We just completed the process of moving our domicile to Florida from South Dakota.
In this post I’ll give you a little bit of background on why we initially selected South Dakota, why Florida seems to be a better choice for us now, and our process & costs of establishing our domicile in Florida.
It should go without saying – if you’re considering something similar, do your own research too. Things change and our situation may not apply to yours.
Anyone who sells their stuff and hits the road faces the choice of where to call ‘home’ for mail, voting, taxes and other legalities. There are a lot of factors that you should keep in mind to make the best choice for you.
Read our article on Domicile State, Getting Mail & Voting for more information.
For US based nomads, generally Texas, South Dakota and Florida are the three top choices for a combination of no state income taxes and general nomad-friendly policies.
But that certainly doesn’t mean they are the only choices.
Why we first selected South Dakota
When Chris first hit the road (solo), he was living in California. California is not a good state for nomads who have no ties left there, and he was severing all of his. The state income taxes are ridiculously high, and vehicle inspections arduous.
As he only gave himself a couple months to go from apartment dweller to RVer, he didn’t have time to research out all the options – but knew it was a ‘someday’ project to set up domicile somewhere other than California.
When Chris and I met a few months later, I was homesteaded in Florida. Florida is decent choice for nomads and it would have made good sense for Chris to just legally “move in” with me.
However, South Dakota made more sense when he bought a new tow vehicle for the T@B trailer on our maiden cross country voyage in 2007, and it needed to be registered. One of the major benefits of South Dakota is the 3% excise tax on vehicle purchases. This can be a pretty substantial savings, as Florida and Texas each have a base sales tax rate of 6%.
Most everything could be handled remotely with the help of the awesome Terri Lund of MyDakotaAddress (the mail forwarding service we’ve been super happy with in South Dakota), we just needed to route by South Dakota within 90-days so Chris could obtain his driver’s license.
After my house finally sold in mid-2008, and seeing as we had now life committed to each other, started a business together, and were buying a house (on wheels) together – we thought it would be a good idea to share an address.
Since South Dakota was closer to our location and routing, it was simply easier for me to switch my domicile to use the same address he had already established. So, I ‘moved’ to South Dakota right after we picked up the Oliver and started heading westward.
Me ‘moving’ to South Dakota seemed like a good idea until I got to the courthouse to obtain my license and discovered that South Dakota’s database system doesn’t support spaces in last names, and I had to use ‘Ve-Ard’ instead.
Grrrr. For years I’ve been protesting ‘Great Places! Great Faces! No Spaces!’.
Why Florida now?
We’ve always left it a possibility that we’d legally ‘move’ elsewhere.
South Dakota served us well, but we don’t anticipate purchasing any new vehicles for a while to take advantage of the tax benefit.
Texas, while also an income tax free state and having the highly regarded Escapee’s RV Club for mail forwarding – really didn’t hold appeal for us. With the bus, we would have needed a special non-commercial Class A or B driver’s license, would have to keep aware of our state inspection status whenever we crossed into the state, and their common law rules do not mesh well with our intentional unmarried status.
Here are the top reasons why Florida made the most sense for us at this juncture:
- Both of our South Dakota driver’s licenses are due for renewal. South Dakota only gives you 5 years, and at the time you must return to renew in person. (Note: new in late 2013 – you can renew online once in every 10 year period before needing to return to the state.) Ya know, when we first got our licenses – 5 years seemed like forever. My how quickly time sneaks up on us. Chris’ actually came due last November, and he’s been on an 180 day extension since (which is easy to request by just calling your county’s driver’s license office) and mine would have come due this summer. Returning to South Dakota really didn’t fit into our vision of where we’d want to be this year.
- Both our vehicle tags are due for renewal this month – giving us a perfect target date! Registering a motorhome in South Dakota is actually rather pricey, as they charge by weight.
- We tend to spend a good deal of time in the state. In fact, in the last year we’ve been pushing the limits of overstaying our welcome as visitors (Florida allows you to be in the state for 6 months a year without needing to tag your vehicles). Being near family has been ultra important to us recently, given my father’s health… and heck, Florida has a lot of pretty to explore!
- We have lots of ties to Florida:
- I am now owner of two Florida businesses. Two years ago, Chris and I switched our company to be a LLC in Florida (with the help of our awesome small business nomad-aware attorney, The Meehle Law Firm). And I have taken over the business my parents and I have run for nearly 2 decades.
- Both our parents own property in Florida, giving us two relative’s addresses we can use in a pinch if a financial institution demands a residential address on file, which is becoming more common as financial institutions change rules to try to comply with the Patriot Act.
- It’s reasonable to anticipate that if we ever settled down in one spot, Florida would be a contender.
- The health insurance options in South Dakota are rather limited, with only a few companies open to writing policies to those not physically living 6+ months a year in the state. We found Assurant who would write a policy for us nomads, however they only offered regional provider networks for SD policies. On Assurant’s specific recommendation, we had instead been using a relative’s address elsewhere to get access to a nationwide provider network, which seemed like a potentially questionable situation leaving us a bit on edge. (There are other options including Coventry and Golden Rule that our SD nomad buddies are using.)
- And the most important reason of all – I wanted my correctly spelled name back!!
The Process of Becoming Floridians
A lot of identity verification rules have been put in place since we hit the road, adding some additional hoops to getting a driver’s license in any state. Which means you need to start your process a month or so before getting your driver’s license to make sure you have everything you need.
Here’s the steps we recommend after going through the process ourselves:
- Get quotes for your health and auto insurance and check into registration fees, so there will be no surprises.
- Establish your new domicile address at least a month before you anticipate applying for your driver’s license or ID card.
- We choose St. Brendan’s Isle (SBI) out of Green Cove Springs, Florida. They’ve been in business for many years serving the cruising, RVing and traveler communities, and we’ve heard nothing but glowing recommendations. They were easy to work with, sign-up was handled all online, and they provided all of the forms and instructions. They quickly answered our questions, including verifying that we could use our new address for our businesses without needing any additional occupancy license (we however can not use them as our registered agent). We could not be more impressed with their high tech scanning solution that actually lets you see the outside of incoming mail as soon as it arrives, and for a small extra fee they will even open your mail and scan the contents on request! (If you sign up.. tell them Chris Dunphy / Technomadia sent ya!)
- The two other major services in Florida are American Homebase and MyRVMail - we honestly did not look closely into them. We already had our hearts set on SBI.
- And of course if you have friends or relatives in Florida, you might consider using their address if they are amenable to being your forwarding service.
- As with any mail forwarding service, you’ll need to fill out a Postal Form 1583 to authorize the service to forward mail to you. The form must be notorized, and you must send copies of 2 forms of identification for each person along with it.
Make sure your SSN card shows your name exactly as you want it to appear on your license. Mine was incorrect, so I made sure I had it corrected first. (My last name story is fun to tell around a campfire, but suffice it to say – I’ve been living with *3* different spellings due to how various agencies handled my space!) If you’ve changed your name for any reason, you’ll also need to bring along proper documentation such as your marriage license or court decrees.
- Start changing your address with banks, credit cards and insurance companies.
If you’re moving from another mail forwarding service, you will also need to manually change your address for everything – as you can not file a change of address with the post office if you’re using a personal mail box service. You’ll probably want to keep service active at your old address for a while to make sure you don’t miss anything.
- You’ll need 2 pieces of acceptable mail with your new address to get your Florida driver’s license, which can include banking statements, insurance cards/documents, utilities, voter registration, vehicle registration, etc. Be sure to pad in enough time for this, as it may take a couple weeks before you have mail with your new address to bring. You can print the documents from online – but it must be a mail piece addressed to you.
Visit GatherGoGet.com - Florida’s official list of documents they accept for proving your identity and address.
- Each person in your household applying for ID will need 2 pieces of mail with THEIR name in the addressee area. GMAC (our auto/RV insurance company) only included Chris’ name in the address area, and even though I was listed as a driver on the same piece of paper – they wouldn’t accept it. Thankfully, they allowed Chris to sign an affidavit verifying that I live in the same household.
- Time switching your vehicle/RV insurance to Florida carefully – you will need the policy in force before you can apply for your title & registration. But if you do it too soon in advance, you may run into problems. We did ours a touch too soon and GMAC sent us a letter saying our VIN number had been rejected by the state of Florida because it wasn’t registered yet. Our agent, Gina Shaver at Epic Insurance (our awesome full timer specialist) got things squared away for us.. so in the end, no big deal.
You will need to get your driver’s license in person at any Florida DMV or many of the tax collector’s offices, bringing along all of your required documents. Your driver’s license will be good for 8 years, and you can renew online or by mail once before needing to appear in person again. Yes, this means you don’t need to return to Florida for 16 years (that’s closer to forever, right?).
- You can register your vehicles through the mail, or in person. Many tax collector’s offices offer both driver’s license and vehicle registration at the same counter, streamlining the process. We just sat down for less than an hour with a single agent, and she smoothly took care of it all. One downside of St. Brendan’s Isle is that they don’t offer vehicle registration services (MyDakotaAddress spoiled us), but they do provide the forms and basic instructions.
Hint: If you can go in person with all of your vehicles, don’t even bother trying to figure out the vehicle title & registration form HSMV 82040. You only need that headache-inducing form if you’re mailing in your title & registration application and/or someone on the title can’t show up in person and/or you can’t bring all your vehicles with you.
- You’ll need a government issued ID, your original title and proof of Florida insurance to register.
- Florida requires that you have your VIN physically inspected when you register, or by a Florida notary or by any police officer (even out of state). Form 82040 provides a space for this, but other methods may be acceptable
- Florida currently has no further vehicle inspections – no safety checks, no smog checks, etc.
- We couldn’t get a clear answer if you can register your vehicles at any Florida DMV/tax collector’s office, but the one we stopped at had no problem. SBI tells us some won’t handle vehicle registrations if your address isn’t in their county.
- If so inclined, register to vote. You can find the registration form online here - but be sure to follow your mail forwarding service’s instructions. Our county has a preference for using a generic physical address for those not physically residing there. Time this carefully, as Florida considers registering to vote to be claiming the state as your domicile – and thus requiring your vehicles be tagged in Florida within 10 days. We decided to gamble with this by a week or so intending to use our voter registration cards for getting our driver’s licenses, but they didn’t arrive in time.
- To complete the domicile move to Florida, it’s recommended you also file a ‘Declaration of Domicile’ with your county clerk. It too must be notorized, and in the case of our county – requires a $10 fee per person by money order or certified check. St. Brendan’s Isle provided us the form and instructions.
We started our process back in November 2012, with getting my SSN card straightened out. We signed up with St. Brendan’s Isle in mid-December, and started changing our addresses over in early January. We made the final changes to our insurance (health and auto) towards the end of January and got our driver’s licenses and vehicles registered in early February.
One other concern is jury duty requirements. South Dakota is known for easily exempting full time travelers when they are called upon (which I did have opportunity to verify), and the same has been reported for Escapee’s Members in Texas. Florida seems to have a decent track record for this as well, as there is a very high part-time resident population of snowbirds.
Here’s a break down of the costs associated with our move to Florida, as well as what we anticipate will be our ongoing costs:
One-Time Upfront Costs
This will be your costliest part of moving to Florida, aside from any travel costs you might incur to get there.
Good luck trying to figure out what you owe to initially register your vehicles, which is one reason we opted to get our tags in person instead of by mail. We got a headache trying to tally up our anticipated costs and in the end our actual total came out considerably different.
When you register a new vehicle in Florida, your various fees will include:
- New Wheel Tax: $225
- Out of State Title: $88.25
- New Plate Fee: $28
- Registration/Decal: $46 – 75 (depending on weight/type)
- Misc Fees: ~ $10
Basically, figure on around $410-440 per vehicle you are bringing into the state. Also, if you purchased your vehicle less than 6 months ago, and haven’t already paid at least 6% sales tax on it to another state – you’ll owe Florida their share.
In our case, our DMV agent proactively discovered that I had two old Florida license plate still on file that she was able to transfer to our saving us the $225 new wheels fees! That was a very pleasant surprise.
This keeps us registered until next November, when the tags will be due again on Chris’ birthday.
Compare to South Dakota, which has trivial costs to register & tag a new vehicle – but their annual fees for large vehicles are rather hefty. And in Texas there is a new resident fee of $90 plus around a $30 new title fee, which combined with the annual tag brings the initial cost to about $160 per vehicle.
Hint: Florida tags come due on your birthdate, but they don’t prorate your initial annual registration. To save money put the person with the furthest out birthdate first on the title and/or time your registration around your birthdate!
Since we timed our move with the renewal of our South Dakota annual registration of $339.50, we figure it only cost us $23 more to get Florida tags (it would have been $470 more had our agent not found the two old Florida tags I had.)
- Driver’s License Fee: $48/each
Florida Driver’s licenses are good for 8 years , making the annual cost $6. If you get your license at a tax collector’s office, there is an additional service fee of $6.25 . You can renew them remotely once before needing to return in person, meaning you don’t have to return to Florida for 16 years. Additionally, a standard Class-E license covers you for driving any vehicle registered as a recreational vehicle.
Compare to South Dakota, a driver’s license cost $20 and is good for 5 years – making the annual cost $4. However, you must return to South Dakota to renew every 5 years. (Note: in late 2013, SD changed this – you can renew online once every 10 years before returning to the state.) They also have no special licensing requirements for driving a RV.
In Texas, a driver’s license costs $25 and is good for 6 years – making the annual cost $4.16. However if your gross vehicle weight rating is 26,000 lbs or over, you do need a non-commercial Class A or B license (which from reading the forums, doesn’t sound like it’s that big of a deal to obtain). And if you travel in the state you must be up to date on your annual state inspection at a cost of $14.50 per year.
Here’s a great resource for information on required driver’s license types for each state.
Notary Fees, Mail Set-Up, Filing Fees & Postage
- Notary Services: $10
- Declaration of Domicile Filing: $10/each
- Postage: ~ $1.50
- St. Brendan’s Isle Initial Deposit: $100
All and all, we spent about $590 in one time costs to move to Florida. We would have owed South Dakota $379.50 anyway for renewals this year, plus would need to make a trip up there to take care of the driver’s licenses.
So we consider ourselves ahead given that perspective!
Annually, we will be saving money – as South Dakota gets pricey on the larger weight vehicles like a motorhome. Here’s the comparison:
- Florida: Mini Cooper – $57.15, Motorhome: $72.40 = $129.55
- South Dakota: Mini Cooper: $69, Motorhome: $270.50 = $339.50
With a savings of $210/year, even if we had to pay the new wheel tax in Florida – it wouldn’t have taken but a little over two years to recover that. Our tag fees will be a bit higher in Florida, as we’ve since obtained personalized speciality plates.
Vehicle Insurance Rates
Our insurance rates for the Mini and Bus actually went up quite a bit with the move to Florida. As there are no other companies who offer full timer’s insurance on an old converted bus with contents coverage as high as we need them, we are left with little options for shopping around.
Please note, you likely will have more options – shop around multiple insurance companies, and you may find the price difference isn’t as substantial as we encountered. A good agent familiar with full timing is so worth contacting. Poliseek and Miller Insurance Agency are both highly regarded, and we’ve been super happy with Epic Insurance.
We carry pretty high levels of insurance, including comprehensive/collision and coverage for our contents. Our biggest increase was for comprehensive coverage, which we can only presume is related to the additional hurricane damage risk for our new zip code.
- Florida: Mini Cooper: $813, Motorhome: $995 = $1808
- South Dakota: Mini Cooper – $581, Motorhome: $627 = $1258
The same coverage, with the same company (GMAC), we saw a $550 increase per year. We carefully factored that increase into our consideration for making the move – as the registration savings won’t balance this out.
Mail Forwarding Service
We also saw an increase in our monthly fees for our mail forwarding service, however we also benefit from some really nifty digital features with St. Brendan’s Isle that will potentially reduce our overall mailing expenses and increase our geek points.
- Florida (St. Brendan’s Isle): $239.76/year for ‘Mail Scan Pro’ service
- South Dakota (MyDakotaAddress): $101.76/year for Basic service
We could have just gone with St. Brendan’s Isle’s traveler’s service of $11.99/month without the scanning features – but how could we resist digital scanning??
Previously we never knew what had arrived to our mailbox, and had a monthly shipment sent to us. Now we get notified when new mail arrives to view a scan of the envelop online – and decide what to do with it (send, scan or shred). For a small extra per item fee, they’ll open our mail for us and scan what is inside. We then pay shipping costs for any items we want forwarded to us, whenever we want. (If you sign up, mention Chris Dunphy / Technomadia sent you!)
We should also note, we’ll continue to keep our service with MyDakotaAddress for a few months until we are no longer receiving important mail there. You can not file a change of address form with the post office when you use these certified mail forwarding services.
Health insurance played a pretty large role in our decision to move to Florida. Assurant has two nationwide networks available to Florida residents, making moving our existing policy pretty straight forward. And there are lots more options for insurance that we can check out later.
When we called to get a quote back in October, we both actually saw a slight decrease of about $10/month, while actually getting more coverage. As our old plans were grandfathered in, the switch gave us the benefit of included preventative care services under the healthcare reform changes. (Read our chapter on Healthcare for Nomads for more information on this topic.) Our plans are high deductible ($5000/year each) PPOs with HSA accounts.
However, by the time we made the switch in January, Chris had passed the big 4-0 – resulting in a slight increase in premium being applied to the new policy. (Nice birthday present,huh?)
For our high deductible HSA plans, here’s the price differences:
- Florida: Cherie: $2380/year, Chris: $2152/year
- South Dakota: Cherie: $2500/year, Chris: $2115/year
As the price increase for Chris is not directly related to moving to Florida, we feel it’s unfair to say healthcare costs more in Florida. We’re just paying the increased cost of getting older sooner than we would have by making the move now.
Hooray, we’re Floridians!
We’re both happy to be Floridians again! We will however miss the oddity of having South Dakota plates & IDs, which was usually an excellent conversation starter. We’ll still get some of that outside of Florida, but probably not as much.
Aside from all of the reasons mentioned above, we’ll also realize some bonus benefits:
- Our vote will count more! Florida is frequently a swing state in national elections – South Dakota, not so much.
- Florida resident discounts – many tourist attractions offer valuable discounts and access to annual passes for residents. For instance, right now Disney World is offering a 4 pack of tickets to residents for just $129 (compared to $254 for non-residents). You don’t get any such perks in South Dakota!
- A pleothora of speciality license plate options. Florida has an astounding array of colors, critters and causes to put on your vehicle. Our last step in fully completing the process will be applying for personalized license plates for the bus and Mini, with specialty tags that match us best. For ease, we just went with what they handed us. (Update: we now have personalized speciality tags on the bus and Mini.)
And of course I’m over the moon – for the first time in my life, I have one legal spelling/spacing of my last name everywhere it counts.