Being a vandweller is not always going to be sunshine and rainbows. Whether you like it or not, it is an inevitability that problems will occur. Some issues are easier to take care of, while others may require more effort to solve. Seeing how many have embraced this van-dwelling lifestyle, things are bound to get a bit more bureaucratic as legal issues arise. To prevent future problems about the legality of living in your van, you better have all the requirements taken care of before you hit the road.
1. Registration Papers for Your Van and Identification for You
Technically speaking, your home is still a vehicle and thus needs car registration. However, there are areas where re-registering your vehicle under a different category is necessary for you to live in it legally. Although this re-registering is optional, it is best to have a document stating that your van is legally converted and certified livable.
Now, it may not be required for the US and Canada, but it is still best to have it handy if you need it. Make sure that you always carry this document with you and ensure that you’re always up to date with the vehicle registration to avoid any problems from happening.
The identification is pretty self-explanatory. If you are driving, carrying identification all the time is a must because it can be asked anytime while you are on the road. So it only makes sense that you should have an up-to-date identification card for you and also your companions in the van.
2. Driver’s License and Passport: Better Keep It in Handy
A driver’s license is a must since you are technically living in your vehicle. Although it is retrofitted to become a camper, you are still sitting on top of a vehicle chassis and are or will be driving it around. It is best to get a driver’s license for both the driver and passengers. Even if you are not planning on driving the van, there might be some situations where you are required to do so.
Unlike the driver’s license, a passport is necessary for all the vandwellers. Well, you live in a house-on-wheels, so you probably are moving from place to place and frequently cross state borders. When you have a passport in handy, it can get you by state lines quickly with no problem, and in case you don’t have a driver’s license or other government-issued ID. Your passport is literally going to be your ticket to the next camping destination.
3. Vehicle Insurance: Important to Keep It With You At All Times
A copy of your vehicle insurance paper is a good idea to have with you when you are a vandweller. Some have electronic copies, while others prefer to have printed-out copies for easy reference. On the other hand, it is not recommended to carry the original copy with you for safety reasons. One of the main reasons for bringing a copy of your vehicle insurance papers is it’s easy to access in case of emergencies.
If you typically just rotate around from city to city, a safety deposit box for all your legal documents can be obtained. You can also ask your close friends and families to keep the original copy while you travel. It is not ideal leaving any original copy of any paperwork regarding your vehicle inside your van because these documents can be used to perform identity theft.
4. Content Insurance: Make Sure to Take Care of Your Belongings
It is best to get really good insurance that will cover the contents of your van. You are living in it and therefore have valuables inside. If you are a working nomad, your valuables will include your work machines. It can be a bit tricky because even though vanliving is not a new thing, insurance companies still base their policies on the traditional B&M home platform.
Carry a copy of your content insurance with you while you are on the road for easy reference in case your van gets broken into. Even if you will not be parking in a sketchy area or ensuring that you are in a safe neighborhood, it is still better to be on the safer side. Vandwellers suggest having a safe inside your van for your important documents and, if possible, a safe big enough for your electronics (computer, phones, cameras, etc.).
5. Health Insurance: Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
Being on the road at all times doesn’t ensure safety at all times, which is why it is important to bring your health insurance with you. You will never know when you may need it, but health is wealth, so it’s good to get covered.
Health insurance is a bit of a grey area when it comes to being a vandweller, kind of in the same boat with content insurance. Some insurance companies do not cover you when you step outside of your state, so be sure to ask your healthcare insurance provider about this. So far, the health insurance that works in all 50 US states is Medicare.
6. Parking or Camping Permits: Don’t Forget!
Often enough, you will find yourself going into unchartered territories when living on the road. However, for those who prefer to stay connected and yet have that chance to be still close to nature, the best way to go is through state parks as well as camping grounds. You can set your van up, spend a couple of nights, and enjoy what nature offers.
Most of the time, developed campgrounds and state park camping grounds will charge you a fee and issue you a camping permit for a certain number of nights. The maximum length of stay will vary from campground to campground.
Some campgrounds or state parks will require you to display this permit on your windshield during your stay, while others are lax enough to present it when asked. It is best to place this permit right on your dash so that park rangers quickly see it, and it is also easy to grab if the park ranger wants to take a closer look.
7. Remember Your Pets’ Travel Papers, If You Have Any
If you are traveling with your furry best friend/s, your pet records should be in order. These documents are especially useful when you are crossing the Canadian border. Keep your pet registration, vaccine history, and medical records in one place for easy reference.
It is not really an issue when you are crossing US state borders. However, it is still your responsibility to make sure that your furry little friends are well taken care of, including their health. When you need to take your pets to the vet, these are the things that the vet will be looking for. So, keep those records well organized and in a place where you can easily access them if a pet emergency happens.
8. Ensure to Establish A Domicile: A Requirement for the Papers You Need
Almost all of the paperwork that you will need for your vanlife will need you to have a permanent address before obtaining them. Having said this, it is important to establish a domicile is a must when you plan to live full-time in your van and travel. Some vandwellers use the address of their parents, friends, or relatives to establish their domicile and get car insurance, driver’s license, and health insurance.
Others would buy a piece of land somewhere in the countryside and call that their homebase. One vandweller combined the vandwelling life and homesteading to have the necessary permanent address needed. He still travels and lives in his van, but he goes home and homesteads for a while when he wants to take a breather from the life on the road.
If you want to know more about van life addresses, here is an article that I have written for you.
9. Make Sure You Don’t Use These Papers A Much As Possible
An increase in the number of vandweller converts leads to issues regarding the legality of living in your van, both in the US and Canada. Now, when the authorities address motorhomes and RV residents, vandwellers are among them too. Although no law explicitly states that you cannot live in your van, specific local regulations are in place, preventing you from just setting up shop anywhere.
Make Sure to Move Your Van Constantly. For vandwellers who are living the nomadic lifestyle, having several different spots you can park on can prevent the dreaded knock, being the cops, from happening. Generally, if you stay in one area for too long, people are bound to notice your stationary van and will likely call the cops.
Never Park on Private Properties. No matter what kind of vandweller you are (stealthy or out-in-the-open), the number one rule you need to remember is to not park on private properties. With the exception of being allowed by the owner of the property you are parked in is a friend who gave you the signal to set up camp; this is a big no-no.
These properties include residential areas, government parking zones, no parking zones, and frequently public city streets. Some signs indicate how long a vehicle is allowed to park and the prohibited parking hours in Canada. Be mindful of these signs and try to spot areas where these signs are non-existent. In the US, there might not be plenty of signs to defer to, so asking around and asking for permission (if possible) is your best bet.
Park Away From Schools. In Long Angeles, RVs and other motorhomes, including vans, are not allowed to park within a 500-meter radius of a school, daycare facilities, or parks. All US states and Canada have similar regulations in place. It is understandable, and no further explanation is needed as to why.
Parkin Campgrounds, State Parks, and BLM Lands. If you have no idea of the rules and regulations regarding parking in a particular area, the safest and most often solution would be to park in campgrounds, state parks, and BLM lands. Here, you are 100% sure that you are legally parked and are not trespassing on private property.
It can cost you anywhere from 20 to 50 bucks depending on the facilities available onsite. It is still recommended to vary your campgrounds a little bit so that you don’t attract trouble. If you prefer to be off-grid, left alone, secluded, or just want some free parking sites, BLM lands that are undeveloped and are open for dispersed camping are your answer.
If you want to know the breakdown of how much it would cost to park in campgrounds and parks, here is an article that I have written for you. When looking for a budget park to stay in, here is another article that you can refer to.
Don’t Stay in One Parking Spot for Too Long. I kind of already gave you a peek at this aspect in the previous section. Still, you cannot stay long in one parking spot because not all neighborhoods are as accommodating to vandwellers as some. Even if you are in a vandweller-friendly state, you may still encounter people who are pretty much set in their ways and see your lifestyle as unconventional and unacceptable.
The best way to avoid people who don’t understand or approve of your vandwelling lifestyle is by being stealthy and as inconspicuous as you can be. Let’s face it, things are not always going to go your way, so it is best to stay out of trouble as much as possible.
As you can see, living in your van legally is pretty tied to where you are parked and in what state you are in. The legal papers you possess won’t mean a thing if you are violating parking regulations. Going off the beaten path can yield free camping sites but not without some risks. You need to remember that you have to be mindful of the area where you park. The better you educate yourself about the location’s parking and camping laws, the easier it is for you to avoid the dreaded knock. Keep all your relevant documents, especially your license, vehicle registration, and insurance, safely, and never bring an original copy of your documents in the car. Happy van living!