Van life is not technically illegal. Local federal and state governments don’t require a permanent physical address. Some states have laws making it illegal to sleep inside your vehicle overnight, though this usually applies to people who want to do so inside city limits.
You might need a permit if you live in a van. Depending on where you plan to park your van and in which state, you may need a permit. If you live in your van, you will need to have registration documents and a driver’s license, and if you plan to park on state-owned property, you require a permit.
Many people love the thought of the carefree life of traveling and living in a van. The reality is that living in a van is not always going to be rainbows and flowers. Let’s keep going so you can get legal as soon as possible.
Items and Papers You Need When Considering Living in a Van
Although it’s technically legal for you to live in your van as long as you park in areas that you are authorized to be in, there are some items that you should keep on hand in case you are asked for them by law enforcement.
Let’s take a closer look at them now.
Although your van is your home, it is technically still a motor vehicle, and it’s required to have proper up-to-date vehicle registration paperwork. You can go to your local DMV to register your vehicle. You will need:
- The registration fee
- The title fee
- Your driver’s license
- The title to your vehicle
- Fill out the application
To find your local DMV, just type in dmv.gov in your address bar, and it will take you to your local area.
To avoid any issues, it’s a good idea for everyone dwelling in the van to have a current and valid driver’s license. Even if you’re not planning on driving the van, if you’re able to, it’s still a good idea to have a driver’s license just in case you ever need to move the van.
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Most states also require vehicle insurance to protect you and others in the case of an accident. Some people keep documents on their phones, while others have printed copies of their insurance proof.
It’s a good idea to obtain a safety deposit box for you to put all of your essential paperwork in to keep in your van when needed.
Camping and Parking Permits
Part of the allure of living in a van is exploring places that might be uncharted. Some might also want to do things such as stay in campgrounds or state parks, and this is where you will need to purchase a permit from the property.
Most places will have a maximum number of nights you can stay, noted on your permit.
Why Living In a Van Is Seen As Homeless
Those choosing to live in a van see things differently. They are often converting an everyday vehicle into what they see as an ideal living space that just happens to be mobile. So even though they do not have a physical address, this is considered their home or dwelling.
Many people see having a physical address as having a home, so when people don’t have one, they think these van dwellers are homeless.
Illegal Places To Live Out of Your Van
State rules and laws may vary slightly on this. As a general rule, though, it’s usually illegal to live in your van in places such as:
- State parks
- Residential neighborhoods
- Under bridges
- On busy highways or streets
- Government-owned parking lots
- Private property such as driveways or privately-owned parking lots
- In storefronts
There are 20 states which have made it illegal to sleep in your van overnight. Those states include:
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Where You Can Legally Live In Your Van
Walmart parking lots are notorious places for being able to sleep overnight without any issues. There may be specific rules for some, so it’s always best to check for signage to be sure.
Other places that don’t require a permit and that are legal for you to sleep in your van are:
- Truck stops
- Rest stops (though it is not legal in California), but make sure you are gone first thing in the morning, or the attendants might ask you to leave.
- Businesses with large, open, brightly lit parking lots such as Cabela’s, Walmart, Lowe’s, and Cracker Barrel.
- Some public lands or national forests, such as those white free primitive campsites.
- Bureau of Land Management properties for up to 14 days.
Tips for Sleeping in Your Van
Generally, you want to be inconspicuous. The less you are detected, the less trouble you will have all around. You want your van not to stand out and for it to look like every other van on the road or parking lot.
Do things like:
- Use window tint instead of curtains.
- Crack windows when you sleep at night, so they aren’t fogged up in the morning.
- Don’t be noisy.
- Cover the front windshield so no one can see that you’re sleeping.
- Keep your valuables hidden so as not to tempt someone to break in.
- Park in places where other people are parked and never stay on the side of highways or busy roads as this could cause an accident.
- Please don’t fall asleep inside your van with the engine running, no matter how cold it gets. Carbon monoxide can build up inside the vehicle and have fatal outcomes.
To avoid problems while living in your van, move it constantly. You should never stay too long in one place as it will surely draw unwanted attention. If asked to relocate, do so without argument.
Have your paperwork in place to show when asked for it. If staying in a location that requires a permit, make sure you have it visible.
If living in your van is something you have thought about doing, make sure you are prepared ahead of time. It can be a very freeing experience, and many people say it’s the best decision they have ever made.
Here are some of my favorite van life essentials:
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you’re experiencing your life on the road. Here are some tools and gadgets I use on a daily basis that made my van life a lot easier. I hope you’ll also find them as useful as me. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to purchase any of them, I’ll earn a commission.
But in all honesty, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my closest friends and family.
Kitchen: I’m cooking a lot and I’ve finally found my perfect cookware set: The Magma Cookware 10 Pcs that you can nests and store in less than 1/2 cubic foot of cabinet space is really handy. Since I’m also spending a lot of time working at my desk, I use my favorite coffee mug from Yeti. For more, check my list of kitchen accessories I can’t live without.
Outdoor: Even though I’m spending a lot of time in my van working, I do enjoy getting out and explore my ever-changing neighborhood. This sometimes requires me to take my portable solar battery with me. And when I just want to chill outside and take a nap, I use the Winner Outfitters Hammock.
Clean/Tidy: Space is precious and therefore I used these heavy-duty storage bins from Homs to store my material. They’re robust and you can stack them together. Regarding showering, I like to use this portable solar shower from Advanced Elements when it’s hot outside.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations about van life, check out this resource that I made for you!