how to buy a camper van

How to buy a camper van in South America?

How to buy a camper van in South America

Wondering how to buy a camper van? Are you thinking about a trip to South America or traveling by a camper van? Are you looking for information on how you can buy a motorhome in South America?

Read the following guide on how to buy a camper van, you will learn where to look for offers, how to choose the right motorhome, what about the formalities and selling the car after the trip. You are even able to make money on this transaction.

Between June 2014 and February 2015, we crossed South America in a camper van that we bought in Ecuador. It was an old Dodge Van which had already gone a similar route twice before. We bought the car on the road, and then we sold to the other traveling family profitably. We have wrote our experience in this post.

Here’s what you can read about in the following article “How to buy a camper van in South America”:

  1. Where do camper vans come from to Latin America?
  2. Where to buy a motorhome?
  3. Where to find ads for sale of a camper van?
  4. What you should pay attention to when buying a motorhome?
  5. What to ask previous owners?
  6. How to choose a camper van?
  7. What is the process of selling a motorhome in South America?
  8. What about insurance and car breakdown?
  9. What to do with a motorhome if you do not want to sell it?
how to buy a camper van
How to buy a camper van in South America?

Where do camper vans come from to Latin America?

To South America camper vans usually come from either North America (USA or Canada) or from Europe (most often Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland). Very often, travelers (called overlanders) plan a year, two or more for a trips through South America, sometimes Central America, with the intention of selling a motorhome at the end of the journey.

That’s what our friends from Colorado did. Moreover – they built a camper van themselves. They bought an old van, equipped it themselves, then in 14 months they traveled from Colorado to the end of South America, to Tierra del Fuego and sold it there with a profit!

So it is a good idea for a trip. You can go to the US, buy a camper van at a good price (and there are many occasions), and then sell it either in Panama or in South America. Why in Panama? Well, traveling from one continent to another (from Central America to South America) requires sending the car in a container. Due to the fact that there is no land connection between these continents, there is a jungle and Colombian gorillas, I don’t known what is worse. It is only a several dozen kilometers, but there is no pass. So all vehicles must be sent in a container by ship. This unfortunately costs a lot, about 1200-1500 USD and is difficult to coordinate (more info here: ) That is why some travelers simply end their trip here and sell the vehicle, leaving the other continent for a different trip.

Where to buy a camper van?

The best place to buy a camper van in Central America is Panama (for the reasons mentioned above). But in South America there are several locations. A lot of people end the trip in Columbia. Also a lot starts there, so it’s a good place to buy a camper van. Its similar with the Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia and around – it is the end or starting point for many travelers. The popular places for arrival from Europe or the USA and Canada are Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires. A very good place to buy a camper van is also Montevideo in Uruguay. There is even a guy, the owner of the campsite, who buys motorhomes from travelers and then sells them on.

Where to find ads about camper vans for sale?

There are several websites where you can find sales ads. The ads are from the travelers like you – after a few months of experience with the vehicle, wanting to sell it and return home.

Here are selected websites:

What is worth paying attention to when buying a camper van?

Camper vans in South America are going through a lot . Well, they are used hard, go from hand to hand, are treated as a tool to move from place to place, not like a home for a few years. So do not expect that you will buy a car neat, failure-free, in perfect condition. Besides, driving conditions in South America leave much to be desired – often crushed stones (called ripio), stones on the road, high dustiness, especially on the coast of Peru and Chile or on the long and straight roads of Patagonia. Also local drivers are not very calm, so it’s easy to bump.

In general, the following rules apply:

  1. The longer a camper van is in South America, the more used it is.
  2. Every motorhome in Central or South America sooner or later breaks down. Even the freshest German Unimog 🙂

What to ask previous owners?

For sure, ask if they had any problems with the camper van. Probably 90% will answer that they did not. But the 10% who answered yes, remove from your list right away. If someone writes that he had one problem, he probably had three.

Ask about the weaknesses of a motorhome. Here, more honest ones, can write real car’s weaknesses. I will write again – there are no sure cars. You can simply have more or less luck – that’s it. That is why you should have extra time (sometimes also money) when driving a camper van.

Ask what the previous owner has changed – what parts from the engine? New tires? Does he have spare parts?

Ask who was the previous owner, how much the current owner drives this vehicle, and how long the previous owner drove it.

Pay attention to the engine size- the bigger the engine, and as you know, American cars have huge engines, the more fuel consumes. It will increase your travel costs.

Think about how big a camper van you need, whether it’s 4 × 4 or not. Where to sleep, cook, etc.

Offer a lower price – sellers usually have their deadline of returning home and often they care more to sell, than to get a specific amount. It’s always 500 USD less!

How to choose a camper van?

Here, of course you act on your own risk.There is a same rule like with building a house: “The first one is for the enemy, the second for a friend, the third for yourself”. So we learn from our mistakes.

Here are my conclusions:

If you are a couple who do not need many comforts and just want an adventure:

Take something 4 × 4 with small engine. You can sleep in a tent (on the roof of the car, outside or after setting some parts of the car). There will be no toilet or shower. You will probably do your business wild or on campsites, where you can easily pitch a tent, set the stove and use the bathroom. Your car will be light, fast and can easily handle crushed stones. You will get in every road, you will not get stuck in the sand, and you can handle it on tight streets. In cities you will be looking for a hostel, so you will also get to know some other backpackers and you will be in the very center of the city!

If you are a family with small kids:

Take something where children can stay and not go crazy in case of the rain or wind. There must be space inside, beds for everyone and tiny bathroom (you know children sometimes have problems with patience in this matter). The stove is essential. Shower its up to you, we didn’t have and it was ok. We went to hot springs or took a bath in lakes, seas, oceans. Also, every few days you have to go to campsite to charge car batteries, so you can use a shower. It’s hard to find something like that among 4×4 vehicles at a reasonable price (I’m talking about 5,000-10,000 USD). The smaller the car, the easier it’s to drive around the cities or park close to tourist attractions. Our Dodge was perfect, not too big, not too small. Its disadvantage was too big engine, so once again I make a point of it.

What else is good to know about how to buy a camper van?

There are also large and fully equipped campers-trucks for sale, most often brought by Germans or Swiss. However many owners of these cars complained about them. First of all, the more expensive the car is, the more it attracts the attention and it’s easy to steal. So, often sleeping in the wild, in some places is not a good idea. Fixing such a car sometimes equals the cost of buying a used camper van (our friends paid for the repair 5,000 USD in Chile!) Second, big cars do not fit in small streets, have to be parked on campsites outside the city. In wild areas can easily get stuck in sand or mud and there is a problem with getting the car out. So, driving a car like that is COOL, super cool, but from a practical point of view, I do not recommend it.

And on this website you will find all the information about how to buy a camper van:

What is the process of selling a camper van in South America?

You already know how to buy a camper van, now I will tell you about its sale. This part will surprise you. The way of buying and selling it is “controversial”, but it is commonly used.

First, after getting along with the owner of the vehicle, you need to prepare the papers. This is usually done by the current owner of the vehicle, familiar with the procedure. His job is to change the owner’s details on the vehicle’s registration documents. The help here is a scanner, Photoshop and a printer.

The second important step – the new owner of the vehicle must be identified by Aduan, which is the custom duty of a country. This identification is based on the above-mentioned registration document, and the most important document, during the journey, which shows the owner of the vehicle, is the vehicle’s entry paper issued by Aduela.

I will explain step by step how and why:

The current owner has a vehicle entry paper with his name. So you both get in the camper van and go to the nearest border. The current owner goes to Aduana’s country of leaving and “leaves” the country. The vehicle’s entry document gets a stamp or is even taken from the vehicle owner, and in the Aduana’s registry the vehicle left the country. Not much further (a few meters or kilometers – depending on the border) there is Aduana country of entry. Here a new owner appears magically with the camper’s papers. He shows a new registration document (the one done in Photoshop) and then gets the vehicle’s entry document to the country. Now he is the owner. Done!

You can also sign the Bill of Sales, which is a sales document, preferably bilingual (English and Spanish) and have it with the papers, but nobody asks for it.

We can also go to Aduana in some city and present the situation there – the vehicle is sold, here is my Bill of Sales, and here the registration document with the new owner and ask what’s next. They will probably not know. They can suggest solution # 1.

What about insurance and car breakdown?

Enter at your own risk, meaning you are your own boss. You will destroy it, you lose it. There are also local insurance and in Peru we bought one of these because on the border we were told that it was obligatory.

But what to do with a camper van if it breaks down? Well, the solution is simple – you have to go to the mechanic. You can also check the car yourself before, if you know something about it, of course. You can also search the internet and look for a solution. It happened to us that two mechanics did not help (and we had to pay anyway), and then we found a solution on the Internet, we bought a spare part for less than PLN 10, we fixed it and it was ready.

It’s great if you can find spare parts right away. Sometimes you have to look for it in stores. It is not good if you have to look for these parts on the scrapyard. The worst is if you have to bring them from abroad. I recommend the well-equipped shop at Remember, however, that in this case you have to pay for the spare part, parcel and duty. This last point will also cost your time. We were waiting for customs duty to be calculated for 10 days (customs duty from Aduana in Santiago de Chile).

What I can guarantee is that the camper vans break down and you will definitely experience that. But there is nothing to worry about, everything can be arranged. It is South America!

What to do with a camper van if you do not want to sell it?

If you do not want to sell a motorhome, you can send it back to your country (let’s say Europe). Of course, as long as you have all the proper papers. The best place to send the vehicle in a container is Montevideo in Uruguay. Most of the european overlanders send their awesome vehicles there.

It is also possible to leave a camper van in South America and come back to it after some time. At most campsites, they will agree to keep the vehicle for a fixed fee. However the problem is a stay permit issued by customs (Aduan) of a country. Usually this permit is issued for the same period as a tourist visa. If you enter for 90 days, your car also comes for 90 days (Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia 30 days but can be extended in big cities). But, according to our information in Uruguay your vehicle can stay even for a year! So this is the best place to leave the camper van and come back after a few months.

We were also informed in Peru that it is possible to report to the Aduana, in any large city, that the vehicle is standing, it means does not move and is not in use, and then the vehicle’s days counter is stopped. This is in case of car repairing, for example. I conclude that you can probably try to leave your car at the campsite for a few months, report it to Aduana and after coming back, use your remaining days to leave Peru. It’s logical, but we did not try it. And you know that what is logical for us is not necessarily logical in Latin America.

You already know how to buy a camper van in South America, we wish you an unforgettable experience during your trip 🙂


Watch a video from a camper ride from Bolivia to Chile via Salar de Uyuni:

Read also:

The most beautiful places in South America: South America – what to see.

Check the post about our 8-month camper van trip from Equator to Tierra del Fuego: South America in a camper van with kids