<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Tips for Overseas RV Visitors to the US
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Foreign RV Visitors Touring the U.S.

Some Inside Information

By Diane and Tony Dawkins (11/05)

+++When we posted an email from a reader in New Zealand asking for information on the requirements for foreign visitors wanting to tour the U.S. by RV, we had a very helpful response from a reader from Australia who provided valuable insights into the challenges that are involved. Much of this was "news" to us -- and we've converted the email into an article so that it can be made available to others contemplating a similar adventure.

Email to Marie in New Zealand

Hello Marie,

I have been passed your email and enquiry about touring the States. I will endeavor to answer any queries you may have, and to be as much help as I can.

I do not know your circumstances or objective to visit the States, if you have been here before, or have relatives here, so I will just give my comments and if you have further questions then I will try to help. Please do not feel offended if you already know most of this, I am giving an overview as I think about it.

I think you should know what you are planning is going against the system and a very efficient system it is. The system is designed for non-American residents to come to America and hire a motor home for a week, 2 weeka etc. If you have hired a car in America you will know as a non resident that you are penalized on insurance. Many times the insurance is more expensive than the actual car hire as you are forced to take out collision damage waver. I do not know the present cost but last time it was around $15 a day on top of normal insurance charges. This is because as non residents you are classed as a :flight risk:. I have tried to pay for this in the UK, as part of my holiday insurance but the car hire companies will not accept this and you pay again. Therefore you must be prepared for setbacks. It may be you are used to form filling in your line of work, but we are not and it can be quite frustrating. If you plan to buy a vehicle then the system changes as it would be extortionate to hire for any length of time.

Firstly our plans. We have visited the States a few times as we lived in the UK before emigrating to Australia. We have been keen caravaners for years and have toured most of Europe and Australia. We decided to upgrade our caravan to a 5th wheel and as the Americans lead the way on 5th wheels decided to order one from a dealer in Australia who imports them, then converts to Australian compliance. We ordered the 5th wheel to be delivered to Australia but picked it up from the shippers and are touring for 12 months then delivering it back to the shippers to go to Australia. A few years ago we had an A class motor home which we bought from America into England then had it shipped to Australia, which cost a fortune to get compliance.

Visa. You will be told that as a NZ citizen you do not need a visa for 3 months stay. We took out a 5 year visa as we wanted to stay over the 3 months. Immigration gives you 3 months but you have to be out of America within those 3 months. Even with a 5 year visa you still cannot stay for a period of more than 6 months without leaving the States. We overcame this by going to Canada, surrendering our 6 month permit on the way out and getting another one on the way back. As we are staying slightly over 12 months, we had already planned to meet our family in Queensland half way trough our tour. Then upon returning a few days ago we got another 6 month permit to last us until our return to Australia. I believe the penalty for staying even one day over your visa date is refusal to enter the States for 10 years.

Driving Licence / Insurance. This may be your biggest hurdle if you do not have relatives here.

We entered from Los Angeles, so all our formalities were done in California.

You cannot get insurance without an American driving licence. You will have to take a written and road test. This again is a mine field as you need to show full details of insurance on the vehicle to take the road test. I had to hire a car for the day to obtain the necessary paperwork before they would take me on the road. Fortunately the written tests can be downloaded off the web to give you ideas on the type of questions, and at the driving centre I went to there was no advanced appointment necessary. You can turn up on the day and wait your turn.

You cannot apply for a driving licence here in California without a California address!

You cannot get a licence without a social security number.

Fortunately many years ago we opened a bank account in the States and to open a bank account you need a social security number, so we were a few weeks in advance when we started. I believe the only way to obtain a Social Security Number is to open a bank account.

First thing would be to go to the Social Security Department, asking for a Social Security number to enable you to open a bank account. This of course will be a "non-working" Social Security Number. You will need a US bank account because if you use your NZ credit card you will be charged exchange rate fees on every transaction. We have a transfer arranged from our Australian Bank to our US bank by our daughter when needed. (Which is quite often, it is not a cheap holiday).

We have our insurance through the AAA, (American Automobile Association), through their Southern California branch. We also joined the AAA as they give you free maps and guides, worth more than your joining fee. Their road side assistance is also gives peace of mind, but join with the RV upgrade to cover motor homes and RVs. Again you must persevere for insurance, the first two companies I approached said I needed a Californian driving licence for 2 years before they would insure me. The AAA accepted a driving licence with proof I had been driving for more than 2 years.

Communication, I recommend you join a few tour clubs, I can give you more advice on this if required. We joined Passport America on the recommendation of Dick from Colorado. They have a division called MYRV Mail. You can have your mail sent to their address then you can phone when you are ready and have your mail sent on to you, when you know where you will be staying. This is better than trying to get mail sent direct as many times we have stayed longer at a campsite waiting for mail. Again a lap top is invaluable to keep in touch back home. You are obviously younger than us so know more about these things but we could not be without ours. We purchased an internet card with a SIM card with a company called T-Mobile, in California this was great but we have limited access in some areas. We pay $29 a month for unlimited access in the US but don't use it in Canada it cost $70 for just one session as we were roaming and I did not know. We had a bill for $460 for our 6 week stay there. We have found T-mobile coverage lacking so depending on the area you are visiting you can choose your provider. There are lots to choose from.

Vehicle. When we had the A class we fitted a Honda Motor bike on a tray on the back as you cannot get around without a vehicle. Most camp sites are out of town, so you can pack up the camper every morning and go touring or do what most Americans do and tow a small car behind the unit. We went for the alternative, to tow a 5th wheel behind a truck, which is almost as popular as motor home. With 4 in the family this has to be considered.

Camp fees, these vary a lot, from about $15 a night for power and water in a country type camp site to $55 a night in a city, remember these are US$, about 40% more than the NZ$. If you are traveling you can stay on rest area or a popular stopping overnight is a Wal-Mart car park. It was strange to me but it appears Wal-Mart allow you to park over night on their car park free. This is okay traveling as an overnight stop but you could not leave the unit there to tour into town. We have only done this a few times and found about 6 other rigs doing the same, but generally they have moved on by 8am.

Getting around. I would recommend a lap top computer and a program called "Microsoft Streets and Trips". We bought the software for about $150 including a GPS, and it's been invaluable. We basically looked at the country and decided to visit as much as possible. We have been touring 7 months and are having a ball. We can send you a copy of a monthly news letter we send to our friends and relatives back home and also friends we have made in the States. This will bore you to tears as I babble on about where we have been and some of our experiences, but it gives an idea of our travels!! I keep a daily diary if you wanted more details about specific areas.

Getting to the UK afterwards. This is not the problem it is to get to Australia, mainly as you do not have to convert the vehicle to RHD. But remember you are taking a 110v into a 240v country so some modifications will be needed. We are originally from the UK so may be able to help with some details there.

Regarding your children's education while traveling, sorry we can not help there.

Once you get over the red tape, and are finally on the road you are in for a great experience. We originally planned to go up the west coast from LA and into south west Canada then back into the US, across the north to the east during the summer months. Now as it's approaching winter we are heading down the east coast to Florida for January and February then across the south arriving in LA for April. If you are thinking of shipping to the UK then you will probably do it differently as you will want to end up on the east coast. Arriving in February remember there is still snow in the high country until May.

Diane and Tony Dawkins, Perth Western Australia