A lot has been written about full-time RV living, and picking and acquiring your domicile state of choice.
The best place to get a crash course that I’ve found is the Escapees domicile page.
I don’t want to rehash all of that. There are good reasons for each of the popular states and each should be weighed based on your families requirements. Rather than covering the pros and cons of each state I’d rather talk about our ”adventure” in getting my Texas domicile and moving all of our vehicle registrations to Texas. All the other examples I find seem to be really straight forward, “We arrived in Livingston and before lunch we were done!” Yeah, that isn’t how it went for us.
Why we chose Texas
The three common full-time domicile options are: North Dakota, Texas, & Florida. All have no income tax for standard income AND capital gains (a few other states do collect on capital gains but not standard income.)
North Dakota tends to be a little less expensive than the others but you have to swing through for vehicle registrations (I’m told that isn’t always the case anymore but haven’t confirmed…) and they don’t have as many options for market healthcare if you need that. Florida has the best market healthcare options and similar pricing as Texas; you also need to swing through for vehicle registration renewals every two years. Texas – middle of the road market healthcare options, middle of the road registration prices – but if you’re out of state you don’t have to be present to renew your registration, you just have to get the vehicles that are due for registration inspected once you’re back in Texas.
Between those options it was pretty clear for us – ND sounded good, but we left Oregon in November – we didn’t want to drive the northern route to ND to spend the night to establish residency that time of year. Florida is a *long* way from Oregon, and we weren’t planning on driving straight down – we wanted to meander along the west coast to visit friends. Also visiting Florida every two years isn’t particularly convenient when we don’t know where we’ll be.
That left Texas. It’s really the center of the country so we’ll probably swing through semi-frequently as we crisscross the country – but we don’t have to.
So it’s Texas – let’s talk about the details of getting it all sorted out.
First off – we’d just bought our RV about a month prior to leaving in Phoenix. We also had the Explorer that was given to us by Sasha’s parents – two vehicle titles that weren’t registered in our names in OR yet.
Oregon is the rare state (with just NJ I believe) where we don’t have sales tax – or a tax on buying vehicles. In researching bringing vehicles to Texas it was clear that if they were registered and owned by us in OR then we would only need to pay a transfer fee (~$90 instead of many thousands for the RV) So we registered both in Oregon to get Oregon plates & tags for them. We spent about $700 dollars in OR registrations for both vehicles (the RV being the majority) to save about $5k in TX vehicle registrations had we instead directly registered in TX after establishing our residency there. It pays to research things like this ahead of time!
Once I declared myself a resident of Texas -a new state of domicile- I have 30 days to get vehicles registered, and 90 days to get my TX drivers license.
First, a mailing address
I signed up for our mailbox with Escapees first. The process is pretty straight forward – the only sticking point is you need to fill out a USPS form and then get the form notarized before sending it to escapees.
We also transferred our insurance from Oregon to Texas – at the same time we moved from a part-time RV policy to a fulltime RV policy – do your research – you absolutely want a fulltime policy when fulltiming.
A few notes about our specific situation. Texas requires people with RVs over 26,000 lbs GROSS combined (not what you actually weigh, what you are rated to weigh. Our gross is much higher than that at 54,600 lbs (and many people are probably pulling a 5th combo over this and not properly licensed.) So, not only did I have to get a Texas drivers license but I also need a non-commercial class B license (I would need a non-commercial class A if we trailered something over 10k lbs.)
We arrived in El Paso TX on December 9. The next morning I called the local heavy vehicle inspection station Pro Tech Diesel right down the street from the RV park we were staying in. We headed over there and one of their techs came out, sat in the RV, checked the VIN and the mileage. They pulled the explorer in to a bay and checked that the OBDII readiness was good, and sent us on our way with two inspection certs for $37. That was easy!
Now we had everything we needed – it was time to fill out a bunch of state forms!
The Escapees list of forms was 100% spot on. I was able to find all but one of the forms online easily – the VTR-272 form came from a random county. Apparently it isn’t important enough to include on the main TX site… Here is a copy in case anyone else finds it tough to locate.
I filled out all the forms and calculated all the fees. The fee for the RV registration is based on the unloaded vehicle weight of the UVW – I sent a screenshot from the spec brochure with our specific model’s UVW highlighted.
Rather than going in to the Polk tax assessors office (since we weren’t in Livingston. Texas is, as you might know, huge. Livingston is on the other side of Texas from El Paso.) I mailed all of the required forms, the inspection certs and copies of our insurance and my then Oregon drivers license. I attached two checks – one for the RV, & one for the explorer. I also attached a blank check and wrote a short note to use it if i’d messed up any of the mat (it’s complicated!) so that everything could get wrapped up without sending another check.
You can’t get your TX drivers license without your TX vehicle registrations so we were in a holding pattern until that was finished.
A few days after mailing those I received a phone call from a very helpful staffer at the Polk tax office reviewing the giant envelope of paperwork I’d sent over. She walked through everything and thankfully I’d completed all the forms correctly… but I’d missed a few fees (how unexpected!) She was nice enough to accept my blank check and write in the difference. She also needed a photo of the sticker by the drivers seat showing weights of the coach. This sticker does *not* contain the UVW and only shows GVWR – she did end up using the UVW for registration fee purposes but wanted a photo of the sticker as well.
A few days after that our escapees mailbox had a fresh mail scan of a license plate sized package from Polk county. I asked them to open it and scan the registration pages since those were needed to get my drivers license and we still weren’t in Livingston for a while yet.
Texas Drivers License – the B means it’s better
With that, I took my license form, my passport, and a print-out of the vehicle registration form down to the licensing office. We were in Victoria, TX now.
A note: Texas has a *very* useful feature – you can get in line online so you just go to the license office at your scheduled time and just about go right up to the counter – super useful.
Forms were sent in, and I finally had everything I needed to get a Texas drivers license. A class C license, that is. You can’t get a class B non-commercial license at the same time; you have to take a written test and then a drive test. Annnddd you can’t schedule the drive test until you have a Texas DL…. Fun order of operations waiting game starts.
With all my paperwork present, I get my class C license. I then filled out another form requesting a class B non-commercial, and took a test. It’s the same computer-click-through CDL test that a trucker has to pass but the pass score is lower than a trucker.
I took a few online CDL classes and they helped me prepare – I, uh, just barely passed (1 more question and I was doomed!) I then had a class B non-commercial learners permit (a folded piece of paper drivers license) and they mailed my class C license to Livingston.
As I no longer had an Oregon license (you can drive anything on a class C license as long as its non-commercial) and I now had a class C TX license I was in a grey area of not technically being able to legally drive the RV… The license folks I asked shrugged and said, “yep, that’s normal, don’t worry about it.”
With my then passed written portion, I was given a code to schedule a drive-test. Only some of the licensing sites provide class A/B drive tests and fewer still provide non-commercial tests.
We were in Houston next so I scheduled one there. When I arrived I was told that despite all my paperwork being correct that because the RV had Oregon plates that it wasn’t a valid vehicle to take the test in. Boo! It took a week of scheduling and we drove 45 min one way to get there!
From Houston we headed up to Livingston – got our plates and finally had TX plates on both vehicles.
I picked the next drive-test in a nearby town to Livingston (they don’t offer CDL tests in Livingston.)
A day before the test I received an email saying that my appointment was cancelled and that the town only does fire and ambulance CDL tests. Boo again!
I made a 3rd drive-test appointment in the next small town that offers CDL. I arrive and am *finally* allowed to take the test, hurray! The test was pretty straight forward – drive around some normal scenarios – side streets, on and off a freeway and then a straight backing test in an industrial part of town. All of it was pretty easy and took about 25 min. At the end, I received a passing grade with the only noted issue being that I should stop earlier and roll up to intersections. My tip: just keep your eyes/head always moving between mirrors and windshield. The rear backing was easy – I relied heavily on my backup camera but checked my mirrors – not sure if the proctor could see as far back as they were.
That was the day I finally had my paper Texas non-commercial Class B. It was legal for me to drive our home on wheels around again!
Pain points that others can hopefully avoid:
Order of operations is critical – vehicle inspection, vehicle registration, class C license, schedule drive test, class B license.
Consider mailing services that aren’t as popular with full-time RV people. Polk county RV insurance rates are very expensive. I attribute this to so many full time RV people using it as their mailing address. Insurance rates outside of Polk are *much* nicer. We’ll likely re-domicile elsewhere in TX to save ~50% on insurance.
Wrapping it up
From start to finish – mostly the drive test scheduling pain – the whole process took us from Dec 10th to Jan 15th and required 4+ trips to the state licensing offices.
If you’re a full-time RVer, Have you changed your domicile yet? How was your experience? Are you still thinking about changing your domicile? What resources are you using to figure out the process?