What address to use when you are traveling with no fixed address
January 22, 2013 10:44 PM   Subscribe

I moved out of my apartment and want to travel and work remotely most of the year before taking a new apartment. My problem is that I don't have a fixed address in the meantime. My mail is forwarded to my parents outside the US (working very well), but I need an address to use with the IRS/Licence bureau/bank, etc. Could I boldly use my previous address even if I moved out? Can I use the foreign address with the government and the state without getting in trouble? Could I still be a resident of my state even if my mailing address is abroad? Could I use a P.O. Box? Some other service? What if I lengthen my absence from my state, at which point do I cease to be a resident of that state? (I'm a US citizen and a tourist in the countries I'm traveling to). I can use some heads up!
posted by kirsti to Law & Government (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Don't you have any friends or extended family with a US address who can receive your mail and notify you of anything important? I'd certainly do that for a friend and it wouldn't burden me the least.

In my experience, banks don't care about the address (state or even the country, both national banks and local credit unions) at all as long as they have your money. The US states I've lived in have mailed licences to any address I specify (yup, out of state & international) although it might take a couple of phone calls.
posted by halogen at 10:52 PM on January 22, 2013

I was recently in a somewhat similar situation and used the address of a friend who I knew I could get mail from, as needed.

For tax purposes, I think there are date/amount of time cutoffs for state residency (i.e. you have to have lived in State X for Y days in 2012 in order to owe taxes in that state), but otherwise this shouldn't matter much.

For a lot of these bank/library card/DMV type purposes, you often need to either present a piece of mail addressed to you at what you claim to be your address, or they will send some vital piece of the puzzle to the address you specify, and you need to have that object in order for the transaction to work.

Also, sometimes it needs to be an address that is also on your ID. In those cases, I've fudged and just used the address that's on my ID, current physical residence or not. But, again, if this is something that involves mail, it can get tricky.
posted by Sara C. at 10:57 PM on January 22, 2013

I'm an American who's moved overseas and back (and eventually, back overseas).

Do not use your previous address unless you have a friend living there who will handle your mail: otherwise it's likely to be "return to sender".

For unimportant mail I use my mom's address (my Alumni Association, etc.).

For IRS, Student Loans, Voting, Grad School rego, etc. - I use my real, international, mailing address. I am a resident of California, and also a Permanent Resident of Australia. I have had no trouble with this & I have no idea why this would get you in trouble. You are a resident of your state until you gain and claim residency in another state, or give up your citizenship. US Citizens live all over the world for all sorts of reasons. I file my US and State Taxes from here (though I don't pay anything since I'm under the income threshold for having to pay taxes in two countries), with my Australian address. I registered to vote from here too - vote by mail.

Do not use a PO box. They will cram it full until they decide it's been abandoned, at which point everything will be sent to the dead letter office (I assume).

You can be away from your state forever (as far as I can tell) and still be a resident of that state as long as you are a citizen. I have lived and worked in CA a whopping total of... 10 months over the past eight years and I am still registered to vote there, still have a CA drivers' license, still eligible for in-state tuition (I took some community college classes during those 10 months), etc.

Since you're moving around, I'd use a responsible friend's address with important agencies - a friend who will open your mail and be able to alert you to anything important you've received. You should also Google something like "Overseas Mail Forwarding Service" - I'm sure there's companies that do this, and would hold your mail and send it periodically (like, once a month - allowing you to update your address in between if necessary... guess it depends on how much you intend to move around). Good luck!
posted by jrobin276 at 11:16 PM on January 22, 2013

Full-time RVers face this same problem. What they do is use a mail forwarding service. You pay for this service, and they give you what looks like an apartment address but it is really a type of mailbox. When you are ready for your mail, you let them know where you want it sent to you (in your case, a hotel, a friend's address, "general delivery" at a post office, or wherever).

Like you, RVers have the issue of residency. My understanding is that it is important to use a mail forwarding service that is in the same state you claim residency. Otherwise, it will be difficult to get your drivers license renewed and so on. This issue is especially important in states that do not have state-level income tax (because, as you can imagine, a lot of people want to claim residency so they don't have to pay taxes). You keep a bank account in the resident state, have the mail forwarding service in the same state, and if you own a vehicle keep it registered in the same state. You will show several pieces of identification to the service so that there are no problems in proving residency later.

I don't know what state you're in, but two large organizations for RVers is Escapees and Good Sam. Both of these have mail-forwarding services as part of what they offer their members.
- Escapees mail forwarding service, for an address in Texas
- Good Sam mail forwarding service, for an address in Florida

If you don't live in Texas or Florida, you might call them and ask for a reputable service in your state.
posted by Houstonian at 11:33 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your replies. They are very helpful.
I would like to use my parents address (Canada) if only it would not cause me trouble. (I'm also a Canadian citizen, which may make it look like I moved back there, which I didn't.)
I have friends/relatives in the US, but not suitable ones in the Washington state where I lived for 3 1/2 years until two months ago. Washington does not have state income tax. That's the biggest reason that I want to stay a resident there.

If anyone knows more about the number of days away from state and not considered a resident anymore. If I don't show up in the US the whole year, do I still pay state tax (if that state happens to collect tax)?
posted by kirsti at 11:49 PM on January 22, 2013

If you left the US from Washington, and you didn't spend significant time living in any other US state, you remain a theoretical resident of Washington the whole time you're abroad. You wouldn't default to a residency in some other state for tax purposes.

Though of course a Canadian citizenship might complicate this stuff.

If you plan to be out of either the US or Canada for more than six months or so -- especially if you'll be living semi-permanently in any one particular place -- your best bet for tax stuff is to talk to an accountant.

How long do you plan to be gone? If years, things like which country your permanent address is located in might become really significant in terms of the concept of "residence", especially as someone who lives permanently in one country, holds citizenship in another country, and is an expat in a third country. If a few months, I wouldn't worry about any of this stuff at all. Forward your mail wherever the hell you want. Use whatever address makes sense.
posted by Sara C. at 12:01 AM on January 23, 2013

There are various services which will receive your mail, notify you on-line that it has arrived, and then give you options like: shred, scan and email, forward. That might be worth checking out.

Most organisations, in my experience, are happy to use this type of address in lieu of a standard street address. If you are dealing with an organisation like a bank then be up front with them about what you are planning - they may be willing to use a forwarding address but they can also put a footnote on your files to say that you are travelling: that can help with security problems. Some retailers only ship domestically so you could also use this solution as a way round that.

Some more antediluvian organisations are only set up to send mail to domestic addresses and insist that those addresses must be physical (the British driving licence people are like this, for example). In that case your only option is to use a friend's address.
posted by rongorongo at 1:58 AM on January 23, 2013

I'm a US citizen living in Mexico and traveling a lot. I use Earth Class Mail, which gives you a range of addresses to choose from. I picked Florida, a state that doesn't charge income tax, in preparation for changing my US state residency to Florida from a midwestern state that wants to continue charging me tax even though I sold my house there and meet the IRS requirements for being a full-time resident abroad.

For IRS documents, I use the Mexican address.

As I understand it, as long as you're a US citizen, you're a resident of a state. It might be the state where you have your driver's license, for example, or where you own a house. If you plan to keep your citizenship but live abroad, it might be worth looking into changing your state residency to one that doesn't charge income tax.

I receive important mail for my business and the scanning service of Earth Class Mail has been useful. That way I immediately get my mail no matter where I am. I can also have them deposit checks for me (for a non-trivial fee) and FedEx stuff that I absolutely have to have in paper form.
posted by ceiba at 6:39 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are probably not in Arizona, but if your state is similar to mine, how residency is defined varies according to the agency in question.

In Arizona, to attend a university, residency is defined as:

The general rule is that in order to obtain resident status for tuition purposes, a student must establish his or her domicile in Arizona at least one year immediately prior to the last day of regular registration for the semester in which the student proposes to attend the university. Arizona domicile occurs when a financially independent person is physically present in Arizona with the intention of making Arizona his or her permanent home.

and for a driver's license:

State law requires that you obtain an Arizona vehicle registration and driver license, immediately if any of the following applies. If you:

* Work in Arizona (other than for seasonal agricultural work) –or–
* Are registered to vote in Arizona –or–
* Place children in school without paying the tuition rate of a nonresident –or–
* Have a business that has an office in Arizona, and that bases and operates vehicles in this state –or–
* Obtain a state license or pay school tuition fees at the same rate as an Arizona resident –or–
* Have a business that operates vehicles to transport goods or passengers within Arizona –or–
* Remain in Arizona for a total of 7 months or more during any calendar year, regardless of your permanent residence.

In regards to paying state income tax:

You are a resident of Arizona if your domicile is in Arizona. Domicile is the place where you have your permanent home. It is where you intend to return if you are living or working temporarily in another state or country. If you leave Arizona for a temporary period, you are still an Arizona resident while gone. A resident is subject to tax on all income no matter where the resident earns the income.
posted by QuakerMel at 8:35 AM on January 23, 2013

put a footnote on your files to say that you are travelling: that can help with security problems

You should absolutely call your bank and tell them you'll be traveling, where, and for how long. If you're doing some kind of gap year round-the-world thing, it might even be a good idea to call them from each new country or world region (maybe after each flight, if you're doing a traditional RTW).

You should do this whether you are traveling for a week or forever. Because after an arbitrary number of overseas transactions, they will put a security hold on your account.
posted by Sara C. at 10:40 AM on January 23, 2013

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