Why Florida Residency?

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2015 • all rights reserved

If you're a full-time cruiser with no house or other land base, you can choose what state to be a resident of. Why we chose Florida.

On Monday, Dave and I became official Florida residents. I’ll write more about just exactly how we did this (it’s a little more complicated when a boat is your only home), but first is the question of why we chose Florida.

I mean, if we don’t have a land-based dwelling, why choose one state over another?

Everyone will have a somewhat different factual situation and I want to emphasize that the choice depends a lot on the specifics.

First off, why do you have to be a resident somewhere? Well, you pretty much have to have a residence for tax purposes, getting a driver’s license, voting and other legalities. As far as I know, all banks require you to have a legal address, too.

Our situation is that we no longer rent or own real estate anywhere and do not want to use a friend’s or relative’s address as ours. We wanted to use a mail handling service and use our address there as our legal address.

If you are using a mail service as your address (that is, no physical address in the state), there are only a couple of states that will accept it for things like car/boat registration, driver’s license, and voting. Florida and South Dakota are the primary ones, although I’ve heard it can be done in Texas, too.

In other states, you have to come up with a physical residential (non-commercial) address. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard, both on cruising and RV sites. I didn’t bother with calling state offices.

We knew from scores of other cruisers that St. Brendan’s Isle mail handling service (located in Florida) both did a very good job with mail AND had spent time educating county officials as to the peculiar circumstances of full-time cruisers/RVers/entertainers and others with no fixed address. In short, it’s relatively easy to establish residency in Green Cove Springs and take care of the legal formalities.

So ease of using a mail service as our address was a big factor in choosing Florida. Add in that we actually are planning to base ourselves in Florida, the decision was pretty simple. I mean, we have no real connection to South Dakota, the mail services there are more geared to serving the RV population than cruisers, and it’d be out of our way to go there to do the initial formalities. Since we’ll be in Florida, it makes sense to be able to vote here, particularly on issues that affect cruisers (or least to vote for a representative).

There’s also the fact that Florida has no state income tax (neither does SD). But that’s countered by high insurance rates if you have a car (depends on ZIP code where vehicle is; about 35% higher than our rate in Illinois, same vehicle, almost identical coverage). It looks like health insurance rates will be higher as Florida residents than as Illinois residents, but there will be more options available (SD has notoriously few choices). Overall, we think that financially it’ll be about a wash for us versus our old home in Illinois; I did not compare to South Dakota but I’m guessing that SD would have been a little cheaper overall.

So here we are! Residents of Green Cove Springs, Florida.

If you're a full-time cruiser with no house or other land base, you can choose what state to be a resident of. Why we chose Florida.

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  1. What about state registration for boats? do you have an article comparing registration prices/rules and sales tax? We chose to register our boat in Florida upon purchase due to lower costs.

    • I don’t really, since most states link registration to using the boat in that state. In other words, if you use the boat in that state for more than X days, you have to register it there. Even when we were Illinois residents, the boat and dinghy were both registered in Florida.

    • For us we planned on being out of the states, gone cruising, indefinitely. Although our boat will not be IN any state, we still had to register it somewhere for sales tax purposes, otherwise we would have to pay sales tax on the purchase if/when we did return to the states.

    • And that’s definitely a consideration. Our previous boat was both purchased and sold in Mexico, so it was never registered in any state. Here, we purchased it and are using it in Florida, so we had to register it in Florida.

  2. It’s better than Illinois that had a law to register floating rafts & inner tubes a couple years ago – until they realized the ridiculousness

  3. Great piece, Carolyn.

    I have a question related to Jody Pountain’s (above). The Alabama sales tax for our boat was just one-third of what it would have been in Florida and our annual registration fees are very low.

    How will (or did) Florida handle your new boat’s taxes and registration?

    Thank you for what you do. Blessings as you make memories on Barefoot Gal.


    • Florida law requires that if you intend to use the boat there more than 90 days must register it there (even if it’s a documented vessel). Since we were going to be there well over 90 days (it’s been over a year now), we registered it when we purchased it (we purchased it in Florida).

  4. While the mail service you signed up for is excellent and helps you get established, you will probably find if you keep returning to one spot or area it may be a savings to rethink your mail provider. Local stores have PO boxes as well and forward mail to wherever you request it. After switching from SBI, I found I was saving $150-200/year. Every time you want your mail (unless you are berthed near Green Cove Springs), you will have to pay to forward your mail. Those fees add up quick. And I agree Florida residency for most is a good idea especially coming from a state like Maryland. Sure extended my cruising kitty.

    • We have used a mail forwarding service before and yes, the costs can add up — although nowhere near as much if you’re in the US vs. in foreign countries (we were in Mexico and had to have everything shipped DHL).

      While we plan to base ourselves in the Florida Keys this winter, we don’t want to tie ourselves down to one location. SBI fit our needs, but others may find other solutions work better for their needs.

  5. Lets not forget the perennial battle to preserve anchoring rights in Florida.

  6. we keep our brendan’s isle address in addition to our PO BOX in Puerto Rico. it’s a great service, been with them for 12 yrs..

  7. We have been with St. Brendan’s for three years now. When we renewed our Coast Guard documentation, the lady asked us if Green Cove Springs was a nice place to live because so many people are from there…lol. We have not totally made the switch yet because we have concerns about being called for jury duty. We are travelling at the moment and will continue to do so for quite awhile. Has anyone had this come up while travelling?

    • Susan Parker says:

      Florida’s Circuit Courts allow a deferral for up to 6 months. If you are 70 or older, you can opt out permanently

  8. We considered relocating to Florida until we found out how ANTI-BOATER they are.

  9. Thanks for the insight. We will be moving to Florida within the next 18 months. We plan to become residents and to buy a liveaboard catamaran. I’ve been looking at utilizing Brendan’s Isle mail handling service as well. We will actually need to start using something like that starting in November 2015. Do you have to physically go there to get it set up, or could you feasibly set it up online/phone?

  10. Thanks for the insight. We will be moving to Florida within the next 18 months. We plan to become residents and to buy a liveaboard catamaran. I’ve been looking at utilizing Brendan’s Isle mail handling service as well. We will actually need to start using something like that starting in November 2015. Do you have to physically go there to get it set up, or could you feasibly set it up online/phone?

  11. leigh ann says:

    We relocated to FL from IL 2 years ago. While not live aboards (started out with that plan but diverted to buying a house), we are boaters. We live in Punta Gorda on a canal that links to the Gulf via Charlotte Harbor! If you are ever in our area shoot me an email and we can show you are slice of paradise! After living in TN, CA, IL & FL, we have concluded that all states will get your $$$ one way or another!!

  12. We have been with SBI for a couple of years and love it. On medical insurance we went with Blue Cross as they seem to have a extensive network across the US, we are currently in California.

    As to where you can be a resident South Dakota and Florida are the only states. Texas was a couple of years ago but quit as far as I know.

    The main reason for SBI is that in all states you must provide a address of a brick & mortar residence to be a resident. Mail box services are noted as such with the USPS and USPS shares that information. Florida & S/D allow mail box services to serve as a brick & mortar residence.

  13. We are ‘resident’ in WA which also has no state income tax. No sales tax on the purchase of a boat if you move it out of the state after a year, just a use tax, under $1000 for our boat ( several years ago) we have has no problem with our address. For income tax, banks etc.

  14. I would also guess the lack of state income tax.

  15. We must be neighbors… We just got our Green Cove Springs address too!

  16. Dawn Lotti, I asked question when we went for our drivers license . We also do cruise. They told me that you tell them you are on a boat and out of the area. You are let go from jury duty for that call. You do that every time and still are fine for not going.
    We lived in Ohio and I got called right before we moved so I called and explained we were moving and I will not be living in the state . Surprise to me they just said “no problem” I did not have to show proof either .

  17. Welcome SBI neighbor! Box #7146 here.
    Love SBI and love how they helped us get residency. Interesting fact, 411 Walnut street is a cobblestone alley with the most residents in Clay County. If you plan to stop in, call for directions as GPS is pointless.

    • 411 Walnut is where the company started. It’s now physically located at 1501 County Road 315 (with this address, GPS works just fine) but the Post Office let them keep the old address since so many people used it. Another example of how the town supports those of us at SBI.

  18. Sally White says:

    I recently visited with Scott at SBI while visiting my daughter. FL has a new law that says if you only have a mail service address, even if you are USCG documented, you must register your boat in FL. or you can use a relative’s physical address and SBI as the mailing address to avoid this extra fee. We don’t want to cruise FL and will use our daughter address and SBI. Also, you need your current drivers license, 2 utility bills showing physical address AND a passport or birth certificate and marriage certificate if your last name has changed. What a hassle.

    • Pretty much every state has a similar requirement when moving there. Illinois did when we moved there in 2008 — had to show specific documents to title vehicle and get driver’s license, as well as for voter’s registration.

  19. Paulette says:

    Welcome to North Florida! We live in Neptune Beach and dock our boat in Palm Cove Marina. Summers are HOT but winters are fabulous.

  20. Patrick hilley says:

    spam ? hmmm. well dont know if you get this or not , but my question is : is it illegal to have a p.o. box if you are a liveaboard and cant get a clear yes or no.what happened to the home of the FREE and brave?

  21. I like the benefit of Homesteading now that we own a condo in Stuart, Fl.

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