Moving To Europe VIII – Renting Or Buying An RV (Campervan/Motorhome) In Europe
Welcome to part II of my into to European RVing mini-series! If you’ve landed here you might have slogged your way through my RV shipping post and decided that was not going to be the route for you. Why go through all that hassle and (potentially) pay those high insurance prices? Surely there’s another way?
Well thankfully there is. Whether you’re coming to Europe for a short vacay or a longer stay there are options for both renting and buying RV’s (yes, even if you’re a non-resident!) that can get you rolling down the European backroads in no time at all. That’s the topic we’re going to explore today, so let’s dig right in…
Renting An RV (Campervan/Motorhome)
If you’re just coming for a short jaunt in EU, renting an RV can be a very decent way to go. You don’t need any special paperwork and you can do it all with a simple online booking and your regular US drivers license*. However there’s a few small things you need to know before you start down this route.
The first thing you need to know is that nobody uses the term “RV” in Europe. They are either called campervans (generally smaller, van-like vehicles) or motorhomes (generally larger, class C-like or small class A-like vehicles), so when you’re searching online for a rental in Europe that’s what you’ll be searching for.
The second thing to understand is that costs can vary a TON. Rentals run anywhere from EUR 300-4000 (~US$350-$4700) per week depending on where you rent from, what size you rent and what time of year you come, so it’s definitely worth hunting around for deals. Most folks seem to end up renting something that costs around US$1000/week.
Key Renting Tips:
Size Matters: A van that sleeps two to four (e.g. van with pop-up top) can be anywhere from 1/2-1/4 the price of a larger, Winnebago-style RV that sleeps four to five. If you can handle the size, vans are definitely the cheapest and most flexible vehicles to rent in Europe. Plus they’re cheaper in gas to drive around too.
Age Matters: Renting a newer motorhome will cost more than renting an older model. Some agencies offer a selection, but many deal exclusively in newer RVs.
Diesel Is Better: In Europe diesel tends to be cheaper than gas. Most motorhomes in Europe run on diesel, but there are a select few that run on gas (often called petrol over here), plus some van rentals may run on gas too. So make sure you double-check and go diesel if there’s a choice.
Manual Is Cheaper Than Automatic: For vehicles in Europe, the general standard is Manual Transmission whereas Automatic is much less common. It’s also much cheaper to rent a Manual, so if you’re comfortable driving a stick shift definitely go that route. However if you don’t know how to drive a stick, make sure you specifically chose Automatic so that you aren’t surprised when you pick-up your rental!
Shop Around by Country: Rental prices vary a ton by both city and country so it’s definitely worth shopping around. In general, Germany seems to have pretty decent rates, but you can also find screaming deals in France, Italy & Spain, depending on season and time. As an example, I priced out a basic van rental for 1 week (7 days) in mid-July (smack in the middle of high-season), and the prices ranged from from EUR 606 (~US$715) in Milan, Italy to EUR 1698 (~US$2000) in Hamburg, Germany, almost 3x difference! Even within Germany the prices had a huge spread. That same EUR 1698 (~US$2000) rental in Hamburg, was going for only EUR 968 (~US$1160) in Munich. So it really pays to shop around.
Consider The Low Season: Summer is high season and you’ll pay the most for rentals during that time, so consider RVing in the “off season”. For example right after the peak of the European summer holidays, or during winter (e.g. south of Spain is nice at that time). It’ll save you a ton of cash! As an example, that same basic van rental that I priced out for EUR 606-1698/week (~US$715-2000) in mid-July above, is going for only EUR 290-588/week (~US$340-695) in mid-Nov, almost a 1/3 of the price! Oh and the cheapest place I found to rent from at that time of year? Marseille, France.
Check Restrictions: Always make sure you understand where you can drive with your rental. Most EU rentals allow you to drive anywhere within the EU, but there may be restrictions on taking your rental into Eastern Europe. Also, British (UK) rentals sometimes add a fee if you take the vehicle to the Continent. Lastly make sure to check the mileage allowance (= how far you can drive each day) that’s included in the price. Unlimited mileage is always preferable, but some rentals do have a limit/day with extra mileage charged on top.
Understand All Extra Taxes & Fees: When renting in Europe make sure you check that taxes are included in the final price, otherwise these can add quite a nasty little surprise on top. Also, Insurance may or may not be included and can be a costly addition if it’s not. Lastly, if you decide to drop-off the motorhome in another country than the one you rented it in, a one-way drop-off fee is usually tagged onto the price.
Check Included Physical Items: Always check what physical items are included in your rental. For example kitchen items are usually included, but bedding & linen is sometimes not. Think about camping chairs, appliances and other day-to-day practical stuff too. For anything not included you can either bring your own or buy some cheap options once you get here.
Some of the bigger rental agencies I’ve seen online:
- Motorhome Republic: www.motorhomeseurope.motorhomerepublic.com
- France Motorhome Hire: www.francemotorhomehire.com
- McRent: www.mcrent.eu
- Idea Merge: www.ideamerge.com
- Auto Europe Motorhomes: www.autoeuropemotorhomes.com
- Wicked Campers UK (vans only): www.wickedcampers.co.uk
*NOTE/ Get Yourself An IDP: Although you can drive around most of Europe on your regular US drivers license there are several countries such as Austria, Italy & Spain that require an International Drivers Permit (= an internationally recognized translation of your US license). You might never be asked to show it, but it’s such an easy thing to get that it makes no sense not to. Just pop into your local AAA office with a filled-out application, your US license, 2 passport photos, and $20 (this can all be done by mail too), and literally 15 mins later you’ll have an IDP valid for a year.
Buying A Motorhome (Without EU Residence)
If you’re planning to RV around Europe for multiple months, renting starts to look really expensive. So maybe buying would be better? But here’s the rub. As a US Citizen you just can’t can’t do it. In order to register (and insure) your vehicle you need to have a fixed address & legal residence in Europe, and unless you’re settling here longer-term, that just isn’t possible. So what’s an aspiring RVer to do?
The answer is a snazzy buy-back scheme that has been developed to specifically address this problem. It’s was pioneered in the Netherlands, although a few other countries offer it too.
The idea is this: You buy a second-hand motorhome from a dealer, but the vehicle stays titled & registered with the dealer (not you). You then travel around at your leisure and when you’re finished, the dealer agrees to purchase back the motorhome for an agreed-upon % of the purchase price.
It’s like a guaranteed buy-back sale, except you never actually “own” the motorhome outright. It stays titled to the dealer throughout.
The advantages to this method are that you get the option to buy a European-style RV for a reasonable price. Plus you get access to MUCH cheaper insurance than if you’d shipped your own RV over from USA.
Things To Consider:
Buy-Back Is Negotiable: In most cases buy-back price is negotiable and tcan vary a TON, anywhere from 30%-70% of the original price depending on where you buy and how long you keep the motorhome. Make sure you understand exactly what the terms of your buy-back are before you purchase.
Time Matters: Buy-back deals tend to make the most sense for longer-term RVing, say 6 months or more, since that’s when you get the most relative value for your purchase. That said, some buy-back companies offer favorable terms for shorter periods too. For example BWCampers guarantees 70% buy-back for use up to 3 months of a camper priced EUR 15.000,- and over. That same buy-back drops to 60% for use up to a year, 35% if use is between 12-24 months. Just run the numbers and make sure they make sense for you before you commit.
You’ll Still Be Responsible For Repairs & Insurance : Even though the dealer will technically “own” your motorhome, under these programs you will still be responsible for repair, damage and maintenance just as if you owned the vehicle in your name. Also, you’ll still be required to buy and carry insurance.
Visa Restrictions Still Apply: The company you buy from won’t care how long you stay in any given area, but the government still does. So if you’re planning to RV in EU for an extended period remember that US Citizens can only stay in the Schengen Area for 90 days out of every 180. Plan your travel route carefully to make sure you don’t overstay your visa limits in any given country.
The following buy-back companies get good reviews:
- Braitman & Wouldenberg Campers (Amsterdam): www.bwcampers.com
- Happy Camper (Amsterdam): www.happy-camper.eu
- Europe Roadtrip (Noordscheschut): www.europe-roadtrip.com
Other Options To Buy A Motorhome?
The two methods above are the ones I’d recommend for most US citizens who are planning to RV around Europe. They’re the easiest, and best-known methods and they each get lots of good reviews from others who’ve tried them. That said, there are a few other methods to buy a motorhome in Europe:
Use A Registration Agent: As I mentioned above, if you’re a US citizens and not planning to establish local residency, then you generally can’t register a vehicle in Europe. It’s why most folks go the buy-back method if they’re coming for a longer jaunt. However there ARE a few agents who specialize in helping foreigners to register vehicles, even without residence. These van buyers from Australia did just that using a finders & registration service from Dutch Campervans. Another website that advertises this kind of service is Euro Camping Cars. I’m not sure exactly how this method works (and haven’t read many reviews of it either), so if you’ve gone this route and had success with it please comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
Buy Through A Local Family Or Friend: If you have friends or family that live in Europe, then you can certainly buy, register and insure a motorhome in their name. For this to work however, you need to have a really tight relationship and a very clear understanding of who pays what. Who pays for accidents? And what happens if you have an accident and that goes on your friends insurance record? I’m not a fan of this method for multiple reasons, but I’ve known a few folks who’ve successfully gone this route.
Become A Local: Of course if you’re planning to establish legal residence in EU, then you can buy a motorhome like a local. You’ll need a local address, proof of legal residence, and a valid drivers license (US licenses can typically be used for 6-12 months, depending on which country you use to establish residence, but after that you’ll need to go local). That’s it! There are lots of RV dealers, both online (Marktplaats and Mobile are two of the biggest) and local (everywhere!) who can help you purchase the roaming vehicle of your dreams. Tons of options there!
Phew! That’s it, at least as far as how to get yourself into a motorhome in Europe. The actual RVing part will (hopefully) come later.
Have you RV’d this way around the EU? Or are you planning to? Know of any other snazzy schemes to get a motorhome in Europe? I’d love to hear your comments below!SPONSORED LINK:
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