Shipping your van from the UK to America is a dream for so many. After all, the USA is the birthing place of the mighty road trip. If you have already spent time and money building you perfect campervan, the thought of starting from scratch in a different country, with a new van, often feels a bit painful.
But how do you ship your campervan from the UK to America, how much does it cost and is it worth it?
Featured Image Credit: Claire Lawlor
What Route Will My Van Take?
It is possible to ship your motorhome from the UK to the USA. However, to do so can be a complicated and expensive procedure.
There are several ferry routes available, giving you some flexibility when planning your road trip route. Ports that you can ship your campervan to include locations in or near Los Angeles CA, Seattle WA, Washington DC, Brunswick GA and more.
Most ferries will depart from either South Hampton or Liverpool in the UK. However, unlike America, the UK is small enough that departure location is not too important. You could drive to pretty much anywhere in the UK in a day or two.
How Long Does Shipping Take?
Shipping times for your camper vary depending on the route you decide to travel, but it takes roughly two weeks to one month.
While ferry companies are usually very efficient, the weather can be unpredictable. Bad weather can delay a crossing, so it is a good idea to prepare for this when planning your trip to America.
How Much Does Shipping Your Van Cost?
Perhaps the biggest question with regards to shipping your van from the UK to the USA is the cost. This is also one of the main deciding factors in whether it is something you choose to do. I’m not going to lie, transporting your campervan across the ocean is an expensive affair.
To transport a camper van, roughly the size of a long wheelbase, high roof Sprinter van to the East Coast of America, you’re looking at a price in the region of £2130.
This price raises to about £3800 if you want your vehicle to arrive on the West Coast. Take this price as a rough guide as costs will vary between companies, depending on your vehicle and additional fees may incur.
The price of shipping is calculated depending on the volume of your camper, not just the length. This means that every centimetre counts and you will be paying more, the larger your motorhome is.
I calculated these prices using Seabridge Tours system; you can access their website here if you wish to calculate the price for your camper.
It is also worth bearing in mind that this fee is for a one-way crossing. If you wish to return your motorhome to the UK, once you have completed your American road trip, then you will need to treat this as a new booking.
So, for a return trip, you’re looking at prices in the region of £4260-£7600 or more.
On top of the price of shipping your van to the USA and fees charged by the shipping company, there may be American import taxes that you will need to pay. If you only plan on temporarily importing your camper, for a maximum period of a year, these fees are waivered.
Importing your camper (or any other vehicle) for a period longer than a year, will mean it is subject to import tax, which can be a pretty hefty fee and is calculated based on the value of your vehicle.
To import your camper for a period longer than a year, your vehicle must also meet some safety and emissions standards. You will need to do your research to check whether your vehicle meets these standards and if you will need to have any changes made to allow the vehicle into the country.
If your camper is older than 25 years, or you are only importing for a year, then you do not need to meet these regulations.
Before You Set-Off
Cleaning Your Van
There is one regulation that your campervan will need to pass before being allowed into the USA by American customs, even if you’re only going for a year. Your camper needs to be clean!
You should thoroughly clean your van, to ensure that no harmful pests are transported on it. Ensure your camper is spotless, including the wheels and underneath the chassis.
Documentation For Shipping
There is a whole host of documentation required when shipping your van from the UK to the USA. From passport copies to MOT certificates, you need to ensure that all of your paperwork is in order.
Otherwise, your camper can be denied entry. Your shipping company should be able to help you with this and let you know what you need to do.
What You Will Need When You Arrive
International Driving Licence
Successfully shipping your van isn’t the only thing you need to think about for your American Road trip, there are also some things you will need when you get there. The first one of these is an international drivers licence.
This permit is easy to get; in fact, it costs just £5 and You can get it from most UK post offices.
All you will need is a valid driving licence and a passport photo and your international permit can be issued there and then. Just make sure you get the right one, as there are different ones for different countries, but this is something the postmaster should be able to help you with.
You will also need a visa, allowing you to stay in the USA for your desired duration; otherwise, you will not be allowed into the country. UK citizens are entitled to visit the USA for three months with an ESTA, which waivers the need for a visa.
If you wish to stay for longer than three months, then you will need to apply for, and be approved for a visa before arranging the rest of your trip.
Getting a visa couldn’t be more important as without it, your whole road trip is not possible. Check out the US Embassy’s website for more information on how to apply.
As well as a visa for yourself you will also need the correct insurance for your van. You will want to source insurance before you leave the UK and you will also want to ensure you have insurance that covers the shipping your van, just in case anything happens in transit.
Depending on your shipping company, this may be something that they can help you with.
If not, you may have to search for some specialist motorhome insurance. You may also want some coverage for the contents of your motorhome, as well as health insurance for yourself. You will also need some breakdown cover that covers you for the duration of your trip.
If you do not have an American address, it is likely that you will need to find coverage from British companies.
A British camper might have some technical differences compared to an American one. For example, you will need a 110/115 transformer to convert electricity to 220/230 volts, a gas bottle adaptor for American bottles and an American hose pipe for filling water.
These are things you can get when you arrive in The States if you cannot find them before you set off.
Finally, you will want to consider if you need to take any mechanical spare parts with you. If the make of your van also exists in the USA, then this shouldn’t be a problem.
However, if you think it will be difficult to source spare parts for your camper, then this may be something you want to think about. Be sure to have a full service before departure and talk to your mechanic about any spare parts they believe you should be carrying.
Getting To The USA
The quickest, easiest and probably cheapest way to reach the USA yourself is by plane. The only thing to consider here is that you want to make sure you get there before your van or arrange someone else to collect it when it arrives.
In case of any delays when shipping your van, it is a good idea to arrange some backup accommodation so that you have somewhere to stay if your camper does not arrive on time.
Can I Travel With My Van?
Most companies will not allow you to go with your camper van when in transit, as your van is likely to be travelling on a freight boat, not a passenger ship.
However, some camper van transportation specialists such as Sea Bridge Tours do provide cabins on the same vessel as your van. This company also allows you to ship your campervan with items inside such as clothing and gear which some freight companies do not allow.
This is a key point worth researching before you book your van’s shipping.
Rent A Campervan
If shipping your van is sounding too complicated or expensive for you then the other option is to buy or rent a campervan once you get to America.
Renting a campervan is a good solution if you only plan on road-tripping for a maximum of a few months. Any longer and it is going to get pretty expensive too.
Buy A Campervan
If you’re aiming to do a full cross country road trip and would like to be on the travelling for a year or more, then buying a camper once you reach America is an alternative option.
Buying something second hand could be an affordable option, but you will want to make sure that the van is mechanically sound. If you do this, you can then sell your camper at the end of your trip, so you gain back some of the money spent.
Shipping your van is gaining in popularity as the world of custom van builds and tiny homes is growing. If it is something you can afford to do, then I can see the appeal of taking your own cosy camper on a cross-continental road trip.
However, for me the financial cost is just too high, considering you could buy a second-hand van for not a great deal more than the cost of return shipping.