Destinations,  North America,  United States

Libraries for nomads | Non-resident library cards

Despite traveling around the world and seeing many amazing things, I still like to keep up my reading habit. It’s nice to have access to some small entertainment, whether I’m on a long bus ride or trying to chill in a hostel after a day of walking around, and stocking up on books on my Kindle fits my needs perfectly.

Because I’m a budget traveler, I want to save as much money as I can and put that towards more travel…which means I use my library card basically every day.

With a little planning, you can snag a library card either before you start your nomad journey or even while you’re on it! Whether you’re a huge bookworm or just don’t want to fork over cash for another streaming subscription, getting a library card (or two) can provide huge benefits.

Benefits of getting a library card

Free entertainment

Besides books, most libraries also give access to movies, music CDs, audiobooks, magazines, newspapers and even video games. Using your library’s collection can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of the year! Rather than fork over money for monthly streaming service subscriptions, switch to the free stuff.

Research and study options

Libraries are a great place to look for educational services! Depending on your library’s resources, you could get access to language learning programs such as Mango or Rocket Languages, genealogy research websites such as Ancestry or HeritageQuest, encyclopedia databases, newspaper archives, and even online university classes.

Events and classes

Libraries are often the hub for community events, and you’ll be able to join free or cheap programs for things like crafting, writing, historical research, painting, technology learning, and so on. Many libraries do online events as well as in-person, so you can join in even if you’re traveling away from your home base.

Other stuff

Some libraries lend out things like baking pans, telescopes, gardening tools, museum passes, and even seeds.

Library cards for nomads

So now that you’re no doubt hyped to get a library card, how should a nomad go about getting one?

First, sign up at your local library. If you’re currently still in your home location, go sign up for a card at your local library. This is the easiest way to get started and well worth the effort. Remember, too, that your local taxes partly go to your local library system, so you might as well get your money’s worth!

Next, check for reciprocal library card agreements.

Reciprocal agreements between libraries mean that residents of nearby counties, cities or states can sign up for library cards without having to pay a non-resident fee.

Many California libraries, for instance, have agreements with each other so a California resident can sign up for library cards all up and down the state without having to pay a fee. My home base is in Anaheim, but I have library cards in several large California library systems because of my state’s reciprocal agreements.

Some libraries even have reciprocal agreements with nearby out-of-state counties, like Fairfax County in Virginia which has reciprocal agreements with Washington D.C. and nearby Maryland counties. If you live in a large metropolitan area, or can get to one near your home base, you probably have a chance to get several library cards.

The best place to find out if your state, county or city library system has a reciprocal library card agreement with another system is to check your State library websites. They’ll have the most up-to-date information and links to find sister libraries.

Finally, check for non-resident cards at places you frequent.

Many libraries have a kind of visitor pass, where people can get temporary access to computer services, for instance. Some libraries also have non-resident cards, where out-of-state patrons can apply for an electronic library card, either for free or for a yearly fee. Non-resident library cards can be handy if you spend a lot of time in a particular area, while not being a resident of that area. You’ll get more benefits than a visitor pass, as normally patrons (even non-resident ones!) can check out books and use all library services, either online or in person.

Not all libraries have a non-resident card option, but usually large libraries in cities with a lot of frequent travelers will have something available.

For instance, Los Angeles Public Library has a non-resident card for $50/year, you just have to apply in person. Note: LAPL is WELL worth getting a card for, especially if you like ebooks. Their collection is HUGE and they constantly add new things. I specifically went up to Los Angeles to get a LAPL card and I don’t regret it.

Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

Libraries with electronic non-resident cards

If you like reading ebooks or downloading audiobooks, and don’t need access to physical library collection, you have lots of options for non-resident cards! And if you don’t want to have to travel to a library to sign up, you’re also in luck.

Here’s a list of libraries where non-residents can apply for an electronic library card online, and have access to that library system’s electronic collection. Some can be upgraded to also check out physical books, but if you only want ebook/electronic collection access then these are a good option.

Most non-resident cards have a yearly fee, so be sure to check their collections and make sure they have what you’re interested in before forking over the cash.

  • Chapel Hill Public Library (Florida)
  • Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (North Carolina)
    • $45/year or $35/year for adults ages 62+ – Sign up here.
  • Enoch Pratt Free Library (Maryland)
  • Fairfax County Library (Virginia)
  • Houston Public Library (Texas)
  • New Orleans Public Library (Louisiana)
  • Orange County Library System (Florida)
    • $75 for 3 months or $125/year – Sign up here. Accepts non-US residents.
  • Queens Public Library (New York)
  • Stark Library (Ohio)

Library alternatives

If you don’t want to pay for a non-resident card and can’t get to a physical library, these websites could be a good alternative.

Kindle Unlimited (Subscription)

$11.99/month or $7.20/month if you buy a 2 year gift subscription.

The only one on this particular list that has newly published books and even some mainstream bestsellers. Also particularly good if you enjoy genre fiction written by indie authors, especially romance!

Open Library


A branch of the Internet Archive, this is a combo book wiki and lending library. It might be a bit confusing to use because not every book listed is available to borrow, and even the available ones might only be available in, like, Spanish vs. English.

Project Gutenberg


Over 70,000 free public domain ebooks in a variety of languages, but mostly English. My favorite source for Classics and vintage travel memoirs.



A collection of volunteer-read public domain audiobooks. Many languages available, including English (38,274 books), French (999 books), German (2,910 books), Spanish (839 books), Arabic (29 books) and Chinese (431 books).

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Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal.

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