New Florida resident?
Welcome to the great State of Florida!
Whether you are on a short visit or you want to call Florida home, welcome to our great state! It's a good feeling once you cross the Florida state line on Interstate 75 or touch down and exit the jetway at Tampa International Airport. Whatever the purpose of your visit, you'll enjoy every minute of your stay in Florida, whether it may be the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and its excellent gulf beaches or any of the other great areas of our state such as Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, Orlando (and the land of Mickey Mouse), Jacksonville or even Key West!
However, if you are coming to Florida for the purpose of working, buying a home or renting an apartment and calling Florida home or placing children in our public schools, your legal status without you even knowing about it has changed from a resident of your home state to a resident of the State of Florida!
I know, there has been a lot of negative publicity about living in Florida these days due to high property taxes, high insurance and lack of affordable housing (especially the many apartment complexes that have gone condominium these days, but I believe this is bouncing back somehow due to the ongoing housing crisis). However, during my travels in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area I am seeing too many out of state plates on the roads. Being a tourist or a "snowbird" that's OK (after all, tourism is the lifeblood of our state) but when someone from out of state uses a Florida residency based benefit such as placing children in public school, accepting employment, registering to vote, or registering for homestead exemption on a home you recently purchased, that's a different story.
So, with this in mind this will be the subject of a web topic here at EdwardRingwald.com: What would cause me to become a Florida resident? But before I go on further, here is a very important disclaimer: While I may have a degree in Legal Assisting, none of what is presented here should be considered legal advice! If you are unsure of your legal status as a Florida resident consultation with an attorney who is licensed by the Florida Bar is highly recommended and strongly encouraged.
The General Residency Rule in Florida
If you come to Florida with the intention of the following:
Taking a job with an employer in Florida
Placing children in a public school in Florida
Registering to vote
Registering for Homestead Exemption
Declaring Florida residency through filing a certificate of domicile with the Clerk of the Court
(Commonly used when an apartment is the principal residence; this is needed to enroll your children in a Florida public school to prove residency both in Florida and in the county you reside in)
Florida law requires you to convert your out of state registration (license plates) and drivers license to a Florida registration and a Florida drivers license within ten (10) days of the day you performed any of the act(s) mentioned above that made you a Florida resident.
OK, I need to convert my out of state drivers license to a Florida drivers license. How do I do this?
The best way to get your Florida drivers license is to go to a Florida drivers license office, located strategically throughout the state. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has a website where you can locate the drivers license office near you. In most cases all you need to do is to pass a vision test in order to convert your out of state license to a Florida license.
In the more populated Florida counties the Tax Collector's office (this is where you will get your license plates for your car) also performs drivers license related transactions, but be prepared to pay a small convenience fee.
Before you go to convert your out of state drivers license to a Florida drivers license, you will be required to bring documentation including proof of residential address. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has a specialty site that will tell you what documents you need.
But you are not done yet! If you own a vehicle with out of state license plates please read on.
I don't like to part with my out of state tag but I have to now that I am a Florida resident. How do I accomplish this?
To get your Florida plates go to your county's Tax Collector office. In Florida the Tax Collector of your Florida county also acts as an authorized agency for the issuance of vehicle registration, titling and license plates. Again, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has a website where you can locate your county's tax collector office near you.
Bring the following with you to the tax collector's office when you go for your Florida tags: Your Florida drivers license (very important!), your out of state title, your out of state registration and proof of insurance. However, nine times out of ten you may not have the title because you financed your vehicle when you bought it in the first place; let the tag/title clerk in the tax collector's office know and your vehicle registration should be a snap.
If you have a personalized license plate from out of state that you would like to use in Florida (in other words, have the same personalization on your Florida plate) tell the tag/title clerk and a computer check will be done to see if you can use your same personalization on your Florida plate.
Additionally, Florida has a great smorgasbord of specialty license plates you can choose from if you're so inclined; the Pinellas County Tax Collector has a page on their website that shows you the many specialty license plates out there.
Exceptions to the General Residency Rule
Florida Statutes provide for exceptions to the residency rule when it comes to obtaining Florida license plates and Florida drivers licenses. The most common exception is those stationed in the military and are serving in Florida pursuant to military orders. Federal laws prohibit states from requiring active duty military to transfer their driver license and registration to a new state solely because of the service member being stationed in that state. Additionally, active duty military may enroll their children in Florida public schools without having to transfer their driver license and registration to Florida provided that active duty military status is maintained.
Active duty military from out of state do not have to obtain Florida license plates nor obtain a Florida drivers license while stationed in Florida. Neither does the immediate family of the service member as well. But be careful! Performing any of the acts listed below can require you or your family to obtain a Florida drivers license and/or Florida plates:
The service member accepts a second civilian job
The service member purchases a home in Florida and claims Homestead Exemption
The service member registers to vote in Florida
Any of the service member's family gets a job
The service member or his/her family obtains any other benefit that requires Florida residency (for example, becoming a Florida notary public)
Another exception is college students from out of state attending any of Florida's universities or community colleges. College students from out of state do not have to obtain Florida license plates nor obtain a Florida drivers license incidental to attending college. But again, be careful as performing any of the acts listed below may require you to obtain a Florida drivers license and/or Florida plates:
The student pays in-state tuition for classes
The student accepts a job while going to school
The student places his or her children in Florida public schools (the K-12 kind, that is)
The student purchases a home in Florida and claims Homestead Exemption
The student registers to vote in Florida
What if I do not get my Florida Driver's License and Tags and I am working or place my children in public school in Florida?
First of all, you can be charged with violation of Florida State Statute 320.38 (related to license plates) and 322.031 (related to driver's licenses). This can happen if an officer stops you for a traffic violation and (for instance) sees you with a Tampa Bay area private company parking hang tag and your out of state license plates. That's not a traffic infraction - it's a criminal misdemeanor offense!
You can also be charged with perjury (and be liable for back property taxes) if you are claiming homestead exemption on property you own in Florida. You can also be charged with perjury if you placed children in public school and told the school officials that you were a resident (after all, nonresidents who place their children in Florida public schools are subject to a $50 tuition fee). Same thing goes for college students from out of state who try to claim in-state tuition. Perjury is a very serious matter - it's a criminal third degree felony! (See Florida State Statute 92.525).
One final note and disclaimer
Enjoy your travels through the Sunshine State and have a great time in Florida! But remember your obligations as to driver's licenses and vehicle registration (license plates) if you become a Florida resident.
As I mentioned earlier, while your webmaster has a college degree in Legal Assisting, none of this advice presented here is not and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have any questions about any act which would make you a Florida resident please by all means contact an attorney.
By the way, if you are flying in to our great state and Tampa is your destination, you may want to check out my flyer on tips for travelers flying into Tampa International Airport over at my all things Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area website, Interstate275Florida.com!