Bureaucracy: The bBasics

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lenny flank

Well-known member
Nov 15, 2016
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NOTE: This is a draft of part of a book manuscript I am working on. So I'd welcome any comments, criticism, additions, suggestions, whatever. At this point I'm not worried about typos and such--I'm more concerned with accuracy and completeness...any options I missed, anything that's not quite correct, etc.

(Sorry if my paragraphs are off a bit--this is a cut and paste from a Word document.)



Before you can set off on your cross-country journey, there are some bureaucratic paperwork issues you will need to deal with. Since you will be living on the road with no fixed address, your first hurdle is what to do about receiving mail, and what address you will use for your drivers license, vehicle registration, and insurance.

The simplest solution is to keep your house, apartment, or mobile home lot, live there part of the year, and live on the road for the rest of the year. That is what most “snowbirds” (people who live up north in the summer and then move south to Florida or Arizona for the winter) do. With this option, you can register all the paperwork for the van at your home, and forward your mail during the months you aren’t there.

If you have a willing friend or relative, you can also use their address to register everything and use this as your legal residence.

If, however, you will be living on the road fulltime, without any apartment or house anywhere, you will need a mail drop. This is simply a place that will receive all your mail and then forward it to you wherever you happen to be. Most UPS and Fedex stores, and the US Post Office, offer rented mailboxes with an associated street address. These are often used by small businesses that don’t have a building of their own. A few commercial mail companies offer mail drop services.

If you go this route, you will need to make some decisions. First, you will need to pick a state in which to establish legal residency. There are a few states which have become favorites for people who live fulltime in their RVs or campers. Florida is probably the most popular: Florida has no state income tax for residents, the vehicle insurance rates there are fairly low, it has no vehicle inspection requirements, and there are several mail services located in the state which can help guide you through the paperwork process. South Dakota is another popular choice, since it also has no state income tax and requires you to renew your drivers license only every five years. Texas is another state with no personal income tax, and it allows you to renew your drivers license through the mail. But Texas has an annual inspection requirement for vehicles, though it will allow travelers to delay their inspections until whatever time they re-enter the state.

It used to be that it was possible to use a mail drop address in one of these states as your legal street address for registering a vehicle, getting a drivers license, even voting. Now, in the post-9-11 world, the Feds have cracked down on this, and it is no longer as simple as it once was. In 2005, the US passed the Real ID Act, which sets Federal standards for all states issuing drivers licenses and other identification cards. Of particular relevance to van-dwellers are the standards for demonstrating residency. The Act does not specify particular steps, but requires a certain minimum standard of security for people who apply for state drivers licenses, including verification of residency. As a result, most states now require proof of a physical residence before they will issue a drivers license, which usually includes a requirement for two methods of demonstrating residency (such as utility bills), and most states will now not accept a Post Office or mail drop address.

Many states, such as South Dakota and Nevada, still allow applicants to establish residency by using the address of an RV park or motel. So, fulltime van dwellers can stay in an RV park for the required 30 days to establish state residency, use the receipt for this to register to vote, then use both your rent receipt and your voter ID to obtain a drivers license and register your van in that state. But it seems likely that the Feds will crack down on all of this and make it more difficult. I suspect that it will simply become impossible in the future to get a drivers license or register a motor vehicle without a physical address. And even if a particular state still allows it, as I found out, there can be a catch with this, revolving around the vehicle’s insurance.

My original plan was to transfer all the paperwork for my van from my apartment in St Petersburg FL to a mail service address in Crestview FL. That would allow me to keep the van street-legal while living in it year-round, without having to maintain a physical residence anywhere. I was able to transfer my registration and drivers license to the mail service address without incident. But I ran into a big problem with the insurance.

I originally tried to insure the van at the same mail drop address which I used for the vehicle registration. But I found to my chagrin that all of the insurance companies now maintain computer databases with the addresses used by all of the mail drop services in the US, and these are automatically identified if you try to use one. Since insurance companies want to know what sort of area your vehicle will be in, they require an actual physical residence where the van will be kept, and won’t insure any vehicle that is registered to a mail drop.

There is one exception to this, however—a few particular insurance companies offer coverage specifically for people who live fulltime in their RVs all year round and who have no fixed abode. These specific “RV” policies do not require a physical address and can be registered to a mail drop (as long as the state itself allows vehicles to be registered there). So that was my next step—but once again I ran into a problem.

There is no simple legal definition for an “RV”, so it’s up to the insurance company to decide whether or not one’s converted van is an “RV”. When I first approached an insurance agent about setting this up, he told me he thought the company’s criterion was that a van that had an electricity outlet (and I do) can be covered as an “RV”. But alas, when we contacted the insurance company itself, they told me that their criterion for an “RV” was the presence of an external hookup and storage tanks for water and waste. Since I did not have those, this meant that in their eyes my van is not technically an “RV”, and I couldn’t get RV insurance. That meant I had to get regular auto insurance on the van–and that meant I had to have a physical street address.

So the way I solved the problem was to transfer all the van’s paperwork to my sister’s address in Pennsylvania. That required jumping through a lot of bureaucratic paperwork hoops to transfer everything. But in the end everything got straightened out, and although I live fulltime in the van, I am now legally a resident of Pennsylvania, and my drivers license, vehicle registration, and insurance are all set at my sister’s address.
I was really hoping to avoid that, since Pennsylvania, unlike Florida, requires annual safety inspections and emissions testing for all vehicles. That requirement means that I must schedule my travels to allow me to be in Pennsylvania at some point during the summer each year to get my necessary inspections done—and to visit my sister. (It also means I pay more in taxes every year, since Pennsylvania has an individual state income tax, which Florida does not.)

So if you will be living and traveling in a Class B camper van or a small Class C truck camper with a full water hookup, you may be able to register everything to a mail drop and avoid the need for any physical address. But if, like me, your converted camper van does not have tanks or a hookup, you will probably need to use a friend or family member’s address.

Once you have a legal address, your next task will be to square away your banking. You will need an ATM card so you can access your money from anywhere in the country, and you will need to set up an “automatic bill pay” for recurring expenses like insurance for the van. Obviously you will want to select a major national bank or credit union which has branches all over the country so you always have access. And you will want to set up an online account so you can go “paperless” and do routine banking tasks from any location.

In these post-9/11 days, setting up a bank account is a lot more complicated than it used to be: you will need to provide ID and other paperwork. If you need to set up a business account, it will be even more complicated: you may need to re-set all your business paperwork to your new legal address before you can even get a bank account. All of this will need to be done before you take to the road.

And finally, you will need some way to receive all of your mail at whatever location you happen to be in while you are traveling. The mail service (or the friend who receives your mail for you) has to have an address to send it so you can pick it up wherever you are.

One option for this is to temporarily rent a mailbox at either a commercial place like the UPS or Fedex store, or a PO Box at the local US Post Office. The price for these will vary from place to place. One problem here, though, is that the US Post Office only rents out boxes for either six months or a year, so if you only need to get mail for a few weeks at each city, you won’t be able to do it. At Fedex and UPS stores, it is up to each store to set the terms of rental, so you likely will not be able to rent a box weekly or monthly there either. Another potential problem with US Post Office boxes is that they do not accept deliveries from services such as Fedex, which presents problems if you plan to order things online for delivery.

The solution I use is to set up a short-term “General Delivery” account with the US Post Office in each city I stay in. With a General Delivery account, anyone can send you a package or envelope as often as necessary, and it is completely free to set up and use. The big disadvantage is that each city will have only one local Post Office branch (usually the main office) that can set up a General Delivery for you, and that is where you will need to go to get your mail.

To receive your mail through General Delivery, you will have to contact the city’s Post Office, either by phone or by visiting the nearest branch, to find out where the main office is located that handles General Deliveries. To send mail packages to you, your mail service (or whoever it is that receives and forwards your mail to you) must send it to you at: Your Name, General Delivery, Hold for Pickup, City, State, ZIP Code-9999. The “-9999” is the postal code for a General Delivery and it must be included with the ZIP Code. And the ZIP Code must be the one for GD that is assigned to that specific Post Office branch.

The Post Office has a form to fill out for people who want to receive General Deliveries, which requires you to show an ID and asks for a reason why you can’t receive mail by regular delivery (I just write “I live in an RV”). I have found that some PO’s will have you fill this form out and some will not—there seems to be no consistency about it.

In my experience, mail sent by General Delivery seems to take at least twice as long to get there as regular mail. Once your mail has arrived, you will need to go to the Post Office where you registered, show your ID again, and ask if there are any General Deliveries for you. The Post Office will hold a General Delivery for you for 30 days; if you don’t pick it up within that time, they will send it back.
As someone that edits for a professional, my comments are not a criticism, only an opinion.  It is your book, not mine.  

That said, I find that mail delivey is covered in many places.  IMO, that needs to be addressed.  (Pun not intended) 

General Delivery in Quartsite is only available certian hours. 

There is a lot of excelent information in there.
Hah, some editor I am---made a typo in the damn title....

You might want to add something on acquiring a US passport or passport card.  It will be needed to drive up to Alaska or crossover to Mexico for cheap dental work or prescription drugs.  It is also positive proof that you can be legally hired for work in the US, something I suspect will be important in coming years.  Otherwise, they probably need to carry a certified copy of their birth certificate to prove they can be hired.
BTW, afaik, Escapees in TX is still claiming their addresses in Livingston TX are valid for getting a TX Drivers License and registering a vehicle even now that TX is going to Real I'D compliant ID.  Might want to check on that.  Unless of course you LIKE paying taxes to PA . . .
Optimistic Paranoid said:
You might want to add something on acquiring a US passport or passport card.

Yeh, that might be a good addition.....

Thanks.  :)
Optimistic Paranoid said:
BTW, afaik, Escapees in TX is still claiming their addresses in Livingston TX are valid for getting a TX Drivers License and registering a vehicle even now that TX is going to Real I'D compliant ID.  Might want to check on that.  Unless of course you LIKE paying taxes to PA . . .

I don't mind paying taxes--they pay for "civilization", and I like civilization....

Anyway, I've already got all my paperwork settled, and really don't want to go through all that big hassle of changing it again unless I am forced to by circumstances.
Lenny, I think that is a good "chapter" on that whole topic. Kudos. The basics are correct.

People need to remember that information quickly becomes dated, that's what Google is for... If you live in a particular state then google your own motor vehicle requirements. Same with one of the more popular rv'er states. Join the Escapees organization or at least read their forums. Read other full-time rv forums...
Yes, that is why I tried to avoid talking about specific procedures or brand names or whatever---that sort of information gets quickly outdated.

PS--Didja know that in Florida a van is considered as a "car", while in Pennsylvania a van is considered a "truck"--unless it has rear windows, then it is a "car". (And yes, a "truck" costs more to register, and also requires a separate weight sticker. Oh, and if you try to register a vehicle in PA within six months of buying it in another state (such as FL) you need a sworn affidavit from the dealer noting that you paid sales tax there--or PA will charge you its own sales tax on it.

(sigh)  Bureaucracy.
also, if the title says its an rv, its an rv,,thats all the ins. will care about, so i was wondering why you had probs.?
Let me know if you have specific questions about titles, registration, tags, and insurance. I wouldn't call myself an expert but my ex worked for the MVA for many years (you learn a lot about a spouses job) and I've had to do a ton of research to get my school bus titled as an RV, "house car".

For instance, this is false, "There is no simple legal definition for an “RV”, so it’s up to the insurance company". The definition is spelled out in most states very specifically. In many states if the vehicle has a given number (typiclly 4 of 8) of the following the vehicle can have the TITLE changed to reflect that it is an RV, motor home, car-house, travel trailer: toilet, bed, sink, A/C and or heat, bed, cooking facility, fridge, electrical hook up.

Title defines registration. Registration defines tags. Insurance is a BITCH ... at least for converted school buses. Four distinct and very important details that many simply gloss over.

Bottom line and what I try to impart on EVERYONE when these questions arise is that you MUST contact your MVA/DMV and speak to an inspector. Ask for the state code notations and get copies. Read them. You might consider an appendix of state MVA/DMV telephone numbers.

Have you considered interviewing folks and including excerpts in the book? I would be happy to explain the process that I went through in NC. Not a "van" but still a Ford E450 van chassis.

I have not read every word of all of these but so far I like it.
caretaker said:
also, if the title says its an rv, its an rv,,thats all the ins. will care about, so i was wondering why you had probs.?

This is basically not true.

I was interested in converting a box truck here in NY.  The NY Dept. of Motor Vehicles provided me with the necessary info.  There was a list of about six things, like a heating/ac that was separate from the engine systems, a food preparation area with a sink with running water, an electrical hookup, and a couple of other, similar things, and if I could show that the truck had any four of the six, they would register it as an RV and give me RV plates.

I checked with my insurance company - State Farm - and they didn't caere what NY called it, the VIN # showed it was a box truck, and their company policy was to decline to insure any home made conversions.  They wouldn't insure it.

People with converted skoolies have this problem all the time.  There are companies that specialize in insuring RVs, who will happily insure a COMMERCIALLY converted bus who won't touch a home conversion under any circumstances.  Whether or not the state calls it an RV is irrelevant to them.
caretaker said:
also, if the title says its an rv, its an rv,,thats all the ins. will care about, so i was wondering why you had probs.?

Apparently it ain't that simple.........
lenny flank said:
Apparently it ain't that simple.........
And remember ... no insurance no tags. I have a COMMERCIAL RV policy for my skoolie. I don't get it and honestly don't care. I will be changing over to registration and insurance to SD here in the very near future.
OP its state specific, here in FL as long as you meet the criteria done deal,,this is after asking the DMV, and GEICO, and Progresive, but i live in a state that caters to full timers, but from what ive read SD is good also, so when i read what people write about how difficult it is in the state they are at i can't figure out why they (once they hit the road) don't go to the easiest state to do the thing they want to do what it is they want to do,,,and those states always happen to be states that caters to full timers, heck,,,FL has 2yr renewals on lic. plates to make it easier on FTimers,,you can even pick a county that doesn't have ANY inspections,,i think the last time a study was done it was estimated that several hundred thousand residents don't even step foot in the state except to renew I.Ds and plates