Residency Frequently Asked Questions

How do I qualify as an in-state resident for tuition purposes?

Residency for tuition purposes is defined by statute. Many people live in (or are residents of) North Carolina but do not qualify under the statute as having established a permanent, bona fide domicile for tuition purposes. In order to qualify as a resident of North Carolina for tuition purposes you must have established legal residence ("domicile") in North Carolina and maintained that legal residence for at least 12 months before you apply for classification as a North Carolina resident. In addition to this 12-month physical presence requirement, there are numerous other factors that must be considered in determining whether or not an individual is a resident for tuition purposes.

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What exactly does "domicile" mean?

The word "domicile" is a legal term defined as the place where a person intends to remain and live permanently, and the place the person intends to return to after any absence. Permanency is the key. A person who lives in a place for a temporary purpose, for example, for a vacation or to attend college, and who intends to live elsewhere when that purpose is accomplished, would not be a legal resident for tuition purposes.

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How can I show that I intend to live in North Carolina permanently?

You are the only one who knows your true intent, and thus, you have the burden of proving your legal residence. Others must rely on your actions as evidence of your intent. University administrators must be able to conclude (from the information obtained from you and other sources) that your conduct, taken as a whole, demonstrates your intent to make North Carolina your permanent dwelling place. Rather than a single action, it is a cluster of events that must produce a preponderance of evidence supporting the assertion of in-state residency. The accumulation of this information should be such that there is a point at least 12 months prior to the residentiary classification where the greater part of the information points to North Carolina. In the law, this is known as "circumstantial" evidence of intent. In other words, have you done the kinds of things that a permanent resident would do, or have you been acting like a temporary visitor? Each case has its own set of facts, and there is no set checklist of items which will guarantee that you will be classified as a resident for tuition purposes.

Some important questions that are likely to be asked are:

  • Do you have a current North Carolina driver license?
  • Is your vehicle registered in North Carolina?
  • Are you registered to vote in North Carolina?
  • Where and when did you last vote?
  • Where do you keep your personal property?
  • Have you listed your personal property (like a car) in the appropriate North Carolina county for tax purposes?
  • Have you filed a North Carolina income tax return indicating that you were a resident during the last tax year?
  • Do you own real estate in North Carolina?
  • Do you participate in or volunteer for community activities?
  • Where did you live before enrolling in an institution of higher education?

This is not a complete list, but it should give you an indication of the types of factors that will be looked at in applying the statutory provisions to your case.

Thus, to qualify for in-state tuition for a given term, you must prove the following:

  1. That you established your bona fide domicile in North Carolina 12 months before the beginning of the term in which you are seeking in-state residence status through:
    1. being physically present in the State;
    2. performing evidentiary acts that support your intent to make North Carolina your permanent residence indefinitely; and
    3. performing evidentiary acts that support the contention that you are not in North Carolina solely to attend a college or university program.
  2. That you have maintained your domicile in North Carolina for at least 12 continuous months.

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Does the law make any presumptions about my residence status?

Yes. The law presumes that your residence is the same as that of your parent(s) or legal guardian, but it must be emphasized that this presumption can be rebutted by other evidence. All a presumption does is allow a certain conclusion to be reached when there is no other evidence to the contrary. So, this presumption is rebuttable by the age of the individual, whether the individual is financially independent of the parents or guardian, whether the individual can demonstrate a visible means of support in order to substantiate the claim of financial independence, and other such circumstances. Also, the law states that the residence of the parents will not be used as evidence of the student’s residence if the student lived in North Carolina for the five consecutive years prior to enrolling or re-registering at the institution of higher education where residence status for tuition purposes is sought.

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Exactly how does my age affect my residence status?

If you are under age 18, the law considers your domicile to be the same as your parents' domicile because, as a minor, you are not legally capable of establishing an independent domicile unless you are married or have obtained a decree of judicial emancipation. For students under age 18 whose parents are divorced, separated, or otherwise living apart, there is a special provision of the law that may enable you to be considered a North Carolina resident if one of your parents is a North Carolina resident and if that parent claims you as a dependent on his or her North Carolina State income tax return. There are other considerations for students whose parents are divorced, separated, or otherwise living apart, when either parent is not a North Carolina resident.

For minors (students under 18) whose parent(s) move to North Carolina: If a parent comes to North Carolina ahead of the family and establishes domicile while a spouse and children remain behind to sell the house, finish out the school year, etc., it can be difficult to determine the minor child’s domicile. The following are some of the factors that are taken into account in making a residency determination for such students: (1) the extent to which the spouse has begun the process of moving to North Carolina; (2) what percentage of the child's financial support is contributed by each parent; (3) by whom and where the child is claimed as a dependent for tax purposes; (4) how soon the child will turn 18; (5) which parent the child is living with; and, (6) whether there are strong incentives for the child to remain in his or her previous home state after both parents have moved to North Carolina. If both parents, however, move to North Carolina and establish domicile before the minor turns 18, the student's domicile automatically becomes North Carolina, even though the child may not be physically present in North Carolina for the 12-month period immediately preceding the beginning of the term in which he or she seeks to enroll in a North Carolina institution of higher education.

For students 18 and over whose parent(s) move to North Carolina: When parents move to North Carolina after the student turns 18, the student does NOT automatically acquire North Carolina domicile. This is because at 18 the student becomes a legal adult, and adults must establish domicile on their own by physical presence and intent, as explained earlier. The student will have to come to North Carolina, take steps to evidence his or her "domiciliary intent," and wait 12 months before qualifying as a resident for tuition purposes.

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What if I lose my in-state residence status while I'm enrolled?

The law gives you a 12-month grace period. If you are classified as a resident for tuition purposes, but lose your residence status for some reason while you are enrolled at a North Carolina institution of higher education, you will still be able to enjoy the in-state tuition rate for 12 months from the date you lose your residence status. The 12 months begins at the time the student loses his or her North Carolina domicile, and if it runs out in the middle of a term, the student is allowed to pay the in-state tuition rate through the end of the term.

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I am married. What effect does the residency of my spouse have on my residency?

A married person’s domicile is determined in the same way as an unmarried person. In other words, if you are a North Carolina resident, the fact of your marriage to a nonresident will not, by itself, deprive you of your residence status. However, there may be other facts that might affect your residency. For example, if you move to your spouse's house out of state, change your voter registration, etc., you may become a nonresident for tuition purposes.

Being married to a North Carolina resident does have one potentially helpful effect. If you have established domicile, but have not been a legal resident for 12 months, the 12-month requirement may be satisfied if your spouse has been a legal resident for at least 12 months, and vice versa. However, the two spouses cannot add the time they have lived in North Carolina in order to get a total of 12 months. In other words, at least one spouse must have been a legal resident for at least 12 months.

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What if I left school and moved out of state for a while, but have decided to come back and live here permanently?

If you were classified as a resident for tuition purposes at a North Carolina institution of higher education at the time you left school or graduated and moved out of state, you will not be deemed to have lost your residence status if you move back to North Carolina and re-establish residency within 12 months. You may re-enroll at a North Carolina institution of higher education as a resident without having to meet the 12 months durational requirement. You may only take advantage of this statutory provision once in your lifetime.

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I am in the military. What effect does this have on my residence status? If I have been or will be sent to a duty station outside of North Carolina will I lose my residence status?

North Carolina law affords tuition rate benefits to certain military personnel and their dependents. Specifically, the law provides that members of the Armed Services, while serving on active duty and living concurrently in North Carolina, may be charged the in-state tuition rate. The dependents of certain members of the Armed Services who are stationed on active duty in North Carolina may qualify for the in-state tuition rate while sharing a home with the active duty service member.

Qualifying active duty military members and the dependent relatives thereof are extended a "military grace period" if the military member is reassigned outside of North Carolina while the member or dependent is enrolled in an institution of higher education. During this grace period, the military member or dependent relative thereof is eligible for the in-state tuition rate as long as he or she is continuously enrolled in the degree or other program in which he or she was enrolled at the time of the reassignment. Qualifying members and dependents also remain eligible to pay the in-state rate if the active duty member receives an Honorable Discharge so long as the member or dependent establishes legal resident in North Carolina within thirty days and is continuously enrolled in the degree or other program in which he or shee was enrolled at the time of the Honorable Discharge.

Additionally, any nonresident North Carolina National Guard Members in reserve or active status are eligible for the in-state rate and all applicable mandatory fees.

Application for this benefit must be made prior to first day of classes of the first enrolled term for which the benefit is sought. The person applying for this benefit has the burden of proving entitlement to it.

Also, for North Carolina residents serving in the armed forces, the law provides that, "no person shall lose his or her residence status for tuition purposes solely by reason of serving in the armed forces outside of this State."

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I am not a United States Citizen. Is it possible for me to establish in-state residency for tuition purposes?

Maybe. The application of U.S. immigration law to residency decisions can be very complicated. It depends on the type of immigration documents you hold, as well as the actions you have taken toward establishing North Carolina residency. Certain visas and other immigration documents have so few restrictions that you are able to establish a domicile in the United States and thus in North Carolina (A, G, I, K, N, visas; permanent resident cards; and certain documents given to refugees or asylees, for example). If you are in the country on a student or exchange visitor visa, you cannot qualify for in-state tuition. If you have an immigration status that permits you to establish residence in the U.S., it does not mean that you will be granted in-state tuition status; rather, it permits the classifier to assess your actions toward the establishment of North Carolina as your permanent domicile.

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I am a new full-time employee of the UNC system, but it hasn’t been 12 months since I moved to North Carolina. Do I still have to pay out-of-state tuition?

Effective July 1, 2005, a person who is a full-time employee of the University of North Carolina, or is the spouse or dependent child of a full-time employee of the University of North Carolina, and who is a legal resident of North Carolina, qualifies as a resident for tuition purposes without having maintained that legal residence for at least 12 months immediately prior to his or her classification as a resident for tuition purposes.

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How do I file a petition of re-classification of my residence status?

Initial residency determinations are made by the appropriate admitting office. If you wish to file a petition for re-classification you will need to obtain and complete an Application for Classification as a Legal Resident. It is very important that you complete the residency application in its entirety. If you feel your answers to the questions on the form do not give an accurate depiction of your case, please attach additional written explanations. If your answers are confusing or if the form is not filled out completely, the classifier will have to write you for more information, which can delay the classification process considerably.

In addition to the application, you must attach copies of the following residentiary acts:

  1. Your North Carolina driver license;
  2. Vehicle registration;
  3. Voter registration;
  4. State and Federal income tax returns for the previous two years (If you are basing your residency on that of a parent or legal guardian, you may be asked to provide copies of their tax returns as well.);
  5. Year-to-date cumulative wage earning statements from all jobs held during the current year;
  6. Listing of personal property taxes;
  7. If you are basing your residency upon your spouse's residentiary acts, include a copy of your marriage certificate and copies of your spouse's residentiary acts;
  8. If you are a non-U.S. citizen, include a Residence-and-Tuition Application Supplement for Non-U.S. Citizens, accompanied by copies of your approval for permanent residence status (showing the date of adjudication by the US Citizenship and Immigration Service) or copies of your current USCIS documentation (such as your visa);
  9. If you are a member of the armed services (or a dependent relative thereof) stationed in North Carolina, and are applying for the military tuition benefit, include an Application for Determination of Eligibility for the Military Tuition Benefit, accompanied by the appropriate affidavit(s); and,
  10. If you are a North Carolina public school teacher and are applying for the in-state tuition rate benefit, include a Residence-and-Tuition Application Supplement for North Carolina Public School Teachers, certified by your school principal.
  11. If you are a full-time employee of the UNC system (or a spouse or dependent child of a full-time employee of the UNC system), you must submit verification of your employment (and of your relationship to the employee if you are the spouse or dependent) with your Application for Classification as a Legal Resident.

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May I appeal a classification decision?

Yes. If the classifier determines that you are not a resident for tuition purposes, you have the right to appeal that decision to the Campus Residence Appeals Committee. The decision letter from the classifier will tell you how to file an appeal. It generally takes about six weeks for the Campus Residence Appeals Committee to schedule a hearing after an appeal is received. If you are still not satisfied, you may appeal to the State Residence Committee and, ultimately, to the state courts.

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I have other questions that you have not answered.

Freeman Whitney
Associate Registrar
Office of the Registrar
601 S College Rd
Wilmington, NC 28403

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