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Advice for Australian Motorhomers in Europe PDF Printable Version E-mail


Australian Motorhomers Travelling in Europe

Advice from an Australian Couple

September 2005

A mature and experienced Australian couple (anonymous for obvious reasons), give the following advice to their fellow countrymen planning to use the UK as a base for motorhoming in Europe.

Do a lot of homework and organising before leaving Australia!

We are 2-mid 50's Australians who purchased a motorhome in the UK in 2003 and, even though I had done 12 months' research before leaving Australia (and my brother had done a 7 month tour in a 'purchase with guaranteed buy-back' motorhome), things still didn't go smoothly.

Firstly, insurance without a 2-year UK licence is almost impossible and you need the insurance to register the vehicle. Purchase is no problem and we got around the first insurance by using the previous owner's policy which was still valid.

Then to get insurance using the phone or internet is useless, as when they hear the accent or you input 'Australian' (or 'international licence') on the computer you get rejected. In a couple of cases they just hung up, without 'sorry' or 'we cannot help you'. Similarly with Third Party, Fire & Theft policies - if they don't do it they just hang up. Also they have timed phone calls and you can spend £3 to £4 (and your card can run out) while you are on hold for each insurance company.

If you are under 55 you can get insurance from 'Down Under Insurance' (on the web as one word) but you pay a premium, as I think they know you have nowhere else to go. We couldn't get it, being too old. Note that I have a perfect driving record in Australia for 41 years.

We eventually got insurance from SAGA in 2003 and Norwich Union in 2005, through insurance agents, and we think this was pure luck as it was a case of ringing agents until one agreed (we think without realising the restrictions on overseas visitors.)

Thankfully we have found out that even if the agent has made a mistake NU will stand by their decisions.

The insurance is still limited to 90 days in Europe at any one time, so we have to return to the UK every 89 days as a ferry ticket is cheaper than an extension (especially off season - about £60 to £100 pound). Theoretically, we can spend 360 days in Europe per year as long as we return for 1 day each 90 day trip. (This was later revised by a colleague of the agent who sold us the policy to "A maximum of 90 days in any one year")

Our premium on a £6,000 motorhome with a limit of 10,000 miles per year, and when stored it is in a locked garage with alarm system, is £604 per year ($A1,500) plus extra if you want more than 90 days in Europe, travel more than 10,000 miles, (the average in UK is 6,000 miles per year), want to go to non-territorial countries (usually non-EU), eg Turkey and Morocco - and these are only some of the restrictions on the NU policy. We queried extending to 180 days and the premium was an extra £380. Note: you MUST have comprehensive insurance to travel freely through the EU countries. In the end we were happy with the £604 as it was the only policy we could get.

To try and get insurance on someone else's address or licence is fraught with danger as, if you make a claim and they see the driver has an overseas licence, they will interrogate the owner of the UK licence and they must prove they are the main driver of the vehicle. If they are not, the policy is void. Thankfully, when we renew in 2006 one of us will have had a UK licence 2 ½ years.

Similarly, if you have not been a resident of the UK for 3 months you CANNOT get a bank account (due to anti-terrorist laws.) We transferred money from Westpac to Barclays (on Westpac advice) and had to carry it in the motorhome until our address for the ownership of the van was 3 months old, when we got an account with card etc. Note: this took 3 visits to Barclays with one visit being 6 hours long and included 3 phone calls to Westpac, Australia.

Most travellers here swear by SMILE internet banking but we haven't tried to transfer from Barclays as their call centre (Barclays) is in Mumbai, India, and that is another story. Make sure any accounts in Europe are in place before leaving Australia with written approval from all parties, as there are also restrictions on transferring large sums of money (eg for purchase of van).

Banks and insurance companies over here have a 'we don't need your business' attitude and the residents put up with it. You have to make an appointment (usually 7 to 10 days) to open an account and then if you are not persuasive can sit in the waiting area up to 2 hours before seeing someone who is usually limited to 5 minutes with you.

Note that 'big' vans (over 6 metres long, 3,500 kg and 2.7 metres high) pay a penalty on ferries, toll roads, toll tunnels and also have limited access to a lot of old sites or country roads in UK and Europe.

We did 4 ½ months in the UK in 2003, have done another 3 months in UK this year, have just completed 8 weeks in Scandinavia and are presently finishing off our 90 days in Germany.

We return to the UK for a few days to fulfil our 90 days at a time insurance cover . . . it is very perplexing. I have a 41 year faultless (legally I mean) driving record and would cover in one year more miles than most UK residents do in 10 years, at a higher speed and on rougher roads - yet I can't get insurance. We met a young Australian in Berlin who went through Downunder Insurance and for 6 months he was paying double my premium on a van worth a fifth of the value of mine.

We have just been quoted £73 to extend our European cover from 90 to 120 days (so we miss all the UK winter) and £61 more to have 2 weeks in Morocco.

We tried ALL the insurance companies in MMM and didn't get one taker and when we joined the Caravan & Camping Club, they guaranteed insurance and at a lower rate than we had been quoted by Norwich Union. Needless to say, they rejected us because we have a UK licence which is not 2 years old.

Earls Court is no longer there because of congestion tax. Most motorhomes are sold in LOOT magazine (also available on the web) or on E-bay. I did most of my research from Australia on the Loot website. Be very aware that "perfect and very good condition" in UK English is a lot different to the Australian definition. We saw such advertised vans that we didn't even step into. One was so accident-damaged (by a tree) with a homemade conversion that we thought the owner was drunk or plain stupid.

Response to the Australians' experiences from someone working at a senior level in the motorhome insurance industry in the UK.

1. The EU fourth directive (requiring policyholders to show a permanent address in the EU country of origin) does make it difficult to arrange insurance if you are not a UK resident. This is also the reason for the six month cap on staying in any EU member state (staying beyond 6 months indicates residency, and a requirement to insure a vehicle locally).

2. Our own motorhome scheme is designed and rated with UK residents in mind, so we don't have authority from our underwriters to go outside "normal" parameters

3. Other schemes have their own likes and dislikes. This is evidenced by Downunder not taking on clients over 55.

4. The NU policy mentioned appears to be a standard private car product (i.e. not a specialist scheme policy) that allows a standard 90-day trip limit. Once again, this is simply the standard cover that comes with this type of policy. Anything outside standard cover will come at an additional cost. Giving wider blanket cover would simply raise the premiums for all.

5. Not easy to comment on the premium, but inevitably non-UK residents will be expected to pay higher than standard premiums, or indeed to expect that some insurers will not take such cases on. This is simply a result of insurers concentrating on "core" products to the exclusion of unusual risks.

6. Hired vans fall into a different category, as insurance comes as part of the deal. I'm not sure that we are able to reassure the Australians, or even fully explain why some of their problems occur. It must be very frustrating for them, and it is true that we in the UK tend to place a stricter interpretation on rules than some other EU members.

December 2005

We cancelled our policy with Norwich Union as they wanted extra money for everything and SAGA came up with a better policy, including unlimited travel in Europe, free travel to non-EU countries with a free green card and at about ₤300 per annum cheaper. The requirements are that the policy-holder must be a UK resident with a UK licence for at least 2 years, must do a minimum of 51% of the driving and ALL drivers must have a UK licence. We fulfilled this as the female member is a British passport holder (as well as an Australian one), with a licence she changed to UK when we were here in 2003, and I changed my licence on the day of the policy, which cost me a ₤500 excess in addition to the standard excess of ₤100. Makes sense when you realise I have a licence for all vehicles up to and including triple B semi trailers and buses for hire, while my partner has a car licence, and I drive 99% of the time in Australia!

Further enquiries have shown that because of the EU, ALL policy-holders must be UK residents and being Australian doesn't entitle us to anything. I do not know what the situation is if you purchase a van in Holland or Germany and insure there.

Furthermore, I was advised by the Australian embassy, when getting my stolen passport replaced, that the Schengen agreement (which is all the EU countries – no, see note below) only allows us 3 months in the Schengen area and not each individual country, so at the end of the 3 months we should leave the Schengen area and not re-enter for another 3 months. It makes for an interesting travel plan. This does not include the UK, where we have a different agreement (not bad, considering who is our Head of State.)

Evidently New Zealanders are better off than us Australians re the Schengen agreement. If you don't comply you can be refused re-entry into any EU country, but to date we have only had our passports checked going to/from UK/France and Estonia, and that didn't happen on our last trip over from the UK.

So in summary, to own and register a UK vehicle you MUST have UK insurance which you can only obtain if a UK resident with a 2 year UK licence (NOTE that most of the insurance companies we contacted wanted a 3 year UK licence!!!!) I would be very interested to hear how other Australians are fulfilling these requirements to travel full-time around Europe!!

We are going to continue our travels and try to fulfil the Schengen agreement by interspersing the non-EU countries for a total of approx 90 days for every 90 in the EU. (6 weeks in France/Spain, 3 weeks in Morocco –non EU; 6 weeks in Spain/Portugal and then 9 weeks in UK/Ireland - doesn't count as EU – that is, not Schengen; etc, etc.)

I will add more info as it comes to hand, but at this stage it is my conclusion that it is getting harder, if not nearly impossible, to do what we are doing.

Barry Williamson adds:


The 15 Schengen countries are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. All these countries except Norway and Iceland are European Union members. The other 12 EU members are not in Schengen.

However, travellers should note that existing visa agreements with Australia may overrule the Schengen Convention in some countries. For example, although Portugal has ratified the convention, Australian travellers are still required to obtain a visa for travel to Portugal. Australian travellers planning to visit a EU member state should seek current information on visa requirements from the relevant Embassy or Consulate well in advance of travel.

February 2006

We have just completed 6 weeks in Spain, 4 weeks in Morocco, 4 weeks in Portugal and 1 week in Spain heading north and excluding the minor disagreement with the side of a tunnel in Gibraltar, all has been smooth sailing. SAGA insurance have been very obliging sending all necessary paperwork when required and extending our green card in Morocco via a request on the email, as we couldn't get through the long holding delays on the phone.

Morocco was an absolutely superb trip with no problems with authorities, possibly the friendliest people we have met anywhere (and that includes travel to 7 countries in Asia, the USA, NZ, Mongolia, Russia, Europe and Australia). We travelled as part of a group of motorhomes (15 in total even though 10 was the advertised maximum), as we had heard all the "horror stories in Morocco", with a "tour guide with 20 years experience in Africa" and even as great as the trip was we would recommend against using the self proclaimed "experienced guide". More like follow the leader, stop (or go of on your own) if you see something interesting and catch up at point X, with only 21 out of 36 proposed objectives achieved and most campsites either not available or unsuitable for the number and size of vehicles.

Our trip started at Cueta and went south through Tetouan, Chefchaouen, Volubillus, (bypassed Fes and Meknes to beat the snow over the middle Atlas mountains), Azrou, Errachidia, Source Bleue de Meski, Erg Chebbi, Todra Gorge, Ouarzazate, (Tizi-n-Tichka pass was closed because of snow), on to Taradount, Agadir, Essaouira, Marrakech, Cascades d'Ozoud, Khouribga, Casablanca, Sale and a final stop at Mouley Bousselham to unwind before back to Cueta and the ferry to Spain.

Approximately 2800 kms in total with spectacular scenery (lots similar to the deserts of Australia), amazing contrasts in lifestyle and culture - 3 in particular: Olives being crushed using a 2000+ year old method with a donkey and a large stone wheel and if you want to contact the proprietor to buy oil you can ring him on his mobile phone; 2 teenage boys in the shadow of the estimated 2.8 billion $US Mosque in Casablanca, playing checkers using the pattern of the street tiles as a board and stones and pieces of orange peel as markers; and women travelling 20 kms in the light snow with bundles of fire wood, (some larger than themselves), to cook the midday meal and they are walking past mud huts with satellite dishes.

BEWARE ON THE RETURN FERRY!! While waiting in line to board the ferry at Ceuta a few bumps to the van required a cursory inspection to find the cause. Nothing on the outside but at the suggestion of the Navigator a check of the roof storage area found a teenage Moroccan laying flat and hanging on. A few choice words, which he probably didn't understand but definitely got the message, resulted in him leaping from the roof and disappearing over the fence. (What were the people behind us thinking when they saw someone climb on top of the van and stay there?) Then in Spain travelling out of Algerciras at 80 kph on the freeway at 8 pm we are frightened by loud knocking which we think is coming from the bathroom but is actually coming from under the van. A quick stop at the first available service station (lights and security) and another "hitch hiker" crawls from under the van and runs off into the night.

We then proceeded to Gibraltar, to top up with Bombay Sapphire at 7 pounds a litre (10 pound a litre cheaper than the UK?) and off to Portugal. Didn't get a visa as the fine print says Australians with a spouse with a EU acceptable passport don't require one and no problems encountered as we breezed over the border with no checks. The local tourism offices are absolutely brilliant with detailed maps and notes on sights/customs/craft/cuisine for each small area (the Algarve region had about 15 maps), so we meandered around in a haphazard way enjoying the solitude after Morocco. Even though we were advised that "wild camping" is illegal in Portugal, the tourism officer did advise we could "park" for 24 hours without a problem where there are no campsites or the campsites were closed for the off season. Needless to say we didn't stay in any campsites and had a very relaxed, enjoyable stay for the 4 weeks.

We are now heading back towards the UK for Ireland in the spring, but will kill a couple of weeks in southern France till the blizzards disappear. The trek continues.