Cheryl and I have been Texans for the last 55 and 39 years, respectively. But a couple of days ago, we both became Floridians. No, we’re not giving up the RV lifestyle. And in fact, our RV and truck never even left Nevada. What we actually did was change our legal domicile from Texas to Florida. Here’s why and how we did it.
What the heck is “domicile”?
In legal terms, your domicile is the state to which you intend to return. Your domicile determines where you vote, where (and if) you pay state taxes, where you register your vehicles, where you get insurance, and how much that insurance costs.
When you live in a “sticks and bricks” home, your legal domicile is pretty obvious. It’s usually the state where your primary residence and most of your property is located.
But when your home has wheels, like ours does, domicile gets both more complicated and more flexible. We no longer own any real estate, and don’t even have stuff in a storage unit. Virtually every tangible thing we own is in our RV. Without ties to any specific state, our domicile can be pretty much anywhere that we choose to maintain a permanent address for legal purposes.
For the last year and a half, our domicile was at our son’s apartment in the Dallas area. We used his address for our driver’s licenses, vehicle titles and voter registrations. All the rest of our mail went to our mailing address, a private mailbox at the excellent Escapees Mail Service in Livingston, Texas.
Why we changed our domicile
The main reason, in two words? Health insurance.
When I left full-time employment, I technically “retired” and then my company re-hired me as a temporary employee. As at most companies, temps or part-time employees aren’t eligible for regular group health insurance coverage. Instead, we’ve had coverage through COBRA for the last 18 months, but that will run out at the end of this year.
As most people know, it is very difficult to obtain health insurance other than through a group (employer-sponsored) plan. All individually-issued policies require risk underwriting, and the insurers can and will decline anyone who isn’t in perfect health. Like many others in their mid-50s, neither of us fits that description, so we knew an individual policy was out of the question. And it will be almost 10 years until we’re eligible for Medicare.
So what to do until then? Our remaining options, in increasing order of preference, were:
- Go uninsured, which we deemed to be much too risky at our age.
- Purchase a fixed-indemnity insurance plan combined with a preventive healthcare plan. The challenge here is the “fixed” part of fixed-indemnity. The benefits are capped at various levels, leaving us to cover any excess.
- Join a healthcare cost-sharing ministry (HCSM) such as Liberty HealthShare or AlieraCare. Both of these HCSMs will admit anyone regardless of religion, an important issue for us, and they’re both popular with many RVers. While an HCSM would have been our next-best option, it’s not insurance. There’s no guarantee of payment, and any pre-existing conditions are excluded for one to two years.
- Purchase insurance coverage on HealthCare.gov, the federal exchange created by the Affordable Care Act.
Texas, unfortunately, is one of the states that has fought implementing the ACA at every turn. Combined with the shortcomings of the ACA itself, that meant that most insurers have withdrawn from the Texas market. In both Dallas and Livingston (which we could use as our domicile if we wanted to), the only viable plan was a Blue Cross HMO. It’s not bad coverage, but as an HMO, the provider network and the benefits end at the state line. That wouldn’t be much use for us if we need medical care as we travel around the country and can’t get back to Texas.
For that reason, we started looking at other states’ plans on the federal health insurance exchange. To enroll in another state’s plan, however, we knew we’d need to be domiciled in that state. Thus began our search for a new state to call our “home”.
Why domicile in Florida?
First, we wanted to be in a state that didn’t tax personal income or investment earnings. That narrowed the list to six states other than Texas: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming. Theoretically, we could have chosen any of those. (Note that state tax laws vary based on where you earn your income. If you earn income in a state that taxes it, you might still have to pay tax there even if you’re domiciled in a non-income-tax state. You’ll need a professional tax advisor to figure that out.)
Besides Texas (which is a popular domicile for RVers), two other states, South Dakota and Florida, have very RV-friendly laws. It’s relatively easy to become domiciled there without physically residing in the state for some period of time, and it’s also simple to handle matters like vehicle registration and driver’s license renewals by mail. And of those two, we’d heard from other RVers that Florida had the best health insurance options.
Indeed, on the federal health insurance exchange for Florida, we were able to locate a variety of PPO plans with Florida Blue, the state’s Blue Cross affiliate. Just as in other states, these plans require members to use a Florida Blue network provider when you’re in the state. But when you’re “traveling away from home”, you can use providers in any other state’s Blue Cross network. In other words, it’s true nationwide coverage—exactly what we needed. And with our now-reduced annual income, the price was right, too: just under $400/month with a $2,000 per person deductible, but first-dollar coverage (not subject to the deductible) with reasonable copays for routine doctor visits and prescriptions, and a maximum out of pocket limit of $5,500/year.
Other benefits to Florida domicile besides health insurance
Although health insurance was the primary motivator for our “move”, we discovered a few other nice benefits to becoming Floridians.
Most significantly, the cost for our RV insurance through Progressive, which includes “full-timers” coverage—basically equivalent to the liability insurance portion of a homeowner’s policy—dropped almost 39%, from more than $1,800 a year to only about $1,100. We’re not quite sure what accounts for the difference. Insurance premiums are determined largely by the loss experience in the zip code of your address, so maybe hail and tornadoes cause more losses in Texas than hurricanes and alligators do in Florida? In any case, it was a nice surprise. (In contrast, the premium difference on our truck through USAA was less than a dollar a year. Go figure.)
In addition to this cost savings, the vehicle registration fees in Florida are a bit less than in Texas. And, we can renew (online and by mail) for two years at a time, so we’ll save a little money there each year too.
The next benefit was non-monetary, but still psychologically important: we’ll now be voting in a political “swing state”, where our vote could potentially make a difference in national elections.
And finally, I’m told that Floridians get significant discounts at Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando, and other theme parks! 🙂 I hope we’ll get to take advantage of those at some point.
Preparing to make the change
Just as we had read in the research I did online, changing our domicile to Florida was surprisingly simple. The Escapees RV Club has a helpful step-by-step guide to Florida domicile. In addition, we followed the excellent guidance provided in “How to Move to Florida in 1 Hour” by a fellow full-time RVer on her blog, Winnie Views. I won’t go through all the steps here, but if you’re considering changing your domicile to Florida, those two pages tell you just about everything you’ll need to know. Chris and Cherie at Technomadia also went through the process, which they documented in a post titled “Setting up Domicile in Florida as a Full Time RVer“.
The first thing we needed to obtain was a Florida address. Escapees has a perfect solution for that, called Escapees:HOME. Members can use the Sumter Oaks Escapees RV park in Bushnell, Florida (there’s also a South Dakota option) as their legal address, and any mail received there gets forwarded on to Livingston and processed with your other mail. You do need to subscribe to the Escapees Mail Service, but we already did, so adding the Florida “home” service just required signing an agreement and sending it back to them.
Now, we needed to “move” to our new address. We informed both our auto insurers of the change, and they issued us new Florida policies and ID cards using the new address. Our mailing address on Rainbow Drive in Livingston, Texas remained the same for everything other than legal documents.
We then began filling out the various forms we’d need when we made the required personal appearance in Florida. One of these was a VIN affidavit. The State of Florida doesn’t require that your vehicles be physically present in the state to be registered and titled there—which was nice, because ours were on the other side of the country. As an alternative, a law enforcement officer can sign an affidavit that verifies the vehicle identification numbers (VINs) on the Florida forms. It took a few calls in Pahrump, Nevada, where we’d been staying, to find the right department, but eventually we learned that what we needed was called a “VIN check”, and that the sheriff did that. Within an hour, a friendly sheriff’s deputy came to our RV, checked the VINs, and signed the affidavits.
We become Floridians
Next, it was time for us to fly to Florida for a couple of days. With all our forms and identity documents in a large envelope (which I was terrified we’d somehow lose during the trip), we set off for our new home state. Here’s a complete list of everything we took with us:
- Current US passports (primary identification for new driver’s licenses)
- Original Birth certificates (not needed because we had our passports)
- Original Social Security cards (you can also use other documents, like a W-2, as proof of Social Security)
- Texas driver’s licenses (to prove we were already licensed)
- Documents proving our new residential address (only two per person are required, but bring more in case the clerk decides one of them isn’t acceptable for some reason):
- Copy of insurance declaration pages for both vehicles, with our Florida address and both our names on them (as proof of our residential address)
- Escapees:HOME Florida verification letter from Escapees (as proof of residential address)
- Copy of Escapees:HOME Florida agreement (as proof of residential address)
- Completed & signed Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles Form 71120 (Certification of Address) (one for each of us)
- Florida liability insurance cards for both vehicles
- Original Texas certificates of title to both vehicles (surrendered when we received our new titles)
- Completed & signed Florida DMV Form 82042 (VIN affidavit) for each vehicle
- Completed but unsigned Sumter County, Florida Declaration of Domicile form (must be signed before a notary in Florida)
Because our new address is in Sumter County, we went there to do the paperwork. (Sumter County is a largely rural area, about an hour from Orlando, an hour from Tampa, and pretty much an hour from anywhere else in the state, too.) Our best flight options were to Tampa, so we stayed the night in a hotel there, and headed for the tax collector’s office in Bushnell the next morning.
In Florida, the tax collector’s office is a one-stop-shop for driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and voter registrations. The ladies clerks in the tax collector’s office were accustomed to Escapees changing their domiciles to Florida. Thanks to the two resources I mentioned above, we had all the correct documents with us. About an hour later, after a vision test, answering a few legally required questions (no, we’ve never been judged mentally incompetent, have not been convicted of a felony, etc.), and handing over some cash, we walked out with our new license plates, new Florida driver’s licenses–the actual plastic cards, made on the spot, not a paper temporary license like Texas and most other states give you–new certificates of title for both vehicles (again, originals, although this costs $7.50 per vehicle rather than having them mailed, which is free), and as registered voters.
We then went next door to the property appraiser’s office, where we had our Declaration of Domicile form notarized, and then across the street to the county clerk’s office to file that document. The county clerk representative saw our address and volunteered, “do you want the filed document sent back to you here, or in Livingston?” They all understood exactly what we were doing, and they’re quite happy to have all the new Floridians!
And with that, we were done! Total time was about 60 minutes, start to finish. After a quick lunch, we headed over to the Escapees Sumter Oaks RV Park to see our new “home”, meet a few folks there, and take a photo of Florida’s newest residents.
What our domicile change cost, and what we’ll save
The costs involved with our change of domicile were as follows:
- Travel for two people (airfare, hotel, rental car, gas, meals, airport parking): $884
- Governmental fees totaling $543:
- New driver’s licenses (2): $108.50 (one-time cost)
- New vehicle titles (2): $191.50 (one-time cost)
- Truck registration: $143.10 (good for 12 months)
- RV registration: $89.70 (good for 17 months, because my May birthday is the expiration date)
- Filing fee for Declaration of Domicile: $10.00 (one-time cost)
So the total up-front cost of our domicile change was $1,426, of which $1,194 was one-time costs.
But here’s what we will save:
- Health insurance: $5,136/year compared to our current COBRA payment
- RV insurance: $713/year
- Vehicle registrations: $57/year
That makes our total annual savings $5,906, even before we take into account the intangible benefit of peace of mind (and possible enormous financial advantage) of having decent health insurance. Those savings will cover the up-front costs of changing our domicile in about 2 1/2 months. So economically as well as practically, this decision was a no-brainer.
Things we learned
If you’re an RVer thinking about changing your domicile to Florida, here are a few minor things we learned in the process that aren’t covered in the resources linked above.
- We hit up a couple ATMs to bring a wad of cash to the tax collector’s office. But we didn’t have to do that; they also accept debit cards (with a flat $2.50 fee) and credit cards (with a stiffer fee of 2.5% of the charged amount). I would have preferred using our debit card to carrying that much cash around.
- As with any other time you get or renew your driver’s license, you’ll have to take a simple vision test. Bring your glasses or contacts if you wear them while driving.
- Unlike in Texas, where you’re legally required to have a non-commercial Class A or Class B driver’s license for larger rigs, there is no special license needed in Florida to drive an RV of any type. (Yippee! No driving test!)
- Most Florida vehicle registrations renew on your birthday (they prorate the fees for the first partial year), but registrations on larger trailers renew at the end of the twelfth month after the original registration date. So our truck and our fifth wheel now have different registration renewal dates–a little odd, but not a big deal since we’ll get reminders and can renew online.
- Florida driver’s license numbers are a long series of 17 letters, numbers and dashes. So much for the easy-to-memorize, eight digit long Texas driver’s license number I’ve had for the last 40 years!
Although reasonable people can disagree on how to fix the United States’ current health insurance system, I think everyone agrees that it’s a crazy mess. We are incredibly grateful for the safety net provided by the Affordable Care Act for us and the millions of other Americans with pre-existing conditions and without employer-sponsored group coverage. But the fact that just by changing our state of domicile, we were able to radically change the insurance options available to us is a little silly, don’t you think? There has to be a better and saner way.
Until then, however, we full-time RVers have a unique opportunity–to shop other states for better insurance options–that isn’t available to owners of traditional houses. If you’re a full-timer, don’t be afraid to change your domicile if necessary to get the coverage you need and can afford. The process is a little complicated and arcane, but not all that hard. And there are plenty of resources online, as well as people like us who have done it, who are willing to help guide you.
35 thoughts on “Two Texans Become Floridians (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Domicile)”
Why did you choose Fl over Sout Dakota? Isn’t it just as easy?
Donna, it was solely because of the availability of health insurance options. I have heard that in South Dakota, most of the insurers have pulled out of the federal exchange, just like they have in Texas. But to be honest, I didn’t actually check for myself. I was happy to find some good plans in Florida, and we have friends and family there (and none in SD), so it was an easy choice for us.
So glad you found a health care option that works for you AND that you get to vote in a swing state! I totally get how cool that would be. Best of luck Floridians!
Thankyou for a very informative and very well written article. We plan on making the move next year when I retire and this covered so many of our questions. 😊
You’re welcome, Roger. Glad you found it helpful!
And you’re able to get damn good Italian food in Cape Coral!!
We chose Florida as our domicile too. I don’t have a lot of time left to choose health care. Like you I have been looking at the Escapees and Rverinsurance options. I really don’t feel comfortable with those options but the Florida blue plans are so expensive. My husband has Medicare so it’s just me. I don’t qualify for any subsidies and just wondered if that was something that helped you find a good plan or if I possibly am not looking in the right place. I’d really appreciate any insight you can give. I’m looking at with minimal coverage paying at least $14,000 a year between premiums and deductibles which isn’t something I can really afford at this time. TIA
So here’s where the ACA tax credits get pretty weird. There is an income threshold (the amount depends on your tax filing status, I think). If you are just one dollar below that threshold, you still receive most of the tax credit benefit–which for us was about $1,200 a month, if I recall correctly. But if you are one dollar above the threshold, you lose all the tax credits. You would think it would be a continuously sliding scale–the more you make, the less tax credits you get, until the credits are eventually reduced to zero–but that’s not how the law was written.
In our case, our income varies from month to month, but our projected income for 2018 is only $1,000 or so below the threshold. If our income happens to just slightly exceed the threshold–say, we make $1,500 more than we expected–we’d have a tax bill of about $14,000 at the end of 2018! So unless I have an unexpected opportunity to make much more than that, I’ll need to watch our income to be sure we stay under the threshold.
My guess is that your income is just high enough that it’s above the threshold. If that’s the case, you might actually get a net benefit by earning a little less money, just to get under the threshold–as counterintuitive as that might seem.
You might also want to get some professional assistance. The folks over at RVer Insurance Exchange are extremely knowledgeable in this area. I’d suggest maybe paying for their “concierge” service to have one of their experts guide you through the options. Good luck!
What about making the change mid year? Can you pick up Florida insurance if you move outside of the 45 day enrollment period?
Kim, it depends on whether you’ve had a “qualifying event” that would allow you to change your existing insurance outside of open enrollment. If you’re on an employer-sponsored plan (or COBRA), moving to another state is not a qualifying event, according to the HR manager at our company. But if you’re already on an ACA plan, then moving to another state is a qualifying event (in fact, I think you’re required to change to your new state’s plan at that point). So my understanding is that if you’re on an ACA plan in, say, California, you could change your domicile to Florida mid-year and then switch plans.
That sounded relatively easy. Despite having all the right documents, it was like the lady clerks in the dept of public safety in Galveston, TX had a personal vendetta against me. It took me 5 trips to two different offices, multiple trips to the bank(s), half a dozen phone calls, etc. I finally got a TX license though. Florida is definitely the better state.
I have to say that the staff in the Bushnell office we dealt with were friendlier and more efficient than any DPS staff in Texas. But then again, we were in a small town vs. a big city (Plano, in our case). I also think part of it was that we were in a town where there had been lots of RVers who had done the same thing, so the staff knew what the Escapees:HOME proof of residency letter was, and so on. Coming from the big city, I was prepared for an experience like yours–in fact, we had planned an extra night stay just in case anything went wrong!–but I was happy that we didn’t need it.
You purchased insurance for both of you for $400 a month? Where did you find that? Im looking and it’s 1100/month and up for both of us!
Yvonne, our household income was low enough that we were able to take advantage of the federal tax credits available for the ACA plans. See the reply I wrote above about how the ACA income thresholds work. It’s pretty bizarre…but if our 2018 income was just $1,000 or so more than what we’re projecting, we’d be looking at the same kind of premiums as you.
Great article— thanks for the WinnieViews shout out too! I just renewed my FL Blue plan for year #3. It’s great!
Thanks Lynne! Your original post gave us the confidence to make it happen ourselves!
We also domiciled in Florida in 2017, and chose that state based on the availability of health care insurance that covers us as we travel around the country. We chose the MY RVmail service based in Crestview, and our experience was similar to yours. In one morning, we started out as Georgia residents, and by lunchtime, we had our Florida tags, driver’s licenses, and were registered to vote.
However, our address for our voter registration was changed to the courthouse, rather than our mailing service address. And although we will be able to vote in federal and state elections, we will not be able to vote in any local elections.
Hmm, that’s interesting. I’ve never heard of that. According to our voter registration application, our physical address is the Sumter Oaks RV Park, while our mailing address is Livingston, TX. I’ll have to check our cards when they come in. I wonder if the difference is that Escapees has an actual RV park, while MyRVMail is just a mailbox? Just guessing. Thanks for the heads up.
What a superb article! Very well written and covers all the bases. We’re also full-time RVers with a travel blog, and folks often ask about portable health insurance. We’re disabled veterans and have VA coverage so I never have a good answer. I’m bookmarking this post to share!
Thank you very much, Julie! I read and enjoy your blog as well!
First off, excellent write up of your experience. I came across your post as my wife and I are just beginning our full time RV journey and researching the change to FL from VA. Sounds like this may not be as daunting as I am expecting.
One item you don’t cover are income taxes. I gather from you post that you are still earning income and I am going to guess that the company you “work” for is in Texas?? I am an independent contractor with my own LLC but almost 100% of my income comes from a VA based company. My tax advisor has said that even with a change of domicile, since we will not be spending 183 days in FL (as roving full timers) that we will have to pay VA state income tax as a non-resident. Have you done any research in this area? If so, what have you found? Since FL does not tax income ideally I would be subject to FL income taxes.
BTW, the reason we are “moving” to FL is the same as yours, health care plain and simple. VA only offered two providers this year and neither reached beyond the VA borders
Thank you for the kind words, Doug. I’ve lived in non-income-tax states (Texas and now Florida) my entire life, so I’m not personally familiar with all the intricacies of state tax law. But what I understand is that each state’s own tax laws apply to income earned in that state. So while Texas and Florida don’t tax income earned in those respective states, you could still be subject to tax in another state if you earn income in that state.
In my case, you are correct that both my part-time employers are in Texas, so I didn’t pay state income tax on those wages in Texas, and our move to Florida doesn’t change that. I’ll go back and clarify that in my post.
My guess is that your tax advisor is correct. I haven’t heard of the rule that you have to spend 50% of your time in your domicile state to avoid paying taxes in Virginia, but that wouldn’t surprise me. I think some states aren’t even that generous, and tax your income in that state regardless of where you spend the rest of your time. I know many RVers who have seasonal jobs end up paying taxes in multiple states according to the proportion of their total income earned in each state, which would seem like a nightmare.
It might be worth checking with a CPA or perhaps even a tax attorney in Florida for a second opinion. If you do find a way to not be subject to VA income tax, you’d want to be very careful about severing all your ties with VA (which might include re-incorporating your LLC in Florida, if it’s now in VA) and taking multiple steps to demonstrate your intent to reside in Florida (like establishing relationships with medical, legal and financial professionals in Florida), so that if VA ever decides to challenge you, you have lots of facts on your side.
Good luck with your “move”, and welcome to the full-time life!
Love the article, so well written. I am in the process of making the transition from MN and articles like yours emboldens me, Thanks!
Thanks Jeffery. I’m glad you found it helpful!
This is an excellent article, thank you for the writeup! 2 comments: …… 1. Escapees is great, but the weird thing they told me is that they wouldnt allow all of my mail to come through the FL escapees location, and so i would have to switch most of my vendors to Escapees’ TX address. They only allow certain types of mail e.g. FL DMV mail ……. 2. Does BCBS of FL require you to be in the state 183 days per year? that’s what someone said on another RV group, not sure if that is true
Thanks, Bill. To answer your questions:
1. That’s correct on Escapees mail, but let me explain how that works. Escapees runs the largest private mail forwarding service in the country. It’s an enormous operation, based at Escapees HQ in Livingston, TX. It wouldn’t be practical to duplicate it at Sumter Oaks RV Park in Florida, so that park just isn’t equipped to handle large volumes of mail. (They will accept anything in Florida, but they ask that you limit your mail there to just legal documents simply to minimize the mail volume.) So when you sign up, you use the Livingston address as your mailing address, and the Florida address as your legal address. When something arrives in Florida addressed to you, the park places it in a Priority Mail box and sends it on to Livingston, where it’s forwarded (and scanned, if you have that service) with the rest of your mail.
That said, nothing says you must change your mailing address to Livingston for all your vendors. You could keep whatever you have now, and just use the Escapees service for “legal” mail. Of course, if you’re already paying for another mail forwarding service, you’d now be paying twice, which obviously would be disadvantageous. If you do consider switching, I can highly recommend Escapees’ mail service. We’ve used it for 18 months now with great service and not a single lost or misrouted piece of mail.
2. I’ve never heard of any requirement from Florida Blue to reside in the state 183 days per year. It’s not a question asked during the insurance application process–all they want is your zip code in FL and, if you’ve recently moved, the date of your move. Hundreds if not thousands of RVers use Florida as their domicile for insurance purposes, so it’s pretty well documented. I imagine if there was such a requirement, we’d know about it. The person in that other group may be confusing a tax law requirement: if you earn income in a state that taxes it, you might have to pay tax in that state unless you physically resided in Florida (a non-income-tax state) for 183 days or more in the year. (There’s an earlier comment on this post regarding that very subject, in fact.) But tax law has nothing to do with insurance eligibility.
I’m not a tax or domicile professional, though, so if you want to verify this, I’d suggest you contact the folks at RVer Insurance Exchange and ask the question. If anyone would know, they would.
Thank you so much! That makes sense. I will probably go with another mail service then …. things are too complex for me (e.g. multiple businesses) to have more than one mailing address …. regarding BCBS, thanks! that sounds great …. what you say makes sense – if they dont ask about it on the insurance application, then it makes sense that it wouldnt be something we have to worry about …. i am going to ask RVer Ins Exch and see what they say …. Appreciate your responses, cheers!
A lot of work there, but worth it! And great information, too!
Great article! We are making the change now as well to FL as our domicile state. A question: Does it matter whether you get the vehicle registrations changed to FL before the Driver’s Licenses, or vice-versa? I understand the FL auto insurance must be in place before registering the vehicles.
Hi Mark. I’m glad you found the article helpful! I don’t think it matters if you get your vehicle registrations done before your driver’s licenses, as long as you get them both done with a reasonable time. I honestly don’t know for sure, though. Note that you can do both in the same office, so it’s easy to do them together.
Thank you so much for all this useful information. We are Texas residents now but will be full-timers within a year. We had heard through YouTube videos about the in-state restrictions in Texas and had started to research changing to Florida for our domicile. Your blog will be extremely useful for us. Thank you. Thank you!
Katie, you’re most welcome! We’re glad the information was helpful to you. Welcome to full-timing!
Thank you for confirming what we heard and more. My wife and I are in the same situation and we’ve were wavering between Florida and Texas. We are heading to Florida later this year and will do some upfront work before we go. Thank you!
Thanks for letting us know that you found it helpful, David! Good luck with your “move”!