Establishing Residency at St. Brendan’s Isle

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2015 • all rights reserved

Step-by-step instructions for establishing residency at St. Brendan's Isle mail service. Use it as your legal address when living aboard your boat and cruising full-time or full-time RVing.

I’ve written previously about why we chose to become Florida residents while cruising full-time, and how we chose St. Brendan’s Isle (SBI) for our mail handling service.

Now, down the the nitty-gritty of exactly how we went about getting things switched over. This is our experience and I’m relating it to help others but realize that policies and requirements can change and your situation is likely not identical to ours. Still, I know that I would have like a bit of guidance on how to do all this and what order to do things in, so I’m relating how we did it.

NOTE: It’s a long post with lots of details — you may want to print it out, make a copy of it (see how to do that here), pin it on Pinterest or bookmark it for reference as you’re planning your move.

Step 1 – Get Your SBI Address

Begin by signing up for SBI’s mail handling service. You can do this online, and note that there are several levels of service to choose between and you also get to choose whether you want them to “pitch the junk” (all or everything except marine-related for cruisers/RV-related for RVers). You’ll put $100 on account via credit card, which will be tapped for the monthly fees and costs of mail shipped to you.

You’ll get back an email with your new address and a link to download USPS Form 1583. This is the form that allows them to send your mail on to you — you can have mail forwarded to SBI before submitting it, but they can’t forward it to you until they receive it. SBI’s instructions with the form are quite good — be sure to note Box 5, so they can sign for any mail for you. Important: this form has to be notarized and you have to send copies of two pieces of ID (generally passport and driver’s license; the instructions tell other acceptable forms) when you mail it to SBI.

Step 2 – Change Your Address

File a change of address form at the post office and change your address with businesses, etc. You need to do this far enough in advance of when you’ll be going to get your driver’s license that some mail has actually gone to your SBI address.

Remember to change your address with:

  • Credit cards (and find out exactly when to start using the Green Cove Springs ZIP code at gas pumps!)
  • Banks and investment firms
  • Pension, if applicable
  • IRS and state tax authorities if you have refunds due or ongoing disputes, etc.
  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Memberships (Boat US, AARP, etc.)
  • Boat insurance (auto and health insurance will change as part of the move; don’t change them now)

NOTE: Since we are in the US, we prefer that friends and family send any packages directly to us at a marina or other place that will accept them for us. Ditto when we were cruising Mexico. Consequently, we don’t give our SBI address to friends and family, instead telling them that if they have something to send us, call/text/email us to find out where to send it.

THE FOLLOWING STEPS CAN THEORETICALLY BE DONE BY MAIL AND IN OTHER COUNTIES FOR THOSE ITEMS WHERE YOU HAVE TO APPEAR IN PERSON, BUT WE’VE BEEN TOLD BY SEVERAL PEOPLE WHO TRIED IT THAT IT’S MUCH EASIER TO SIMPLY GO TO GREEN COVE SPRINGS AND DO EVERYTHING IN PERSON.

We did go to Green Cove Springs (it’s just outside Jacksonville and a nice little town on the St. Johns River) and the following took us just under 3-1/2 hours, including driving from place to place. Of course, lines at the various offices will vary and getting vehicle insurance will also vary, so I’d suggest allowing more time.

We had Paz, our small dog, with us and it was hot enough that we could not leave her in the car. At several of the offices, one of us stayed in the lobby area (air conditioned!) with her in a carrier bag while the other took care of their business, then we reversed roles. It would have been slightly faster without the dog, but not a lot.

Before going to Green Cove Springs (GCS), do the following:

  • Download and complete the Declaration of Domicile from the SBI website (it’s in the “My Account/Forms” section and can’t be accessed until you sign up for their service). You need one for each person. Don’t bother to have it notarized in advance. Date it the day you’re going to CGS.
  • If you have a vehicle, find an insurance agent in GCS and learn how to transfer your insurance. This will vary by company (or you may want to change companies; if so, allow extra time for setting up a new account). We had to show up in person at the State Farm office to transfer ours but it was a simple process.
  • If you don’t have a GPS or GPS app, print out Google Maps of the places you need to go. It’ll save a lot of time!
  • If you suspect that you need new glasses, do it before changing your driver’s license. You have to pass a vision exam.
  • Gather up your paperwork:
    • Passport (assuming you have one — it’s the easiest thing to use for ID purposes)
    • Current Driver’s License — second form of ID
    • Social Security card
    • Car title(s)
    • If boat is not already titled/registered in Florida, you’ll need the existing state title or certificate of documentation. If boat is Florida registered, you’ll need the registrataion numbers to do the change of address on it.
    • Declaration of Domicile
    • Voter Registration form
    • If any of your documents are in a different name, be sure to take your marriage certificate (the official one not the church one) or a court order of name change. In such case, carefully check the appropriate web sites to make sure you have all the correct documents.

Since 9/11, identification requirements for various government transactions have become much stricter. The SBI website and links provided there explain exactly what forms of ID are needed in which places — don’t think that you can get by with anything less. Having your passport and driver’s license with you is by far the easiest (and in some places, noted below, you’ll need additional materials).

On the day that you do this, dress neatly (doesn’t have to be fancy, shorts and t-shirt are fine, but be neat and tidy with nothing controversial on your t-shirt). Watch out for hat hair — the last step in all this will be to have your driver’s license photo taken!

Step 3 – Pick Up Mail at SBI

Despite the fact that the SBI address is 411 Walnut Street, their office moved years ago (the post office let them keep the 411 Walnut address rather than make the thousands of customers all go through an address change — another indication of how the community here “gets” the service that SBI offers). The actual location is:

1501 County Road 315, Green Cove Springs

SBI opens at 9 AM. You’ll need a few pieces of mail addressed to you at your SBI address in order to use that address for boat and car registration and your driver’s license. Don’t throw the envelopes away until you’ve done all the steps!

Step 4 – File the Declaration of Domicile

Go to the Clay County Courthouse and file the Declaration of Domicile — they’ll notarize it right there for you. If you have a passport, that’s the only form of ID you’ll need (I’m not sure what you’ll need without a passport). You’ll get back a copy with a sticker on it showing that it was filed. Keep this — you’ll need it for the Voter Registration.

Clay County Courthouse, Room 101

825 N. Orange Ave., Green Cove Springs

You’ll have to pass through a metal detector (bags are x-rayed) to get into the courthouse and there is a long list of things that you can’t take in, including firearms and less obvious items such as spray bottles. Paz was not allowed past the metal detector but was allowed in the lobby, so we took turns filing and dog-sitting.

The courthouse opens at 8:30 AM, so you could go here and the Supervisor of Elections office before going to SBI, which opens at 9.

Do not back-date the Declaration of Domicile — you have just 10 days from the date of establishing residency to do certain things, such as titling/registering vehicles.

Cost for us was $15 per person; surcharge if you use a credit card.

Step 5 – Register to Vote

Register to vote at the Supervisor of Elections office. They’ll make a copy of your Declaration of Domicile. Get a form stating that your registration is pending (it takes 24 hours for it to go through — you’ll get your registered voter card in the mail). You may or may not need this at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Supervisor of Elections

500 N. Orange Ave., Green Cove Springs

The office is not with all the other county offices — it’s a few blocks away in a small strip center on the opposite side of the street. Our dog Paz was allowed inside the office here. No charge for registering or copying forms.

NOTE: Their computer system recognizes “411 Walnut” as a commerical address and won’t allow it as your physical address, so that will be used as your mailing address and you’ll be given a dummy physical address of 1 Clay County, Green Cove Springs, which they’ve set up just for this purpose. If you ever go to check on your registration status online, the 1 Clay County address is the one you’ll need. Basically, it’s just that while Florida allows you to use a mail service as your legal address, the voter registration computer system doesn’t reflect this. Luckily, the Clay County officials understand that what you’re doing is legal.

Step 6 – Vehicle Insurance

If you have a vehicle (car, truck, SUV) that you’ll be titling, the next step is to get proof of Florida insurance. Be sure to get the binder document (temporary card, whatever your company calls it) as you’ll have to have it at DMV.

One note from our State Farm agent: with SF, you have to provide a physical address in Florida where the vehicle will be based. You do not have to provide proof of residency at that address, but your rates will be based on that ZIP code. This can be a marina or even a storage facility/parking lot. She told us that if the vehicle would primarily be present in another state, SF would not insure it but some other insurance companies would (we didn’t ask which ones since the situation didn’t apply to us).

Step 7 – Department of Motor Vehicles

This is where you’ll do the boat title/registration, vehicle title/registration (license plate) and get your driver’s license. It took us almost exactly an hour, but the boat was already registered in Florida. The line was pretty short when we went, too — I’d allow at least two hours, possibly more, and be pleased if it’s shorter.

The people we dealt with in the office were very pleasant and efficient. But you’re doing a bunch of very detailed transactions and it just takes time.

Department of Motor Vehicles

477 Houston Street (next building south of courthouse on Orange Street; entrance is from side street where the visitor parking is located)

The office you need is straight ahead as you enter the building. We were allowed to bring Paz in her carrier into the lobby but not into the DMV office.

As you go through the doors, go straight ahead to the receptionist’s desk and get a number, then sit and wait for it to be called. We were able to do all three transactions with one person; since much of the documentation was the same for  Dave and I, when I had done my part they had me go out to the lobby with Paz and send Dave in to do his, then we swapped again and I finished things up.

IMPORTANT: If your boat(s) or vehicle(s) are jointly titled, you’ll have to both be there.

Boat title/registration: Our boat is documented and was already registered in Florida, and the dinghy was both titled and registered in Florida. We only had to change the address. I had to show my passport and existing driver’s license, the voter registration form, my Social Security card and two pieces of mail sent to the new address. (Dave had to show the same documents when he came in to do his half of the transaction.)

NOTE: Documented vessels won’t get a Florida title, but do have to be registered. The dinghy will get a title and registration. Depending on whether/how long you’re owned the boat(s) in another state, you may or may not have to pay sales tax, which can be a considerable expense . . . check this out ahead of time so it won’t be a shock.

The boat registration (or change of address) has to be done first as you have to have a vessel registed in Florida at the SBI address in order to title a car or get a driver’s license with that address.

Vehicle title and registration: I had to turn over the existing title and show proof of Florida insurance on our SUV. Since Dave and I jointly owned the vehicle, the transaction couldn’t be completed until we’d both signed all the forms. We didn’t need any ID or proof of residency other than what we’d provided above, but she did have to print out a copy of our boat registration (with the new address) and the Florida boat registration number is shown on both the title work and our driver’s licenses as part of our SBI address.

You must have your car with you as they will verify the VIN number and the odometer reading.

If you’ve purchased your vehicle in the last six months, you’ll have to pay Florida sales tax to the extent that it exceeds the sales tax you paid in your previous state. Read more about titling/registering a vehicle as a new Florida resident (official DMV website).

You’ll get a new license plate and a paper registration form; the title will be mailed. NOTE: the first time you plate a vehicle in Florida, there is an extra $225 Initial Registration Fee. Learn more about this fee and when it applies here.

Driver’s license: We only had to show our previous driver’s license (she clipped the corner to show it was no longer valid, but we got it back) and take a vision test. Neither of us had to take a written or driving test. Neither of us has any points or citations on our record; apparently you may have to take a written and/or driving test in some cases if you have a poor driving record in your previous state (I find mention of taking these tests “in some cases” but didn’t find a simple explanation to link to).

Assuming you pass the vision and other tests, you’ll have your photo taken (they’ll even retake it if it doesn’t look good!) and you’ll get your new license on the spot.

Pay the fees. You can pay by cash, check (out of state is okay) or credit card. Credit card payments have a surcharge (I think 3%). Depending on whether you have to pay sales tax on your boat(s) and vehicle(s), and the Initial Registration Fee on one or more vehicles, the total can be substantial.

You’re done in Green Cove Springs! Hopefully you’ll have the same smooth experience we did — having all your documents in order ahead of time is key. And don’t forget that you still need to do things like change your health insurance to Florida.

Establishing residency at St. Brendan's Isle mail service. Use it as your legal address when living aboard your boat and cruising full-time or full-time RVing.

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Comments

  1. Great post. Will have to remember this when we sell our condo in Texas.

  2. Bill Dixon says:

    Thanks for this Carolyn. We need to do Drivers licenses and voter reg. When we return to Florida in the fall. Right about other locations not coping well with mailing addresses. Our corrent drivers licenses show the boat FL numbers as address.

  3. excellent

  4. Fantastic information!

  5. Well written and very clear. Wish we had this before our 1st trip there when we set up residence in Florida. It took us 2 trips from Virginia and a 3rd when we opted to buy a car for the summer in Virginia and had to take it to Florida for the visual inspection of vin and odometer.

  6. Great info thanks!

  7. We’ve been with St. Brendan’s Isle for years but recently hit a glitch. We had an investment account with Schwab which paid an exceptionally low interest rate. We wanted to transfer the funds and open a Schwab checking account, primarily so we could use a debit card with no ATM fees. The new account was denied because we do not have a U.S. “residential” address. Our 411 Walnut Street is listed as a “commercial” address. We were both surprised and disappointed. We then moved Schwab funds to another already existing U.S. account that pays higher interest rates (though also charges ATM fees.) Banking rules for those of us outside the U.S. have become quite stringent!

    • Hi, Mary, Charles Schwab was able to help me to get around those “residential rules”. Apparently the Patriot Act requires they do some extra steps for those with “no fixed address”. I was able to satisfy that and use a PO Box as my address. I did have to call them and talk to Customer Service though. Hope it works for you!

  8. Dana LeTourneau says:

    Great job Carolyn. We’ve been ‘residents’ of 411 Walnut St. for over 3 years now without a hitch. SBI folks are wonderful and responsive to requests.
    Best to Dave and Paws.

  9. Dennis K. Biby says:

    Great post. On Tuesday I started at SBI but didn’t find the bank mail that I was expecting; however, SBI told me that DMV would accept a bank statement print out. I started at DMV with passport, social security card, driver’s license, printouts from credit union and AMEX with 411 Walnut St. address, and USCG boat doc. Less than an hour later, I had a FL driver’s license, FL sticker for my boat, and voter registration – all at one counter. This is the seventh state that I’ve gone through DMV for a driver’s license and FL ranks at the top for service and experience.

  10. Funny story…When we renewed our documention with the Coast Guard the lady at the Coast Guard office said, ‘that must be a really nice place. A lot of boaters live there’.

  11. Charlotte says:

    Interesting Carolyn. We left California in 2012 and got an address with a Seattle WA UPS store with a ‘street address’. We have used it as a mailing address since then ( including for banks and income tax ) with no problems. At the same time we got drivers licenses using this address. Last year we received a letter from the WA DMV recinding our licenses as we do not live at this address. The reason they gave for this is the Patriot Act, which is a federal, not a state law.
    Luckily we have UK drivers licenses that we can use. I am surprised that St Brendans Isle customers have not had this problem, long may it continue. We cruise full-time and are rarely in the USA. There must be a way cruisers and other full-time ‘travelers’ can keep their drivers license without a permanent US address? I assume that using a friend or relatives address would not officially be considered a permanent address as well. What do you think?

    • To do it at SBI (Florida), we had to file a “Declaration of Domicile” at the county courthouse and follow all the other steps to comply with the Patriot Act — getting our driver licenses could only happen AFTER we’d done all the other steps. I don’t know if the State of Washington offers something similar — I’m guessing not, since Florida and South Dakota seem to be the only states that have systems in place.

    • P. Smith says:

      In reply to Charlotte, the 2 of us are currently being confronted w/ this new DMV DL problem. Not sure how we’ll sort it out as our boat is home and foreign registered, and SBI has been our only address since we signed up w/ them years ago through the original owner, Jackie. The whole reason we signed up with SBI was to have our own address, so as to stop asking friends and family to deal w/ our mail, but the “Certification of Address” form seems to require just that: an address other than SBI’s. Fortunately one of us has a French license, though the other holds a FL/Clay County one.

      • We were able to do the Certification of Address using our SBI address, with our Voter’s Registration and Florida boat registration as the supporting documents from the list at http://floridadmvbooklet.com/forms/residential-address-proof/ We also do have FL auto and boat insurance, health insurance, mail from our investment company all with that same address — one of the reasons for having to do things in the order listed in the article above. The DL has to be the last thing!

  12. Headed back to the States to visit and this is job #1. Thank you, Carolyn!

  13. Two years away from being a permanent FL resident – already have a home down there, part timer right now.

    Would like to have a mail handling service, but don’t plan on being a full time live aboard in need of a ‘new’ address.

    Does SBI support on again, off again, type arrangements – say for three or four months at a time while cruising?

  14. Gary Costa says:

    Has anyone used SBIs address for their health insurance with Obamacare? If so as your primary physical address or as a mailing address? I understand the insurance company base premiums on physical address and many doctors would be in that area

    • Yes, I do — as my physical address as well as mailing address. I make sure to get a policy with a national network of doctors and hospitals (Blue Cross/Blue Shield).

      • Gary Costa says:

        Carolyn, is the procedure to give to address to the Healthcare exchange who then gives it to Florida Blue and your premiums are based on SBI zip code? Which Florida Blue plan did you find gives you the best coverage?

        • Gary — the coverage varies with the cost. What works for me (higher deductible) may not be right for you. I have a Florida Blue Silver level plan. Florida Blue has two general networks — “Select” and “Options” — Options is more expensive but a much larger network. We thought it worthwhile since we are all over the state and the US, but if you’re in one area and the doctors and hospitals you want are in the Select network, it’s a way to save money. You really have to think about your lifestyle and how much risk you are willing to take as far as the deductible and network size are concerned.

  15. Great information. For you, State Farm worked but has anyone found a vehicle insurer that does not require the vehicle to be physically located in Florida? Or how do you get around this?

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