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Six Common Questions About RVing in Europe

Ever thought about RVing in Europe? It was a dream of ours for a long time, so last year we moved to France and did exactly that. And it’s been just as incredible as we imagined! Perhaps you’ve wanted to do the same, but just haven’t known where to start. Well hopefully this article will cover a few of those burning questions so you can make your own European RV dreams come true.

What is European RVing Like?

I guess the first thing everyone wants to know is what is it like? In many ways European RVing is similar to the US, and in others very different.

First of all RV’s are called motorhomes, campervans or camping cars in Europe. They tend to be much smaller (~20-26 ft in size), have no slides and no air-conditioning (typically) and use little cassette toilets instead of black tanks. They take a bit of getting used to, but they are really well-made and laid out. I’ve come to love them.

Narrow European Roads

Europe tends to be denser than the US, with narrow roads and tons of charming little cobblestone towns, old churches and historic castles, many of which are centuries old. But there’s also lots of nature, high mountains and wild coasts, and you can switch between them all in less than a day of driving. I like to say that’s it’s dense and intense.

European Campground

Campgrounds have smaller sites and generally only offer electric hookups (maybe water), but they come in all ranges and tend to have excellent facilities. Plus there are plenty of places to stay for free or almost free. And of course European RVers are super friendly, just like RVers in the USA. I think that’s a worldwide thing.

When is the Best Season to RV in Europe?

RVing in France

RVing in Europe is lovely any time of year, but there are certain seasons we prefer.

Summertime (June-Aug) is high season and frankly our least favorite time to RV. Kids are out of school so it’s crowded, rentals and campgrounds are more expensive, and you often have to book ahead, especially in popular areas. The only exception we make to summertime RVing is Scandinavia, where crowds remain low and summer temps are near-perfect. That’s a special experience. 

The shoulder seasons (April-May, Sept-Oct) are lovely just about everywhere, so they’re our top-recommended time to explore UK and Continental Europe. Crowds are gone, temps are mild and prices on rentals and campgrounds are all lower. Some sites start to shut-down towards the end of September, but otherwise it’s near perfection. We just love these months! 

Winter RVing (Nov-Mar) can be fabulous in southern Europe, especially in countries like Spain and Portugal. Lots of retirees head south in winter, so there’s a decent number of campgrounds that stay open all-year, plus rentals are reasonable, weather is fab and travel is wonderfully easy. It’s another great time to go!

How Do You Rent an RV in Europe?

If you’re coming to Europe for a short stint, then renting an RV is the easiest way to go.

  • Go Small: You’ll want to rent something small for those narrow European roads. 6-7 m (20-23 ft) is the “sweet-spot” so either a van or small Class C/A is perfect. Don’t be tempted to go bigger!
  • Shop Around! Germany generally has good rates, but sometimes you can find screaming deals in France, Spain or Italy. Plus, off-season can be 1/3 of the price of summer. It’s really worth shopping around!
  • Check What’s Included: You’ll want to check exactly what’s included in your rental, such as daily mileage allowances, type of transmission (manual/stick-shift is really common in Europe!), where you can travel (country-specific restrictions), physical items (such as bedding, cooking utensils etc.) and insurance costs.

Most folks end up paying ~$1000/week, but prices can go as low as $350/week or as high as $5000/week. Big rental agencies like Motorhome Republic (www.motorhomeseurope.motorhomerepublic.com), France Motorhome Hire (www.francemotorhomehire.com) and McRent (www.mcrent.eu) are good places to start your search.

What About Buying an RV to Travel Abroad?

Pyrenees in Spain

If you plan to travel for more than a few months in Europe, then buying will be much cheaper than renting! The only problem is that most European countries require you to be a resident to do so.

If you have (very good) friends in EU who are willing to help you, that’s a possibility. Otherwise there are agencies that offer specialized sell-and-buy-back services for non-residents. You buy from a dealer who registers & titles the RV for you, then you simply sell it back at an agreed-upon percentage of the purchase price when you’re done with your trip. For longer-term travel “rental costs” can easily drop to less than $100/week this way!

BW Campers (www.bwcampers.com), Happy Camper (www.happy-camper.eu) and Europe Roadtrip (www.europe-roadtrip.com) are some well-known dealers that offer this service.

How Long Can You RV in Europe?

Americans traveling to Europe are limited by the 90/180 rule. Basically you are allowed to stay visa-free for 90 days in the 26 countries that make up something called the “Schengen Area” (= most of Continental Europe and Scandinavia), then you have to be out of Schengen for the next 90 days before you can come back again.

What this means for longer-term RV travel is that you just have to watch your dates.

So, for example you can RV through Spain, France & Germany (all Schengen) for 90 days, then go to a non-Schengen country (e.g. UK, Ireland, Croatia, Romania, or Ukraine) for the next 90 days, then drive back into Schengen, and so on.

There are other ways to stay longer-term in Europe (e.g. long-term visas) but sticking to the visa-free limits is the simplest option.

How Much Will it Cost to RV in Europe?

Spanish Coast

Last topic just because I know you’re dying to know, but this is also the toughest one! SO much of RVing costs depend on when, where and how you like to travel.

  • Camping costs are similar to USA and can vary from totally free to really expensive, depending on the type of place you stay.
  • Gas/diesel costs are ~2x of US prices, but European RVs also tend to be really efficient, so it’s not as bad as you think. We actually spend less with our small European RV than we used to in our big rig in the USA.
  • Road tolls can add up quickly in certain countries, but you can also avoid them completely by taking back roads.
  • Groceries & Dining out can either be expensive or ridiculously cheap. For example, Nordic countries are known to be super pricey, whereas southern Europe can be really affordable.

So, it all depends! From the budgets I’ve seen and our own experience, I’d say typical daily RV expenses for a couple can vary from $50/day (lower end) to $150/day (high-end). It’s a big range I know, but so are RVing styles!

Hopefully that gives you a taste for what European RVing is like and how to get started. Here’s to keeping those dreams alive, and maybe we’ll see you on this side of the pond down the road!

Author

Nina Fussing SKP#106238

Nina Fussing is a blogger, photographer and all-around nature-lover who spent 8 years fulltime RVing with her hubby & 12 paws around USA. They are now in Europe continuing the adventure there. 
Follow their story at: wheelingit.us

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12 Responses to “Six Common Questions About RVing in Europe

  • JC Webber III
    3 months ago

    In the states (and Canada) we use All Stays Camp and RV to find campgrounds. Is there something similar in Europe that accomplishes the same thing?

  • Yes absolutely! The biggest is Park4night. It covers everything from regular camping spots to boondocking sites. We use the app constantly and it’s the #1 app one I recommend to folks traveling over.

    There are also a few other apps I like and use in conjunction with Park4night, in specific CamperContact (great for Aires) and Searchforsites (a UK based app that has more detailed reviews).

    Nina

  • Is it possible (realistically safe & affordable) to take pets with you to RV in Europe?

  • Susan Reed
    3 months ago

    My husband and I rented a motor home five times for travels around Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria. We loved it! There is nothing like being able to stop for lunch, or cake and coffee, along the “backest” of the back roads, or on a mountain top, whenever one wants. And it’s so convenient having a potty, or a cold drink, available any time. The campgrounds are great. Don’t be afraid to try camping in Europe!

    • We have been RVing in Europe for over 10 years. We write about our travels in the Escapees group newsletter for the World Wide Travelers BOF. All of our practical articles are at our website. TheRoadGoesEverOn.com. Our camper is stored this winter near Edinburgh and is for sale.

  • @deb – your question about bringing pets is a great one, with a potentially very long answer. I’ll try to condense it as much as possible 🙂

    Yes, you can travel over with pets. They need to be microchipped (with an international chip), and have a rabies shot (> 21 days before travel) plus a health certificate issued by a USDA certified vet (within 10 days of travel) which must then be endorsed by USDA right before leaving. That’s the paperwork. It’s not difficult. It just takes planning!

    Then there are the logistics of actually getting them here. Depending on size your pet can either travel with you in cabin (generally small pets only, one pet per passenger) or they have to go in a special pressurized section of the plane. This travel must be booked in advance since planes have limited space for pets.

    Finally once in Europe they can travel up to 4 months with you on their US issues health certificate. If staying longer they will need à European Pet Passport which you can get in EU. And when you go back to US you will need paperwork for that too.

    I have a ton more details about this on my blog, but hopefully that gives you a taste. We moved over with our 3 pets (2 cats, 1 dog). So it can be done!

    Nina

  • Thanks for a terrific overview.We were just beginning to epxlore whether we might do this next year (2020). Very timely!

  • Nice article to get “feet wet” about renting an RV in Europe. We’re considering this as an option for our trip to Europe next September/October. Hugs/pets to all!

  • I would really be interested in knowing how you get residency in France. We bought an RV from Happy camper in Sept 2017 then travelled 90 days in western EU then out 90 days in Morocco then back in EU 90 days. We then sold the camper back to Happy camper. Great people to work with 😄. But we would like to travel without restrictions 😊. HAPPY RVing.

    • Hi Lyd,

      Well I’m lucky in that I’m European by birth (Danish) and my father lives in France. So Paul (who is American) was able to get a long-term stay visa through me.

      That said it is totally possible for US citizens to get long-term visitor visas for France. It just takes some paperwork & patience. You apply in the USA for the visa (before you come to EU) and you need to provide a local French address (which is the hardest thing -> most folks take out a longer-term Airbnb rental or something similar), proof of resources (basically enough cash to prove you are not going to be a burden to the system while you are here), and several other documents. The processing of the paperwork takes around 2 weeks. Then, once you land in France you need to go through some additional steps to validate your visa on this side. That’s it!! If you want to stay beyond the first year, you’ll need to renew with all the paperwork again (but that you can do locally in France).

      If you’re interested in long-term visa info you can go to the official French Visa application website (https://france-visas.gouv.fr/en_US/web/france-visas/) and read more.

      Nina

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