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Exploring Europe in a motorhome is a fascinating experience with no two days ever the same. But sometimes events occur to put even the hardiest of drivers off crossing the Channel.

We expect to return home with plenty of trinkets and memories from our foreign hols but sometimes we pick up more than we bargained for.

How would you react if you found a stowaway hiding in your motorhome while waiting for a ferry? It may sound incredible but this is the frightening reality for some British holidaymakers returning to the UK.

Rushing back from holiday in time for your pre-booked ferry slot can mean you miss out vital pre-journey checks and don’t notice something is amiss until it’s too late.

Or maybe you did check but the stowaway (commonly called a clandestine entrant by the UK authorities) was simply too well hidden.

Imagine having to explain yourself to the UK border authorities with all the stress and time that involves, not to mention the threat of a hefty fine.

Being able to travel to the Continent independently and at your own speed may well be one of the reasons you bought your motorhome in the first place.

But it also means you’ll find yourself not just in unfamiliar territory but also at risk of incidents you never imagined.

Having motorhome insurance in place from day one is a good way to protect yourself and your motorhome from potential theft and damage. But what else can you do to protect from the more unusual hazard of stowaways?

Whatever you do, don’t panic. Just read our guide on how to avoid motorhome stowaways and you should have a trouble-free end to your holiday.


The growing issue of stowaways

As the BBC explains, the ongoing conflict in Syria is one of the biggest drivers of migration within Europe as people look to escape the war.

This, coupled with the uncertainty of Brexit, has led to an influx in migrants trying to reach UK shores over the last few years.

There have been many reports in the UK press of British motorhome owners now being targeted as a possible easier route into the country.

Unfortunately, many of these attempts can cause damage to your motorhome and may even prove dangerous to the stowaway themselves. Indeed, some stowaways have been found hanging off the underside of vehicles or perched on the back.

A claim on your motorhome insurance will cover the physical damage to your motorhome. But what about the emotional stress and strain? And if a stowaway loses their life no amount of motorhome insurance will bring them back.

How to secure your motorhome against stowaways

Prevention is always better than cure and securing your motorhome against entry from potential stowaways will protect not only you but also them from harm.

After all, having an unsecured extra person on board can easily cause an unforeseen hazard to develop.

The UK Border Force has issued a Code of Practice for vehicles including motorhomes. This sets out the steps involved in creating an ‘effective system’ to prevent the transportation of such stowaways.

Measures you must take to secure your motorhome against unauthorised entry to the UK include:

  • Keeping your motorhome keys secure and in sight at all times.
  • Where possible, all access to the motorhome’s interior or luggage space must be protected by locks to prevent unauthorised entry. Check these locks are in good working order.
  • If you leave your motorhome unattended for any period of time, then all locks must be engaged. Don’t forget to secure your roof lights and hatches, too.
  • If you have an intruder alarm fitted then activate it whenever the motorhome is left unattended. Even the threat of an alarm sounding will see off many potential intruders.

Immediately before boarding a ferry or train headed for the UK, or before arrival at the UK immigration control at Coquelles near Calais, you should do the following:

  • Check the security measures you’ve put in place have not been breached. Particularly where the vehicle has been left unattended for any period on the way to the port.
  • Check all places in the motorhome where people could be hidden. This is particularly important where a part of the motorhome or trailer cannot be locked. Exterior access doors to storage compartments need to be checked.

If you fail to follow these security measures and a stowaway is found in your vehicle then you could find yourself in hot water.

Some holidaymakers who’ve unwittingly brought a stowaway into the country have been threatened with a fine for not having appropriate security in place.

Indeed, some motorhomes have even been impounded as a result of alleged people trafficking.

All of these measures will not only protect you from unwanted stowaways but also from potential theft while out and about.

Be sure to check that your motorhome insurance cover protects any valuable contents such as cameras or electronic devices.

A large ferry crossing the English Channel

Where are you most at risk from stowaways?

Petrol stations and supermarket car parks around European ports and the Channel Tunnel terminal in Calais can be hotspots for those seeking to enter the UK.

So always take extra care in these areas to ensure your motorhome is secure. You don’t want to provide any opportunity for stowaways to conceal themselves while your back is turned.

As a safeguard, you could avoid refuelling your motorhome less than 30km from these areas – although this is no guarantee.

Unfortunately, stopping the motorhome for any length of time in such areas might allow time for someone to stow themselves in or on your vehicle.

Remember though if your motorhome looks well protected and you’ve taken sufficient security measures, stowaways will likely look for an easier target.

Clearly stowaways can cause damage when forcing entry to your vehicle. Therefore, having appropriate motorhome insurance in place is a necessity to prevent the financial burden of this.


Where to check your motorhome for stowaways

Unlike in large goods vehicles, stowaways in motorhomes and campervans have to be quite creative when it comes to hiding places.

Despite having only limited space to hide you’d be surprised at the number of places that stowaways have been discovered!

Within the motorhome itself, stowaways have been found under bunks, in cupboards, in shower and toilet compartments and anywhere else they can fit in.

Tragically, unaccompanied children are also trying to get to the UK so it’s definitely worth checking even spaces too cramped for an adult.

On the exterior, stowaways have been found in roof boxes, exterior storage compartments, hanging onto bike racks and even under the motorhome itself.

If you’re towing another vehicle or trailer then be sure to check those, too. Under a trailer cover or in a car boot are also popular places in which to hide.

Don’t skimp on these checks as for some UK families this has been a frightening reality.

One couple joked that the banging noises coming from the back of their van must have been their belongings moving around – that was until they got home.

And it’s not just for your sake. Remember stowaways can be at a great risk of harm or even death during the journey. By discovering them, you are hopefully reducing the risk of a much more serious incident.

Two men packing their belongings into the back of a campervan

What should you do if you suspect someone is hiding in your motorhome?

If this happens before departing for the UK you must not go through the UK border control or board a ferry or train to the UK.

Instead remain calm and, at the earliest opportunity, contact the local police in the country you’re in and explain the situation.

Alternatively, if this isn’t possible you should speak to border control at the port where you plan to board. In the event of difficulties arising here, then you could contact the UK Border Force at the proposed port of arrival for advice.

Sometimes, however, you won’t become aware of their presence until after arrival in the UK.

Indeed, the first time some motorhome owners have become aware of a stowaway is when they crawl out from beneath the vehicle on their driveway! In this event you should contact UK police immediately.

The police will collect the person (or persons) and inform the Border Force. You might then be contacted by the Clandestine Entrant Civil Penalty team, which is part of Border Force.

They will ask for information about your movements in Europe and the security measures you have taken. This information will then be used to decide whether or how much you should be fined.


Will you have to pay a fine?

Under immigration laws, when returning to the UK you have a duty to secure your motorhome to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country.

If you fail to do this, and are then found to be carrying a stowaway, you could be fined up to £2,000 per person carried. In some circumstances, vehicles can be detained pending payment of the fine.

Even if a stowaway has been found, it is a defence to show:

  • You didn’t know and had no reasonable grounds for suspecting a stowaway was hidden.
  • You had an ‘effective system’ in place to prevent the carriage of the stowaway.
  • Such a system was operated correctly.

If you haven’t shown this then the level of fine imposed on you will depend on several matters including:

  • The extent to which locks and intruder alarms were used and maintained.
  • Any previous fines.
  • Your level of cooperation with the immigration authorities.
  • The extent to which you knew or had grounds to suspect that someone was concealed.

However, in some instances the consequences for a motorhome owner have been even more serious.

In July 2020, a British man who attempted to smuggle 12 Albanian nationals into the UK hidden in a motorhome was jailed for over 4 years.

This was obviously an extreme case of deliberate concealment but it does show how seriously the UK authorities take this issue.

A motorhome towing a trailer behind it

Extra tips for driving on the continent

For the vast majority of motorhome owners, picking up a stowaway is unlikely to happen.

However, there are many more matters it’s useful to be aware of if taking your motorhome on a European vacation.

  • Remember to drive on the right. This may sound obvious if you’ve previously driven in Europe, but it can easily be forgotten.
  • You must have a GB sticker or European number plate.
  • Make sure you’ve checked what safety kit you’re obliged to carry. In many European jurisdictions you need to carry warning triangles, reflective jackets and other items.
  • Check your sat nav. If it detects speed cameras then it could be illegal in several European jurisdictions. Use of such equipment can result in a hefty fine or even jail time.
  • Check up on your motorhome insurance. If you’re travelling to Europe be sure to make sure you’re covered by your policy.


Protecting your vehicle with motorhome insurance cover

Whether travelling at home or abroad, once you own a motorhome you won’t look back.

They really are a wonderful investment in time and money. However, they aren’t cheap so they require significant protection whatever the duration or destination of your trip.

Wise motorhome owners will obviously take precautions to combat the risk of accidents, but it’s impossible to rule out every eventuality while on the road.

Whether motoring down a German autobahn or through the twisting lanes of Tuscany’s Val D’Orcia, a motorhome’s large size can make it vulnerable to road traffic accidents and damage.

Using our select panel of insurers, the specialist team at Motorhome Protect can arrange motorhome insurance, tailored to your vehicle needs.

Cover arranged through Motorhome Protect can include the following benefits:

  • Cover for motorhomes valued up to £150,000
  • Up to 6 months to complete a self-restoration
  • Enhanced cover for personal effects up to £3,000
  • Unlimited mileage cover
  • Unlimited EU cover
  • Consideration of all claims and convictions

Call Motorhome Protect and get a quick quote for motorhome insurance cover today.

Policy benefits and features offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.