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Motorhoming in the USA: Ship, Buy, Hire? PDF Printable Version E-mail


Motorhoming in the USA: Ship, Buy or Hire?

A reader emailed a query about motorhoming in the USA. Was it better to ship a European motorhome to the USA, or buy an RV out there and perhaps ship it back to Europe after an American tour, or simply hire one locally?

Here are four answers.

Shipping a European Motorhome to the USA and Back

Cynthia Webb
November 2012

Having shipped a European motorhome to the USA about 10 years ago, and planning to repeat that adventure in the near future, Cindy Webb shares her knowledge and experience

We shipped our European motorhome to the USA for a year about 10 years ago and are currently considering repeating the experience next year.

The advantages over buying a motorhome once there are (a) lower fuel costs with a European diesel engine; and (b) home comforts - all your own equipment, bikes etc. The disadvantages are (a) 110v electricity - you need a transformer for your 240v van; (b) obtaining LPG (we now have Gaslow and believe this works in USA); and (c) security when the vehicle is standing on a US dockside. We were warned that the longshoremen like to 'rummage' so we blocked off the body of our van with a plywood sheet, leaving only the cab accessible, and even removed the radio.

Having given you all that negativity, the most important bonus of all is that every time you arrive at any place at all you get "Hi there, where ya from? Did you ship it over? How much did it cost? Gee, your wheel's on the wrong side. Hey, you have a stick change, that's cute" .... then you have yet more friends for life. Very very interesting and very very welcoming, wherever you go.

We drove 30,000 miles, hugging the Atlantic coastline from Baltimore to the Florida Keys, then the Pacific side from San Diego to Vancouver and on up the Alaskan Highway to Alaska, returning along the Trans-Canada Highway to Halifax, where we shipped back.

It was no problem to import into the US although we had to agree to ship the motorhome back within 365 days or it would have to be tested under US laws for emission etc.

The current situation is that you can ship your van over (and back), the cost charged per cubic metre. This was the quote we received in August 2012 from:

Gareth Charles
AB Plant Shipping Ltd
Tel + 44 (0) 2380 338899
Mobile + 44 (0) 776611570


"The charge is currently US$ 41.00 per m3 + US$ 350.00 lump sum for UK handling charges. This applies to Liverpool-Halifax and Liverpool-Baltimore services."

The insurance is only available when you arrive in the country. The best we can get from any insurance company is this reply received in August 2012 from Progressive, the company who insured us last time round:

"Based on the information provided in your email, you will need to speak with one of our sales representatives directly. Once all the information we need is obtained, we can then advise you on whether or not we can insure your vehicle. To reach Progressive from outside the U.S., please call 1-440-461-5000. We're available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. Looking forward to assisting you."

We found it essential to have a US address last time. When you arrive in the country an address is required (where they assume you will be based) and if you have any problems (such as mobile phone/sim card or otherwise) it is also almost essential to have an address. Do you know anyone out there?

We have now obtained US visas, which last until the expiry of our current passports. However, that is another story - if you are interested we can send you an essay on our experience at the US Embassy in London! All this is assuming you wish to stay for longer than 3 months.


Shipping a Motorhome from the USA to Europe and Back - with Advice on Motorhoming in the USA

Rick Howe
November 2012

Currently travelling in Europe in a motorhome they shipped from the USA, Americans Richard and Kathy Howe share their knowledge of shipping and give valuable insights into best practice within the USA.

We are doing the whole thing in reverse, as we are traveling in Europe in our American vehicle, but the same sort of decisions need to be made either way. We would support the comments made by Cindy Webb in her reply. We just think it's a whole lot more fun to travel in a vehicle that sets you apart from the crowd. We get a lot of attention and enjoy many, many encounters with locals in countries we travel in simply because our vehicle is different from others. In the US and Canada, you would enjoy the same experience if you travel in a European vehicle. I know that when we were traveling in the States or Canada, we would always make a point of talking to folks from Europe. If you are in a US motorhome, much of that simply wouldn't happen.

We also enjoy traveling in our 'own' vehicle simply because it is ours; we had it before we came to Europe and we will ship it back to the States when we leave Europe. While it is perfectly reasonable to buy a vehicle in the US, travel in it and then sell it at the end, we prefer to keep our 'home' with us no matter where we are. The same considerations apply if you should choose to travel in Australia/New Zealand or South Africa or other continents. We just appreciate having the same vehicle with us. Either choice is perfectly reasonable, it's simply a matter of what makes the most sense for you.

Should you choose to ship your vehicle over from Europe, I wouldn't worry too much about the technical issues of electricity, type of toilet facilities or insurance. They are all easily dealt with. As to establishing a US address, yes, in today's world that is certainly essential. If you don't have a relative or acquaintance that will allow you the use of their address, there are many mail forwarding services about, which cater to the needs of full-time travelers. The one we use is Alternative Resources in South Dakota. You might also look into joining the Escapees RV Club. They offer many excellent services and have a mail forwarding service as well. Once you have established an address, insurance can all be handled by email. I'd be happy to forward contact information for companies we use.

I advise you to ship to either Halifax or to Florida, depending on the time of year and where you would like to begin your journey. Customs will generally be easier entering Canada than the US, so Halifax is a good choice. If your travel plans make a southern entry point preferable, we have had excellent experiences shipping both into and out of Jacksonville, Florida. It is a smaller port and we have found it to be quite low key. Go to the shipping pages on our website for detailed information on shipping. Based on information from other travelers, I would not consider shipping in or out of Baltimore under any circumstances.

If you decide to buy in America, that's easy as well; far easier than for us to buy a European vehicle. Any US vehicle larger than a van will get much poorer fuel economy than a European motorhome, but then, the fuel cost is only half what it is in the UK so it isn't as big an issue as it might be. Any time you buy a vehicle with the intent to resell it in a fairly short time, that adds an element of uncertainty to the entire project, but again it should be fairly easy to do in the US as there are many dealers who will take a vehicle on consignment and sell it for you after you've left. If you should decide to go this way, I recommend that you use our mailing service in South Dakota to establish your base of operations because SD makes it very easy to buy vehicles in other states and register them through the mail. Texas requires physical inspection of the vehicle for licensing purposes, as do many other states.

Well, that will probably do it for now. You are embarking on a journey that can last a lifetime and give you immeasurable joy along the way. Best of luck to you, and please feel free to reply with any and all questions that come to mind.


Buying a Motorhome in the USA, touring in the USA and then Shipping back to the UK

Brenda and Adrian Wilson
November 2012

The Wilsons are currently travelling in Eastern Europe in an American motorhome they bought in the USA, initially used it to travel extensively in the USA and then shipped it back to the UK. Adrian carried out all the modifications needed to make the RV legal in Europe, as well making a number of improvements. These included an LPG conversion, changes to the seating arrangements and additonal heating.

Here is their account:

In November 2008, after a trip to the US Embassy in London to purchase our 1-year visas (which was not as bad as we had feared), we flew out to Orlando Florida, bought a motorhome, drove west touring around for nearly 6 months to California and back again to Orlando, then shipped our 'home' back to the UK. We still have and use the same motorhome to this day.

We are currently using it while we build a house in Bulgaria.

Since our return to the UK (summer 2009), we and our 26' Fleetwood Fiesta have visited 20 other countries. Obviously, the main disadvantage (in Europe) is the fuel consumption cost but my husband converted it to run on LPG (along with all the other required modifications for use in UK), which is a fair bit cheaper (at the moment)! We have had no major problems during this time and there are very few places it does not venture. It has been a joy to live in, although not recommended for very cold weather (American vans do not have double glazing) or very hot weather (engine inside stays hot for hours).

It is very comfortable and quiet to drive (apart from on very rough roads) and I would do it all again, perhaps with a different model next time, although my husband says at the end of the day it is not really worth it financially unless you particularly want an American motorhome. We loved America and its people and would really like to go again to visit other parts the northern states and Canada, perhaps.

There are loads of places in Florida where you can purchase a motorhome. Lazy Days (Tampa) is very popular and they are very helpful there. Jason Cohen, who will show you around, is the man to ask for. We went there and looked round but did not purchase one from them. We bought ours from a small place (dealers) on the east coast, at Cocoa (Florida). This was a repossession, which we bought for $17,000 + tax.

Of course we then needed to buy all the necessary things to kit it out. Jeff Bishop and Henry were very helpful. We used their phone, fax and internet and they allowed us to park on their lot (with electric) for 4 nights while we were getting everything sorted (insurance, registration, funds, sales tax etc), equipping the RV and getting used to how everything worked and how it drove. We even used their car a few times and they also arranged a lift for us from the airport too. We couldn't have asked for more than that. They would have bought the RV back from us when we had ended our trip, if we had wanted them to, although I'm not sure at what price! This might be a better idea. For insurance purposes, they let us use their Zip code, as most dealers will. (Bishop Transport, 1432 West King Street, Cocoa. Zip 32922. Phone: 321 960 6969)

We travelled through 15 different states in total (13,000 miles), east to west and back again, and found that if you purchase a 'park pass' for the National Parks (which only cost us $80 for the year, I think) you will make a big saving. This entitles you to enter any of the 'parks' (of which there are many) free of charge, although you do have to pay a minimal charge if you want to park overnight.

We left our RV at Jacksonville docks for shipping to UK (Southampton). It sat on the docks for 10 days and then took another 5 days on board the ship to UK. Yes, unfortunately there is a lot of pilfering going on (you have to leave all keys with them for customs purposes), so do not leave any valuables or anything you don't want to part with! Of course this is difficult, as you will have bought quite a lot of things on your travels that you can't fly back with, and we did find they had helped themselves to a few items! If you stay in USA for a year, you don't have to pay import taxes apparently.


Barry and Margaret write:

If you intend staying in the USA for less than 3 months, it really isn't worth the effort and expense of shipping and/or buying, as long-term hire is readily available. See the four articles which cover the MagBaz 60-day, 6,000 mile RV hire out of Los Angeles, starting at: By Motorhome through the Amercian West Part One