If you are dreaming of setting off on a prolonged RV adventure, but are worried about getting mail while you are gone, this post is for you. Some people are hesitant to move out on their great adventures because they fear that they will become disconnected, skip a bill payment, or miss out the Christmas cards that come in the mail. The good news is that you have a few options, stay tuned and I will walk you through them.
So, how do you get mail if you live in an RV or van? You can still receive mail while living in an RV or van by signing up for a PO Box or other mailbox in a nearby town, using a nearby friend’s address, or getting things sent to a campground where you are staying.
These mailboxes are usually fairly cheap and convenient. UPS has local offices that offer mailboxes for rent, and your local post office usually has PO mailboxes for rent (PO Box stands for Post Office Box). PO Boxes are a popular option, my Grandma even uses one!
There are some things to watch out for when renting out a mailbox, though. I will walk you through some of the legal consequences you could encounter while not having a residential address, and help you consider some other courses of action you can take instead.
How PO Boxes Work
Post Office Boxes are little mailboxes located inside a physical US Post Office. When you sign up for a mailbox you are given the key to your box, and you can start using it right away.
Using this type of mailbox has some upsides. They are very safe, only you have the key, and you can even get your mail and packages sooner than if waiting for deliver to a residential address. Also, Post Offices are usually very accessible. Generally, there is one Post Office that handles the mail for one ZIP code. Because there is usually one post office per ZIP code, you won’t ever have to go too far to get your mail.
To sign up for a PO Box, you can go to the Post Office or use the Post Office’s website. The cost will vary throughout the nation, so check with your post office, but they can usually be rented for as low as $25 per six month period.
Once you have a PO Box, you can sign up for mail forwarding. This is a process in which the Postal Service will forward your mail for free to your new address.
There are other mailboxes that you can use too. Like I mentioned, the UPS Stores rent mailboxes. Because the UPS stores are independent franchises, the cost of these mailboxes will also vary.
Another option is to use a lawyer’s address. Some lawyers will actually be OK with you sending things to their address if it is for legal documents and things (think driver’s license renewal, or any other official thing). You obviously need to do this for very limited circumstances, because if you get all of your mail sent to them, they will probably be upset or start charging you.
What are the downsides?
It is important to remember that a Post Office Box Address is NOT a residential address. It is just a mailing address. There is a big difference. A residential address is the physical address of the place where you live and sleep.
A mailing address is an address that people can send mail to you at. For many parts of the country, these are one and the same, but in places without door-to-door mail delivery, these addresses will be different (this is mostly in more rural areas).
So, if you are going to be living in an RV or van long-term, then you should know that a PO Box is not going to count as a residential address for purposes of insurance, government-issued identification, voter registration, etc. Let’s explore the consequences of each, and what you can do about them.
When you get a driver’s license, they will send it to the address you provide. So if you ever want to get your license, then you need to have access to that address. Also, the state will verify the residential address you provide. The United States’ REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, has put pressure on states to be more strict on the documents they will collect when they issue you an identification card or driver’s license.
The law requires you to provide proof of a RESIDENTIAL address. A Post Office Box address will just not meet this legal requirement and will be automatically rejected.
UPS Boxes are also not likely to work, either. For identification to be secure enough, you need the address of the place where YOU live. You could try and put the address of a UPS Store or your lawyer, but know that the law requires states to check the addresses you submit to them. They will make sure that it is not a business address. This makes sure that the address you submit refers to a residential building. The bottom line is, they will not accept an address that is a business address.
What To Do If You Need a Residential Address
What I have explained may leave you wondering, “Well what do I do then??” This is not a simple question to answer, as the law was not designed around RVers, but was designed to be helpful in stopping terrorists. You have a few options. The first is to ask a friend or family member to let you use their address for official documents.
If they are willing, you could use their address for official purposes, such as getting your driver’s licenses, passports, etc. renewed, but use a rented mailbox (PO Box) for regular everyday mail. This would be the most respectful thing to do, so that your friend’s mailbox is not filled up by your junk mail.
The other thing to keep in mind is that today, most things can be done online. You bank statements, bills, Christmas greetings, and most everything else can be done completely electronically. This will cut down on the amount of mail you need to get and may even help you to avoid the need completely to rent a mailbox.
Voter registration also requires a residential address so that they can put you in the correct Congressional/School/Water/Fire districts to be voting in. This address will probably not be as strictly checked as the address you provide for a driver’s license, but you should still have access to the address in case you need it.
Vehicle Registration/Insurance Coverage
This is probably the most complicated subject to deal with. If you are seriously going to be living out of an RV for a long time, then you will eventually need to renew your registration. Most states allow you to do it online, so that should probably be your first choice.
If you need an emissions test or something similar, you will have to decide between returning to your home state to get it done, and registering the vehicle in another state. This would involve getting a residential address and becoming a resident of that state.
Insurance companies require a residential address so that they can calculate your insurance rates, but you may not have to actually be capable of retrieving mail from that address. Just call an agent to work out the best plan of action for your situation.
Is it possible to use your RV as a permanent residential address? It is possible. The requirements vary between states, but in general, you need: The basic documents to establish your citizenship and two documents to establish your residency. So you could pay a full month’s rent at a campground somewhere, get a receipt, and register to vote.
Is it a good idea to purchase an RV Mail Forwarding Service? An RV Mail Forwarding Service can collect your mail for you, scan it for you and forward you the mail you wish to receive. This can be useful if you are maintaining residency in another state, and need to keep up with documents, voting, insurance, etc.