pull out of your driveway for the last time, don't look back! We play Willie Nelson's song, "On the Road Again" each time we are off on a new adventure. You have places to go and things to see, so look ahead and enjoy the journey!

Happy Trails!
This article Copyright ©2011 by Stephanie Henkel

On the Road Again...

© 2011 Stephanie Henkel

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Comments 39 comments

LeisureLife profile image

LeisureLife 5 years ago from USA

Very informative hub, thanks for writing!

Ancillotti profile image

Ancillotti 5 years ago from Brasil, Vitoria - ES

Great hub!

Niki Hampton profile image

Niki Hampton 5 years ago from Oregon

I love it! Your pic at the top isn't working. And I love the piece about voter registration, but I would hope people aren't actually voting in states where they're not following the political climate.

I live in Oregon and have lived in Nevada. I would gladly take the sales tax over the high self-employment tax I pay.

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi Nicki, I checked the photo at the top and it seems to be working from my end--don't know why it seems broken at your end. But thanks for the heads up; I'll keep an eye on it.

The voting issue is sensitive, and there's no way to know what people do who don't live in the state full-time. It would be hoped that they keep up with political issues if they vote in state and local elections.

Although I listed states that do not have sales tax, there are so many other taxes to consider that I would not recommend making a residency decision based on that alone.

So much has to do with personal circumstances, and self employment is one consideration. Thanks for commenting!

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

I love the freedom that could come with living in an RV... of course, I forgot that there would be issues like state residency to consider! Great guide.

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi Simone,

Although it takes some time to organize some of the little details of a life on the road, once those things are done, its an absolutely wonderful feeling of freedom to live full time in an RV! Home is where you park it!

Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Rick Morgan 4 years ago

Is it always a requirement to change residencey that your home? We are going to rent our Colorado home and would like to consider SD as our new legal residance.

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Hi Rick,

I'm not positive, but I would think that if you don't actually live in Colorado, you could change your residence to SD. You would have to get an SD driver's license to be considered a resident, and there are several forms you need to fill out when you do so. We found it really helpful to consult with our mail service people (Alternative Resources) before making the initial change as they were very helpful with explaining things to us. They also have good information on their website.

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 4 years ago

A fascinating subject; something I'll always wondered about. Interesting to see how it works in the states.

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

DoctorDarts - Glad you found this article on establishing a new state residency interesting. Thanks for reading and commenting on my article!

Larry Z 4 years ago

Stephanie Henkel says "Changing state residency can't be done until you actually sell your home and no longer own property in your home state". I own a home and 2 pieces of property in Arizona - but want to retire to South Dakota for location and to avoid high AZ sales taxes and state taxes on retirement income. What law is keeping me from changing state residency? Or where can I get help on this issue?

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Larry Z -I'm not a lawyer, so have only relayed information of my actual experience as a full time RVer changing residence.

If you plan to move to South Dakota and buy or rent a house to live in, there's absolutely nothing to stop you from becoming a resident of SD. When you move to SD, you'll be doing everything I recommended: change your address, get a SD driver's license and insurance, register to vote, etc.

However, if you don't intend to live in SD, but still own a house in Arizona, you may have a problem. In that case, you may want to get professional legal advice which is beyond my expertise.

mary615 profile image

mary615 3 years ago from Florida

I admire you for living full time in an RV. I would miss my house and yard too much.

Voted UP,etc.

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Mary615 - We absolutely loved the years we lived in our RV full time and found that it was easy to adjust to a traveling lifestyle. We spent a lot of time outdoors doing other things, so really didn't have time to miss our yard. Obviously, this isn't the right choice for everyone, but many compromise by RVing half time and living in a house half time. Thanks for your comments and votes!

Ruby H Rose profile image

Ruby H Rose 3 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

I really like the idea of full time RV living, not ready yet, but when I am, sure will run to this and other great hubs of yours for some expert advice. I like the idea of getting residency in another state.

Don Bobbitt profile image

Don Bobbitt 3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

Good Info Stephanie. I went through the same investigative process when the wife and I were running around the country in our RV. We picked Florida and eventually we ended up actually moving here as we aged a little more and had to slow down our travels due to our health. A number of our full-time friends used SD mostly because there are towns that you can drive to and camp and literally drive away a week later with everything transferred for you; drivers license, titles, tags, insurance, new mail address, mail forwarding management, wills, etc.

We still have a camper that we keep in a campsite in VA and look to some shorter trips in the spring, but running full time was a great experience for us.

Thanks for the Hub,

Voted UP and shared.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Ruby H Rose - Most people who change residency to another state when they go full time do it because it makes sense economically. When the time comes, I'm sure you'll have much to consider. Good luck with following your dream!

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Don Bobbitt - Thanks for your comments, Don! Sorry it took me so long to respond, but we've been traveling in New Mexico and out of touch for a while. I know when we first decided to go full time, it was hard to decide where to have our residency. We chose SD because it seemed easiest. As you said, we can get everything done in a week and now only have to return every 5 years to renew our driver's licenses in person. Full timing was a great experience, though we did have to stop for a while for family reasons. Now we may be back on the road again for a few more years. Glad you hear you're still RVing!

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

Very interesting. We've thought about this very occasionally, but not seriously. Now, with my husband's health issues, it really is not an option for us at all anymore. He has to be within an hour of a Kaiser hospital at all times, or lose his Kaiser membership. Since Kaiser operates primarily in the western states, with just a few scattered nationwide locations, that would certainly limit our travel options. (He has been with them so many years, and his health issues are so complex that changing plans would not be a good idea.)

He has told me that if he goes first, that I should 'sell everything, buy an RV and hit the road.' I doubt I would enjoy solo travel minus my soulmate, however. I do like camping, but I am also 9 years older than hubby... ...

Maybe in my next life, I'll never buy a house at all, and be a full-time RVer all my life! ;-) Voted up, interesting and useful.

Don Bobbitt profile image

Don Bobbitt 3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

DzMsLizzy- So Sad to hear about your Husbands health, and I wish you both well. But, as to camping females, I can remember at least two instances where there were two widows who had gotten together and purchased an RV and camped fulltime. So, never say never.

Thanks for the comment,


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

DzyMsLizzy - Thanks so much for your comments here. Health issues so often affect our ability to travel. RVing can be more complicated when you need to be close to medical certain medical facilities, but might still be possible with careful trip planning. The main problem might be cost because the closer you are to bigger cities and populated areas, the more expensive RV campgrounds are likely to be. Many full-time RVers hang up their keys because of their need to be close to their doctors and medical care.

However, there are so many wonderful parks and natural wonders in Calfornia, that I hope that you are able to take advantage of them in ways that fit in with your husband's need to be near certain medical facilities. Thanks again for writing and for your up votes!

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Don Bobbitt and DzMsLizzy - There are a surprising number of singles who RV, sometimes traveling in groups, sometimes alone. The wonderful thing about the RVing community is that there is always someone willing to lend a hand if you need assistance. Recently, we met an 80+ year old woman who was traveling alone in her RV and had locked herself out. Luckily, there was an unlocked window, so my husband fetched our ladder and climbed into her window to open the door from the inside. I second Don...Never say never!

DonGertzJr 2 years ago

Thanks for the article. I live in Texas but wonder if SD would be better for domicile.

This is a hard to compare side by side.

Thanks for writing this

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA Author

DonGertzJr - Many full-time RVers choose Texas as their domicile. If you live there, or spend a lot of time there, you might be best off keeping your residency there. You'd have to go back to SD to renew your license, so it's only a good idea if you plan to travel there every 5 years. It is hard to compare...each state has its advantages.

Don Bobbitt profile image

Don Bobbitt 2 years ago from Ruskin Florida

As I mentioned the three top states for RVers to have residnecy are; Texas, SD and Florida.

Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, but they are the preferred states, financially.


Mzd2u53 2 years ago

My hubby, who's 62 and I will be retiring soon from Michigan.

Since we can't seem to decided on a new city to put down roots, ( all our kids are in OR and CA) we are thinking of buying an RV and hitting the road for a year. This will give us time to find the perfect permanent spot and see the country while doing it. Any suggestions regarding this plan?

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA Author

Mzd2u53 - We did exactly that, and it was a great experience! The only difference is that our planned one year on the road turned into four years because we liked it so much! I have several articles on beginning full time RVing that might be helpful. Check the links to articles at the end of this article for advice on downsizing your home to RV living and other articles on living on a budget. It's a great lifestyle whether you do it for a year or for many years! Good luck!

Les navy wife CA 22 months ago

Hi, I was wondering, if not owning property & setting up residency in SD, TX, or FL and then full RVing would allow us to get around certain states non-residents tax. Some states tax you if stay over 6mo's as I've read in other blogs. So if your a full time RVer and don't own property can I stay specifically in CA longer then 6mo's out the year? Is this the loop hole to be able to afford my beloved state a majority of the time while still being able to travel part of year as well?

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 22 months ago from USA Author

Les navy wife CA - I don't know from first hand experience, but I've heard that you can't really do this in California. You'll have to check with someone with more authority about how the tax laws will affect you.

Kim 12 months ago

I am returning to the US (after 30 years overseas) and planning to live in an RV and travel. No US driver license, medical insurance or residency.

Looking at second hand RV's on the internet. Plan to live 6 months of the year in the RV- the other 6 months out of the country. The idea is to do this for 2-3 years until I decide where I want to set roots.

Has anyone had similar experiences?

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 12 months ago from USA Author

Hi Kim,

I know that many Canadians winter in the US in their RVs and stay for up to 6 months at a time. It's quite a common practice. I have also met couples from New Zealand, Ireland and England who RV in the US for several months at a time, then go back to their home countries. I'm sure that there are also US citizens who split their time between RVing in the US and living in another country. Mexico is a popular "second home". I'm not an expert on this situation, but unless you are borrowing or renting an RV, I would guess that you'd have to register your RV in the US which means you would need insurance and a US driver's license, in other words, you would have to establish residency somewhere. Sounds like a fun plan...hope it all works for you!

Tazio Sartini 11 months ago

We use South Dakota as our home base. Returning to Rapid City and the Black Hills every 5 years to renew our licenses is a always a great trip. Good scenery, things to do, and it's always on the way to other great western places.

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 11 months ago from USA Author

We also use South Dakota, and this is the year we return to renew our licenses. Looking forward to revisiting some of our favorite places on the way!

carioca 10 months ago

This is Kim. Thank you for your comments. I had not realized that people had commented until today. Just to correct the statement I made, I will establish residency in the US; however, I will not be living in any particular state for more than one month. The plan is to buy a second hand RV, most likely in Florida, then explore the US for the next two years in 6 to 9 month stretches. When I am not in the US, I plan to be abroad. Has anyone done this? Would anyone be able to advise me on medical health insurance? I will need to have it.

tsee profile image

tsee 9 months ago from West Virginia

I've always wondered what it would be like to sell the home & possessions and live in an RV. I must say I'm jealous of your ability to do that! I love to travel even though my husband and I are work-a-holics! Some day.......maybe :)

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 9 months ago from USA Author

Tsee- Being a work-a-holic may be ok in some stage of life, but do take time to smell the roses! We went on the road before full retirement age and have never regretted a minute of it.

Frank DeCota 5 months ago

If you give up your residence to live full time on the road, and your traveling interstate across the US, spending a month or two each time you stop, what laws do you fall under and where does it require you to have a fixed residence?

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 months ago from USA Author

Your residency is established in the place where you have a permanent address, driver's license and vehicle registration. As explained in the article, many full time RVers choose to have residencies in states like Texas, South Dakota or Florida because they are friendlier to this life style. Where you spend your time while traveling doesn't really matter. You can visit wherever you want and spending a month or two at each stop is not generally an issue.

rick 5 weeks ago

Biggest question I have is, if we go on the road and set up residence in South Dakota for example, can we rent our house out in another state and not claim to be a resident there if we are just a landlord, or does the house have to go. What about a bare piece of land also?

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