This is the 4th in a series of 5 post about the practical details of 1) how to chose a state of residence, 2) how to get mail on the road 3) the legality and morality of vandwelling. In today’s post we’re going to talk about how to get your drivers license and specifically what you will use for a residence address when you apply for it and for insurance on your car, van or RV.
The first thing to understand is that you can have two kinds of addresses:
- Physical Residence Address: That’s the physical place you reside at (like 1234 Main Street, Anywhere, USA)–that’s the place where your car is parked and you sleep there–it’s your home.
- Mailing Address: That’s where your mail goes (for example, PO. Box 1234, Anywhere USA). Your mailing address can be a Post Office branch, a friends house or a Mail Forwarder, but you don’t live, sleep or park your car there regularly–it’s not your home.
For most Americans, those two are the same thing, your mail goes where you park and sleep–but not for all of us. Their are towns in America without mail delivery and everyone in that town has two addresses, the physical address they live at and the mailing address where their mail goes. In fact it happens so often that nearly universally businesses and government agencies make provision for you to have two addresses: 1) a Physical Address 2) Mailing Address.
For example, when you contact your vehicle insurance company or go into the Department of Motor Vehicles to get your Drivers License (DL), they will both ask for a residence address and if that is your mailing address. If you’ve already got your mailing address, you’ll answer “No, that’s my mailing address.” and then they’ll ask you for a residence address. For people who live in a home, that’s easy to answer but for full-time vandwellers or RVer, it’s a very difficult question to answer! Why?
Because for a full-time nomad, you don’t live in that state, or any other–you live at Nowhere, USA!! Your car, van or RV is your “residence” and wherever you are parked at that moment is your “home” and for most of us it changes all the time. In fact, the majority of us are rarely in the place we claim to be our home state and permanent residence. So when you are at the DMV or talking to your insurance agent and they ask for your physical residence address, you don’t have an answer! You don’t reside there and you have no intention of ever residing there.
How do you get your Drivers License (DL) or vehicle insurance when you don’t have a Physical Addess in the state?
For a very long time you could just use your Mail Forwarding address as both, Resident and Physical Address but that’s generally no longer true. With the passage of the Real Id act, the Federal Government is forcing the states to crack down on how they issue Drivers License (DL) and nearly all them do an automatic computer search that shows that the address you gave them is for a business (it probably specifically tells them it’s a mail forwarder) and not for a residence. Once that comes up they’ll insist that you give them a residence address. What will will you do then?
The bottom line is that all nomads need to have an address memorized that you claim is the physical address that you live and sleep at in your state of residence. And not just for your DL or auto insurance, there are many situations where they will ask for a residence address and you have to give them one. You’ll know that you don’t actually live there, but you’ll tell people you do.
At the bottom of the post I’ll give you specific suggestions on how to get a Residence Address, but before we do we have to talk about the Real ID act because it changes everything.
The Real ID Act
The Constitution is set up in such a way that we are 50 sovereign states under one Federal Government. It lays out what powers the Federal Government has, and turns everything else over to each sovereign state to decide for itself. In many ways we’ve all seen how that in specific issues that can be a real pain in the butt and sometimes we wish there was one Federal law that covers all the states. However, it’s very important to keep that balance of power because it shifts the power to the most local level possible. You may well have a City Council-person or State Representative living in your neighborhood and you can walk over and knock on the door of the person making decisions about your life and tell her or him what you think. That’s how a Representative Democracy works best!!
One of those things the Federal Government has little control over is Drivers Licenses–those are controlled by the states. But we saw during the 9/11 Terrorist attack on the Twin Towers just how badly that’s working. The 19 terrorists involved in 9/11 had 30 different forms of legitimate, state-issued ID, including multiple Drivers Licenses for several of the pilots. There are so many people flying on airlines, that if you have a legitimate form of ID, you go through the normal security we all go through. But if there is anything suspicious about your ID, you go through enhanced security. If those terrorists had not had legitimate state issued IDs it’s possible (or even likely) some of the attacks would have been prevented. For more information on that, see this page: http://cis.org/drivers-lisense-security-terrorists-back-door
Ever since 9/11 the Federal Government has been trying to get the states to enhance their security so that getting a Drivers License was more difficult for terrorists and other bad guys, but many of the states would not voluntarily do it, many refuse to this day. Congress does not have the power to order the states to do it, but it does have control over who is allowed into Federal Facilities such as:
- Airports and Airliners
- Military Bases
- Federal Buildings
- Nuclear Power Plants
So in 2005 Congress passed the Real ID act that said to enter into any one of those facilities (for example to go through security and enter an airport or fly on an Airliner) you must have one of these two forms of ID:
- A Drivers License that is issued by a state that is compliant with the Real Id act or has an extension from the TSA.
- Some form of acceptable Federal issued ID such as a Passport.
The law has slowly been phased in over the last 11 year trying to cox the states into complying and give them and the public plenty of time get the new Drivers License. But time is running out and most of us will want to get a Real ID drivers license soon. On October 1, 2020, if you don’t have a Real ID compliant Drivers License (it’ll say right on it, Non-Compliant or it will have have a Gold Star on it) you must either show them a Passport or you can’t fly on an Airline in America. See this website for Frequently asked Questions about REAl ID: https://www.dhs.gov/real-id-public-faqs
How Does Real ID Impact Nomads?
It requires you to bring in a lot more documents than you ever had to bring in before. In two categories:
- You have to prove citizenship to get a Compliant ID. You’ll almost always need to bring in your Birth Certificate and Social Security card. Every nomad should have them and carry them with you in the rig. If you don’t have them now, get them.
- Proof that you actually reside in the state. That means something like a rent or utility receipt.
There is still a lot of latitude in what the states require, so you’re going to have to do a Google search on each state you are considering to see what their requirement are; just search on “state drivers license requirements” substituting the name of the state. Here I’ll give you the page link for the Big 4 States:
Nevada is very typical of what most states require, so here is a print screen of it’s requirements for proof of residency to get a DL:
Basically all the states work something like this: for a nomad to get a Real ID compliant DL, you have to pay a months rent at an RV Park, take the rent receipt and register to vote using that address. Then you take the rent receipt and the voter registration to the DMV and get your DL. The exception is South Dakota, who only requires you to spend 1 night in a motel or RV Park and to sign an affidavit swearing you are a Resident of SD and your absence is only temporary.
One big issue people are very concerned about with Real ID is if it’s being used to create a National data-base of US citizens and track our movement? According to this question and answer from the Department of Homeland Security, the answer is no:
Q: Is DHS trying to build a national database with all of our information?
No. REAL ID is a national set of standards, not a national identification card. REAL ID does not create a federal database of driver license information. Each jurisdiction continues to issue its own unique license, maintains its own records, and controls who gets access to those records and under what circumstances. The purpose of REAL ID is to make our identity documents more consistent and secure.
So, now let me finally answer your main question, “What am I going to use for a Physical, Residence Address?“
I have several answers and suggestions for you, but it’s going to depend on your circumstances:
- If you need to get a Real ID compliant DL, follow the instructions of your State and do whatever they require to get a Real ID Drivers License. For most of us that will mean renting a spot in an RV Park for either 1 night (in SD) or 30 nights in most other states. That will become your residence address on your DL and you will use it whenever you are asked. Here’s a sample of what mine might look like in Pahrump, NV: Golden Nugget RV Park, Space 175 Pahrump, Nv 89041
- If you don’t need a Real ID compliant address, drive around and look at the houses for sale in your homebase, find one that is empty–use that address as your address. None of your mail should ever go there, it will go to the mail forwarder. The new people that buy it wont know who used to live there so if any of your mail ever does ever go there, they won’t know the difference. Neither the DMV or insurance company will do anything to verify you live there. All they care about is if it is a legal, residence address and not commercial.
- If you haven’t moved out of your house yet, but will soon to move into a van or RV, and you are not changing states–go down right now and get a Real ID compliant DL while it’s still easy. Then, when you do move out, just keep using your old address, don’t change it. No one will ever know because all your mail will go to your forwarder and if any does go to the old address, they’ll just return it to sender.
I know that’s long and complex but really isn’t that hard, we just have to jump through the hoops. None of us want to have to throw money away on a months rent at an RV Park, but it’s just the cost of living the free nomad life in a world at war with terrorists.
As far as I’m concerned, if the Real ID causes us a little extra cost and work to comply, it’s still a great deal if it prevents another 9/11–and it might! Don’t write in and tell me they are setting up a national database to track our every movement unless you can send in hard proof of that. Until I see proof, I don’t believe it.
Now, go out there and live the life of your dreams!!
I’m making Videos on my good friends James YouTube Channel. See them here:
Here is a video we shot of my good friend Becky from http://www.interstellarorchard.com/ and how she lives in her Casita trailer: