Taking your motorhome to Europe can be an exciting way to explore the continent. And, with no foreseeable drop in the cost of living, other than keeping your fuel tank topped up, you can save money on flights, airport parking and other associated costs. But if you’ve never ventured across the water in your motorhome, you may feel a tad dubious.
In this article, we highlight some of the things you need to know, and consider, before taking your motorhome to Europe.
Get your documentation in order
If you’re planning to travel, first things first. Check the validity of your passport in good time, preferably three to four months before your trip. This will give you enough time to renew it if you discover it won’t be valid for travel. Most countries will let you travel on a passport that’s valid for at least three months from the date you plan to leave the country you’re visiting. Please be aware, in some countries, border officials require passport holders to have at least six months of remaining validity, to enter their country. If you need to renew your passport earlier than planned, allow up to 10 weeks for your application to be processed.
You’ll also need to take your UK driving licence and V5C Logbook with you. If you don’t have a photocard driving licence, you may need to get an international driving permit (IDP). You can get one from the Post Office for £5.50.
A green card is no longer required for driving in EU countries; however, you’ll need a certificate to prove you have motorhome insurance, so make sure you have this with you, just in case you’re asked to show it. If you’re extending your trip to countries such as Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Turkey, or Ukraine, you may need a green card. A green card is proof that you have vehicle insurance when driving abroad. You can contact your insurer to get one for your vehicle. They’ll either post it to you (allow up to 6 weeks) or tell you how to download it, so you can print it off yourself.
Get a UK sticker
From September 29th 2021, the GB bumper sticker required for travel in Europe became invalid and was replaced with the UK identifier. You must now display a UK identifier sticker when driving a UK-registered vehicle abroad, unless your number plate already has the UK identifier with the Union Jack. If your number plate has one of the following, you will need to affix a separate UK sticker to your rear bumper.
- GB identifier with the EU flag
- Euro symbol
- National flag of England, Scotland or Wales
- Numbers and letters only (no flag or identifier)
If you’re in Spain, Cyprus or Malta, you must display a UK sticker no matter what is on your number plate.
Stay within the law
Do your homework on local laws. Know what the road signs mean in the country you’re travelling to. This guide from Auto Europe explores some European road signs you may need to know. Remember the speed limits in European countries is measured in Km/ph, not Mph, so always keep an eye on your speed. Speed limits in France can be confusing, as they change according to the weather, your vehicle and the type of road you’re on. For example, the speed limit for motorhomes driving on a motorway in dry weather can be up to 130km/ph (81 mph), but when wet this reduces to 110 km/ph (68 mph). The speed limit on rural roads changes from 90 km/h to 80 km/h, and in fog (visibility less than 50 meters) the speed limit on all types of roads is 50 km/h. Make sure you're clear on the rules.
Many countries require drivers to carry warning triangles and high visibility jackets for each passenger, and you’ll also need headlamp adjusters. You can buy kits on ferries, but they tend to be expensive, so we suggest purchasing the items you need before you travel. The Halfords Motoring Abroad Kit has the essentials you’ll need for driving in Europe. Breathalyzers were once a compulsory requirement when travelling to France, but this rule was abolished in 2020, although some people still prefer to carry them.
To drive in some larger European cities, you may need to purchase an environmental sticker. France has extensive legislation regarding environmental zones, so you’ll need to purchase a Crit’air, (which translates to English as an Air Quality certificate), when driving through 11 of the country’s major cities, to indicate the level of emissions your vehicle produces. These can be purchased online and are posted to you, so you’ll need to order one well in advance. Once purchased, the certificate will last the lifetime of the vehicle it’s associated with.
Research and plan your route beforehand to get an idea of where you’re going and the roads you will be travelling on. Use a Sat Nav to find the best routes and check for tolls. You might find that tolls are more common in some countries than others, so be ready to pay. Most motorway tolls in France take credit cards, but it’s advisable to have cash, just in case you come across tolls that don’t accept debit/credit cards. Also keep an eye out for countries which require a vignette (a toll sticker) to use on certain roads. If you don’t have one, you might find yourself having to dip into your holiday budget to buy one or run the risk of being fined.
If your motorhome doesn’t have a built-in Sat Nav, you may be worried that using your phone will cost you a fortune in data roaming charges. With an iPhone, you can navigate offline using Google Maps when you’re not connected to the internet. You can pre-download maps of an entire country, prior to travel, so if your internet connection is slow or absent, Google Maps will use your offline map to give you driving directions. Please be aware, using maps offline won’t give you access to traffic info, alternate routes, or lane guidance. Details of how to download offline maps can be found here.
CoPilot is also a useful app for caravan and motorhome owners. It allows you to input the dimensions of your vehicle so you can avoid low bridges and narrow roads. As with Google Maps, it can be used offline, removing data roaming charges. The app can be found on the Apple store or on Google Play.
Food for thought
While it’s highly unlikely you’ll take a full food shop with you on your travels, you may want to take a few essentials with you to keep you going until you reach your destination. It’s important that you’re aware of the restrictions and limitations of taking food and drink into the EU, to avoid having contraband items confiscated before you cross the channel. So, before you stock up your fridge, check out the European Commission’s food and drink rules and regulations.
To book or not to book, that is the question
You may be surprised to learn that motorhoming in the EU is generally much easier than in the UK. Many EU Countries, like France for example, are much more geared up for travellers and embrace the whole motorhome lifestyle. In the UK, there are more restrictions as to where you can and can’t park or camp overnight. In the EU, the options are a lot less limiting, and will give you more control over the type of holiday you really want to have.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to know you have a place to stay, pre-booking will be the best option for you. If you’re travelling during busy, peak times, we also recommend pre-booking to avoid disappointment.
Pitchup is a great online booking site that has a catalogue of over 5,330 campsites across the UK, Europe and the Americas. They provide information on walking routes, pubs, and places of interest close to campsites, to help you book the right place for you.
If you’re the kind of person that prefers to leave things more to chance, you can take advantage of Aires, while you’re on your travels.
You will find motorhome Aires in France, and other countries such as Germany and Italy, although they may be referred to by different names. An Aire, which is short for ‘Aire de service’, is a free or low-cost motorhome camping area with basic amenities such as water, waste disposal and sometimes showers, toilets, and electric hook-up points. They are great if you’re only looking for a place to stay for the night or you don’t want to pre-book. ‘Aire de repos’ are also found at the sides of roads in France and are also approved rest stops. You’ll often find campers and lorries parked here, but generally they don’t have any facilities. You can stay overnight, if you need a place to rest, but they can be noisy and a bit more exposed. Park4night is also a useful app for finding places to stay.
If you are travelling in a campervan, you may be tempted to ‘wild camp’, but please be aware that not all countries allow this. Please check the rules for the country you are travelling to, beforehand.
Vehicle safety checks
With all the pre-holiday excitement, safety checks could slip your mind.
In addition to standard water, oil, and tyre checks, you should also check your lights and mirrors. If you are not able to adjust your headlights for night-time driving in Europe, you will need to apply headlamp beam adjusters before you travel, to avoid dazzling drivers on the opposite side of the road. Headlamp beam converter kits are widely available, but Halogen or Xenon headlamps may need adjustment by your dealer.
It’s also important to make sure everything within your motorhome won’t move around while you’re on the road. Ensure items are anchored down and breakables are well protected. You can turn on your fridge before you set off, but make sure the door is shut properly. This advice also applies to cupboard doors and drawers. You should never drive with a connected gas bottle. Fit a blanking cap or plug to the outlet connection for the duration of travel.
In addition to the above, a Habitation check, performed by a specialist motorhome engineer, prior to travel, will test your electrics, gas, water, ventilation, and fire safety. Taking your motorhome for a habitation check can offer extra assurance that you will be safe while you’re away.
Make sure you have enough gas to get you through your trip. If you are taking more than one bottle, check limitations with your ferry company, or Euro Tunnel, prior to travel. As a guide, Le Shuttle (Euro Tunnel) state on their website that cylinders and gas bottles should be a maximum of 47kg per cylinder and no more than 50kg per Vehicle if more than 1 container.
It’s worth mentioning that it’s not possible to exchange or re-fill Calor or Flogas bottles outside of the UK. So, if you are not able to take enough gas for your trip, you can either hire bottles or purchase gas locally. Similarly, gas bottles purchased overseas will not be exchangeable when you return to the UK. You should also be aware that hoses fitted in UK motorhomes are not always compatible with the gas bottles available in Europe, so it’s worth taking a gas bottle adaptor with you, just in case. Campingaz is available and exchangeable in nearly all European Countries and the UK. The largest bottle available (907) holds 2.72kg of Butane gas.
Most campsites in Europe will have the same three-pin CEE17 electric hook-up points that we have here in the UK, but occasionally you could come across some that still have hook-up points that require a European two-pin plug.
If the campsite has two pin hook-up points, you may be able to borrow or hire an adaptor. However, the campsite will only have a limited number available. Therefore, we recommend purchasing a continental two pin 230V Euro adaptor before you travel. Most motorhome accessory suppliers stock them.
European campsites have lower amps than in the UK. Most campsites in the UK have an average of 16-amp electricity. In the EU, this ranges from 3 to 10 amps. If you are staying on a site that has 6-amp hook-up points you will not be able to use three electrical items at one time and may be limited to just one, depending on the wattage of the item.
Be mindful of reverse polarity.
Reverse polarity occurs when the hot and neutral wires are wired in reverse. This is common in countries such as France, and for UK tourists this can create dangerous situations such as injuries, fires, and other disasters, if you are not aware of it. One of the safety issues with reverse polarity of an electric hook-up (EHU) is any appliances connected to the mains socket outlets in your motorhome will always be live, even if you turn them off at the switches. So in essence, the live connection will still be very much live, even though appliances appear to be switched off. Testing kits such as this one can help to ensure you know what’s what. If you don’t have one of these, the best thing to do in situations such as replacing a light bulb or fuse is to switch off your van’s master switch and unplug your hook-up cable from the bollard, before doing so.
Take a break
It can be tempting to drive for as long as you can, before taking a break, so you can spend more time at your destination.
However, driving while tired can be extremely dangerous. So be sure to take regular rest breaks and stop when your eyes become heavy, or your concentration begins to wane. Remember, the driving is part of the experience and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Get yourself covered
Getting the right cover in place will ensure you are well protected, in the event of an accident. Remember, no policy will protect you against every scenario, so it’s best to read your policy documents to understand the conditions and exclusions that apply.
If you’re planning to cross the channel and holiday in Europe, one thing you don’t want to overlook is EU breakdown insurance. Don’t assume your standard motorhome breakdown insurance offers the same level of cover abroad as it does at home in the UK. Failing to have European breakdown cover in place could mean your holiday ends up costing you way more than anticipated if the worst were to happen. Breaking down while overseas could be much more complicated, than if it were to happen in the UK.
If a breakdown occurs in the UK, your insurer can arrange for your vehicle to be taken to a garage to be repaired. Whereas, breaking down in Europe could result in having to make your own repair and recovery arrangements if you aren’t adequately covered. You’ll need to find a recovery company to tow you and a trustworthy garage to fix your vehicle. On top of this, you’ll have to cover the costs for recovery, labour and repairs out of your own pocket. If your vehicle can’t be fixed before you’re due to travel back to the UK, you’ll also need to cover the cost of getting you and your vehicle back home. Sadly, the further away from home you are, the more this will cost. Finding yourself in this situation can be both difficult and stressful, especially if you don’t speak the language or know the area.
What do I do if I breakdown in Europe?
Don’t panic and respond to the breakdown as you would in the UK.
If you breakdown on the motorway or at a motorway service station, you can call for help from an orange SOS box, situated at the side of the road, or 112 from your mobile in most EU countries. Bear in mind, recovery agents may not speak English, so you’re best to call your breakdown assistance service first to prevent any problems arising. It’s also worth knowing that only minor repairs are carried out at the roadside in Europe.
You can visit our website for further information on motorhome insurance and RAC motorhome breakdown insurance. Alternatively, you can speak to one of our customer advisors on 01480 402 460 to get a quote.
Disclaimer: The sole purpose of this article is to provide guidance on the topic covered. This article is not intended to give legal advice, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. We cannot guarantee the completeness or accuracy of the information contained in the external links, which were live at the date of publication.