Due to a variety of factors, I just changed my official state of residence from Florida to Arizona. I spend a lot of time here, so it made sense to become a legal resident. This way I can register vehicles, vote, and do a bunch of other things where I actually live for several months out of the year. But even if you don’t love Arizona the way I do, I think Arizona could be a great choice for full-time nomads, even if you don’t intend to spend much time here.
The great Bob Wells recommends four states for full-time nomads to consider residency: Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, and Florida. Each of these states makes it easy for people like us to become residents. South Dakota is the easiest of all, merely requiring proof of a one-night stay at a hotel, campground, or RV park to call it good. None of these states collect income tax. South Dakota and Florida don’t have car inspections, which require you to return every year or two. Nevada only requires them in urban areas, which you can avoid.
This wisdom, plus my original plan involving sticking to the east coast, made Florida my original choice to call “home.” Escapees RV Club made the process quite easy, which I’ve explained in detail. But then my life changed. After my girlfriend and I broke up, I was no longer tied to the east coast, so I followed my dream of a cross-country trip (Route 66 was a great way to it). After spending some time in the west, I decided to stay here, with occasional excursions back east. Florida is a long way away, so it made sense to establish a home base in the west.
The obvious choice was Nevada, and there are good reasons for that. Even from the Quartzsite, Arizona area, it’s a 4.5 hour drive to Pahrump (Las Vegas is closer, but emission inspections are required there, so it pays to keep going). Many nomads use this as a home base. There’s a popular mail forwarding service here, as well as a DOT office to take care of your license and registration. The BLM land just outside town is a great place to camp while you’re there.
But Nevada has a new problem that hadn’t occurred when Bob made that video. Nevada DOT completely shut down for months during COVID. This created a massive backlog of transactions. When they did reopen, they only had a fraction of the staff they did before, and this backlog still exists. It can take weeks to get an appointment. The law requires you to get your Nevada license and registrations within 30 days of moving there, but it’s often simply not possible. With a 14-day limit on how long you can stay on BLM land, this is a lot more complicated than it used to be.
Then I looked into Arizona itself, since I already spend several months a year here. Besides the obvious advantages of being able to deal with my license and registration, voting, and other services locally, I discovered several advantages for people who may not want to spend much time here as well.
When I read the Arizona DOT website, there was a big link telling me to make an appointment. I couldn’t use the AZMVDNow.gov website because I wasn’t a resident yet, but a helpful representative on the live chat made the appointment for me, two days from the time I asked. That’s a whole lot sooner than you can get one in Nevada these days.
When I showed up in Parker for my appointment, nobody cared. I took a number just like anyone else. There were four people ahead of me, and I waited about fifteen minutes for my turn. It was that quick. And I could’ve shown up anytime, without an appointment, despite what the website said.
Having lived in the bureaucracy of Massachusetts for much of my life, I’m accustomed to going to the DMV prepared for battle. I bring every piece of documentation they could possibly ask for, regardless of whether the website says I need it or not, because what you’ll need is pretty much up to the whim of whichever clerk you talk to. If they send you away to come back with paperwork you didn’t know you’d need, it’s entirely possible the next clerk will tell you that you didn’t need it, but you do need some other paperwork that nobody mentioned until now.
This is not the case in Arizona. The DOT website is a bit vague about what you need, so I’ll be more specific. You’ll need a mailing address in Arizona. I use BCM Mail and Ship in Quartzsite. Others exist, generally in places that nomads gravitate to, such as Yuma and Lake Havasu City. Typically, wherever you decide to establish yourself, you’ll need a mail forwarder there, and Arizona is no exception.
You can’t use your mail forwarder as your physical address. Arizona DOT knows that 852 West Cowell Street in Quartzsite is BCM’s address, and has blacklisted it as a residential address. But, you CAN use whatever BLM land you’re camping on! So they have my mailing address through BCM, and my physical address as the La Posa South long-term visitor area. I brought my receipt for my LTVA permit, but this wasn’t necessary. I overheard one of the people ahead of me use the Plomosa Road 14-day area as his physical address, which they accepted with no hassle at all. You should be able to do this with any public land you choose to camp on during your stay. Consider doing this somewhere near Parker and going to the Parker Arizona DOT office. They deal with this all the time, and know exactly how to handle people like us to satisfy the law as well as enable us to get an Arizona ID.
It’s Long Term
When Arizona issues your driver’s license, it will be valid until your 65th birthday! This is a HUGE advantage for nomads who don’t want to be tied down to any one location. You’ll never have to come back to Arizona to renew your license, get a vision test, or take a new license photo until you turn 65. The younger you are, the bigger advantage this is. I’m no spring chicken, but even my license is valid until 2038.
When you register your vehicle, you can choose whether to register it for one, two, or five years. There’s no discount for registering for multiple years, of course, but if you can afford it, you can get a five-year registration and not worry about it. When it’s finally time to renew, you can do it online. The renewal will be sent to your mail forwarder, and then on to you.
You’ll walk out of the Arizona DOT office with a temporary paper license plate, even with a plain ordinary registration. The clerk told me my permanent plates (van and motorcycle) will arrive in two to three weeks, which seems true based on my friends’ experiences. You’ll need to either stick around the area until it arrives or be someplace your mail forwarder can send it so you can replace your metal plate before the paper one rips or falls off. Fortunately, the temporary tags have no expiration date besides that of your registration.
That super long-term driver’s license, good until you turn 65, costs just $15. Mine cost $22 with the addition of my motorcycle endorsement. That’s crazy cheap, less than anywhere I’ve ever lived. And you don’t have to pay it again until you turn 65.
Title and registration are cheap, too. I paid $98.91, tax and all, to register my van for two years. $50 of that was for an amateur radio specialty plate, so you could cut that cost in half with a standard plate. My motorcycle cost $51.95 for one year, $30 of which was the off-road permit that allows me to ride Arizona trails. The off-road permit is only valid for one year at a time, so you can only get a one-year registration if you opt for that. If I didn’t, it would’ve cost me just $21.95 per year, and I would’ve done two years to match my van.
With prices like these, I could’ve easily afforded the maximum five-year registration. The only reason I didn’t was that my life has vastly changed in the past two years. It’s still changing, and I don’t know what it will be like two years from now. Some other state might make more sense for me by then, so there’s no point in spending money that far ahead if I might not stay. If I end up buying land in Arizona someday and setting up a permanent home base of my own, I’d go the full five years so I wouldn’t have to worry about it.
No state is perfect, and Arizona is no exception. There are some disadvantages to becoming an Arizona resident. For me, the advantages outweigh them, but I should spell out what they are so you can make your own decision.
Many nomads like their freedom, their autonomy, and not giving any more money to the government than they absolutely have to. For that reason, states with no income tax are the most popular. Arizona does have a state income tax. This is probably the main reason it’s not on the residency radar for most nomads.
However, the tax rate isn’t nearly as much as in many other states. You can see a complete table of tax brackets at Nerdwallet, but it’s under 5% for even the highest brackets. Since I’ll only be a resident for the last two months of 2022, I’ll pay just 2.59%. Next year, when I’m considered a full-time resident, I’ll move up a bracket to 3.34%, and possibly 4.17% if I make enough from freelancing in addition to my day job. That’s all less than the 5% flat tax I paid when I lived in Massachusetts.
While I’ll see a small drop in take-home pay, I’ll also see savings in other areas. For example, my Florida car insurance was astronomically expensive, despite my excellent driving record. I now pay a fraction of that in Arizona, despite upgrading to full RV coverage, which protects my personal belongings the same way as homeowners insurance, as well as providing standard vehicle insurance. That, alone, will go a long way toward offsetting my Arizona state income tax.
Many nomads don’t care about making a lot of money. They live cheaply, make what they need to get by, then go travel for a few months. When money gets short, they pick up some temporary job again to rebuild the bank account, then travel some more. If you don’t make a lot of money — under $27,808 per year if you’re single, or $55,615 if you’re a married couple — you’ll be in the lowest 2.59% tax bracket, so you won’t have to pay much.
What I said about how easy it is to get an Arizona ID is true. You can use your temporary BLM land campsite as your address. However, BLM land is temporary, not permanent housing. There is also no way to get two proofs of residency because you don’t actually live there. So your ID will not meet the requirements for REAL ID. That means you won’t be able to cross borders with it or get on any airline flight, domestic or otherwise. This will be an issue no matter where in the US you choose to “live,” but it’s worth mentioning that you shouldn’t expect a REAL ID if you’re using BLM land as your physical address.
This is not a problem for me. I have a passport, as well as a passport card that I carry in my wallet. Even when I lived in sticks and bricks, I had trouble getting a REAL ID. I didn’t have the proof they wanted when I moved to New Hampshire because I was still in the process of moving, and I didn’t want to spend even more money to replace my ID right after I first got it. Florida did give me a REAL ID-compliant license because Escapees provided all of the necessary documentation, but I never actually needed it. If you do want to fly, and you don’t have a passport or other ID like I do, this could be a problem for you.
Being a desert, Arizona summers are unbearably hot unless you’re at higher elevations. Up there, winters are cold and snowy, which is exactly what I left the north to avoid. So you’re not going to find one place to settle down and spend the entire year. This isn’t a big deal to many nomads, but if you’re working a regular job, you may be forced to stay through some nasty weather.
The wind can be pretty nasty, too. Much of Arizona is flat and barren, which means there’s nothing to stop strong winds from forming and blowing for hours or even days at a time. You have to keep your scanners peeled and know when the wind is coming so you can put all your loose items away. Otherwise, you’ll lose them. Sometimes this wind creates dust storms, which can be bad if you’re vulnerable to breathing problems.
Of course, if you become an Arizona resident, then leave for much of the time, or all of it, you can avoid this.
If you don’t like snakes, you won’t like Arizona. There were no poisonous snakes where I grew up, but they exist down here. So do scorpions. They’re not something I’m afraid of, but I have to be mindful of them and not intrude on their territory. Generally speaking, if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. But you have to be careful.
You have to watch out for your pets, too. Coyotes are everywhere. They typically won’t attack humans, but I put Lister inside just after sunset every day to protect him from roving packs of coyotes, who sometimes roam nearby, even in the BLM camping areas. They will attack cats, dogs, and especially roadrunners.
Once again, if you don’t spend much time actually in Arizona, this won’t be a problem.
You Need a Car
The closest town to Quartzsite is Blythe, California, half an hour away. The next closest is Parker, 45 minutes away. Public transportation is non-existent, so you basically need a car to go anywhere outside of town. There are vast expanses of nothingness outside city limits. You need a set of wheels to cross these distances.
You also need a ride that’s fast enough to keep up. The speed limit is usually 65, up to 75 on the interstate, and most people go at least 80. It’s reasonably safe because the roads are often straight lines, and you can see for miles and miles. But even a low-powered motorcycle might not be able to keep up. My Kawasaki KLR650 can’t, which can get a bit sketchy when impatient drivers want to go faster but can’t pass you.
Arizona isn’t for everyone, but neither are the other popular states for nomads. South Dakota is far from everything. Florida has sky-high car insurance. Texas is huge and often hot. You may not even be able to get an appointment in Nevada. Arizona may not be right for you, but I think it’s worth considering as a residency option, even if you don’t plan to spend much time here.