One of the trickiest aspects of nomad life is figuring out how to get mail when living in a car.
Unlike a house or apartment, the postal service can’t just walk up to your car door and leave a letter or package. But you still have to get your mail, so what’s the solution?
In this article, I’m going to share some pointers that will help you solve this problem very easily, like:
*The importance of private mailboxes
*Differences between domicile & residency
*Best addresses to use when getting vehicle insurance
And much more.
Let’s dive in!
Set Up a Mailing Address
When living in a car (or any other vehicle), it's important to have a reliable way to receive mail. Here are some options you can explore to set up your mailing address while maintaining a nomadic lifestyle.
Option #1: USPS General Delivery
Utilize the USPS General Delivery service, which allows you to have mail and packages sent to a local post office. You can pick up your mail by presenting a valid photo ID. To use this service, address your mail as follows:
Your Name General Delivery City, State, Zip Code
While this is a free service offered by the post office, not all post office locations offer it. You MUST call ahead or visit the specific location you wish to use beforehand to verify that they offer the service.
In addition, some post offices charge handling fees and have other costs, so ask about this, too.
Finally, some p.o.'s forward your mail to a central hub once it's delivered, and you will have to pick it up there...which is an inconvenience. Be sure to inquire where you will retrieve your mail, when doing doing your research.
Option #2: Rent a Post Office Box
Rent a Post Office Box (PO Box) at your local post office or UPS store. This provides you with a physical address where you can receive mail and smaller packages.
To rent a PO Box via USPS, at a UPS store or other private business, you will need to fill out an application and provide some form of ID. Fees vary depending on the box size and rental duration.
Option #3: Mail Forwarding Services
Mail forwarding services receive your mail at a designated address, and then forward it to you at your current location. The U.S. Postal Service offers a great option:
- USPS Premium Forwarding Service: Forward your mail on a weekly basis to a temporary address within the US.
Option #4: Virtual Mailbox Services
Virtual mailbox services provide you with a fixed mailing address and they will digitize your mail upon arrival. The service will call, email, or text you when you have mail delivered.
They will then send you photocopies of each envelope, and can even open your mail and send photocopies - with your permission - of the inner contents of each mail piece.
- Reading, downloading, and sorting mail online
- Forwarding physical mail and packages to your current location
- Shredding and recycling unwanted mail
With these options in mind, find the solution that best fits your needs and lifestyle. Remember to keep your address information up to date and communicate any changes to friends, family, and companies with whom you regularly correspond.
Receiving Packages and Items Ordered Online
While mailbox rentals - both public and privately owned - will accept mail for you while living on the road, many will only permit letters, bills, and other similar items, but do not handle boxes of any kind. Or, some may only accept smaller boxes.
This can be problematic when you have a larger parcel that you’re expecting from Amazon, UPS, FedEx, or some other source. However, there are numerous ways around this. A few of them are…
OPTION #1: Friends and Family Members
One of the simplest ways to receive packages (or even regular mail) is by sending them to the physical address of a trusted friend or family member.
Be sure to ask their permission first, and inform them when the package will be arriving so they can be home to bring it inside. Package theft is very, very common these days, and it’s best not to leave items unattended for long periods.
Option #2: Amazon Lockers
With Amazon Lockers, you can ship your Amazon packages to a locker facility nearby your current location.
These lockers are available in various venues, such as shopping centers and grocery stores, making it highly convenient to pick up your packages.
To use Amazon Lockers:
- During checkout on Amazon, select "Amazon Locker" as your shipping address.
- Choose an Amazon Locker location that’s close by and convenient for you.
- Once your package is delivered, you will receive an email with a unique pickup code.
- Enter the code on the locker's touchscreen to open your locker.
This option is great for those who frequently shop online and want a secure place to receive their packages on the road. Even better, Amazon offers this service free of charge.
Option #3: In-store Pickup
For items purchased from stores other than Amazon, consider using in-store pickup.
Many retail stores such as Walmart, Target, and others, allow you to select items online and pick them up in-store.
If you frequent at these stores regularly, you can kill two birds with one stone and pick up your boxes while doing your shopping.
To make use of in-store pickup:
- Select the "in-store pickup" or "store pickup" option during online checkout.
- Choose a store location convenient for you based on your travel plans.
- You will receive an email or notification when your order is ready for pickup.
- Go to the store and follow their instructions for picking up your order.
Remember to have a proper ID with you when picking up your packages to verify your identity, and always stay aware of store policies and pickup time limits to avoid any complications.
Other Places Nomads Can Receive Mail
Escapees RV Club
Many rvers get their mail handled by Escapees. But us car-dwellers can use this wonderful service, too!
You can utilize their address to get your mail and packages, but they can also hold your mail, do mail scanning, and provide a bunch of other helpful services. This is one of the most popular options to get mail for people in the nomadic lifestyle.
Campgrounds and RV Parks
When living in a car, campgrounds and RV parks can be a helpful option for receiving mail.
Many campgrounds offer mail delivery services to guests staying with them. You can simply have your mail sent to the campground's address, and they will hold it for you until you're able to pick it up.
This can be especially useful for fulfilling any necessities such as vehicle registration, bills, and identification.
Furthermore, staying at an RV park can provide additional benefits, like access to laundry facilities and other amenities that make life on the road more comfortable.
Yes, there are churches out there who will let people use their address to get mail, usually for things like driver's licenses, etc.
Look for churches that do a lot of community outreach and provide similar services, in addition to those with soup kitchens. These types of churches will oftentimes have programs in place to help those who are transient.
Due to outrageous national rent prices, and the surge of individuals who cannot afford housing, a slew of homeless shelters across the U.S. will actually accept mail for those in need.
This is becoming more and more popular, and it means that you could use a church's address when getting a license, or any other type of mail.
Just do a Google search for something like "Homeless shelter get mail in (your city)".
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the Difference Between a Domicile and Residency?
While they sound pretty similar, and these terms can be confusing, there ARE some important differences.
Residency essentially means where you choose to live. Domicile is considered a more permanent home base. For example…
A retired couple might have vacation residences in Florida and California, but their primary home is in Wisconsin. Or, a businessman might have a second residence on the west coast when he travels, but his true home is in New York on the east coast.
Why does all of this matter you ask?
Well, for starters, your domicile is usually where you will get most of your mail service delivered. Second, we all (unfortunately) must pay taxes. And your domicile state is the one that you will be taxed in.
On top of all that, being registered to vote, car insurance, and many other things are tied to your domicile state.
How Can I Establish Residency in a State Without a Home?
Establishing residency without a home can be challenging, but it's a lot simpler than changing your domicile. You can use a friend or family member's address as your legal address temporarily.
Another option is to establish residency in a state with flexible requirements, such as South Dakota, Texas, or Florida. These states allow travelers and full-time RVers to use mail forwarding service addresses as their legal residence.
Some nomads even rent a cabin or spot at an RV park or campground for a month. You can then use this as your new “home” address to change your driver’s license in the new state, in addition to other documents you’ll need.
After they mail your permanent i.d. cards to the RV park, you can simply move out and enjoy your new residency.
How Can I Establish Domicile in a New State?
This is much trickier for one primary reason…to establish domicile in a state, you must spend the majority of your time there; own property, attend school, earn income in the state, etc. Additionally, you will be required to prove it. There are ways around this, but they are very time consuming and somewhat costly.
Just having a driver’s license or a mailing address in a state isn’t going to cut it.
To prove that you have established domicile in a new state, aside from actually moving there, you may have to do things, like: register to vote there, choose a primary physician there, locate a place of worship, open a bank account, and numerous other tasks.
Doing all of this actually proves your intent to establish a new domicile. They all serve as forms of proof.
Can I Use a P.O. Box or Mailbox Rental as an Address to Get a Driver’s License?
For starters, no DMV in the U.S. will accept a mailbox rental as a home address. You might be able to get by with presenting the physical address of where your mailbox rental is located, and using that as an address, but this may not always work, and is becoming harder to get away with.
The simplest solution to this problem is using the address of a friend or family member. This is legal, safe, and costs nothing.
If you’re in a pinch and don’t have any address to use, try the following…
Option #1: If you recently moved from a house or apartment into a vehicle, forward all of your mail to a mailbox rental and continue using your old license (and address) until it has to be renewed or expires. This is a great strategy because you don’t have to get a new license at all, which makes things much easier.
Option #2: Many homeless shelters (and even churches) across the country have programs that offer mailboxes for those who are destitute. These mailbox addresses can legally be used when applying for a new license, or renewing an old one.
Can I Use a P.O. Box or Mailbox Rental as an Address for Car Insurance?
Absolutely not! If you live in your car, never attempt to do this when getting a new car insurance policy, or even if renewing an old one. They will find out - sometimes eventually - but they WILL know.
Not to sound like a broken record, but the easiest way around this will be to use the address of a friend or loved one. As long as it’s an apartment or house, you’re golden. Going this route will prevent a lot of frustration and risk.
If you have no other options, you could try renting a room at a cheap motel for a month or two, and use that as your address. An RV park works, too. After you've gotten the insurance, just forward your mail from the motel to a P.O. Box or virtual mail box.
If the insurer specifically asks if it's a house or apartment, tell them that you're home shopping currently, and it might be a few months until you find a permanent residence.
Don't try to hide the fact that you're using a hotel's address (or RV park)! Insurance companies aren't stupid, they will find out one way or another.
This tactic may, or may not, work. And renting a motel room for a month will be pricey. But if you don't have any options, this is definitely worth a shot.
Whether you live in a van, car, or any other vehicle, having an address you can use while traveling is mandatory.
Getting mail and packages, being able to title and register your vehicle, for voting, obtaining or renewing a license…all of these will require some type of permanent address.
While a friend or relative is the best option - because you can use their address - it’s not the only choice you have. You can get packages and mail via a wide range of places.
General delivery mail through the US Postal Service is a great choice, as is renting a mail box at one of the providers I mentioned.
You now know everything you need to get your affairs in order. Tackling this important step will lead you ever closer to hitting the road :)
LIVE WISELY, LIVE WELL!