The number one question that we receive from Florida newcomers is how to obtain residency in Florida to take advantage of the lack of income tax here. What follows is a quick review of the steps that we took to achieve this goal. Everybody has slightly different circumstances (this procedure may not work the same way for everyone, and it is only a summary of what worked for us). A great source of information about this process and other issues for newcomers to Southwest Florida can be found on the Lee County Website under the topic “New Residents.”
1. Drivers Licenses: This process is governed by Florida procedure, but now has to comply with the regulations of Homeland Security, since drivers licenses are used for identity at airports across the US. In Lee County, a Florida drivers license for people with valid out-of-state drivers licenses can be obtained at the Lee County Tax Office on Bonita Springs Beach Road about a mile east of Route 41. No road test or other written exam is required other than an eye test. The process involves your need to have written proof of identity, social security numbers, and residential address in Lee County.
a. Identity: You will need to bring with you a certified birth certificate, a valid passport, or a certificate of naturalization. If you are coming from certain states (like Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan etc.) your current drivers license is proof of identity. The complete list can be reached from the New Residents Guide cited above. A second form of ID is needed which can include any government issued official form with your name on it, including a drivers license from states not listed in the guide.
b. Social Security Number: You will need to show your social security card or a copy of the first page of last year’s tax return which shows your name and social security number.
c. Residential Address: You will need to show copies of two local bills such as your FPL bill or Comcast bill which show your name and your Florida address.
Once you have completed this, the agent will take your out-of-state license and return it to your previous home state.
2. Voter Registration: At the same time as you obtain your drivers license, the agent at the Lee County Tax Office can complete a voter registration application for you. In a few weeks you will receive a voter registration card with instructions where to vote in the next election. It will have a registration number which is necessary for purposes of the Homestead Exemption discussed below.
3. Auto Registration: As is the case with the two previous steps, auto registrations can be obtained at the Lee County Tax Office on Bonita Springs Beach Road.
a. Proof of Ownership: In most states, the basic proof of ownership is a Title Certificate, so you will need to bring your Title with you as issued by the state in which it was titled. If you have a lien on your car (i.e. it was financed), some states will send the title back to you with the lien endorsed, but most states send the title to the lender. If that is the case, you must file a request for title letter with the bank or other lien holder on the form required by the State of Florida. You can get this on line via the New Residents Guide or you can get one at the Lee County Tax Office. You need to send this letter to the address where the bank holds the title. For example, Bank of America holds all the titles in an office in Jacksonville, FL. A call to the bank should get you the correct address. When Lee County gets the title back from the lender they will send you a letter giving you time to come in to complete the process.
b. Application for Title: The agent will assist you in filing out the application for a Florida Certificate of Title Form HSMV82040. This form is available on the Lee County website if you want to review it prior to going to the Tax Office.
c. Proof of Identity: Your new drivers license or passport is proof of identity for this purpose.
d. Odometer Disclosure and VIN Number: The Lee County agent will go out to your car with you to get the mileage on the odometer and to check the VIN number from the windshield. They will then fill out the form and sign it.
e. Proof of Paid Sales Tax: If you have purchased the car within 6 months, they will need proof that you have paid sales tax in the state that you bought the car. If this was Florida, then that is all you need. If it was purchased out of state within 6 months, they will need proof of payment of sales tax to that state, and will charge you the difference in tax if the sales tax in that state is lower than in Florida. If you purchased the car more than 6 months ago, there is no issue and no additional tax.
f. Payment: Once you have completed the above, they will ask for payment by cash or check (or Amex?). The cost for us was about $410 per car, but this varies with the automobile in question. The first year charge is higher than in subsequent years.
4. Declaration of Domicile: Forms for this document are available on line and are then filed with the Lee County Clerk of Courts at the Courthouse in Fort Myers. The form will need to be notarized. This step is a legal declaration that you have chosen Florida as your domicile for all purposes. Filing this form is one proof of residency for purposes of the Homestead Exemption discussed below, but is not a formal requirement. It is important for you to consider filing this document if you are retaining a residence in another state which has an income or estate tax. It is additional proof of your intent to make your Florida residence you domicile for such purposes. You should contact a personal advisor (tax accountant or lawyer) before doing this.
5. Homestead Exemption: There are several property tax exemptions available to Florida residents, but the main one is the $50,000 exemption for property taxes on your primary residence (others include a widows exemption, disability exemption, disabled veteran exemption, senior exemption in certain parts of the county). You will see from the form and instruction which ones you can use. The Homestead Exemption can be filed on line or obtained at the website of the Lee County Property Appraisers www.leepa.org. Here are the steps to complete this form, which must be filed by April 1st:
a. You must be in residency as of January 1st of the tax year in question (taxes are paid in November for each year). Residency means that you basically have completed the first three steps above at least by January 1st of that year.
b. You must provide your social security numbers for both owners (husband and wife if applicable).
c. You must provide your Voter Registration Numbers for each owner.
d. You must provide your Drivers License Numbers for each owner.
e. You must provide your Florida Auto registration numbers (license plate numbers) on your car(s).
f. If you have filed a Declaration of Domicile, you need to put down the filing number (book and page or instrument number).
g. If you have another homestead exemption for a residency in another state, you will need to terminate that exemption as of January 1st of that year, and provide proof that it has been terminated (a letter from the taxing authority of the other property). If you show on your filing that you have another residency anywhere or have filed taxes in the previous year from an out of state address, they will likely ask for proof that you have terminated any other property exemption.
 Since issues of residency and domicile have an impact on both taxes and estate planning, we strongly advise discussing this with your tax advisor and attorney. We are not intending to give legal advice as to what is best for your specific situation.