Shipping a European Motorhome to North America – With Your Personal Possessions

Shipping a European Motorhome to North America – With Your Personal Possessions

If your starting point is a desire to drive from North America down to somewhere in Central or South America and you do not yet own a motorhome then I hope this may be of help to you.
So you have no motorhome but know that you want to do this by motorhome; rather than say truck/car/flights and hotels. How do you decide on what to buy and perhaps more importantly where?

north american mid-size petrol powered motorhome
North American Mid-Size Petrol Motorhome

There is no doubt that a diesel European motorhome will out-perform nearly all North American motorhomes with regard to fuel consumption.

north american motorhome with slider
North American Motorhome with Slider

It is also almost certainly true that you will have access to mechanics or recommendations for good mechanics at home.
There is the fact that you can purchase and test your new home in the comfort of your own country before you go; to iron out problems and practise the art of smaller space living – and it is an art; make no mistake (especially if you are new to motorhome living on a permament basis).
But there is the cost of shipping and the fact that you will be traveling in a vehicle that if it breaks down may not have easy access to mechanics used to working on your make and model and they may not have access to parts, depending on your choice and age of the vehicle.
Or potentially you could land in North America and spend a bit of time looking around for a motorhome and purchase it there. Buying something that will be easier to work on if it were to breakdown and it if it’s a standard US or Canadian motorhome it will definitely be big enough for all your stuff!

canadian school bus
Canadian School Bus

You could even buy a base vehicle in North America and – if you are a bit of a DIY’er – kit out your own American school bus/truck etc – we considered it for a good few months before deciding on buying an a-class motorhome from Europe – particularly because they are already left-hand drive and we chose a Mercedes for reliability and a Hymer from the late 80’s early 90’s for the style that is a bit funky but that is also well built and practical.

The choice for us was based on the differing fuel consumptions – secondhand small to medium-sized diesel motorhomes/trucks/buses in North America were at best half to two-thirds the miles per gallon as a decent European motorhome and at worst less than half the mpg.
But the size we wanted was out of the small van arena and in to the truck/bus sizing and even on a diesel engine we were looking at best at 10 mpg. Whereas our Mercedes Hymer, driven well, will give 20 to 22 mpg all day long.
Calculating over 30,000+ miles, even taking in to account the cheaper price of fuel (and the differing size of a gallon), we realised that over the course of 2 years we would save in the region of £6000 on the fuel. Now that was a massive influence on our choice.

So we elected to go for a 1993 Mercedes Hymer – Hanna – who you will already have met elsewhere in this blog. We had already discovered that shipping to Canada by ro-ro meant that the vehicle had to be empty of ALL personal possesions and equipment other than factory fitted appliances. So when, early on in the research we came across we knew we had a better option.

They will ship you with your possessions and personal stuff – the only rule is that you must not be able to see any of your stuff if you look in to the motorhome through the window. Effectively this means that you need to fill the boot and lockers, the bathroom and the wardrobe, the cupboards and any other nook and cranny you can find. There is the fact that your stuff will travel un-insured (they offer you maritime insurance for the motorhome and its factory fittings – but not your stuff) and they issue dire warnings about theft and loss of personal items. They also run down to Baltimore, Brunswick and Buenos Aires as well as Halifax – we had no problems with either Antwerp or Halifax and met only helpful genuine dock workers at both … we decided to put locks on the relevant internal cupboards and beef up the locks on the external lockers anyway for our journey south. We also took some possessions with us on the plane. If someone wants to steal my jeans … well they can have them just don’t damage the motorhome.

As of the summer 2015 we were charged around 3000 euros for the shipping and had to pay 150 Canadian Dollars to the shipping forwarder in Halifax (about £75). Due to the Euro’s performance at that time we ended up paying around £2300 all in.

The maritime insurance against damage during transit (everything from bad handling to heavy seas) was 0.9% of the value of the vehicle – so that was £180 extra.

The information sent to us by Seabridge was exceptional including maps of Antwerp (we elected to ship from there but we could have gone from Hamburg), specific instructions on cleaning the vehicle, types of gas fittings needed in North America, maps of Halifax, how to drop off the vehicle and how to collect it. Campgrounds and RV parks in both cities – really I can’t praise them enough for how thorough the info they provided was.

All in all the Seabridge experience was a breeze and one that I have no hesitation in recommending to anyone.

Seabridge Shipping Map
Seabridge Shipping Map

So we have a European Mercedes Hymer in North America, it is universally looked on as a cute and slick motorhome – if noted a few times that its a bit small at 7.5m long, and doesn’t have any sliding out sections (which I have ‘space-envy’ over) – we are going to re-coup the cost of shipping over the next year and I guess if we decide to ship it back in 2 years time we will use more of those savings getting it back home … but who knows what will happen next week never mind in 2 years time.

5 Responses

  1. Dinia
    | Reply

    Hi, I just came across your blog on Overlandersphere, your blog looks great and I love the route you guys are doing! Me, my partner and another couple are planning on shipping to the states in the new year, I was just wondering if you had any issues with temporarily importing your vehicle there, especially with it being a European diesel vehicle?
    Safe travels.

  2. Anna
    | Reply

    Hi there,
    My husband and I are shipping our self-converted camper van from Liverpool to Halifax next month with Seabridge, who I agree are fantastic. You mention at the end of this post about shipping your motor home back to Europe in two years’ time, however, we were told that you can only import a foreign vehicle into North America for maximum one year. How are you getting around the one-year restriction?
    Great blog, by the way, and very helpful information.

    • Mark
      | Reply

      Hi Anna
      Thanks for reaching out and reading the blog.So we travelled through Canada and the U.S. for a total of 5 months and then drove down to Panama – and all the countries in between – over the next 16 months.
      we have just shipped back to the UK from panama to Southampton after a total of 21 months.
      so we were no way near the year maximum.
      I am guessing you are using a b1 or b2 visa? Which is 6 months and will have 6 months in Canada as well?
      Personally I would just keep going south and ship back from central America … if I can help further please let me know. Regards

      • Anna
        | Reply

        Hi Mark,
        Thanks for getting back to me.
        Looks like you were able to travel beyond the 12 month limit because you went down to Central America. We were told by Seabridge that the only way to get around the 12 month limit is to exit North America for a short period and then re-enter, at which point the clock starts ticking on the vehicle again.
        My husband and I do not have visa restrictions for Canada. I’m a returning Canadian citizen and my husband has just had his permanent residency approved. We’re shipping our van across and keen to understand how we can keep it in North America for longer than one year, and given your answer, I suspect we’ll have to do a trip to Central or South America once every 12 months or so!
        Many thanks again and best of luck with the rest of your travels.

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