Living State to State

June 23, 2014

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Many tourists often tell me how much they enjoyed their great American road trip, and just how simple it was to cross state lines without showing papers or being stopped. While I’m sure I have grown up taking this particular freedom for granted, there are some downsides to our US states most foreigners wouldn’t have even considered… because some are stupid and outdated. No one would be surprised that laws vary country to country, but within a country?

In general, the age at which one can consume alcohol in the US is 21. To vote, 18. To drive solo, 16. To hire a car, 25. To buy a gun…? There are so many variations when it comes to laws it’s ridiculous. You can openly smoke marijuana in a few states now, but in others you’ll be arrested on the spot. Gay marriage is almost completely accepted across borders, but a few years ago it was rare to find a state government willing to recognize the union (and if you crossed state lines, that legal protection disappeared).

Until recently, I didn’t have to deal with these discrepancies. Throughout my time abroad, I kept my Texas driver’s license, using my parents’ home as my permanent address for state and federal tax returns. Even when I was back for a few months in San Francisco or another city, this didn’t change. I’m starting to realize the US government and local municipalities don’t really plan on travelers when it comes to paperwork and notifications. For instance, one of the issues I’ve been having is whether I now need to change my residency to California, as I’ll be here for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, that means giving my Texas driver’s license and acquiring a stable home. I don’t know where I’ll be after December, so if I chose to travel internationally again, I’d be walking around with an invalid license address and forced to list a place in California as my current address.

The relocation process, assuming you have all your ducks in a row, is fairly straightforward. You were a resident of one state; you find a job in another; you arrange housing; you notify the Department of Motor Vehicles within ten days of your arrival and turn in your old state ID for a new one with your new address.

But what of travelers, who move across state lines every year, never keeping a permanent address? There is no system in place for them. I’m staying in a hotel at the moment, and obviously can’t list that as my address for tax purposes. Nor can I comply with the 10-day policy on notifying local authorities if I don’t have an address. At the moment, there don’t seem to be any consequences to this decision. In case you were wondering, you can’t list a PO Box as your address to claim residency.

Workwise, I’ve been denied opportunities because I hold an out-of-state driver’s license and can’t apply for certain permits. I’ll see how things work out with taxes in the coming months.

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