To say that you are a resident of a certain state, you have to prove that you actually live there most of the year. There are different factors that you, as an RVer, would need to consider when it comes to establishing residency. Acquiring health insurance and filing your taxes are just the tip of the iceberg when we’re talking about residency during your RV adventure. When living in an RV, it can be a bit tricky in establishing a residency because you are always on the go.
Which brings me to wonder, does a PO Box establish residency? No. It does not. PO Boxes, although very useful to receive physical mail, do not establish residency, as a lot of factors go into becoming a resident of a certain state such as length of stay, declaration of domicile, and paying taxes; but a Virtual Mailbox may help establish residency in some states.
By the end of this article, you will know the importance of having a PO Box when full-timing, advantages of using a virtual mailbox, and how to avail of these services separately or in conjunction with each other. In addition to that, important insights to establishing residency and domicile are also discussed heavily and the top states to establish and maintain domicile.
Advantages of Renting a PO Box
Renting a PO Box as a full-timer does have its perks. Since it’s exclusive to USPS, you can ensure the fast delivery of USPS mail. It establishes a physical mailing address to receive mail. You can be assured that your mail is secure because no one else has access to the box other than you. It is relatively cheap and has a mail forwarding system that forwards your mail to a preset address with added cost. This is handy when you live in different places for short periods at a time. As a bonus, you can have the security of your physical address if you don’t want anyone to know where you live.
Disadvantages of renting a PO Box
Using this service has its share of bummers, too. Since it is a physical box, it also does get full. And it’s your responsibility to empty it. If you rent a small-sized PO Box and you have a lot of magazine subscriptions, for example, it could get full in no time and the post office wouldn’t care so much for mail overflowing from your box. It also does not inform you of urgent mail.
If you ask me, it’s not practical if you’re moving from one place to another, not frequenting any particular post office. Lastly, PO Boxes do not help you establish residency, which is what was the issue in the first place.
Steps on How to Apply for a PO Box
First thing to do is to go to the post office where you want your PO Box located. Of course, it is practical to select the one closest to where you would be living for accessibility. But a lot of people select PO Boxes from New York, for example, because of the name. Each to his own, I guess.
Next is to select the size of a PO Box you intend to use. Rates do get higher as the box size increases. A small box usually used for business letters and simple correspondence. A medium box can cover magazine subscriptions or the like in size. Those, or, if you’re expecting a lot of business letters. Sizes can go up to a large box which is usually used for a variety of mail and when you know you’ll take long before checking in on it again.
Now for the technical stuff. At the post office counter, secure and fill out a USPS Form 1583. A USPS Form 1583 is a form used to authorize a CMRA (commercial mail receiving agent) to receive mail on the customer’s behalf. Get a PO Box rental form (essentially a variation of Form 1583, so it’s redundant, but it’s protocol) at the post office counter. Fill this out, too.
Submit the forms with two IDs for proof that it’s really you. Claim your keys to your PO Box from the designated counter or set your PO box combination. You’re all set.
Alternative Mail Solution: Virtual Mailbox
What is a Virtual Mailbox?
A Virtual Mailbox is a service that receives your mail, scans the envelope, sends it to your phone through either an email, through a text message or their own app notification if they have one. They then wait on your instructions for the scanned mail. You can instruct them to forward mail to an address near you, delete or shred mail, and even deposit checks for you! It’s so cool! It’s like having a worker elf inside your mailbox.
Clicking around, I found a couple of websites that offer this mail service. What baffled me was the range of prices for this service. One site was offering only $7.99 for a basic virtual mailbox service, wherein they can scan the envelopes, wait for instructions- to trash the mail, forward it, scan the contents, or even deposit checks all upon your instructions. Their prices ranged from $7.99 per month to just below $10 per month. Reviews from users for this service proves that it is a competent service delivering what is promised.
What really got me thinking was Virtual mailbox websites offering as high as $90 per month! I checked the scope of their service on their site and the functions seemed to be the same as the one who collects a mere $8 per month. So in that note, a little research about your possible options available to you is a must before choosing a company to get the best bang for your buck.
With prices at par with PO boxes, it’s sort of a no brainer to pick this service over the physical mailbox service. But it’s not really about choosing one over the other. Most RV full-timers usually use a Virtual Mailbox service coupled with physical PO Boxes accessible to them to forward their mail to.
Advantages of a Virtual Mailbox
With a virtual mailbox, you get all the functions of a PO Box and so much more! Like a PO Box, it makes sure to have a physical mailing address to receive and secure your mail. Other than that, the service notifies you of new mail. This is so handy, especially for urgent mail. It makes mail so accessible for you that you can sort through your mail without having to drop by the physical shop.
Also, a unique function of virtual mailboxes over PO Boxes is that you can have checks deposited for you. It also receives mail from all mail carriers FedEx, DHL, USPS, and UPS- you name it! This may be because the address you would use is a physical address, like a street number, so FedEx and the like won’t have an issue with this.
Disadvantages of a Virtual Mailbox
Not much is to be said on the disadvantages of having a virtual mailbox because it is a really good service to avail of when full-timing. However, having a virtual mailbox does not directly establish residency. But to establish residency, it does help a lot to have a physical mailing address that isn’t a PO Box. It gives the illusion of having a fixed address especially if you use the address consistently in your government documents.
Steps on How to Apply for a Virtual Mailbox
The first step is to open an account on the virtual mailbox website of your choice. Then choose a plan. Virtual mailbox plans usually come in a per month basis.
Next, just like when you are applying for a PO Box address, fill out a USPS Form 1583 from the post office and get it notarized. This form authorizes a third party to receive your mail for you. Honestly though, most sites skip this part.
Present 2 IDs in the physical shop for validation. Again, some sites do not necessarily have this security measure.
Then choose how the service would be notifying you of new mail either through an email, a text message, or on their app if they do have an app.
Lastly, log into your email or check your phone messages, depending on which service you choose. By this time, you should be able to sort your mail and start using the virtual mailbox service.
Residency vs Domicile
Residency is defined by Google as ‘the fact of living in a place’. Domicile, on the other hand, is the place that a person treats as their permanent home, or lives in and has a substantial connection with. ‘Residence’ is used to refer to a place of abode, may it permanent or temporary; ‘Domicile’ in contrast, denotes a residence to which, when absent, one has the intention of returning to- a “home-base”. One may have a residence in one place and domicile in another. You can also have countless residences but only one domicile at a time.
What Establishes Residency?
Length of Stay
There are a few ways to establish residency. Most states require staying a minimum of 183 days or half the taxable year in the state or even more, depending on state laws. Most states also require that you have a fixed permanent dwelling in that state for the whole of the 183 days. Florida would be an exception to that. It does not follow the 183-day rule to determine residency. Texas also has its version of considering residency with only a 30-day stay.
Declaration of Domicile
Florida, being the friendliest state for full-timers, has a law that states that a person can show intent to be a Florida resident by filing a sworn Declaration of Domicile with the clerk of the circuit court. You can even apply online, although you still have to physically swear in front of a clerk of court your declaration of domicile to Florida.
File taxes in the state you wish to be a resident in. This supports the idea that you intend to be a resident of that state. With California, it’s easier to declare domicile and file taxes than it is to exit that state. You need to really cut off ties with California to establish residency in other states like Florida.
If you mess up your paperwork or visit California frequently when you already have declared domicile in other states, you might end up in double jeopardy as to your taxes. California and Florida may claim you as their resident and a person who is a resident of two states will be taxed twice.
Other Supporting Documents
Voter registration, vehicle registration, having a driver’s license registered to that state, and even pet registration would help a lot to support your claim of establishing residency. A bank account, purchased property, and employment records also support your presence as a resident in the area.
The Issue on Mailboxes and Residency
To make a strong case on establishing residency, the government must see a stated physical address for mail and mail forwarding, utility billing. It would also help if the address in all your government data is consistent. Virtual mailbox addresses can be used for tax authorities. PO Boxes, unfortunately, sometimes do not count. You can state a PO box address for mailing tax returns but the IRS still requires a physical street address that is provided by a virtual mailbox.
Filing for domicile isn’t a walk in the park, but being a resident of a state and having a sense of belonging is important.
“Every state has an undoubted right to determine the status, or domestic and social condition, of the persons domiciled within its territory except insofar as the powers of the states in this respect are restrained, or duties and obligations imposed upon them, by the Constitution of the United States.” -Roger B. Taney
Reasons for Establishing Residency
The great thing about the RV life is that you get to pick the state to declare domicile in. It would be a practical choice to choose a state that collects lesser taxes. Some states like Florida, Wyoming, and Nevada do not collect income tax. Also, this is to prevent two states claiming you as their resident and you end up paying taxes to both states, which can happen.
In-state tuition is offered to college applicants who are residents of the state. So to avail of this, you need to establish residency and prove your intent of maintaining a domicile in that particular state. For full-timers who are looking to take up courses, Florida is a great state to establish residency and avail of in-state tuition as it has more lenient rules on establishing residency.
Although for this particular issue, in-state tuition is granted to those whose parents, if dependent, have been residents of Florida for 12 consecutive months before application. If not a minor, the applicant himself/herself must have stayed in Florida 12 consecutive months before application.
The Best States to Establish and Maintain Domicile
There are certain states that have laws that are more full-timer- friendly than others. These include states who collect no state income tax. Friendly, also, in a way that many mail forwarding services and virtual mailbox services are available. Also, it is worthy to note that some states do not follow the 183-day rule, so it is so much easier to establish and maintain a domicile in.
Texas is a very family RV friendly state as it has no regulations when it comes to homeschooling, making it easy to take charge of your child’s education when doing full-timing. It collects no state income taxes and insurance rates are low. Only a 30-day stay in the state is required to file for residency.
Florida is a haven for RV full-timers. It collects no state income tax, for vehicles, no emissions testing is required, insurance rates are relatively low compared to other states and, as a bonus, it has access to some pretty awesome theme parks and cruises. Florida does not follow the 183-day rule for establishing residency.
South Dakota is also a great state to establish domicile in. It also does not collect income tax, inheritance tax, or even personal property tax. For vehicles, emissions testing is also not required and vehicle registration fees are very reasonable.
As a conclusion, a PO Box only establishes a mailing address. PO Boxes are not practical for those who live remotely and are away from the area most of the time. A virtual mailbox also does not establish residency directly but it does help to create an actual street address, proof of residing in the area. Even if you are a full-timer, establishing residency and maintaining domicile is essential for proper taxation, census, and registration, as is your responsibility as a citizen of the US.