South Dakota is a top state for nomads for a variety of reasons: no income tax, no annual vehicle inspections, and the affordability of both vehicle registration and insurance. Plus, it’s super easy to become a South Dakota resident.
As a nomad living in both a campervan and on a sailboat, it didn’t make sense for me to continue calling California home. Why pay expensive income taxes to a state I didn’t even live in?
So, I recently drove to South Dakota and went through the entire process of plating my vehicle and becoming a resident.
In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to become a South resident, the pros and cons of South Dakota residency and how to get health insurance as a South Dakotan nomad.
Why South Dakota?
There are three top states that nomads typically choose to call home: South Dakota, Texas and Florida. Some even choose Nevada, but that state has more stringent requirements to become a resident: you have to stay 30 days in a campground or hotel.
These three most popular states have one major thing in common: no state income tax.
As a nomad, it really doesn’t make any sense at all to pay state income tax anywhere if you aren’t living in any one state in particular.
Here are a few reasons why I chose South Dakota rather than Texas or Florida:
- Establishing residency is incredibly easy and can be done in as little as 24-hours
- You only have to spend one night in a campground or a hotel to get your driver’s license
- No annual vehicle inspections. In fact, you don’t even have to bring your vehicle to South Dakota to get plates and updated registration. Ever.
- No state income tax, pension tax, personal property tax or inheritance tax
- Cheap vehicle registration and insurance rates
- You only have to appear in the state every five years to update your driver’s license
- Lots of options for physical address mailbox services
- South Dakota is beautiful – there is so much to see to make it worth the trip, such as Spearfish, The Black Hills, Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore and The Badlands National Park
- On my way to visit family members in Minnesota, so easy to visit in subsequent years
In fact, I am looking forward to visiting and explore South Dakota more. I’m happy to be a resident of a state with such an interesting history and natural beauty to explore.
Cons of South Dakota residency
While there are a lot of pros to becoming a resident in South Dakota, there are definitely a couple of cons you should know about.
- There aren’t many good health insurance options. Florida is currently the only state in the union that offers nationwide health insurance plans through Obamacare. South Dakota has two major medical carriers that won’t work with people using mail forwarding services. Instead, I joined Zion Health, a health-sharing organization.
- You can’t purchase a firearm. Since your South Dakota address will have PMB (Personal MailBox) on your driver’s license, you will not be able to purchase a firearm from a gun dealer or a big box store like Cabellas. This is thanks to stringent ATF laws.
How to Become a South Dakota Resident
Here’s exactly what I did to become a South Dakota resident. It was all really quick and painless!
Step #1: Join a Mail Forwarding Service
The first part of becoming a South Dakota resident is to join a mail forwarding service that will give you a physical address in South Dakota.
A mail forwarding service works by scanning the outside of an envelope, uploading it to a “virtual mailbox” and giving you the option to open & scan, shred & delete or forward. It’s a super-easy way to see your mail online while traveling full-time.
To read more about how I get mail while traveling in my van, read this article: A Guide to Getting Mail on the Road.
After thoroughly researching the options in South Dakota, I went with a company called The South Dakota Residency Center, or ChooseSD.com.
Here are a few reasons why I chose ChooseSD for my South Dakota address:
- More affordable than other mail forwarding services. My annual plan costs just $109 for 30 pieces of incoming mail per month, including 5 interior scans. In contrast, the cheapest package by a competitor, America’s Mailbox, charges $149 per year for 7 pieces of mail PER YEAR.
- Incredibly helpful customer service. While other companies took days to reply to my queries, Lynne with ChooseSD.com got back to me within a matter of hours. And trust me, I had A LOT of questions.
- Super easy sign-up process. ChooseSD.com contracts with a top mail service provider, Anytime Mailbox, which offers a really simple way to sign up and notarize forms virtually. I actually met with a notary on a video call and we took care of all the paperwork that way, instead of having to print out documents and find a notary in person
- Connected to a KOA campground. I love that ChooseSD is actually connected to a real campground in Spearfish. This makes my physical address valid!
There are other companies you can use to secure your physical address in South Dakota. Here are a few to check out for your own comparisons:
- America’s Mailbox
- Dakota Post
- Escapees (You get all the benefits of an Escapees membership. However, this address can only be used for SD official documents. You’ll receive all your regular mail at their Texas headquarters)
TIP: Keep in mind that you can’t use a personal mailbox (PMB) offered by one of these companies for your BANKING physical address. The Patriot Act requires that your bank account is tied to a physical address like a house or apartment. For this reason, many nomads use a friend or family member’s address for banking. You can still have your MAILING address be in South Dakota.
Step #2: Get Plates for Your Vehicle(s)
The next step of becoming a South Dakota resident is to get your plates and vehicle registration.
There are two ways to do this: either by mail or in person.
We chose to get our vehicle registration in person as we had to visit South Dakota anyway to get my driver’s license.
In South Dakota, the DMV is not responsible for vehicle license plates. You’ll have to visit the treasurer’s office for the county where you have your physical address.
For me, that meant Lawrence County, whose Treasurer’s Office is in the beautiful and historic city of Deadwood. (Hello, HBO series!)
Here’s what I had to bring to get South Dakota vehicle registration for my Chevy Astro van:
- My California vehicle title to give up
- My driver’s license to prove who I am (I actually used my California driver’s license, then called back later to update once I got my South Dakota license)
- My Social Security card
There was no wait at the Treasurer’s Office and a kind employee helped log all my information into their system. About 10-15 minutes later, I’d paid the $80 fee for my minivan and obtained two South Dakota plates.
Easy as that! Then, you can easily renew your plates online in the future.
Keep in mind if you do buy a new vehicle and register it in South Dakota, you’ll have to pay a 4% excise tax on that purchase. I recently did this with my new Sprinter van!
TIP: If you do your vehicle registration by mail, you need to print off and fill out the correct forms for your county, and include the form with your title and copy of your social security card. Just mail everything in! Then, the treasurer’s office will mail the plates to any address in the U.S. You don’t even need to establish residency to get plates in South Dakota.
Step #3 Stay one night in a South Dakota campground or hotel
South Dakota makes it really easy for nomads to call the state home. All you have to do is spend ONE NIGHT in a campground or a hotel and bring your receipt to a DMV.
It’s important your South Dakota address is printed on that receipt along with your name.
While we wanted to stay at the Spearfish KOA which is associated with ChooseSD, it was currently the Sturgis rally so that campground was all booked up.
We ended up staying at the Spearfish city campground right next to downtown. This is a lovely grassy campground with shade trees and a small fishing creek.
When we woke up the next morning, I asked the office for a receipt with my address and she printed it off in one minute flat. Super easy and convenient South Dakota campground!
Step #4 Visit the DMV
To get a South Dakota driver’s license, you can visit any DMV in the state. While appointments are required in some DMVs, others accept walk-ins as well.
I emailed back and forth with Lynne of my ChooseSD mail forwarding service, who recommended the DMV in Rapid City. They accepted walk-up appointments, and I went there after getting my vehicle license plates in Lawrence County.
Here’s what you need to get a South Dakota driver’s license:
- Your current license to forfeit
- A passport or birth certificate
- Proof of social security number. I brought a social security card but you can also bring a W-2 form, 1099 form, pay stub with your SSN, or Social Security administration documents saying you are ineligible for a SSN
- A receipt from your new mailbox service with your name and new address
- The receipt from the campground or hotel you stayed at showing your name and new address
- A signed Nomad Affidavit, which says you will reside in South Dakota once you’re done traveling.
- Proof of any name change if necessary
I printed and prepared all documents before going into the Rapid City DMV for my South Dakota driver’s license. A woman standing near the front door checked me in, and I waited about 10-15 minutes before getting called up.
I showed the documents, paid the $30 fee for the license, completed an eye exam and had my picture taken. The clerk printed out my new South Dakota driver’s license and I was good to go! She didn’t even ask any questions about my PMB address or mailbox in South Dakota.
The entire process took less than a half-hour total and was incredibly easy. The entire staff at the DMV was super nice and I could tell they had lots of experience dealing with nomads.
If you domicile in South Dakota, you’ll have to return every five years to get your driver’s license renewed.
TIP: In California, you have to tell the state you moved. I did this using the online DMV system. You might want to check if your state also requires you to report a move to another state.
Step #5 Register to Vote
Another important part of South Dakota residency is registering to vote.
I did this at the DMV at the same time I got my driver’s license, but you can also do this at any time.
Just a few short days after registering to vote, I got a confirmation letter sent to my South Dakota mailbox verifying my registration.
Simple as that!
Step #5 Change your Vehicle Insurance
Don’t forget to change your car insurance over to your new South Dakota address.
I use Geico and easily did this online.
My auto insurance literally went down 50% when I switched to Spearfish, South Dakota. Cheap auto insurance rates are one of many reasons full time travelers choose to call South Dakota home!
Step #6 Make local connections in South Dakota
In order to prove your residency in a new state, it’s important to make as many connections as you can in your new city and county.
We’ve heard horror stories of some RVers who establish residency in a new state to have their old state challenge the move and come after them for back taxes.
Some full time travelers have even had to settle this in court!
Here are a few ways you can make connections in your new domicile state:
- Open a bank account with a local bank or credit union. I chose to open an account with the Black Hills Federal Credit Union
- Sign up for your local library branch.
- Join a church, temple or mosque in the area
- Get an accountant or CPA based in your new city
- Make connections with doctor and dentist’s offices and schedule appointments if possible
- Join local hiking or meetup groups in your area
- Get your car repaired in South Dakota
The more connections you can show to South Dakota, the better!
What I’m doing for health insurance as a new South Dakota resident
Health insurance in South Dakota isn’t really all that great, especially for a working-age person not on Medicare.
When I wrote to a health insurance agent based in Spearfish, she basically told me it’s impossible for someone with a PMB (personal mailbox address) to get health insurance using the state’s health exchange.
Both major medical carriers know all the mail forwarding services in South Dakota and don’t believe they are a real physical address.
The insurance agent went on to suggest I get a short-term health insurance plan, which I’m opposed to. (To learn why, read my in-depth post on health insurance for full-time travelers)
I decided to go with Zion Health, a health sharing organization based out of Utah.
Zion is NOT traditional health insurance, but a way to share expenses with other members. Instead of a co-pay or deductible, I have three Initial Unsharable Amounts (IUA) of $1,000. Once I reach that amount, Zion pays the rest.
After I’ve used up all three IUAs in a 12-month period, Zion then steps in and covers everything else.
I have free wellness checks and 24/7 access to Teledoc services. For me, joining Zion Health made perfect sense as they cover incidents worldwide and the price is cheaper than what I paid for health care in California.
I’m glad I became a South Dakota resident
Becoming a South Dakota resident was super easy. I’m excited to explore this beautiful state even more by visiting places like the Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, Custer State Park and Mt. Rushmore.
Plus, you just can’t beat living in a state with no income tax!
From opening a bank account and registering to vote to getting your car insurance changed over, these tips should help make the transition smoother for anyone looking to call South Dakota home full-time or part time.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or email me at [email protected]!
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