In recent years, people have been moving to the state of Florida in droves. The climate is mild and there is no estate tax, no state income tax, property taxes are lower than in other states, and there is a lower overall cost of living. There are a few ways in which a person can establish permanent residency in the Sunshine State. An individual who moves to Florida, but does not formally establish residency may end up still paying income taxes to their former state.
Definition of "Domicile" in Florida
A "domicile" determines the state in which a person pays taxes and is eligible for state benefits and programs. It is where the person lives and intends to make a residence for themselves for an indefinite period.
When choosing a domicile, an individual can choose only one state and indicate their choice by establishing critical relationships within that state. When establishing a domicile in Florida or anywhere else, individuals must convince their former state that they have abandoned residency there.
Tax Advantages as a Resident of Florida
Florida residents may save money on their property taxes since the state provides many tax exemptions. They include:
- Homestead Exemption.
- Widow or widower exemption.
- Exemption for seniors with limited income.
- Exemptions for military members and veterans.
- Fallen hero exemption.
- Exemption for total and permanent disabilities (not service and first responder connected).
Florida gives a $25,000 Homestead Exemption for the first $50,000 of a property's assessed value if the property is a permanent residence, and the individual established ownership on January 1 of the tax year. Additionally, an exemption of up to $25,000 will apply if a property has a total assessed value between $50,000 and $75,000. This exemption does not apply to school district taxes.
How to Apply for Homestead Exemption
A person who wants to claim the Florida Homestead Exemption must meet specific requirements within a specified time frame, which they must complete in a particular order. For example, Lee County requires homeowners to own and occupy their property by January 1 of the year in which they apply. Application forms for the exemption are available through each county's property appraiser's office. When applying for a Homestead Exemption, the property owner must also present:
- A valid Florida driver's license or I.D. card, if they do not have a license, and a copy of a certified birth certificate or a valid passport.
- A valid voter's registration card or a Florida Declaration of Domicile that shows the homeowner's Florida address.
- Valid registration of at least one vehicle in Florida.
- Proof of property ownership in the form of a deed or property tax bill. If the property owner holds the title in trust, they may have to furnish a Certificate of Trust during the application process.
The denial of a Homestead Exemption application may occur until the homeowner can furnish a form from an assessor in any other county where they own real estate stating they are not also claiming an exemption in that county.
Declaration of Domicile
Florida does not require a Declaration of Domicile, but it can help to establish residency. To record a Declaration of Domicile, a person needs to show legal identification, such as a state-issued I.D. card, driver's license or U.S. passport. They must sign the Declaration of Domicile in front of a notary public or Florida court deputy clerk in their county, disclose if they have another home in a different state, and confirm that Florida will be their principal residence.
The county then records the declaration in its public records. If a person falsely signs or otherwise perjures themselves on a Declaration of Domicile, they face penalties of up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Spouses, domestic partners, or others who live together may sign the same form.
Obtaining a Florida Driver's License
A person hoping to become a Florida resident must get a driver's license within 30 days of living in the state. They cannot maintain two state licenses at once.
After obtaining a license, they must get car insurance to register their vehicle within 10 days of establishing residency. Documents required to register a vehicle include:
- Birth certificate, valid passport or passport card.
- Social Security card.
- Two documents with proof of residential address.
- Non-U.S. residents can substitute their birth certificate for a valid immigration document.
Registering to Vote in the Sunshine State
Another way to establish Florida as a state of residence is to register to vote there. When it comes time to vote, individuals should make sure to mark their ballots in Florida and not in their previous state. This will provide further evidence that they are serious about becoming a resident.
Individuals must register to vote at least 30 days before an election in Florida. Most people will register to vote when they get their driver's license.
Bank Accounts and the IRS
Of course, a person who lives in Florida can have an out-of-state bank account. However, opening a bank account in Florida will act as further proof of their intent to establish residency.
Individuals must list a current permanent address on their income tax returns. Listing a Florida address on a tax return will further prove their residency. As the state does not impose an income tax, residents should notify tax officials where they used to live of their relocation. Their former state will experience a reduction in revenue by their leaving, so that state may have additional requirements to officially terminate that residency.
Updating Estate Documents
Florida has no estate tax. Establishing Florida as a permanent home is critical for individuals to avoid paying estate taxes in their former state. They should update their will or living trust declaring Florida as their new state of legal residence.
An estate planning attorney can recommend ways for individuals to establish and document their Florida residency, including the use of a Declaration of Domicile.
The 183-Day Rule
Many states have a 183-Day Rule, which means that they will tax someone as a resident if they own a home and spend 183 days, or six months, of the year in that state. The days they spend in the state don't have to be consecutive. Note that Florida does not have this rule in establishing residency, but New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey do.
A person spending part of their time in Florida and the rest of the time in a northern state may want to keep a log noting where they are during the year. If their former state tax agency wants to conduct a residency audit, they might have to prove that they spent most of their time in the Sunshine State. Receipts from Florida businesses may help validate their case.
Residency for Tuition Purposes
A resident for tuition purposes is an individual or a dependent person whose parent or legal guardian has legal residency in Florida for a minimum of 12 consecutive months before the first day of classes of a semester in which the student seeks Florida residency. For this, they must meet these requirements:
- Their residence must be a bona fide domicile in Florida.
- They must be a U.S. citizen or foreign national with a non-immigrant visa classification, allowing them to legally establish a bona fide domicile in the U.S.; a permanent resident alien; or a legal alien granted indefinite residency.
Going to school or living in Florida does not alone establish legal residence. For example, the state does not consider students who get support from their out-of-state parents as residents. Students must verify the broken tie to their former state or show that their parents have moved to Florida. For consideration in being a resident for tuition purposes, applicants must show:
- Voter registration card number and issue date from Florida.
- State driver's license number with original and current issue dates.
- Florida ID card number with original and current issue dates.
- Florida vehicle registration number with original and current issue dates.
- Proof of a permanent home in the state, occupied as a primary residence for 12 consecutive months before the student's enrollment. This can include a deed, a homeowner's policy, a title insurance policy, proof of a property tax payment or a lease.
- Proof of a Homestead Exemption to the claimant's primary residence in a document from a county tax collector.
- Attendance at a Florida high school for multiple years, a high school diploma, or a GED from the past 12 months with attendance and graduation dates.
- Proof of permanent, full-time employment in pay stubs or a W-2 form for at least 30 hours per week for 12 months.
Additional Ways to Establish Residency
A person can also establish residency in Florida by proving that they were present in the state with the intention to make the state their primary residence. That doesn't mean they cannot travel outside the state, but sporadically vacationing in Florida or owning a vacation property in the state does not satisfy residency requirements.
Additional ways to establish residency include:
- Obtaining a library card in Florida.
- Registering pets with a veterinarian in Florida.
- Obtaining a resident fishing license.
- Listing the state as a residence in deeds and other documents.
- Using a Florida address whenever possible, such as on airline or hotel reservations.
- Notifying the Social Security Administration of the move to Florida.
- Establishing health- and wealth-based professional relationships in Florida, for example, with attorneys, accountants, doctors or financial advisors.
- Using a Florida address for credit cards.
- Joining religious and social organizations in the state.
- Obtaining a safe deposit box in the state.
- Getting Florida health insurance.
- Directing any income, including paychecks, pensions, dividends and interest to a Florida bank account or address.
- Moving a business to Florida.
Divorce and Florida Residency
A person who wishes to obtain a divorce in Florida must prove that they are a resident of the state in order to get a family court to dissolve their union. The court must have jurisdiction over the case, meaning that it has the authority to make a legal judgment on it.
At least one spouse must have residency in Florida for at least six months before filing for divorce to show jurisdiction. This spouse must prove their residency before a court can hear their case. The court will make a finding of residency based on evidence the spouse presents. If it does not find residency, it can dismiss the case.
- Florida Legislature: Chapter 61 Dissolution of Marriage; Support; Time-sharing
- NOLO: What Is Your Domicile?
- New College of Florida: Residency Declaration for Tuition Purposes
- Volusia County Property Appraiser: Homestead Exemption
- Aflea.org: What Is a Declaration of Domicile in Florida?
- Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles: New Resident – Welcome to Florida!
- Alper Law: Florida Residency Requirements
- 2CollegeBrothers: How to Become a Florida Resident 2021 Florida Residency Guide
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.