If you or a family member is planning on college in the near future, you may have already started looking for ways to cut down on costs. Public colleges and universities are one affordable option: Tuition and fees average $9,650 per year for in-state students at public colleges, compared with $33,480 for private ones, according to the College Board.

But savings aren’t nearly as dramatic for those who want to attend state colleges outside their home state. Crossing state lines more than doubles the cost of a public education.

So is possible to save money by getting in-state status for an out-of-state college? The short answer: yes, but don’t count on it.

“It’s amazing to me how many people still think that’s easy to do,” says Kathy Ruby, a college finance consultant at College Coach, a company that offers admissions and finance advising. “I think in today’s world, where public universities are using out-of-state students to bring in revenue, they’re being more and more careful about who they grant in-state residency to.”

Still, getting in-state tuition is doable—under the right circumstances.

More On Student Debt & Paying for College

Lyndsey Garza, born in Ohio and raised in Texas, graduated from the University of Missouri and says she was able to pay like an in-stater by establishing residency while she was in school, though, she admits, “there were a lot of hoops to jump through.” She had to meet a number of requirements, including working during the summer.

But the savings were significant. This year the estimated in-state tuition at the University of Missouri is $10,716, but it’s $25,998 for nonresidents.

The rules for establishing residency vary by state, and individual schools might interpret and apply those rules differently. You should check with the college about the requirements before you take any action, but the following steps apply in most situations.

Relocate as Early as Possible

“Most states require that you be a state resident for 12 consecutive, continuous months,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Cappex.com, a free website about college admissions and financial aid. Some states ask for more or less time.

Kantrowitz explains that for dependent students—those still relying on their parents for some financial support—the parents often also have to become residents, an obvious roadblock for many. For independent students, only the student and, if married, his or her spouse have to make the move.  

Cut Ties to Your Home State

To establish residency in another state, students usually need to shed financial ties to their home state, and as Kantrowitz puts it, colleges “want to see the typical signs that you would expect of someone that is relocating for residential purposes.”

That can include things like renting or purchasing property, getting a new driver’s license, paying state taxes, opening bank accounts, and registering to vote.

Colleges aren’t just going to take your word for it; you’ll need to back up your claims with extensive documentation.

Distance Yourself From Parents, If Possible

The requirement that students be financially independent makes establishing residency difficult for 18- to 22-year-old students who plan on heading to college straight out of high school.

“For those undergrad students, it’s pretty bleak,” says Nancy Judson, a tuition officer at the University of Colorado Boulder (where Coloradans pay as much as $24,134 less than nonresidents per year). Under Colorado law, those students are considered “unemancipated minors,” Judson says, “and their residency is based upon where their parents live.”

Achieving independence often requires delaying college in favor of work, says Ruby at College Coach. “Most of the time, managing to get in-state residency does mean that you’ve taken some time off one way or another,” she says.  

And before you decide to seek independent status, consider the trade-offs. Aside from delaying the student’s graduation, parents might have to give up a dependent tax exemption worth as much as $4,050. And to prove they are truly on their own, students may have to forgo financial help from family, including as co-signers on loans.

Kantrowitz also points out that taking a so-called gap year may make students less competitive during the admissions process, depending on what they do with the time.

Think Regionally

There are some easier options if you’re willing to consider an out-of-state college in a nearby state. Some states participate in  regional exchange programs that let students attend colleges in bordering states at discount. Some examples: the Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common MarketMidwest Student Exchange ProgramNew England Regional Student Program, and Western Undergraduate Exchange.

Look for Exceptions

Residency rules are sometimes waived or made more lenient for students with special circumstances, such as veterans, the children of military personnel, and the family members of teachers or university employees. There’s no single repository for all this information, so students should check with colleges to see whether any apply exceptions apply to them.  

Beware of Middlemen

A few companies have cropped up over the years offering to help you establish residency and acquire in-state status. But the experts we spoke with urged caution when considering using these organizations.

Kantrowitz explained that although some outfits simply provide resources and information, others have been known to bend the truth on behalf of, and in the name of, their clients.

As Ruby put it, “Make sure you understand exactly what they’re asking you for and exactly what they’re going to have you do.”

Instead, students and parents are better off working directly with the admissions and financial aid offices in the colleges they’re considering, says Deana Williams, associate director in Graduate and International Admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s not a game or a trick,” she said. “We’re here in our office to answer any question that a student has, and we will.”

Consider the Legal and Ethical Implications

There’s a huge financial incentive for trying to get access to in-state tuition rates, but think twice before you give in to the temptation to bend the truth. There may be legal concerns. Giving misleading or fraudulent statements and documentation could lead to criminal charges, college disciplinary action, and the forced repayment of higher tuition fees. Reportedly, at least one case even resulted in felony charges.

There are other factors to consider as well. Reduced tuition costs are a benefit schools reserve for residents in exchange for their tax dollars, Kantrowitz explains, a perk that shouldn’t go to those who are undeserving.

“I’d say there are serious ethical issues,” Kantrowitz says. “You wouldn’t go into a financial aid office and steal money from them. If you’re not genuinely a state resident, that’s exactly what you’re doing.”