VANLIFE: HOW TO GET YOUR OWN EUROPEAN HOME ON WHEELS
We've had a lot of questions about our international campervan buying process so we thought we would write a quick speel about how we got set up. We did ALOT of research prior to buying. I couldn't count on all the fingers of all my relatives (I have a big family) the amount of second hand campervan listings that were messaged between the two of us in the months leading up to departure. The most 'common' way for an Australian to buy a campervan and travel Europe is to purchase in the UK, register to a local address, find a company that will insure it, and away you go. I wont go into that process as it's not how we did it, and there's a lot of great information out there on how to do this. In fact, my sister wrote a fantastic article about it that you can read here.
We went a slightly different route and chose to purchase in mainland Europe. There are a few reasons we chose to do this:
We were never planning on going to the UK on this trip, so it meant unnecessarily heading there to buy, and back to sell (by saving on the extra ferry costs we could invest in a slightly better van).
Buying in Europe meant we had a right hand drive vehicle (which we've found to be a god send in some of the crazier driving conditions - eg. Italy!).
The issue however, when buying in Europe is that it's next to impossible to register and insure to yourself without clear proof of long term residency. The easiest way around this is if you have a family member somewhere in mainland Europe who will take on this responsibility, but unfortunately our closest relative to mainland Europe is in Iran, and we weren't keen on driving from there...
THAT BEING SAID, there are a few companies that work on the following system:
- You locate a vehicle you like (either through online trading deals, or in their fleet)
- You 'purchase' the vehicle
- The company runs it through the 'pits' and ensures it's road legal
- The company registers it under their name
- The company draws up a contract saying you 'technically' own the vehicle
- The company insures it and puts you on the insurance
- You go on your epic journey
At the end of your trip, you either sell it back to the company (at a good profit margin for them) or you find a local buyer to whom the company then transfers ownership.
Understandably, you pay for this service. You pay for the company to hold the registration, and you pay for the company to insure it. Its not obscene, but when doing estimates, it was definitely more expensive then doing the process in the UK. That being said, when we took into account our additional travel costs and time, it worked out comparable and far more convenient.
It sounds like a bit of a headache, but we found the process VERY straightforward. We went through a company in Utrecht, Netherlands called Turner Cars and Campers. It's more or less the only company throughout Europe that offers 'lower end vans'. There are other companies that offer the same service, but their campers start at a minimum of 15,000+ and we had a strict budget that wasn't anywhere near that!
Turner Cars and Campers is run by an American expat called Donna who has been buying and selling campers in the Netherlands for 30 odd years. In addition to vans they have sourced themselves, the company offers a 'finders service' where they go out and view campers you have found online (on eBay, Gumtree or Marktplatz), check the mechanics, and then purchase it on your behalf (all while you are still in your day job in Australia). Of course, this comes with an additional fee. We were lucky enough to find our perfect van in their existing small fleet (as luck would have it, Frankie was actually a van purchased for another client about 9 months previously and was being sold back to the company just a few weeks before we arrived in Europe). We bought, and paid for EVERYTHING prior to even seeing the van which was an absolute gamble (as there isn't even that much online reviews of the company) but somehow, it worked out unbelievably smoothly. We flew into Amsterdam, got a train to Utrecht, turned up at the company HQ (which is actually just Donna's house). We went up to the living room, had a cuppa, signed a few bits of paper, got our registration and insurance documents, heard a few funny stories, and in less than half an hour away we went.
Our van has been completely mechanically sound since purchase, which a lot of the time comes down to luck rather than anything (there are lemons everywhere!). We've also have our documents checked by multiple legal entities (for various boring reasons...and a traffic offence) and never had an issue with Frankie's validity.
We're yet to complete our trip, so are unsure of how we will depart with Frankie (if we can ever let her go) but we will keep you updated!