additional equipment and paperwork

part 1 travel and exploration
part 2 types of recreational vehicles
part 3 equipment and paperwork

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How to start such an undertaking ?

Getting the whole project on rails requires quite a bit of organization, a decent planning, a lot of time and several trips. For a foreigner, the exact sequence of steps is most important, or else you'll run headlong into such a wall of administrative red tape, that you may want to abandon the entire project in despair...

The acquisition of "your" Recreational Vehicle means making the best choice of make, model and floor plan, the additional equipment, the purchase itself, the delivery and payment. Next come the household goods and getting acquainted with the new RV.

Then it is time for more paperwork with administration, insurance, registration, domiciliation, and a US driver's license. You'll follow up with other services such as bank account, credit cards, cell phone, Mail Forwarding, Road Assistance, and eventually a subscription to Satellite TV and an ISP for e-mail. Finally you'll research travel documentation and make a planning.

And the very next thing will be to take the wheel, and start your own exploration !

Additional equipment

There are several pieces of equipment that can make your stay and your travels far more comfortable. Shipping household goods over from Europe is expensive and impractical. Taking "stuff" along on the airplane is not convenient either, given the weight limit on flights. Aside from this, shipping is far more expensive than buying everything new locally.

cartoon of "shopping"For electrical appliances one has to bear in mind the difference between American 110 Volts and European 240 Volts, and there is a further difference between 50 and 60 HZ. In the omnipresent Walmarts you can find most if not all household goods at reasonable prices, even if most items are "Made in China" nowadays. It is certain however, that the Lady of the House will thoroughly enjoy the shopping...

Good communications are very important. A cell phone, the US counterpart of the European GSM, is indispensable. Verizon and ATT have the largest networks, and they cover most if not all of the USA. As a foreigner it may be somewhat daunting to obtain a subscription and a cell phone, since the companies will invariably ask your Social Security number for identification, and this is a purely American matter. A modern cell phone will allow you to connect your laptop, so that e-mail and Internet can be received, even if it is somewhat slow... A digital Fax service is also possible.

Next to the cell phone it is a good idea to buy a phone Calling Card, that allows long-distance and international calls at far better prices than the large carriers. A laptop computer is an indispensable tool, if just to keep a diary, send and receive e-mail, planning your trips and keep an eye on expenses... A good ISP will offer the largest choice of local phone numbers, which is important since local communications are usually free. Last but certainly not least, a GPS (Global Positioning System) is an indispensable tool to wander comfortably into unknown territory - and to get back safely... Make sure to choose the largest screen available !

Practically every campground offers a public phone, laundry, washrooms, bathrooms and usually even a shop for small or last-minute items.


It is amazing how complicated the paperwork can be for a European, to obtain something that the American citizen takes for granted... Passport, visa, driver's License, vehicle Registration, bank account, credit card, insurance, Emergency Road Assistance, Mail Forwarding...

Passport and Visa

N.B. : Since the attacks of 11 September 2001 the administrative formalities have changed considerably. This information could be outdated and it is necessary to check with the Embassy for current procedures.

A valid passport is a must. For a stay of less than 90 days no visa is necessary, for a longer stay a tourist visa B1/B2 must be applied for at the American Embassy. It may be a good idea to bring along a bank statement, to prove that there are sufficient financial means not to become a burden to the US government. An excerpt of property taxes can prove ownership of real estate. The Immigration Officer's MISSION is to presume that every visitor will try to stay indefinitely !

Driver's license, insurance, registration

A valid international driver's license will allow you to drive any car or rental vehicle. However, if you buy a Recreational Vehicle, it has to be registered and you have to apply for American license plates. These administrative procedures are a bit more complicated for a European. Every state has its own sovereign power and its own legislation, and some homework is therefore indispensable.

cartoon of "paperwork"Very few states will accept vehicle registration if the driver is not an American citizen AND is not domiciliated in the state. Furthermore Federal immigration laws do not allow permanent residence of foreigners. The only way to obtain permanent residency is through the Green Card, which is virtually inaccessible for a non-working retired person without (close) relatives in the USA. Nevertheless, there are a few states that do accept RV registration for foreigners and that will deliver license plates. For the administrative procedures it is much simpler to call in a specialized company, and they will take care of the paperwork for a reasonable fee. Proof of a valid insurance policy is required.

Now when you obtain US license plates, you also need a US driver's license ! As a foreigner a theoretical and practical examination must be passed. The driver's license is only valid for the duration that the NIS officer will inscribe upon entering the country. It is therefore necessary to renew this license regularly.

A remarkable anecdote is that by obtaining your US driver's license your name is automatically added to a list for Jury Duty. It is very possible to be summoned to seat in a jury for a month or more ! Mind you, this obligation is no laughing matter and it is imperative to respond to the summons at once, because delinquency is punishable by law and you could well end up in jail ! As a foreigner it suffices to inform the Court Clerk that you have the bad luck not to be an American citizen, which is a very acceptable excuse...

For practically every formality, the Social Security number (SSN) is required for identification. As a non-working foreigner it is impossible to obtain such a SSN. According to some administrations an ITIN-number (International Tax Identification Number) will replace the SSN. This is however inexact, and in practice an ITIN-number serves no purpose whatsoever, since none of the computer programs will recognize or accept it...

Bank and credit card

When staying in the US for a longer period of time, it is convenient to have a US bank account. Obtaining one however is a bit of a chore... Not one American bank has local branches in every state. Not too many American banks are happy to have foreigners as their customers, even if you already happen to be a good customer in their European branches. The not-so-obvious reason for this is that the procedure to open an account for a foreigner is quite complicated and extensive, and most banks or their agents simply do not want to spend the time and energy...

The best way to open an account is to visit several banks in the state of registration and just give it a try. Once you have an account, you can apply for a US Credit and Debit card. When cash is needed there are innumerable ATM's (Automated Teller Machine) available everywhere.

A foreign VISA credit card should cover all American shopping and dining, but orders by phone or Internet are often declined. Once again there is a very practical explanation for this. The validity of the credit card is automatically checked by computer programs, and though these can instantly check the cards of 300 million American citizens, they cannot do so for international cards. As it is, the seller is supposed to contact the local VISA branch by phone, and ask for a manual confirmation. This procedure takes way too much time and energy, and so instead, the order is simply declined...

Road Assistance and Mail Forwarding

Emergency Road Assistance is a very commendable service. For a reasonable fee this service will bring help anywhere and at all times, over the entire US and even in Canada. They will even change a flat tire for you !

When traveling in the US for a long period, all correspondence (and invoices...) should catch up with you in time. This may pose a problem, if your itinerary isn't fixed and you don't even know where you'll be next week... But a Mail Forwarding Service can come to the rescue ! It will provide you with a fixed address, and all correspondence comes to their mailbox. Whenever possible you give them a call, and they will forward your mail to you. The system may seem a bit cumbersome, but it works very well !

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