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Old 04-11-2019, 11:36 AM   #1
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Location: Permanent RV'er, formerly WI
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Full-time RV'er & my Washington residency saga, Traveling Mailbox, etc...

Hey there! Just wanted to share my experience so far trying to get residency and register my vehicles in Washington state. I left Wisconsin in Feb, have been traveling in the RV the last few months, and have decided to plant roots in Washington. I had already targeted this state when I left, but wanted to explore a little, first. I won't deny the state has some problems, especially around Seattle, but it's beautiful here and there seem to be some decent career opportunities. The area around the San Juan Islands appealed to me, especially.

Washington is often mentioned as a domicile state consideration for full-time RVers, but usually ruled out when other things are taken into account. True, there's no income tax here, but they get you in other ways. Sales tax is 7-10%, insurance is more expensive than advertised, registration is much higher than Wisconsin, etc. Income tax savings are quickly erased when every Amazon purchase, every restaurant purchase, everything you buy (barring most groceries) is taxed at up to 10%.

Because of the 'no income tax' thing, they seem to by hyper-vigilant when someone walks into a licensing office and uses words like "RV" and "I want to live here". True, I am a full-time RVer, but it's my home, and until I can afford a house, I'm living at an RV park while I search for a new career.

Lesson Learned: Traveling Mailbox & Residency

A big mistake I made months ago was getting a Traveling Mailbox 'premium' address in Seattle. They advertise these premium addresses as "physical" locations that can assist you in getting residency, but I've found only complications so far. I need to emphasize that my intent was not to fool anyone, but since I was eventually going to set up in Washington anyway, I figured it could give me an early advantage so I set it up before I left. Unfortunately, it was not a good idea in my case, though circumstances may be different for you.

First, when I did my official USPS change of address to the Traveling Mailbox Seattle address, their system recognized it as a commercial address and warned me that, should I change my address again, the USPS would not be forwarding mail from that location effective immediately. This means you're going to need to rely on Traveling Mailbox for some time after your address is changed to your permanent location. Once you close the TM account, they have no responsibility to forward your mail either.

Second, when someone sends a letter to your Traveling Mailbox address in Seattle, the letter goes to Seattle, then has to bounce all the way back to North Carolina, where TM is based, before it's scanned to your inbox. Why they don't have a West Coast location is baffling, but it is what it is. Most of my mail comes from Wisconsin, so this alone takes mail 10-12 days before it shows up in my TM inbox. THEN, if I want that mail physically sent to me, I first have to pay them a small fee, and it's sent to my physical address, back across the US for the third time, to my Northern Washington RV park. That also adds a week (or more). This makes about a 3-week turn-around time when someone mails a letter that I need to physically receive!

Now, I knew this going in, but hadn't considered the implications when it came to business/career/government licensing and transactions, or legal documents that you need to have in hand, often when time is of the essence. You can't just tell a government agency or corporation, "Please mail this directly to my address at the RV park" because they need an official address on file.

Third, Washington State seems to be keen on these forwarding services, also recognizing many have tried to get fake domicile here for years due to the zero income tax thing. It was even suggested to me that bad things could happen if I were to use that address for official purposes. So they're onto it... Not that I was trying to be 'that guy' anyway, because as mentioned, I intend to reside here.

In order to get residency in Washington, you have to prove you're a resident. Sounds simple, right? There's a whole list on their licensing web site as to what methods you can use, but I've found the only practical ways for a full-time RVer is to register to vote, or get a new insurance policy with a permanent Washington address. The only way to do this is to use your physical address, which in my case had to be the RV park I'm currently staying at. Since I'm going to be here for a few months at least while I job hunt, I had no other option.

If you use your mail forwarding service address on your insurance policy, you're running the risk of claims being denied or your insurance being cancelled. It's not a game with insurance companies. Plus, insurance rates for metropolitan Seattle are sky-high, so I would have been paying way more than I needed for the area I'm actually residing. And if you use your Traveling Mailbox address for voter registration purposes, you're committing voter fraud. Either way, it's just too risky.

The best option for me was to register to vote in the county where my RV was parked, and (with permission) I used the RV park address as my legal residence. I then took this voter ID card and got my Washington driver's license. These two things (register to vote/WA driver's license) are critical to proving residency in Washington, should your former state decide to look for you for income taxes next year. "Be ready to fight that fight", I'm told as a full time RVer moving to an income tax-free state, because some states don't want to lose your business. And using a mail forwarding service like Traveling Mailbox is a huge red flag against you.

The bottom line is that Traveling Mail is a great service if you really are a full-time traveler. But don't get a premium address, don't think you can use it for residency, and I would strongly encourage using their main North Carolina address as it will cut a least a week off of any correspondence you receive.

RV Licensing in Washington

Registering vehicles in Washington requires that you first have your Washington driver's license, which as mentioned, requires you prove at least the minimum residency intent. But here's where things get complicated in Washington... If you recently bought a new vehicle or RV, you need to wait before coming here, because they will tax you (again) for the purchase. The legal definition is 90 days prior to residency, but RVs send up a major red flag. The reason is, again, due to no income tax. They have to make that money up somehow, and when people go out of state to buy an RV to avoid up to a 10% sales tax, they lose thousands of dollars.

Even if you paid taxes on your RV in another state, they make you jump through a bunch of hoops and prove it with legal documents that, I'm finding, are an absolute pain to get-- especially when you have changed your address to Traveling Mailbox! Even though I legally paid taxes on my RV when I bought it 6 months ago, I'm told that if my 'proof' isn't good enough, I could be charged additional taxes now that I'm a Washington resident. Wisconsin does not tax, title and license any vehicle unless you pay their taxes, so simply the fact that I had a title and current registration in Wisconsin does not provide the proof. Logic would say it does, but not in Washington.

I paid 5.75% tax in Wisconsin and am now in an almost 9% tax area. If my proof, to be received by the Wisconsin Dept of Transportation sometime likely in 2026, isn't adequate, I'd be responsible for an additional 4+% taxes of the "Fair Market Value". In my case it would 'only' be another thousand dollars for my little trailer, but imagine if you purchased a $100,000 diesel pusher?

Either way, I will have my proof letter in-hand some day, which I'm then required to drive 1.5 hours away to the nearest Washington Dept of Revenue, where I will have to prove my case and literally get a permission slip to register my RV here. Did I mention my Wisconsin registration expires at the end of this month? Luckily I'll be parked for awhile... Bottom line is that you're basically guilty until proven innocent as a new RV owner/resident, here.

So what if you decide NOT to register your RV in Washington, and just pull it behind your Washington-registered truck? Washington law also covers this. It is illegal to tow an RV with out of state plates if you're a Washington resident and your truck is registered in Washington. Again, they got keen to people buying their RVs out of state to avoid excessive sales taxes, so they cracked down on it.

In conclusion, if you're considering Washington as your full-time RV residency state, get ready for some leg work. I trust it will all be worth it, as there really is a lot to see and do here as someone looking for a new life. Good luck!
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Old 04-14-2019, 05:29 PM   #2
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Wow. Sorry our state is such a pain.

We're over in Kirkland, and paid the painful 10% sales tax on our Seneca... luckily we did that before the new GOP Tax plan went into effect, so we were able to deduct the state sales tax from our federal return.

As you found out - do NOT pick any address in King County, WA as your permanent address if you can help it. King County (home to Seattle, Bellevue, Amazon, Microsoft and Costco) is the high tax county... we get to pay for the additions to the light rail system now, too, which is a hefty annual tax on auto registrations. Fun stuff.

Go just a few miles north to Everett or south to Tacoma, and a lot of the "extras" drop out, including lower insurance rates, which can definitely help. If you're over on the peninsula or on the islands, you should be getting some lower rates there, too.

The beauty of our state is worth the cost to us. We love it here (but... Dave was born here in Seattle, and I'm from Eastern WA, so... we might be biased).
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Old 04-14-2019, 09:51 PM   #3
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I appreciate the support! Yeah, it's been an hectic couple of weeks, but I'm in too deep to turn back now.

I did end up using the RV park address as my official address for license and insurance. I hadn't realized how 'cheap' Wisconsin is when it comes to things like this. Prior to choosing Washington I had done pretty lengthy research for cost of living on various websites, to see if things would even out with the higher sales taxes. At the time, the numbers were acceptable, but now that I'm here, it seems those estimates were all vastly incorrect.

For instance:

Car insurance: research said my car insurance would go up 40% moving to WA from WI, which I was willing to accept. In fact, it has doubled here (100% higher) in Northern WA than it was in Wisconsin. From around $500/year, to $500 every six months!

Motorcycle insurance: Research said it would double, which again was within my tolerance, but in fact it is TRIPLE what I paid in WI. From around $100/year to $300/year.

RV 'full timer' insurance is about the same.

Registering the car, bike and RV initially will cost me almost $500 to get plates, and all the yearly fees are higher. Side note, Wisconsin motorcycle registration only needs to be done every other year, and it's only about $28. Here, it's every year at over $60.

I don't regret becoming a new Washington-ite (?), and this state is a picture postcard around every corner. But my budget is being blown all to hell so far...
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Old 04-14-2019, 11:34 PM   #4
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Wow - this really makes me appreciate Texas Les
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Old 04-15-2019, 05:27 AM   #5
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Wow, can't imagine having to pay taxes at that rate. We are really spoiled with the low cost of living here in the south but still people complain. It costs to play. My monthly electric and gas bill is $112 bucks.

I tell them to go to a foreign country and see if you still want to complain about the life here.
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Old 04-15-2019, 06:58 AM   #6
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If you are looking for a career not in law enforcement you might want to consider a construction trade. The union trades are all looking for people and have excellent apprenticeship programs.
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Old 04-15-2019, 10:17 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vicr View Post
If you are looking for a career not in law enforcement you might want to consider a construction trade. The union trades are all looking for people and have excellent apprenticeship programs.
I've spent the last week job searching, and that is something I need to look into. Not sure how difficult it would be for a 45-year old with no trade skills to be taken on as an apprentice, but it's an idea. Thank you!
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Old 04-15-2019, 10:26 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by ChaosTheory View Post
I've spent the last week job searching, and that is something I need to look into. Not sure how difficult it would be for a 45-year old with no trade skills to be taken on as an apprentice, but it's an idea. Thank you!

Contact IBEW Local 46 in Kent. 46 is not too old and you will be vested for a pension after 5 years.
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Old 04-23-2019, 07:09 PM   #9
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As a follow up to this... I drove almost an hour and a half to the nearest Washington Dept of Revenue office to "prove" that I paid Wisconsin taxes on my Jayco when I purchased it, and ultimately titled/registered it.

They accepted my proof at 5.75% taxes, but... they wanted me to pay the difference from the 5.75% to what my new location is in Washington-- almost 9%! She went back to "talk to her manager" after I explained the story. I was graciously offered a 10% discount on their "Fair Market Value" of my RV, but ultimately they wanted almost $700 in additional taxes! This does not include the $150 or so to title and register the Jayco, which I couldn't do UNLESS I paid that tax. There is no appeal process (I inquired).

She said, "Well, you saved a lot in sales taxes, purchasing in Wisconsin", but at this point I was too irate to explain that, unlike Washington, I paid INCOME taxes on the money I used to buy the RV in the first place. I should have offered to pay their additional sales taxes if they offered to refund my income taxes to WI since purchasing the trailer.

So here's the rundown: I bought an RV as a Wisconsin resident over half year ago, paid taxes there on it, but now that I've moved to Washington, they want almost $1000 from me in order to register/title it as a Washington resident. Blows my mind.

The bottom line is that I will not be registering my RV in Washington. Period. I have re-registered my current Wisconsin plates and will hope for the best. If I had tea, I'd throw it in Fidalgo Bay...
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Old 04-23-2019, 08:01 PM   #10
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Having read a number of stories about Seattle becoming an almost unlivable city, I have zero interest in even visiting the area. I hope you remember when it comes to election time, and vote for someone who represents your interests.
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