How to stay safe and legal in your motorhome

Staying Safe & Legal in Your Motorhome

If you live or travel in a motorhome then you need to know how to stay safe and keep on the right side of the law.  You will find everything you need to know here about staying safe and legal in your motorhome.

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Motorhome Security

Your motorhome or campervan is probably one of the biggest assets you own.  Keeping it and its’ contents safe should be a key part of your planning when taking a trip.  There are really three types of motorhome security measures to consider;

  • physical security – physical devices designed to prevent entry or the driving away of your motorhome. Steering wheel locks, additional door locks and wheel clamps would be examples of this.
  • electronic security – immobilisers, alarm systems and tracking devices.
  • situational security – where you park, what you carry and how you live in your motorhome.

We are not experts in physical or electronic security devices and have found a lot of useful information by searching Google and motorhome forums.  Try searching for motorhome trackers, motorhome security ideas or diy motorhome security.

We can’t tell you all you need to know about security, but we can share with you what we know about situational security.  After living in our motorhome for over 18 months, visiting 15 European countries and wild camping for at least half that time, we have developed our own routines and methods of ensuring we (and our motorhome) stay safe.

Staying Safe

I can honestly say that in the time that we have been travelling, I have never felt unsafe. Wild camping, walking around the nearest town late at night after a few beers and chatting to locals, visiting cities and stopping on sites and aires.   However, it would be naive to think that the risks of being a foreigner abroad in a motorhome don’t exist.  Motorhome break-ins and thefts do happen but by planning accordingly and being aware of your surroundings and the risk, you can minimise the risks.

  • When you visit a new country, make sure you know the emergency number and put it in your mobile.
  • if you arrive at an aire or a wild camping spot and it doesn’t feel right, listen to your instincts and go elsewhere.
  • don’t street park in cities.  Use a secure location or car park and take public transport if necessary. 
  • close your windows, put your blinds up and hide any visible valuables when you go out during the day. Thieves want to know it’s worth taking the risk of breaking in and may just move on if they can’t see inside.
  • be prepared for the worst. We carry pepper spray bought in Germany and a heavy Maglite torch, which of course we need for late night trips to the loo! 
  • check and double check, especially when wild camping, that your habitation door, cab doors and storage bins are locked before going to bed.
  • keep valuables in a fixed (and by fixed I mean bolted to a secure internal wall) and well hidden motorhome safe or special hiding place. There are so many options available on-line it should be easy to find something that works for you.
  • don’t flaunt cash or possessions when out. We don’t wear much jewellery and wear basic sports watches.
  • consider your key arrangements. Do you carry a spare or secure it somewhere around the vehicle?
  • if you go out locally, have plans to get home and be aware of your surroundings. Would you know if someone was following you?
  • make sure you have details of insurance and recovery companies. Take photos of your important documents such as passports in your phone should the worst happen, or make sure a trusted family member has copies they can email you in an emergency.
  • have an email address you can access from a public pc or another device if necessary, where you could manage communications in the event of a break-in or theft.
  • run through various scenarios in your mind to ensure you would know how to react in the event of  a break-in.
  • use Facebook forums to keep up to date with scams and locations where thefts and break-ins are happening.

Follow our tips, use your common sense and follow your gut feelings and you will stay safe.

Insurance

Vehicle Insurance

Motorhome and caravan insurance  is usually managed through a specialist broker who will be able to access the best prices.  Don’t use comparison sites, they are confused by quotes for motorhome insurance and nine times out of ten when you try to actually take out the insurance, the price will be incorrect (always lower, never higher than it should be!).

It is not usually possible to use a no-claims bonus on motorhome or campervan insurance but some companies will ‘mirror’ your no claims if you have proof, which may help.  The costs will depend very much on age and value of your vehicle; if your van is worth over £60k expect to  pay upwards of £1,000 a year, more if full-timing.  Some companies will include motorhome breakdown cover which is heavily discounted, get this included if you can.  

Understand any limitations to overseas travel, some insurers will limit trip duration and will not cover you for all countries you may wish to visit, such as Albania, Turkey or Morocco.  You may have to pay extra for a Green Card for these countries.

Read the small print!  Some insurers are very specific about how long you can leave your van unattended overseas and some will refuse to pay out if your van is parked on the street instead of the declared drive and is stolen.  Remember, most insurers will do whatever they can to get out of paying a claim…I’m not cynical, much!

If you are full-time, this is a more specialist area and insurance usually has  specific conditions, read more about that here.

We have third party, fire and theft insurance on our scooter as we we unable to get fully comprehensive for 365 days of cover abroad. We made a decision that as long as we had the minimum cover for the country in which we were travelling, which is currently a legal requirement of UK insurance in Europe, then we would risk the damage element and ride cautiously.  

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Travel Insurance

Make sure you have an up to date EHIC (the old E111 card) which gives you the same level state provided medical treatment as citizens of that country would receive, and will do so until 31st December 2020.

However, not all EU countries provide full free at point-of-access medical treatment like the NHS does.  In Spain for example, you will get basic care and treatment covered but if you need to see a specialist, then this is not covered under the reciprocal agreement.  Further, your EHIC will not cover repatriation to the UK. This is why you need to take out travel insurance alongside your EHIC.

How you do this depends on how long you will be abroad.  Some banks include travel insurance in their current account packages, but this is likely to be time limited, age limited and may not cover you for pre-existing conditions.  

If you are out of the UK for longer than the time limit, you will need to get backpackers insurance (I know, made me feel like a sprightly 25 year old again!) which will cover you for up to two years. This insurance often cannot be purchased prior to leaving the UK, so make sure you take it out before or risk a much higher premium and a waiting period before any claims can be made.  Most companies will give you options around sporting activities and gadget cover. If you are into any extreme sports, you are unlikely to be covered at the basic level.

Try True Traveller or World Nomads for this type of cover.

Home Insurance

Before heading off, make sure that you home insurance remains valid if your house in unoccupied. Many policies will only allow you 60 days before imposing strict actions you must take such as leaving the heating on to a certain temperature or naming a key holder.

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Finances

We keep a spreadsheet of all our € costs and another with our £ costs so we can keep a track of where our money is going. If you’re new to this and wondering if you can afford to live in a motorhome then check out our detailed breakdown of costs and budget here, along with lots of tips to help you travel in your motorhome for less money.

We use a Caxton card pre-loaded with euros and this works well although don’t use it to pre-pay for fuel, as they are not a credit card and any pre-authorisation amount can be held for up to 21 days…ouch!  

Keeping Legal

Documentation

You must carry the following documents when travelling in Europe;

  • Passport
  • Certificate of insurance for all your vehicles.
  • V5 
  • MOT certificate for all your vehicles over 3 years old.
  • Evidence of UK vehcile tax, keep the confirmation email they send you.
  • Green Card if visiting countries not normally covered.  Most insurance companies state on the certificate that it is also the green card, but check this before leaving the UK.
  • Vignette (a type of motorway road tax required in some EU countries; see more info here).
  • Emissions zone sticker depending on where you are going.
  • Certificate of Medical Insurance.
  • EHIC (old E111) card for medical treatment; this does not substitute full medical insurance but will defiantly help.
  • Driving licence
  • International Driving Permit if you’re driving outside of Europe, for example in Malta or Cyprus.
  • Breakdown cover details, probably an email on your phone rather than a bit of paper.
  • Service documentation for your vehicle should you breakdown.
  • Pet passports
  • If you’re old school, and it’s often the best way, tickets!
Much of this information will change when we come to the end of the Brexit transition period and you can find out more in our post about motorhoming in Europe after Brexit.
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Driving a Motorhome

If your motorhome is registered in the UK, you will need to have a valid MOT and road tax. Your motorhome must not exceed the gross vehicle weight once fully laden, not forgetting passenger weight.  Unfortunately, this means returning to the UK annually for an MOT if your van is more than 3 years old.  

Sounds obvious, but you must have a valid licence. If you passed your driving test before Jan 1st 1997 you will have grandfather rights on your license and can also drive a motorhome over 3,500kg. All Cat C categories need to be renewed at 45 years of age and every five years thereafter, this means a medical and re-application for the category on your license. Cat C1 licenses (along with all other categories) need to be renewed at 70 and may require a medical.

Currently you can drive in all European counties on a UK driving licence; depending on the Brexit outcome, you may also need an International Driving Permit which will only be issued at UK Post Offices.  You may need more than one permit depending on your destination; check the details and for any updates here.

Again, it sounds obvious but follow the road signs and don’t go where you shouldn’t in your motorhome.  Google Translate is great for helping with this and a number of times we have had to pull over to check what certain words mean…and have usually been glad we did!

There are various views about whether European police can catch up with you at your UK address if you are flashed by a speed camera. We have been flashed on a few occasions and to date (fingers crossed) have not received any correspondence.  Please don’t take that as a licence to break the speed limit, we may just have been lucky. Update August 2019 – there have been a lot of reports about Brits receiving speeding fines once home. The French Police seem to have upped their efforts in recent months to recover outstanding fines.

Tolls

Tolls are confusing and vary from country to country.  We always try and avoid toll roads and programme our sat nav to take the scenic route, but sometimes they are unavoidable.  

There are systems you can use in most European counties which link to your numberplate and allow you to pass through without a barrier, your credit card is charged later. 

Tolls are extortionate in France and you will likely be charged as an HGV vehicle. Portugal is the most confusing and I am not sure we paid all the tolls we should have, but there have been no repercussions.  

Click here for a country by country guide to toll roads and charges.

Low Emissions Zones

Lots of EU countries have low emissions zones in some of their cities.  You can be fined if you drive into these areas (albeit) unknowingly.  Use this handy guide to check out which cities are affected and make sure you get your sticker or pay electronically to avoid a nasty surprise when you get home.

Parking

Whether you are parking, wild camping or utilising a space to sleep in your vehicle overnight, all EU countries have laws and regulations around this.  Some are complex and can be unclear.   Read our post on wild camping to find out more and understand how to stay within the law.  

If you have found this post helpful, head on over to our motorhome advice pages where you can find motorhome tips, practical advice and lots of info for motorhome beginners.

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How to Stay Safe & Legal in Your Motorhome

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