How to buy a campervan in the UK as a foreigner

As always, purchasing a vehicle in a place that you are not from is always an adventure. Here, I'll try to hit on the big points of how we made our purchase across the pond.

To begin, we did do our fair share of research before deciding we should purchase our camper in the UK. (We had seriously considered shipping our beloved Element over, but the import taxes and shipping made this idea prohibitive as an option). At the end of the day, it seemed that the process of purchasing, registering and insuring the vehicle would be easiest done for us in the UK. Generally this was because a) we would be purchasing and dealing with all paperwork in English, b) we have an excellent friend who is letting us use their local address for our car registration, c) we found via another website, an insurance company who cover americans or australians campervan touring around europe.

Step 1: Finding your campervan

We used gumtree primarily to find our campervan. Phil had be religiously searching for the past few months and had a generally good idea of the vans available, the pricing and mileage, etc. We contacted a few sellers in advance to our arrival and set up times to come and see the vehicles on the day we landed. We also rented a car, which helped immensely, as many of the vehicles we were interested in were selling all over the UK, some as far as Manchester (5 hour drive from London).


One other thing we did, as we mention in our youtube video, was check the MOT (Ministry of Transportation) record for the vehicle. This is a pretty great FREE online tool that's found on the UK government website. You only have to ask the seller for their registration plate # and pop that in to see the entire history of the vehicle. MOT inspections seem to be very thorough and give you the rundown of any reasons for failures or advisories to be aware of. This lets you see the past history of the car, and potentially what the car may need in terms of repairs should you decide to buy it.

On a side note, we also purchased the international data sim card KeepGo off Amazon before leaving. This, coupled with our Google Voice numbers, allowed us to make calls anywhere we could get a signal. These two allowed us to stay in contact with our sellers (in case we needed to change scheduled times) and plot our Google Maps courses to get to the meeting places.

Step 2: Paying for the van

Once you've chosen your campervan, it's time to talk about payment. Obviously most sellers like cash. It's the simplest way and the most assured when trading it immediately for the vehicle.  I would recommend this if it's possible to do. However, as we had no idea how much were going to spend on the camper, we had no idea how much cash to prepare in advance. Add on top the fact that banks exchange rates are ridiculous, we were less inclined to exchange a large sum in the States before arriving.

We also considered direct bank transfers, which again had the problem of the bad bank exchange rates, in addition to the fees added on sometimes by both the sending and receiving banks. PayPal was another discarded option, again due to a % fee for both the sender and receiver.

Enter Transferwise. This was a site that Phil had actually found out about a while back, for other reasons, but we found out it was an excellent site for doing exactly this. It was relatively a straight forward process, requiring only that you make an account on Transferwise, and then add them as a known recipient with your local bank online. You may have to jump through a few security hoops, as we did, but nothing having a Google Voice number couldn't handle. Once that was sorted, we just had to add our sellers banking info (primarily their IBAN - International Bank Account Number) and off it went. It literally took the next day for the money to show up in their account. Note however, if you send more than 10 000 Euros (about 8800£), you are required to pass certain verification requirements in terms of personal identification, SSN and address, before being able to send the money. The fees are also broken down for you, and are absolutely minimal compared to all of our other options.

Step 3: Transferring Ownership

Now that the money was in the bank, it became a matter of coming to pick up the campervan and officially transferring ownership to us. In the UK, they've made this an incredibly easy process as it can be pretty much done immediately online (https://www.gov.uk/sold-bought-vehicle) unlike the arduous process of going to the DMV in person in the US. All vehicle owners will have something called the v5c or vehicle log book. It's a full 2 page booklet that contains all of your registration information. On the second page, there's a small tear away green slip that you as the new owner, will fill out and keep with you. The previous owner will then destroy the rest of the logbook. The instructions on the gov.uk site will walk you through the entire process. Doing it online also allows the DVLA to immediately post your new v5c logbook to your registered address. This is where you'll need a good friend with a local address. You'll need the v5c when you travel through Europe as well as proof of the MOT for the current year.



Step 4: Paying Road Tax

Another requirement to driving in the UK is payment of the road tax. At this point, you only need the green slip from Step 3 to fill out the required information. You can either pay for 6 months (132£) or a full year (264£). Payment at any time starts from the first of that month and the payment does not rollover to the new owner. The previous owner will be refunded any full months prepayment that exceeds their ownership. This could also be done immediately and online (https://www.gov.uk/vehicle-tax) and paid via credit or debit card.


Step 5: Purchasing Insurance

This was the step that partially convinced us to buy our vehicle in the UK. We had read online that there was a company who would cover travelers (typically from Australia, America or Canada) who were backpacking or campervanning in UK or Europe, Down Under Insurance (https://www.duinsure.com). One of their requirements was that the vehicle is registered in the UK, hence, our decision to purchase and register in the UK. While it may not be the cheapest (they do say they are budget friendly), we figured this would be easiest way to get this taken care of as soon as possible.

One of the annoying things was that they only provide quotes if you call in. We had a little bit of trouble with this, as we were traveling in Norway at the moment, and our reception wasn't the best. It became particularly irritating when the operator requested we spell out Massachusetts, while the line kept constantly cutting in and out. The differences in accents didn't help either. In the end, we got it sorted, and our grand total for 4 months in the Vauxhall Vivaro was a whopping 500£. I suppose this is about right. We remembered being quoted around $1000AUD in Oz for one year of insurance, but that was also highly affected by the location of your registered address.

Another thing that was pointed out to us in our call, was that this policy doesn't cover a number of the balkan countries, such as Bosnia, Albania, etc. When you get insurance in the UK, they will issue you something called the "Green Card". It will indicate on it, exactly which countries it's approved for. In our case, most of the Balkans are not. However, they apparently have their own insurance that you can pay for at the border. More on this when we get there!


So there you have it. Once all this done, you're DONE! Move your things in, decorate, and make it your own! You're the proud new owner of a campervan and ready for an adventure around Europe.


Check out our Youtube video version if you don't like reading :D



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