Domicile States for RVers – South Dakota

What is a domicile state? What’s the best state to claim for RV domicile? What do you need to change your domicile state, and why would full-time RVers want to change?

What should you do about mail? What should you do about health and vehicle insurance?

We recently decided to change our domicile state from California to South Dakota. We made this change for a number of reasons. We are sharing our experience here. We hope it helps others who may be contemplating making a similar change.

We enter South Dakota on our way to establish a new state of residency.

From the beginning, please

In February, we were heading home from our annual trek to Quartzsite, Arizona, for the Sports, Vacation, and RV Show. We hit a ditch going the legal speed, which was entirely too fast for the ditch. When we had our trailer inspected, we learned that we had broken and bent the frame. The insurance company considered it totaled.

It’s not all sad. We were shopping for a slightly larger trailer anyway. This just sped up the process a bit. And nobody was injured.

In May we filled a storage room with all the stuff from our California sticks and bricks house and put it up for sale. Oh, yeah, we had also decided to move to New Mexico.

We hopped in the Ram and headed for Indiana to pick up our new Rockwood Mini Lite 2205S. It took five days, driving many hours every day and staying in hotels each night along the way. This, of course, is not our ideal way to travel. But we had a goal, and a pickup date.

Picking up the new Travel Trailer

We had a very pleasant experience with Rockwood and with Wana RV Center in Shipshewana, Indiana. And Shipshewana is a nice little town, as I told in this campground story.

California DMV

We spent a couple weeks being tourists and hanging out in Indiana. Tony was also trying to reach California DMV to find out when we would get our plates. The 2205S is new and had temporary dealer plates, which aren’t valid for very long. If you’ve ever dealt with California DMV, you might not be surprised to learn that this was a tedious and frustrating task.

Finally, a friend got us in touch with someone in the California DMV office who actually helped. Well, they gave us real information at least. We learned that California requires us to take our new travel trailer to a California DMV office so they can look at the VIN themselves. How do you spell “raspberry noise”? Because that’s the family-friendly version of what we said to that.


We had so many adventures planned for spring and summer. And making a trip all the way back to California was not among them. We do still plan to look for a new home in New Mexico eventually, but until our California house sells, we can’t start that process.

Thanks to the help and expertise of a few friends who have been through the process themselves, we learned of a way to get registered and not detour our plans too terribly.

There are three states that are really friendly to full-time RVers. Florida and Texas are two of them. However, they are both geographically too far from where we were. Therefore, we set our GPS toward South Dakota.

South Dakota

It turns out that to choose the Mount Rushmore State as a domicile, or residency state, you just need to spend one night in the state. And it’s a beautiful state, so that was really no hardship.

With a receipt from a hotel, campground, or other lodging place in the state, South Dakota welcomes new residents. And everyone we worked with was really knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly while doing it!

We actually spent three nights in South Dakota before heading to the Pennington County offices in Rapid City. We spent the first night in a nice KOA in the eastern part of the state.

The second night we got to stay at a Harvest Hosts site in Murdo, at the Pioneer Auto Museum. We had a great sleep, and then in the morning we ate breakfast at the Wagon Wheel Cafe. We toured the museum, which is larger than you might think. They have the original General Lee car from the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show and will blow the horn for you! Plan at least a few hours to see everything. Then, to top us off before hitting the road, we returned to the cafe and had lunch.

The third night, we arrived at America’s Mailbox in Box Elder. This location offers mail-forwarding services, as well as a campground where you can spend that one night in the state, if you haven’t already done so.

Everyone we talked to who was staying at the campground was either changing their domicile or making their annual doctor and other appointments in the area. As a campground, it’s nothing special. We did have full hookups, or you can boondock. There aren’t a lot of trees or a pool or anything. But it’s easy-access, very helpful, and the place where we will be going to pick up our mail in the future.

Visiting the Pioneer Auto museum in Murdo, South Dakota. I think this thing was made for kids, it’s a deep bend to get our faces in there.
Donna and Danecia were among the awesome staff at America’s Mailbox that helped us through the process. The lady in the background was doing the same as us. We saw that couple other places during the day.
Welcome Home says the sign, and the staff, as you enter the America’s Mailbox Box Elder facility.

Vehicle Registration

America’s Mailbox actually will help you process your registration paperwork. We decided, since we had scheduled the time for it, to head over the next morning to the county office, where we could register the travel trailer. A couple tips: if you have the time, visit the county office. It was only a couple hours, and we walked out of there with the actual license plate in hand. If you need the assistance, America’s Mailbox will help. However, it will take several weeks for processing. And they charge a fee. Oh, and your plates will have to be mailed to — well, to wherever you happen to be by then. So, we recommend you schedule the time to do it yourself.

Vehicle registration in South Dakota is not done at the DMV, as it is in California. Instead, you’ll need to go to the county treasurer’s office.

Peggy finalizes our new address paperwork. This is required before getting vehicles registered or getting a South Dakota driver license.

Be prepared

It’s easy to be prepared. Here’s what you need:

  1. Your South Dakota address. This is where America’s Mailbox comes in. Our new mailbox, with mail forwarding, is our new “residential address.”
  2. The vehicle’s title. For us, the travel trailer was easy because we had the title from the dealership after paying in full. For a vehicle that is financed, you will need some more time to get papers from your lender. We are working on that for the Ram.
  3. Your driver license. Actually, everyone on the title needs to bring their license. This can be an out-of-state license, but then you’ll also need your Social Security card. Married ladies: you may not remember this, but you should have gotten a new card when you changed your name. I messed up and gave them an old card, so I had to fill out another form stating that I was me.
  4. If you didn’t pay at least 4% tax, it will be assessed now. They call it an excise tax, but it’s pretty much sales tax. We had actually paid 6% in Indiana. I wish we were getting a refund. But I doubt it. Oh, well.
  5. The registration fee is based on vehicle type, age, and weight — also whether it is used personally or commercially. Registration for the 2205S was under $100, plus a couple bucks for a credit card processing fee. We don’t know what the Ram will cost yet, but we are willing to bet it will be less than the $400 we paid each year in California.
  6. No vehicle inspection is required. That was good for us, because the parking lot was not very large, and I don’t know where we would have parked the travel trailer for the inspection.

Getting a Driver License

Now that we had a license plate and tags for the trailer, we headed to the DMV for new driver licenses. I’m still not 100% sure we were required to do that. However, since we are changing everything else, we wanted the consistency. And I thought I read somewhere that we needed to get a new license since we registered a vehicle. But I can’t seem to find that again…

Here’s what we needed:

  1. A couple hours to wait. I had tried to make appointments online, but it wouldn’t work. So, we just went in and took a number. We only waited about an hour, maybe less.
  2. We had to forfeit our California licenses. I did not like that photo, so I wasn’t sad. LOL.
  3. Original Social Security cards. Not copies or metal cards. Again, if you don’t have one with your current name, it gets stickier. I don’t know more, because by then I had found my current card. If your card doesn’t match, you may need a marriage certificate or something.
  • Actually, the lady at my window was having trouble with the computer processing mine, so I also provided my birth certificate. Tony didn’t have to do that.
  • The fee is $28, plus a $2 processing fee if you use a credit card.


As California residents, we had medical insurance under Covered California. And because we have fairly low incomes, the premiums were subsidized. Now that we are not living in the area, we need medical coverage that will travel with us. Most insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as ObamaCare) is location dependent. We found a medically underwritten plan that will cover us and provides coverage all over the United States. We won’t be subsidized anymore, so this was an expense that actually increased for us.

Our vehicle insurance also had to change. We had great insurance with a company that works in the Western states but, unfortunately, doesn’t cover South Dakota or New Mexico. Overall, the cost was comparable with Progressive Insurance, and all three of our vehicles are covered (remember that vintage Aristocrat?).

What’s next?

So, we are, for the time being, South Dakota residents. We are still waiting for our California house to sell. Meanwhile, we are drifting around visiting family and friends and acting like tourists. Eventually, we do still plan to head to New Mexico. But for now, we are enjoying the new Mini Lite and the lovely weather.


*The information supplied in this blog represents the experiences of one couple and is not intended to be legal advice. RV owners may want to consult with legal and tax professionals regarding such decisions.


Tony and Peggy Barthel are RV industry veterans who travel part-time in a small travel trailer looking for fun and unique destinations as well as tips, tricks, and discounts to turn the RV adventure into StressLess Camping. You can catch them Thursday mornings on their podcast or any time at

1 Comment on Domicile States for RVers – South Dakota

  1. After we sold our NJ home more than give years ago, America’s Mailbox arranged for the license plates for all of our vehicles by mail, which we able to use after we closed the sale of our house. After a couple of months living and traveling in our motorhome we finally visited South Dakota, stayed at the America’s Mailbox campground, applied and received our SD driver’s licenses and established our legal residency there. Having no wheel tax in Pennington County, SD and no state income our costs were significantly reduced compared to NJ. Since SD has no vehicle inspection requirements, we were not forced to return to main our residency status. Our America’s Mailbox address continued to be our “legal” address until we bought land, built a new home and established residency in South Carolina. Meanwhile, we could have them forward our mail to our destinations as we traveled and were pleased with their services.

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