; Date: Sat Oct 14 2023
Tags: Digital Nomad
States like South Dakota allow full time travelers, who do not have a fixed residence, to get a drivers license or ID card based on a form of residency. This program is ideal for digital nomads, traveling nurses, traveling salesmen, and others who do not maintain a home, because they travel full time.
For most, normal life is to have a fixed residence or address, whether it's an apartment or home. This norm is enforced by many things in society. There is the stigma against homelessness, as well as financial tasks like paying taxes or maintaining bank accounts. For some, their life requires living in an abnormal ways including not having a fixed address. Some examples are traveling nurses, traveling salesmen, migrant laborers, digital nomads, travelers living in RVs full time, and others, who find it convenient or necessary to not have a fixed address.
For those who travel every day of every year, it is an unreasonable burden to be forced to maintain a fixed address that goes unused. The retired people who've sold their house, bought an RV, and are driving around the country full time, have no use for a home.
In other words, whole some people are homeless because of not having an income, others are homeless because their life and/or work requires them to not have a home. For anyone who lacks a home, and a fixed address, participating in normal financial matters requires having a mailing address which is recognized by tax authorities or financial institutions.
This means having an address which functions as a residence address, even though the person does not live at that location.
In the USA, three states have programs tailored for such people. Instead of requiring a fixed residence address, these states allow such people to use a mail forwarding address as their residence. These states are Florida, Texas and South Dakota. I only know the South Dakota program, because I'm using that program while traveling in Europe. What follows is based on that program. I understand the programs in Florida and Texas are similar.
In September 2022 a YouTube channel, Gringos R US, published a pair of videos reviewing Traveling Mailbox, one of the larger mail forwarding services in the USA. This channel seems to focus on the combination of full-time RV living while traveling in Mexico. They'd intended to use the Traveling Mailbox location in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as their mail forwarding residence address for South Dakota's program. But, when it came time to file the papers they were denied, unable to use Traveling Mailbox, and instead went to another service. In my case, I was able to get South Dakota to recognize Traveling Mailbox as a legitimate mail forwarding service which I could use as my residence address.
Since that last paragraph probably went over most peoples heads, we need to explain a few things.
South Dakota's "Full Time Travelers" program
South Dakota offers a drivers license program for full time travelers in which people can get a fully legal state-issued drivers license, or ID card, while using a mail forwarding service as the residence address. To get this drivers license, or identity card, one must not have a fixed address, and fill out an affidavit saying so.
The affidavit requires that one agree to these conditions:
- I am a South Dakota resident, and I live in a RV/camper/hotel, or I travel full time for work.
- South Dakota is my state of residence, and I will return after being absent.
- I do not stay, live in, or maintain a residence in any another state.
- My personal mailbox service (PMB) is a mail forwarding service, and not a virtual only mail service.
Private Mail Boxes (PMBs) are roughly similar to Post Office Boxes (POBs). POBs are offered solely by US Postal Service locations, and are the walls of locked cubby-holes you see at post offices. PMBs are offered solely by Commercial Mail Receiving Agencies (CMRAs).
A CMRA is a business where one function is to receive mail from the US Postal Service on behalf of their customer. To sign up for service with a CMRA, the customer must fill out USPS form 1583, and to have it notarized. This form authorizes the CMRA to receive mail on behalf of the customer.
A PMB address looks like this:
John Smith 4242 S. Mary Ave, PMB 12345 Anytown, MA 01234
The first part of the 2nd line is the physical address, in this case 4242 S. Mary Ave. Typically this will be a mailbox store, such as PostalAnnex or POSTNET. The portion starting with PMB is the mailbox number at the location. Therefore anyone looking up the address on a map application will see a store typically in a strip mall.
A lot of people use these services because it's more convenient, or safer, for mail or packages to not be delivered to their home address. These people do not need the PMB address as their residence. They're simply looking to have an address where neighbors will not steal their mail, or maybe they're running a small business and want business mail to not arrive at their home.
In the Full Time Traveler program, such an address acts as a persons residence address. This is different from simply renting a mailbox as just described. For a full time traveler, using South Dakota's program, these mailboxes are their residence. Their financial accounts, tax filings, and other important mail will arrive at the mail forwarding service. As described earlier, these people do not have a home, and the mail forwarding service acts as their fixed residence address.
I do not undersand the distinction that South Dakota makes between virtual mail service and mail forwarding service. As you'll see later, this distinction almost ruined my plan to use Traveling Mailbox as my residence address.
The other requirements are fairly straightforward. A full time traveler cannot have a residence anywhere, because they're traveling full time. The intention to return to South Dakota is part of the definition of a residence address. Namely, your residence is the location you wish to return to. At the minimum, one is required to return to South Dakota every five years to renew the drivers licence or identity card.
Is a full time travelers drivers license any different from regular drivers licenses?
No. The South Dakota drivers license I received is just like any other drivers license. The address shown on my license is for the Traveling Mailbox location in Sioux Falls. It has all the digital identity markings on the back, all the security features, and even includes Real ID features.
How does someone get a South Dakota full time traveler drivers license
The process is much more involved than simply showing up at a South Dakota Department of Public Safety office and filling out the forms. Setting this up requires a couple months of preparation, which in turn requires the determination to stop living at a fixed address.
The steps I followed are:
- Sign up with a mail forwarding service in South Dakota which you know is valid for the full time traveler program. The key form is the USPS form 1583 which allow the mailbox service to accept your mail - as a Certified Mail Receiving Agency. Any virtual mailbox or mail forwarding service is required to get this certification from the US Postal Service, and then to receive a form 1583 from anyone who signs up with their service.
- Change your financial accounts (bank accounts, credit cards, etc) to that address. It's necessary to wait for the financial institutions to issue a new statement showing your new address. In other words, it's not enough to change the address, but the financial institution must acknowledge the address by using it on an account statement.
- Make sure you have documentation lined up including your Social Security card, US passport, bills or statements from one or more banks, and the receipt from your mailbox service describing the service plan.
- Travel to South Dakota, to the city containing your mailbox service.
- Stay overnight in a hotel, making sure the hotel knows you're doing so for the full time traveler ID.
- Ensuring having a receipt from the hotel has the address for your mailbox. Most hotels in South Dakota know about the program, and know how to add your PMB address to the receipt. It'll help you to call the hotel before booking your trip to make sure it understands the program.
- Register at the DPS office for the South Dakota drivers license or ID. The DPS office gives you a number of forms, including the affidavit mentioned earlier.
- If you have vehicles to reregister, do so at the county tax office,
The first step is a little tricky. It must be a mail forwarding service, and not a virtual mail service. Again, I do not understand what's the distinction between the two. The service must be recognized by South Dakota, but South Dakota does not publish a list of services it recognizes.
There are a few companies who make a big splash of offering mail fowarding service compatible with the full time travelers program. These companies promise to assist customers with getting set up in South Dakota's program. I was turned off by most of those companies and wanted to avoid them.
One alternative is the PostalAnnex location at 5013 S Louise Ave, in Sioux Falls. They offer mailbox services, along with other services, and know exactly how to get folks set up with South Dakota's program. The store owner is a nice man, and will guide customers through the process.
I instead chose to use Traveling Mailbox at their Sioux Falls location. It seemed like a better choice for features and pricing. That was almost a disaster, since the DPS initially rejected my application, but I was able to pull it off and get my full time travelers drivers license.
Gringos R US fails with Traveling Mailbox, while I succeed
The Gringos R US channel seems to be a middle aged US couple whose schtick is traveling around Mexico. They wanted to do so full time, and decided to use the South Dakota full time travelers program. Their research, like mine, led them to signing up with Traveling Mailbox. They published two videos about their experience:
- Gringos R US review of Traveling Mailbox -- This is an excellent review of Traveling Mailbox, recorded before they attempted to get registered with the DPS. The followon video was supposed to be them celebrating getting their full time travelers drivers licenses.
- Gringos R US fail when using Traveling Mailbox to get South Dakota ID's, and instead turn to Dakota Post -- Their followon video instead documented their failure to use Traveling Mailbox address as their full time travelers residence, and how they ended up with Dakota Post instead. Dakota Post is based in Sioux Falls, and is one of the companies that loudly promotes the full time travelers program.
If I had seen the Gringos R US videos, I would not have signed up with Traveling Mailbox. They made it look like a disaster only to be rescued by Dakota Post.
Their review of Traveling Mailbox is very good, and as a Traveling Mailbox customer I agree with everything they say. However, their attempt to get the full tim travelers drivers license was an utter failure. Seeing that failure, I'd have turned to another service, which would either be Dakota Post or else the PostalAnnex location on South Louise Ave.
I think the Gringos R US couple failed to do sufficient research. In my case, I overprepared and over-researched. I knew the requirements very well, and understood the issue raised by the DPS examiner. That enabled me to provide the proof required to get a full time traveler drivers license. However, the DPS examiner admonished me to carefully read the affidavit, and to understand that the service I have with Traveling Mailbox might not stand up to an audit.
First issue named by Gringos R US was that their DPS examiner demanded that they must have a "Lease?" on their mail forwarding service. That's what Gringos R US described it as, a Lease. This doesn't make sense, since the DPS website does not say anything about a lease, and neither did either of the DPS examiners I talked with. There is a requirement to pay for the mailbox service on a yearly basis, rather than monthly basis. Maybe the Gringos R US people took that to mean lease?
I already knew from dealing with the PostalAnnex location on South Louise Ave that it's required to have a 1 year term of service. Therefore, I signed up with Traveling Mailbox with a 1 year term of service.
The next issue named by Gringos R US is whether Traveling Mailbox offers a virtual mailbox service, or a mail forwarding service. The full time traveler ID program requires the latter, a mail forwarding service. My DPS examiner explained that the receipt did not include the phrase "Mail Forwarding" and therefore they assume it is a "Virtual Mailbox" service. Based on that assumption, my DPS examiner was ready to deny my application for a full time traveler drivers license.
Can anyone explain to me the difference between virtual mailbox and mail forwarding services? Both kinds of services scan the outside of the envelopes, allow you to choose different actions for each piece of mail, and those actions include the ability to ship selected mail items to the address of your choosing. As the Gringos R US couple told their DPS examiner -- all these services are virtual mailbox services.
Look at the service descriptions for Dakota Post, iPostal1, Anytime Mailbox, or Traveling Mailbox, and tell me what is the difference. They all offer approximately the same services, yet the South Dakota DPS makes a distinction between them.
Getting back to the moment where the DPS examiner rejected my application. I was at that time very stressed out, since we had just moved out of our house in California, handed the keys over to the landlord, I had sold my car and bicycle, had gotten a second cell phone to contain a SIM card for a South Dakota phone number, had switched my banks etc to the Traveling Mailbox address, had no fixed address, and we were due to fly to Europe in a couple days for an extended trip.
I understand the Gringos R US couple had a freak-out moment like mine. But, what each of us did was different. They got on their phone and searched for an alternate service. That led them to Dakota Post, who got them set up with a different address, and upon returning to the DPS office they were able to get their full time travelers drivers licenses. I don't understand how that worked, because the DPS wants to see official mail from a financial institution to verify the address. That cannot be arranged in a couple of hours.
I made a different choice, starting with going back to the hotel room. I called the Traveling Mailbox support line, and they claimed most of their customers showed the USPS form 1583 to the DPS examiner. That didn't make sense to me, so I called the DPS headquarters to ask for advice. I'd noticed that the Traveling Mailbox website has multiple pages talking about their mail forwarding service, and the DPS headquarters thought that would be sufficient proof for the DPS examiner.
I got the hotel front desk to print both the Form 1583, and website pages showing that Traveling Mailbox offers mail forwarding services. With that proof in hand, I returned to the DPS office.
As expected, the DPS examiner immediately rejected the USPS form 1583. As a USPS form, the DPS office does not recognize it as having any meaning to them. The form 1583 is solely for use with the US Postal Service. Why did the Traveling Mailbox support line suggest using this form? I don't know.
Fortunately, the printouts from the Traveling Mailbox website made all the difference. The DPS examiner took the printout to her manager, and after a few moments she returned saying they would accept this proof. But there was an air of strictness as she proceeded. The process includes signing an Affidavit swearing that you do not have any address elsewhere, and some other things, which she warned me to read very carefully. She then warned me that this proof might not stand up to an audit but she did not say what agency would be auditing me.
A few moments later, I walked out of the DPS office as a South Dakota resident holding a South Dakota drivers license. She took my California drivers license, which I knew would happen, but after living 33 years in California that was jarring.
After arriving in Europe, and settling in, I did contact Traveling Mailbox to suggest they look into ensuring their service is accepted in South Dakota for the full time travelers program. We had a long in-depth exchange of information, and I hope they have rectified things.
Why use Traveling Mailbox over iPostal1, Anytime Mailbox or others?
In South Dakota, approximately 5 companies specialize in serving the full time traveler market. For a reason I can't quite explain, I did not want to use any of those services.
One issue was to have the mailing address in Sioux Falls. As the largest city in South Dakota, it has the best equipped airport and most flights in/out of the city. Hence, for any trip to South Dakota it is best to travel in and out of Sioux Falls. That immediately ruled out some of the services located in more remote parts of the state. Dakota Post is a potential alternative since they are located in Sioux Falls, but I'd already ruled it out.
The decision was then between Traveling Mailbox, or the PostalAnnex store on S. Louise Avenue. Those are the only two locations in Sioux Falls, other than Dakota Post, offering service compatible with the full time travelers program.
The PostalAnnex store is an affiliate of iPostal1, Anytime Mailbox and one other service whose name I've forgotten. While the owner of that store is a nice high-integrity man, I do not like the fee structure of those two services.
For the Anytime Mailbox service plan on S. Louise Ave, they charge $0.15 for shredding mail items, $1 per visit to the store to pick up mail, and there is a storage fee for items held longer than 5 days. iPostal1 has similar add-on fees at the S. Louise location. In other words, iPostal1 and Anytime Mailbox nickle-and-dime their customers with fees.
By contrast, Traveling Mailbox includes a lot of those services in the plan. The fee for the basic plan is $19.99/month in Sioux Falls. By signing up for yearly billing (as required by South Dakota), the fee is $199/year, which equates to $16.58/month. The equivalent Anytime Mailbox gold plan, a certain number of content scans are included in the plan, but you're still paying a storage fee.
Further, there is an interesting security angle to consider. All Traveling Mailbox locations are secured, and customers cannot visit the facility. Stores like PostalAnnex are not secured in the same way, because they're open to the public offering a range of services. In theory that makes Traveling Mailbox more secure. But, does anyone ever break into a store like PostalAnnex to steal the mail stored for customers?
Of these three, iPostal1 is the only one with an explicit business plan. This includes the ability to register a business using the PMB address, and one can add a toll-free phone number and FAX support. Traveling Mailbox says you can add business names to your account, but it does not offer the toll-free phone number or FAX support.
Dakota Post offers two plans, and the cheaper does not allow scanning the content of your mail, nor shredding unwanted mail items. The more expensive plan, at $249/year, offers those services. Additionally, Dakota Post offers business service, including acting as a Registered Agent which is required by South Dakota law.
Technically a person who travels full time, and does not have a normal home address, is homeless. Whether the homeless person is forced into this by not having any money, or whether it is a lifestyle choice, or whether it is a consequence of their career choices, any "homeless" person needs to be able to conduct normal financial business, and therefore have an address which can be recognized as their residence.
Fortunately, South Dakota, Texas and Florida offer programs serving such people.
Before taking this step it is recommended to understand whether you need the full time traveler status, and how to attain it. Traveling full time is not for the faint-hearted, since most of us prefer to live in a nest of our own making.
I carefully watched many videos describing the South Dakota program. It was harder to find videos or blog posts about the programs in other states. I also carefully read the DPS website, and called their customer service line several times with clarification questions. Having done this prepared me to talk knowledgably with DPS about the process.
Good luck with your choices whatever they are.