British couple buying a RV in the US

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KatTab

Member
Joined
May 11, 2021
Posts
6
Location
U.K.
Please can you help us clarify what are the legal steps to put a RV on the road for use?
1)When we buy a RV, does it make a difference if ownership is transferred to a non US citizen?
2)What vehicle checks are required for road worthiness?
3) What is the process to register a RV in the US?
4) What insurance is required for full time use of a RV in the registered state and other states?
5) What is the period we can drive in the US with a U.K. or international driving license?
6) What issues do we need to consider.
Thank you
Our US address will be South Carolina or Georgia
 

SeilerBird

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 25, 2012
Posts
15,817
Location
St Cloud Florida USA
Please can you help us clarify what are the legal steps to put a RV on the road for use?
1)When we buy a RV, does it make a difference if ownership is transferred to a non US citizen?
2)What vehicle checks are required for road worthiness?
3) What is the process to register a RV in the US?
4) What insurance is required for full time use of a RV in the registered state and other states?
5) What is the period we can drive in the US with a U.K. or international driving license?
6) What issues do we need to consider.
Thank you
Our US address will be South Carolina or Georgia
1 - Buy insurance and register it. Non resident does not matter.
2 - Varies by state. Nevada has safety checks, Arizona and Florida don't have safety checks.
3 - Drive it to the DMV, wait in lines and pay money.
4 - Full coverage usually. Varies from state to state.
5 - I believe you can only stay six months
6 - The US is a giant country. i will bet your travel plans are way too far ranging to be practical. Post your itinerary so we can let you know how far off it is.
 

Tom

Administrator
Joined
Jan 13, 2005
Posts
48,632
Please can you help us clarify what are the legal steps to put a RV on the road for use?
1)When we buy a RV, does it make a difference if ownership is transferred to a non US citizen?
2)What vehicle checks are required for road worthiness?
3) What is the process to register a RV in the US?
4) What insurance is required for full time use of a RV in the registered state and other states?
5) What is the period we can drive in the US with a U.K. or international driving license?
6) What issues do we need to consider.
Thank you
Our US address will be South Carolina or Georgia
1. Shouldn't be an issue. When we bought our first car in California, we were still UK residents and citizens. We did need to use our temporary US address.

2. We don't have the (federal) equivalent of an annual MOT test (I used to dread those!). Some states/counties have a smog test requirement, and the frequency may vary. A good reason to register in a non-smog county/state. I see that Seilerbird mentioned safety checks in some states, but I have no knowledge/experience with those.

3. If buying privately, the seller will have a "title" document (usually 1 page), commonly called a "pink slip" * that they sign. You'll take the signed pink slip and sales receipt (don't forget to have the seller sign one) to a state Department of Motor Vehicles (some states call it Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and maybe something else).

The DMV/BMV will collect any sales tax and registration fees, and give you "tags". These are our equivalent to your tax disk*, and are typically applied to the rear license plate. They may also give you a temporary ownership document. The official title/pink slip will follow in the mail.

We don't have a centralized/federal equivalent of DVLA; It's all handled by each individual state. The above procedures may vary from state to state. e.g. a couple of years ago we shipped and registered one of our cars from home in California to our town home in Ohio. The Ohio BMV procedures were different from California. But you only need to register in one state.

If buying through a dealer, they handle all the DMV/BMV stuuff for you.

4. Our insurance coverage has different names from what you're used to. At a minimum, you'll legally need liability coverage, which comes with different $ limits. Collision coverage pays for damage to your vehicle. Insurance issued in one state is usually valid in all states. The insurance company/agent will know and explain what the legal requirements are.

Be prepared for a shock with insurance costs. No matter how long you've been driving in the UK, it's not counted, and you're starting with "no experience". Things have probably changed over the years, but our premium was double the first year in California, then it magically halved after we had 1 year of "experience" under our belts.

5. You can drive on your UK license for as long as it's valid, but individual states may have additional rules. e.g. in California we had 10 days from the time we established residence to get a CA drivers licence. Not sure if that time has changed.

Be advised the "international driving permit" is not recognized by some states (California used to specifically say that). It would probably be a good idea to bring your license(s) and IDP.

*The pink slip is the equivalent of the UK vehicle log book aka V5C, but issued once for each change of ownership, rather keeping a running log of ownership and registration/taxation payments.

* Just discovered that the UK paper car "tax disc" that was placed on the inside of the windshield was abolished in 2014.
 
Last edited:

jackiemac

Site Team
Joined
Feb 22, 2016
Posts
6,012
Location
Scotland
1. Some places won't sell you a new vehicle. We tried to buy a truck in Nevada and were told they could only sell us a used one. This was because they were concerned we were going to immediately export it. We eventually bought a new one in Idaho, but had to provide them with proof of ownership of our trailer and confirm our intention of keeping it in the US. This may have changed since 2016.

4. There are many Insurance companies which will not entertain you as you are not American. If you go down the LLC route that will not be a problem. I think I only found 2 or 3 that would insure us. We have a truck and trailer and pay approximately $2000 per year. I did ask what difference the cost would be if we obtained US driving licenses and the answer was around $50.

You mentioned travelling for a couple of years. Note that you can only remain in the US for longer than 6 months with a Visa extension. Even if you travel into Canada or Mexico and then back to the US your 6 month clock remains ticking. You might be lucky and get a Border guy who will approve you for another 6 months, but you may not.

We met a Scottish couple who had toured in Canada and then gone back into the US and got a grilling, despite him being a retired Police officer. They were not happy but gave him a date just a few days past his fly date. From recollection I think they were only staying in the US for another few months, not a full 6.

Tony can tell you more about that as he has looked into it more and had to apply for an extension last year due to Covid.
 

donn

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 8, 2009
Posts
4,358
Several years ago we met a German couple that were spending a year traveling the US. They had bought a new truck and fifth wheel trailer from a dealer in South Dakota. When we came across them was about month 9-10 of their adventure. They were heading to Canada and going east to wind up back in South Dakota where they had arranged with the selling dealer to take it in and sell it for them. For 2-3 months this may not be a viable option. But it is an option.
Your states of choice may not be the best options. Florida, Texas, or South Dakota are much better choices for full timers.
 

Isaac-1

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 3, 2016
Posts
4,579
Location
SW Louisiana
The problem with answering any of these questions is that many things vary state to state, particularly in the details of how the transactions are handled.

2, This varies by location, not just state to state, but even within the state in some places. Some states have no safety checks of any kind, others like my state have a minimal state inspection (with sticker that goes on the windshield) good for 1 or 2 years ($10/$20) This is a blow the horn, check to see if the turn signals and brake lights work, show proof of insurance, and drivers license and pay the fee, takes about 3-5 minutes total. Some parts of my state also have smog test, which in my state is just a tail pipe sniffer test at idle. Other states have more complex smog tests which involve putting the vehicle on a chassis dyno and running it at speed strapped down while doing emissions testing.

3, Again details here vary by state, I will walk through the general process of buying and registering a vehicle, note that some details may vary slightly state to state. I have bought vehicles in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, over the years each of which handles things slightly differently. Texas for example issues titles from the state office and processing times can take a month or more to get the paper copy in hand, which allows you to get permanent license plate until then you are stuck with paper plates. Louisiana taxes used vehicles at book rate, which may be higher than actual selling price (they call it a use tax, not a sales tax), ...

In the broadest terms, when you buy a vehicle you need to get a copy of the title, if it is a new vehicle the dealer will generally handle this, if used it may vary, the important thing is to make sure the seller owns it clear, some states will issue a lean against the title to a lender such as a bank, other states will issue the title to the lender until it is paid off at which point in time it is transferred to the owner. When you get the title put in your name you will generally pay sales tax which may range from about 3 - 10% of the purchase cost depending on location. You will need to get insurance, in the US there are basically 2 types of insurance, liability only, and full coverage though there are some in the middle, and again varies by state. Florida is (was last I checked) a no fault state, meaning your insurance covers damage to your own vehicle. In general in most states the minimum required insurance is liability only, which covers damage to the other persons vehicle, but nothing to your own vehicle if you are found at fault of causing the accident (per police report, ticket issued, etc.). Note this legal minimum may not pay all damages, and you will still owe out of pocket for what your insurance does not cover, in my state these minimums have not changed since the 1980's and as we all know cars cost more now.

You then must register the vehicle, this is where you get license plates, to register you generally must have the title to show proof of ownership. Registrations fees vary by state, some also vary with vehicle value, size, etc. from $25 per year up to over $1,000 per year depending on the state.


Beyond this you may need some type of safety or smog inspection and that is
 

Tom

Administrator
Joined
Jan 13, 2005
Posts
48,632
All our replies must seem a little confusing and maybe overwhelming, thanks largely to procedures, rules and fees varying between states and, in some cases, between counties. When you've picked a state to buy/register, our members will be able to provide more specific answers for that state. When the time comes, it will all be easier & more straightforward than it appears now.

When we moved a car from our primary home in California to our 2nd home in Ohio, things were handled quite differently in the two states. Ahead of time, I was a little lost and asked questions of forum members who are Ohio residents. On the day we visited the Ohio BMV, it was all quite straightforward (although different), and BMV staff were very helpful.
 
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