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 Seabridge.de 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.

25 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.
    Best,
    Anna

    • 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
      Mark

      • 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.

  3. Shadae
    | Reply

    Thanks for the info. We are relocating to the US from Belgium and would like to take our European camper with us.
    How did you resolve the power issue 240-110v?
    Did you need to have a European insurance that covers the camper while in the US/Canada?
    How long can you keep a European registered camper in the US?

    Thanks for any info you can provide.

    • Mark
      | Reply

      HI Shadae
      Thanks for reading.
      We bought a 3KW, 220v to 110v transformer in Canada via the internet – a very kind business owner allowed us to have it delivered to his work address – in September 2015 it cost $100.
      We bought US camper insurance – see our other post about this as it depends on the age of your camper as to how easy this process is – but everyone I have spoken managed to get US insurance quite easily – we had the most problems because our camper was between 20 and 25 years old – younger no problems and older than that it is a classic vehicle which gives more insurance options.
      As far as I know you can keep it in the US for 364 days then you need to go and have a beach holiday in Baja Mexico for a few days and then return OR go to Canada for a few days and return.
      Good luck and happy travels
      Mark

  4. Paul
    | Reply

    Hi Mark

    Myself and my wife next year are preparing to do similar travels and shipping a UK Motor home to the USA.
    I was wondering if you stayed at any Campsites in the USA and how did you over come the different electric voltage with your UK Motor Home.
    Is there a adaptor you can buy for this problem?

    Many Thanks

    Paul.

    • Mark
      | Reply

      Hi Paul
      Thanks for reading and getting in touch. We stayed at many campsites on the west coast before we found out about boondocking – wild camping – overall the commercial sites were ‘okay’ well serviced etc but quite expensive. We stayed in state campgrounds and county campgrounds which were more chilled and mostly cheaper. But if you have solar (and I recommend that you do) then you can get off the beaten track (or stay on it) with many free places to camp only coming to serviced sites once every few days to empty and refill etc. Look for the Bureau of Land Management areas in the US – these are truly wild camping areas. Also check out ioverlander (website and app) for 1000’s of places both free and paid from Alaska to Argentina and beyond.
      As for the power issue we bought a 3KW transformer once we landed in Canada for about £100 I think which I used euro connectors (the blue outdoors interlocking electrical connectors you see at festivals and running from generators etc) to put the transformer inline with the ehu connector. Take several travel adapters (in case you lose them tricky to get new ones for uk plugs in canada and the states) to turn your UK ehu cable into a versatile hook up cable.
      3KW is more than sufficient for most couples and their power requirements, at least it was for us.
      Please ask any further questions you have I will be happy to help.
      Regards
      Mark

  5. Paul Ayer
    | Reply

    Can I buy European Hymer in Germany and import it to California where I am a us citizen. I am concerned about any US requirements for equipment and any difference of European and US specifications. Is it legal? Thanks, Paul

    • Mark
      | Reply

      HI Paul
      Thanks for reading and getting in touch.
      I am not sure I am the person to ask about this as I only temporary imported my motorhome.
      If you want to permanently import then the requirements from a safety and emissions perspective will be the information you need.
      I THINK I know that if the vehicle is over 25 years old then it is considered a classic and MAY NOT come under such stringent regulations.
      Only your import export section of the government can help you with that.
      Good luck.
      Regards
      Mark

  6. Jon
    | Reply

    Hi Mark
    Firstly thank you for the informative posts. We have recently been looking at shipping our motorhome to Canada and we had looked to use Seabridge the same as you did, so it was comforting to hear you had such a great experience. I wonder if you could elaborate on your experience of actually preparing to be road legal in North America? Did you have to make any changes to your vehicle? Did you require any special insurances or licencing? Did the legality change much as you drove from North to South?

    • Mark
      | Reply

      Hi Jon
      Thanks for reading.
      Okay so legality wise.
      We had to get USA insurance from a USA insurance company that covered me to drive in Canada and Mexico.
      This was made slightly harder by the fact that my motorhome was older than 19 years and younger than 25 years … but we found somewhere to insure.
      I had a UK MOT when I left and I let the current UK insurance run its course rather than cancel it.
      When the Tax was due I declared SORN online and as I say let the UK insurance expire.
      I took a standard UK driving license and used that as my licence – but as I didnt have to show it in Canada or the US I cant say whether it was good enough for local law enforcement officers – I believe it was all that was required under law (no international drivers licence).
      Apart from that I temporarily imported the motorhome and as long as I left before the year was up there were no restrictions on the vehicle itself.
      My motorhome was a Left Hand Drive though – being imported from Germany – so I was driving on the correct side of the vehicle.
      When I crossed in to Mexico I had previously purchased Mexican driving insurance from a US broker.
      After that things get more sketchy regarding absolutes of what you must have. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua just wanted passport and ownership papers and driving licence (again a standard UK one).
      The only thing I can think of is that from Mexico down the V5 says specifically that it is NOT proof of ownership written in RED across the front this did cause problems which we creatively solved with … well maybe best not to put that here – I will email you separately.
      If you have any questions please ask.
      Regards
      Mark

  7. Nigel Guy
    | Reply

    Hi Mark

    As promised from our conversation on the Classic Hymer site, I have a couple of queries as we prepare for our trip to the States in a few months’ time.

    First of all, well done on your trip – a great adenture – and also on your website.

    On getting an inverter, do you know if it’s possible to get them in the UK? I have zero mechanical & electrical expertise, so will need someone to fit it for me regardless!

    Also on electricity, I’ve seen that campsites can have separate 30A and 50A supplies – is the connection the same for both?

    Your insurance experience sounds really stressful, and our van is coming up to 23 years old, so you’ve got me a bit worried! Seabridge say they will offer insurance – did they not do that when you travelled over, or was it their recommended companies that you were dealing with?

    Thanks
    Nigel

    • Mark
      | Reply

      Hi Nigel
      Thanks for the questions – happy to help before it all becomes a dim and distant memory.
      It is possible to get them in the UK (transformers 110vac to 220vac) but you dont really want it hard wired in – in my opinion – because you wont be able to hook up in the UK or Europe whilst it is in situ. I used these http://www.ebay.co.uk/bhp/240v-blue-plug (male and female) inside the van where the hook up comes in so that with a simple (non technical) 2 minutes of reconfiguring allows the transformer to be connected and disconnected.
      I would suggest something like https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bronson-VT-2000-Transformer-Converter/dp/B015J4X2II/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_23_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=3YA8NMYSAWC5S90GFBA6 which allows for different voltages in different countries by using the selector on the back (I had a 3KW version of the one listed here but I see that they are unavailable from amazon at the moment but there will be other companies selling them in the UK no doubt you would just need to a bit of focussed research now you know what you are looking for).
      In the US they do have 30A and 50A outlets on different campsites but unless you have high power requirements then I would buy a travel adaptor (13amp uk plug to USA 15amp – which is a standard piece of kit you can get here on ebay or amazon) and then once in the US go to Home Depot or in Canada ‘Canadian Tyre’ and buy a USA 15amp to 30Amp convertor because I am not sure you can get them here. While you are there then have a look for another adaptor from 15amp to 50amp or 30amp to 50amp – so you effectively daisy chain them together forming the required conversion as you need it per campsite. (in practice I never found a site that didn’t have 30A and some had both). BUT if you are going to Mexico and further down then you will need the travel adapter only for converting your UK 13amp plug to USA 15A 2 pin/3 pin plug – you just dont see many 30amp and no 50amp once you get out of the states.
      So my hook up cable had a UK plug on the end (I removed the 16A blue connector and added a UK 13amp plug) and my power requirements never exceeded 13amp (I only know this because I never blew the fuse).
      If you are going to run an air-con unit then you will need access to 30 or 50amp supply which is almost impossible to find in Mexican campsites – I didnt have an aircon unit. NOTE IF you are going to actually NEED 30amps or 50amps then having a UK plug with a 13amp fuse will be no good because the fuse will blow when you switch anything big on in the van so you will need to have a good think about what connectors you want to take and what your power usage requirements are – if you want to chat about practical electrics (rather than ‘to regs’ electrics) PM me at classic Hymers and lets talk privately.
      As for insurance then all I can say is Seabridge put us on to their insurance specialist that then helped us with getting insurance direct from the 1 company that they found that would insure us – If – 3 years later – they are saying they can sort it for you I would go with their suggestions as it was a bit of a minefield and I didnt have insurance right until the last minute when the van came off the ship in Halifax which was very stressful.
      Good luck Nigel and any further questions please ask.
      Regards

  8. Nigel Guy
    | Reply

    Hi Mark

    Thanks very much for that info – it’s really helpful.

    Sorry not to have responded sooner – we’ve been looking after grandkids for the last week: a real full-time job!

    Cheers
    Nigel

  9. roger gibbons
    | Reply

    Hi Mark
    we have just purchased a 1992 mercedes karmann from berlin (lhd) and are planning “a big one” to canada/usa/mexico, We have done big chunks of this trip on bicycles, but now want to go for longer.
    Had trial run to french alps last week, lost first gear, then gloplugs failed, glad we were not in Alaska!
    Cant wait to start reading your blog. we hope things will be a bit easier as our vehicle is 26years old.

    • Mark
      | Reply

      Hi Roger,
      Thanks for stopping by and for reading.
      Sounds like an adventure already – If I could have my time again I think a couple of test runs would have been very useful in terms of things that want to break can and then be fixed closer to home.
      I hope you have a great time and let me know if there are any questions I can possibly answer.
      regards
      mark

      • roger gibbons
        | Reply

        Hi Mark, thank you so much for replying. Looking at Seabridge at the moment. we were going to arrange ferry etc independently, but now think its not worth the hassle. Seabridge have just announced as from march, you can now sail on the vessel with your campervan, there are 6 cabins available, me and the wife have both worked on cruise ships and ferries, so would be a trip down memory lane, and we would be fine dealing with 2 weeks on a container ship.
        Can i ask you how you manage for valid insurance in USA when your UK MOT has expired?. We intend leaving the campervan in a friends yard in San Francisco for the 6 months of summer, we have a holiday rental we have to run here in Cornwall (that pays for the trip) so would fly home and fly back.
        have you got any adventures planned?
        warm regards
        roger

        • Mark
          | Reply

          Hi Roger
          Sorry so long to reply I have been renovating the Hymer.
          So valid US insurance without a UK MOT …. mmmm … if it worries you then will need to do some creative thinking!
          I had a valid MOT when I left and was out of the US and Canada before it ran out.
          From Mexico down I didnt really get the impression that a valid UK MOT was even a thing ….
          Theoretically I suppose you should bring it back home every year and MOT it and then ship it back!
          So when the UK MOT ran out I did nothing, when the UK tax ran out I SORNed it online and I left the UK insurance running until it expired sometime in Mexico.
          Sounds like your plan’s require you to make some educated guesses and probably some regular trips to Baja before returning to the US each year – if you do make sure that you get the 10 year motorhome import licence to Mexico (which lasts 10 years) and make sure that you get paperwork on entry to Mexico (if you got the Baja route) so that you have officially entered Mexico … I believe that it is possible to enter Baja without this import licence (because you are not on the Mexican mainland) which MIGHT make it difficult to prove to the US customs that you have actually been out of the country when you come back.
          Keep me posted,
          Regards
          Mark

          • roger gibbons
            |

            Hi Mark
            Thanks for your reply. we will get MOT just before we go…when it runs out we will probably have had our fill of USA/Canada. We cycled the Baja peninsula last year, loved it, want to spend a couple of months volunteering (free camping) at the turtle rescue centre near Todos Santos. I agree the mexicans would not have a valid MOT on a gringo as top priority, its more for the insurance for the states. Going to meet the Seabridge team at the NEC in October, see if i can find out who they recommend for USA insurance, so i can get a quote. Have you ever used the CAMPENDIUM app? looks really handy.
            Can i ask you if there is any mercedes spares company you recommend, who would not freak out sending spares to north america?, not that i will breakdown!
            take care mark
            roger

          • Mark
            |

            Hi Roger
            So the blog stops as we enter Guatemala and within a couple of weeks we were broken down at Pasajcap on lake Atitlan for nearly 7 months = as an aside if you get to Lake Atitlan do go and stay with Pierre at Pasajcap – amazing guy and wonderful place = so all that to say that between arriving broken in Canada and breaking down a lot all through USA and Mexico ending in a full engine rebuild in Guatemala I know something of getting parts shipped!!
            The best way is to do your due diligence (and to be fair Mercedes dont really make most of their parts any more so if you can stick to the high end German brands) then you can get your parts from anywhere (I purchased from France, Norway, Germany Sweden and of course the UK) and have them shipped to a friends address in the UK where (if they are up for it) they remove the invoices and repackage in a sturdy box. You then can use an online international courier to ship the lot to where you are. The reason I say this is that import duties are mostly (but not always) cheaper when a ‘person’ ships to another ‘person’ whereas if you get Mercedes to ship straight to you in … any country … its a company shipping to a person and this can make import fees massive – in Mexico I made the mistake of allowing the garage that was working on the truck to import a part from the states – Company to Company – wow the import fees were 4 x the cost of the parts.
            Anyway I digress – I have/had a great relationship with the local Mercedes parts company in Avonmouth, Bristol – City West Commercials – awesome company, they couldn’t do enough to help – if you ever need them let me know and I will email you the best guy to deal withs name. So when I couldn’t be absolutely certain I had the correct part number (for purchasing elsewhere) I just asked them – felt cheeky the first few times but once I realised that they didn’t really mind and that the price was often 4 to 6 times as much as the equivalent part elsewhere … I became at peace with it. Then in every order there were just those things that you wouldn’t order from anywhere else from the other side of the world and those orders were done through the Mercedes dealership in Avonmouth.
            So for instance the engine rebuild parts from Mercedes were around £2400 but by shopping around online they cost £800 plus £250 shipping and came in a week.
            If you don’t already have a contact at your local Mercedes dealership (with a parts department) then before you go I would perhaps pop and tell them (the people at the parts department) what you are doing and introduce yourself … it might help. Oh and if you don’t already know Mercedes have a special code ‘VOR’ Vehicle Off Road – you want to ask for that on any order they do for you and it arrives 1 to 3 days quicker.
            Never seen the campendium app – I used iOverlander exclusively all the way down and we had a copy of camping mexico too both were more than enough info plus of course other overlanders we met along the way.
            Regards
            mark

  10. Nigel Guy
    | Reply

    Hi again Mark

    Wow – sounds like your Guatemala experience was a big test of resilience.

    I wanted to ask about LPG. We have a Gaslow system with 2 big cylinders and a separate nozzle for filling them up. There seem to be plenty of places to fill up, but do you know if we’ll be allowed to use this system?

    Thanks again in advance.
    Nigel

    • Mark
      | Reply

      Hi Nigel
      So as far as my experience went I had no trouble getting gas in any country anywhere with an under slung tank and I didn’t hear of anyone ever being refused filling anywhere in any country, BUT connectors!! now that’s the trick – Seabridge used to sell a kit that converted European gas fittings to north American and at the time it all seemed very expensive (not the fittings but everything I was spending before leaving). So when I got to Canada I bought all the parts to convert our connector to a northern American one and changed it myself. If you don’t want to be messing around in a car park in Nova Scotia with gas fittings then I strongly urge you to buy the kit either from eBay or seabridge or amazon – please don’t ask me which one you will need as I cant remember I would just buy the whole kit and you definitely have the right one then and after 2 weeks it will all be so normal you will wonder why you bought the whole kit!
      Cheers Nigel
      Regards
      Mark

      • Nigel Guy
        | Reply

        Thanks very much for that, Mark

        Seabridge do offer a connector, so I’ll have a look to see how their price compares with Amazon. Sounds like it will be fine.

        Cheers
        Nigel

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