When I established my domicile and residency in Florida, my life was different. I was traveling with a girlfriend, we both had ties in New England, and she’s originally from Florida. Our plan was to travel up and down the east coast and spend winters in Florida, so residency there made great sense. But that changed. So I headed west and fell in love with Arizona instead. I spent last winter in Quartzsite, and have been slowly making this my home base. Finally, I became an official Arizona resident. Here’s how I did it.
Typically, the most popular states for nomads to call “home” are Texas, South Dakota, Nevada, and Florida. Arizona is not on that list. So why did I “move” here? I’ve elaborated at length about why nomads should consider Arizona, even if they don’t plan to spend much time here, so I’ll focus on my personal reasons here.
People who have known me a long time may remember me complaining about New England winters and threatening to move to Arizona more than 20 years ago. Yet I’d never actually been to Arizona until a year ago. I couldn’t justify blindly moving across the country to a place I’d never been. But now I’ve spent a winter here, and I’m doing so again now. Of all the places I travel to, this is the state I spend the most time in. I’ve never been back to Florida since establishing residency there. I’ll go back to visit friends and family there, but it never felt like home, either. It makes sense to lay down “roots,” thin as they may be, in a place where I actually spend a lot of time.
It’s true that Nevada, one of the popular states for western nomads, is only a few hours away. But ever since COVID, it’s become extremely difficult to get into the DMV to actually do the deed. It’s still a good option for many people, but I decided to go for the convenience of setting up a home base where I actually spend a great deal of my time.
Establishing Mail Forwarding
As with Florida, the first thing I set up was a mail-forwarding address in Arizona. I actually did this months before, in the spring before leaving for the season, because I already knew I wanted to establish myself out here. But my Florida registrations were valid until the end of the year, so I let those ride until soon before they expired.
There are many mail forwarders out here, particularly in areas with a large nomad population, like Quartzsite, Yuma, and Lake Havasu. I went with BCM Mail and Ship in Quartzsite. When I’m traveling, they receive my mail, scan it, and/or forward it to where I actually am, just like Escapees did for me. But when I’m here for the winter, I can simply go there and pick it up, just like a normal person. This is something I could never do with Escapees, because I never went anywhere near their mail-forwarding address in Livingston, Texas.
No matter which mail forwarder you choose, you’ll have to fill out Postal Form 1583, Application for Delivery of Mail through Agent. But unlike Escapees, I was able to fill this out at BCM’s office. I didn’t have to have anything notarized, because I could simply show them my identification (from any state) in person to prove I am who I say I am. They deal with nomads all the time, so they know exactly how to fill out the paperwork to give you the service you need while keeping it legal at the same time. I’ve personally had an excellent experience with BCM, and recommend them if you’re doing the Quartzsite thing.
Establishing Arizona Domicile
This was even easier than Escapees made it in Florida, but there is a catch that I’ll get to. The Arizona DOT website says that you need to make an appointment for your visit, but it provides no way to do so unless you already have an Arizona ID. I tried the Live Chat option, and a human set up an appointment for me at the Parker office. I got there on time, only to find that nobody cared about appointments and I had to take a number with everyone else anyway. Fortunately, it’s a small office, and I didn’t have to wait very long. Don’t waste your time making an appointment like I did. Just show up.
The process itself was even easier than Escapees made it in Florida. I brought all kinds of paperwork to the Arizona DOT office with me to try and cover myself. They know that BCM’s address is a mail forwarding service, so they will NOT let you use it as your physical address. At times BCM has told people that they can, but they are mistaken. 852 West Cowell Street, Quartzsite is on Arizona DOT’s blacklist of residential addresses.
But you can still get an Arizona domicile! If you go to the Parker office of Arizona DOT, all you have to tell them which BLM area you are staying at. I told them I’m staying at La Posa South, and that was all they needed to know. I didn’t even have to show them a receipt for my long-term visitor area permit. They took my word for it. I overheard someone ahead of me using the Plomosa Road BLM area as their residential address. It’s a 14-day area and there’s no paperwork or proof that you’re there, but they accepted it for him nonetheless. Also, while they required me to provide my Social Security number, they did not require any proof of it, either.
Here’s the catch: the ID they give you will not qualify as a Real ID. You need to provide two forms of proof of residency to obtain this. You can’t get that for BLM land, and they consider this a temporary residence, not permanent, which is the truth. That means you won’t be able to use your driver’s license as a federal ID, such as for flying or entering certain government facilities.
For me, this is not an issue. I already have a passport and passport card, and will use those instead. But if having a Real ID is important to you, this method may not work for you.
The good news is the price I paid: $22! That’s $15 for the license, plus $7 for the motorcycle endorsement. If you don’t ride, you’ll pay just $15 for your Arizona license, which is valid all the way until your 65th birthday. By Grabthar’s Hammer, what a savings.
Registering Your Vehicle(s) In Arizona
After the clerk processed my Arizona license, I immediately transferred my van and motorcycle to Arizona. I didn’t need a separate appointment, as I did in Florida. For each vehicle, I needed to give them:
- AZ DOT form 96-0236, Title and Registration Application
- My old Florida title
- Proof of Arizona insurance
If you forget to bring proof of insurance, don’t worry. You have 30 days to come back and show them proof of insurance, or you can upload it to the AZMVDNOW.gov website. I’m used to states requiring proof before they will even allow you to register your vehicle, so I brought printouts of my insurance cards with me. It must be insurance specifically for Arizona, not another state. Because Quartzsite is a sparsely populated area, my new insurance is much less expensive than it was in Florida, despite splurging for RV insurance. This serves as both liability insurance for the vehicle, as well as homeowners/renters insurance for my belongings inside.
Since my van is titled as a motorhome, they had to give it a visual inspection. Fortunately for me, I’d already driven the van to the office rather than riding my motorcycle, so this wasn’t a problem. If yours is titled as a van, this step won’t be necessary. It was a painless process, though. They verified the VIN in a few places, and they could see through the windows that it had a sink, heater, and everything else needed to qualify as a Class B motorhome. They were slightly confused about it being a self-conversion rather than by an RV manufacturer, but because it already had a motorhome title, they simply titled it as a Ford E250 as before.
I also took the extra step of getting an Amateur Radio specialty plate for the van. This required me to fill out AZ DOT form 96-0143 for a specialty plate. You would fill out this form if you’re ordering a vanity plate or some other specialized plate. I also brought an official copy of my ham radio license, which was required for my unique request. This all checked out, and my callsign is now my license plate as well.
You have the choice of registering your vehicle for one, two, or five years. I chose two years for the van which cost a total of $98.91. $50 of this was the $25 specialty plate fee for two years. I could only register the motorcycle for one year because I chose to add the off-road permit at the same time. I’m not throwing my KLR down trails anymore, but some places I ride may fall into a grey area as to whether it’s a road or a trail. For $30/year, it’s cheap insurance to make sure I’m legal wherever I ride, and much cheaper than a fine. The off-road permit is only good for a year, and the road registration lasts the same duration. This is fine and cost me a total of $51.95, $30 of which was the off-road permit.
They printed and handed me paper temporary plates for both vehicles. The bottom tear-off section is the temporary registration. The top part is the temp plate itself, which is already the correct size for a car. I had to trim my motorcycle plate down to size to fit on the back. The clerk told me it would take two to three weeks for my actual plates and registrations to arrive.
Two weeks later my bike plate and registration arrived. My resident OHV permit arrived earlier, so I kept it in my trunk until the real plate arrived. The OHV sticker goes on the top left, while the standard year sticker goes on the top right in the section marked “year.”
Like Florida, Arizona does electronic titles by default, but you can order a paper title for $4. To avoid a fiasco like I had trying to get paper titles out of Florida, I ordered them immediately. Where Florida took three weeks to process, Arizona took just three days. The AZMVDNOW.gov website works well, and you have full access to many online services once you have an Arizona ID.
Between my Arizona driver’s license and two registrations, each of which had some add-on optional expenses, I paid a total of $172.86 to transfer everything to Arizona. That’s even cheaper than New Hampshire was! Florida cost me over $700 to do the same thing. So that’s another advantage of Arizona over some of the other states.
The process was quick, painless, and 95% successful. The only part that didn’t go according to plan was losing the Real ID I had in Florida, which isn’t a big deal to me because I can just use my passport instead.