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How much does it cost to buy a DIY / self-build campervan in Portugal?

Photo by Balkan Campers via Unsplash

How much does it cost to buy a DIY / self-build campervan in Portugal?

Vehicles, vans and, in particular campervans aka autocaravana / autovivenda / especial dormitorio cost a lot more in Portugal than you might expect. Compared to the UK, we found the prices to be around 3X more expensive! Here’s some of the reasons why, and some examples of what campervan options are available in Portugal classified sites.

Background

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know we had to return our DIY campervan conversion from Portugal to the UK as we were unable to import it. After having much fun around Spain, we departed from the Lisbon area and drove through a crazy European heatwave and wildfires to return the van and sell it in the UK.

We had never expected to be doing this, at least not so soon.

And so, we’d never really looked into purchasing a vehicle in Portugal and the cost… 

It turns out campervans are extremely expensive! 

Our hunt over a couple of months found them to be around 3X more expensive than the UK (often even more!) and generally much older and with much less tech and/or features.

Example:

We sold our 2004 Renault Master L3H2 for 6,800 GBP (around 8,000 EUR). It had 210,000 miles, two services in the past year, replaced belt and drive shaft, new tyres, new brake pads & shoes…but also a leaking radiator. Fitted out for off-grid with 260ah AGM batteries, a VSR for charging when driving, 200w lightweight flexible solar panels, touch-sensitive dimmable lights, a fitted gas hob, 50L compressor fridge diesel heater, two swivel seats and some other bits n bobs, all of which were new within 18 months. It certainly wasn’t a professional fit out but it was extremely functional, spacious and cosy.

vanlife northern ireland campervan
Image source: VanLifeIncome.net

For similar money in Portugal we could only find vehicles from the 1980’s/1900’s and with much lower spec eg. lower watt / older solar power, less ah batteries, no VSR, no cooker, no fridge, older components, no swivel seats etc and very rarely any service or repair history. It was difficult to find anything of a similar spec for less than 20,000 EUR. And in general, most vans did not have much information in the listing re mechanics, servicing or fit-out.

Why are Portugal campervans so expensive?

There are several reasons, which when combined, mean buying a campervan in Portugal is probably the most expensive place in Europe, certainly relative to local wages…

  1. Vehicle import tax: General import tax for vehicles in Portugal is extremely high making the purchase cost more expensive for any vehicle initially.
  2. Conversion costs: We found materials and tech to be generally more expensive than in the UK or Spain; everything from insulation to batteries.
  3. Legalization costs: unlike the UK and many other EU countries, you can’t just convert a van and go. You need to pay for engineer/architect drawings to be submitted to the IMT and then also potentially pay tax based on your choices. This can cost $500-$3,000. Note that not all vans advertised on olx, Facebook marketplace etc are legalized.

These are the 3 primary reasons for difference in prices, however building upon this is supply and demand.

Because of the cost and time/hassle to convert a van, there are not so many of them available to purchase; supply is fairly low (at least for the type and year of van we were searching for*). And, because of the boom in people moving to Portugal for a better quality of life and freedom, there is very high demand –  not only from people purchasing as individuals, but from entrepreneurial types buying to rent (it is much easier to rent your vehicle in Portugal than it is in the UK, and rental demand is high).

* Although flexible, we were ideally seeking an L2H2 Fiat Ducato, Citroen Jumper (Relay) or Peugeot Boxer 2007 or later (ie. galvanised models) or a Renault Master / Opel (Vauxhall) Movano 2004 or later (also galvanized models!). We were open to considering others of a similar size eg Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter and going a bit bigger eg L3H3 depending on what came up.

What did we find?

Not much. We almost considered a 1996 Fiat Ducato at 7,000 EUR but then ‘caught ourselves on’. 

Eventually, we purchased a 2012 Fiat Ducato L2H2. Just a plain van with a floor and some very basic insulation to the walls — the owner threw a mattress into the back occasionally for weekends. It was a budget-stretch…

The price was 12,000 EUR which we negotiated down a bit due to all four tyres needing replaced — you could pick up something similar in the UK for half that price! 

Yet from what we’d been researching, the price seemed decent, and because it had flooring + a bit of insulation meant we could “rough it” and get away immediately for a few trips (we were itching to get on the road after 2 months unexpectedly being stationary!).

Two days after purchasing it the engine light came on 🙁 

After discovering what it was and getting the part ordered, the van died enroute to the garage! Thankfully it was only a fairly simple electronic/battery error, however the engine light and a few other things that needed doing cost us an extra 1,200 EUR.

We also discovered a week later just how much condensation gathers on a non-insulated roof; scary! We ended up insulating it the next day in a Leroy Merlin car park.

Anyway, let’s move on…

Campervan costs – examples

Below will give you a rough idea of just how expensive DIY-style or ‘self-build’ camper conversions are in Portugal —  a random selection of screenshots showing vans roughly of the age we were considering (2004+) and roughly the price we sold our 2004 Renault Master for (approx 8,000 EUR).

They come from Portugal classifieds site, olx.pt. Other places we found ‘good’ for searching were StandVirtual and Facebook Marketplace.

Pretty crazy prices, right?

Now you can see why we opted for a non-converted van!

Yes; we have a lot of money still to spend and a fair amount of hassle,, but we can do it at our own pace (to a degree) and at least we will know what has gone into it, how the work has been done and how old everything is.

Til next time!

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Disclaimer: As with everything on this site, this article is for informational purposes only and is not advice of any kind. I simply share my experiences and my opinions for information. I am not a financial adviser and I am not providing investment advice or financial or legal advice of any kind. Cryptocurrencies (and most business opportunities) are very high risk. Many of the opportunities I discuss exist in new, high risk and unregulated markets. Some methods require significant investment of time and/or relevant skills. Please do your own research (DYOR) and due diligence; do not blindly follow anyone!

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