"Address?" "Nowhere...and everywhere..."
July 19, 2005 9:34 PM   Subscribe

How do people with no permanent address handle mail delivery, photo identification, property taxes, etc?

Not homeless people, but full-time RVers, houseboaters who don't stay always at one dock, people who just live on the road as a part of their jobs, etc. etc. Can you get a driver's license without an address? How about a post office box? Can you have all your mail saved up somewhere, then forwarded to you at a given address whenever you ask for it? How can you apply for a job, pay your taxes, get insurance, or do anything official without having a permanent physical address? (I'm in the US, so mostly interested in domestic practices, but other countries' residents please feel free to contribute as well.)
posted by attercoppe to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: With a cell phone and a mail box (a commercial one so that you can give the box number as an apartment number or suite number or whatever you want - an official US PO Box is no good), no one need know you're homeless. This includes government agencies, insurance companies, potential employers, anybody. And yes, commercial mail drops will accumulate and forward mail. With free internet from cafes and the unknowing (or uncaring) wifi crowd and email and Metafilter posting are possible as well. I've been without address for more than a year.
posted by tiny purple fishes at 9:51 PM on July 19, 2005

Best answer: It's a pain in the ass. When I lived on a boat, I got my mail general delivery — I believe the post office policy was to hold it for 30 days, and I could pick it up with a photo ID. Living on a boat I didn't have a car and so had no call for a driver's license, though I did get a passport and don't recall any difficulties — of course a passport doesn't have one's address on it.

Applying for a job was hard, though that was mostly because I didn't have a phone — I don't really think the address was a big deal. Had I had a cell phone it wouldn't have been a major problem. I didn't have insurance or worry much about taxes.

Two things were a hassle: getting a library card (they didn't accept mail addressed to me general delivery as proof of residence, and I had to bitch and moan — luckily this is something at which I excel) and registering to vote. To register to vote I had to bring in a whole slew of printouts of Supreme Court cases establishing the right of the homeless to vote, and the fuckers still made me perjure myself by listing the address of the hotel near where my boat was tied up.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:55 PM on July 19, 2005

"an official US PO Box is no good"

I list the address of the post office as the street address.
posted by mischief at 10:01 PM on July 19, 2005

YMMV, but I was able to get a driver's license with my new address on it based solely on my word. Then I could take that driver's license and use it as a proof of address at other places.

As mentionned, some institutions require a bill or other piece of mail sent to 'your address'. If you're hard up, you can always get a friend to pass you on the letter/bill.

Don't ask me how legal this is.
posted by ODiV at 11:48 PM on July 19, 2005

Good question - I know that a lot of the "know your customer" regulations that have been put in place in order to reduce money laundering (and hence terrorism, natch) require proof of a "proper" address (i.e. not a PO Box) and proof of ID in the form of bills, drivers license, passport, etc.
Mobile telephone bills are not accepted.

I have absolutely no idea what they'd do/accept if you have a mobile residence... interesting!
posted by Chunder at 1:40 AM on July 20, 2005

My gypsy in-laws use our address. So I have five peoples worth of credit card bills and junk mail to sort through every day. I love my wife tho.
posted by recurve at 2:27 AM on July 20, 2005

Maybe you can give the permanent address of a local trusted relative (after asking them).
posted by webmeta at 3:32 AM on July 20, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks all...keep 'em coming. Tales with personal experience and tips are great. You've already given me some good search terms I hadn't come up with before (Gypsy! Of course!).

Tiny purple fishes, can I email you with some more in-depth questions? Or shall I post them here to be answered for all to see?
posted by attercoppe at 6:25 AM on July 20, 2005

Either here or in email's fine.
posted by tiny purple fishes at 7:10 AM on July 20, 2005

Best answer: It's really easy. What you need is called a mail forwarding service. You go to someplace like Mailboxes, Etc. or whatever your local equivalent is and get a mail forwarding account with them. The post office box becomes your official mailing address, and the location holds your mail for you until you call and tell them where to send it. Then they bundle up everything that's come in since the last time you called and send it to you. My parents did this during two years of RVing and it worked out very well. This place seems to have a pretty good summary of how it works.
posted by MsMolly at 7:47 AM on July 20, 2005

Best answer: I looked into this somewhat recently so I could have an address for a startup business without my home address on it. Mail Boxes Etc is apparently the UPS Store now, tho for some reason some existing stores have changed their identity but others have not. Their price is a lot steeper than using a friend's address tho - I believe they quoted me about $200-300 a year for the smallest box.

The biggest hassle with maintaining an address like that is if you have services that are location dependent like car insurance - the difference between my Florida rate and Virginia rate was easily 30%. I kick myself for not updating that address a few years sooner. You can also find yourself with a problem if you have to collect too, since the rates are based on location statistics.

Another issue you might hit relates to some identity matching and credit reports. I created an account with ING Direct this year and they made me talk to them for a few minutes about items on my credit history because my current address was 2000 miles away from the last address on my credit report (I'm cash-only now). This is only a problem you'll have if someone's using your social security number to run your credit.
posted by phearlez at 9:02 AM on July 20, 2005

Best answer: I've had a PO box for decades (mostly due to a lack of confidence with the raggedy mailboxes in the cheap apartments I wind up in). I heard a professional security consultant on the radio maybe ten years back recommend that everybody should have a PO box for their own protection, that it was idiocy to carry around identity documents listing your home address -- what if they fell into the wrong hands? (We obviously don't want to let criminal-predator types know where we live.) He said you should change everything to show your street address as the post office's, with your apartment number being the box number. I've tested this with mail, and it works, but I've never had the yarbles to actually follow through on the address change -- I picture the DMV refusing it, 'cause they'd recognize it as a post office, and maybe a cop coming 'round to determine just what it is I'm trying to hide. (Friends think just having a PO Box is suspicious, obviously I'm trying to hide something.) Also I heard more recently (maybe four years ago) that the USPS would no longer deliver improperly addressed mail to PO boxes (ie, mail addresses to the PO's street address) and that some law was making it illegal for commercial mailboxe services to do the same. Comparing with phearlez' figure, my fee is currently $55 a year now.

To answer the original question, how you acquire a PO Box and license given no permanent address, you don't. You must first have a legitimate address in order to get these things.
posted by Rash at 9:28 AM on July 20, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, tiny purple fishes - mostly I would like to hear how you live "without an address." For starters, do you mean you use a mail box, but actually live in one place, or are you a nomad?

And does anyone know - can you get mail forwarded to a PO for pickup if you don't have a box there? Or should it just be forwarded to a neighbor's or friend's address?
posted by attercoppe at 10:23 AM on July 20, 2005

can you get mail forwarded to a PO for pickup if you don't have a box there?

Sure -- that's what General Delivery's all about. And upon reflection, I'll bet you don't need a permanent address to get a PO Box -- you're required to state where you live, and you're supposed to keep them current when you move; but I don't recall any attempt at verification. (Unlike the Operator's Permit/USA ID Card, which the DMV insists on mailing to your address; or some other entities which require display of a recent utility bill in order to confirm that you're a resident.)
posted by Rash at 10:45 AM on July 20, 2005

do you mean you use a mail box, but actually live in one place, or are you a nomad?

I've been both. I first got a mail box for much the same reason that Rash did: I didn't want mail sitting out if I was not going to be coming home for a couple nights and a commercial mail drop (was Mail Boxes Etc., now UPSstore (and I pay ~$150 year)) could also receive Fedex, UPS, and USPS packages when I wasn't home. More recently I've been homeless and somewhat nomadic. I've couch-surfed, house-sat, camped, or shacked-up for more than a year. I have a small storage space, a truck, a cell phone, a mail box, and a laptop; that's enough for me to appear like an upstanding, home-owning (or at least home-renting) member of the community. The car insurer still thinks I live at my last known address, but since I've told them to use my mailing address they don't know, yet, that I only have a mailing address. Various government agencies (IRS, SSA, RMV (Massachusetts-speak for DMV), etc. ) have accepted my mailing address without complaint (and did so before it was my only address).

And I joined a gym for the showers so I don't smell homeless.

It's been an interesting experience and it's given me a new perspective on many things but it's also been in some ways a grind and I'm looking forward to moving into my own place next month.
posted by tiny purple fishes at 11:14 AM on July 20, 2005

PO boxes, Mail Boxes Etc, and the like work if you are around enough to empty the mailbox, or know someone who will do it for you. As for the true nomads (RVers, boaters etc.) who are not around to empty the box themselves and who do not have convenient relatives/friends to handle the chores, there are services that will forward mail, pay bills, etc. Look for pointers to them in sailing publications, cruising websites, and the newsgroups etc. that such people congregate.

One example I came across with a quick search was Voyagers Mail Forwarding Service, but there are others.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 3:46 PM on July 20, 2005

Response by poster: Wow, lots of "bests" here...thanks, guys 'n' gals, this is a lot of help.
posted by attercoppe at 6:42 PM on July 20, 2005

A couple years ago I was living abroad, and used a mail forwarding service so I could keep a U.S. address. At that time I got the best deal on mail forwarding by joining the RV organization the Good Sam Club. The forwarding service included a "real" street address. The service was inexpensive and worked very well for me.
posted by betterton at 11:25 AM on July 21, 2005

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