China build?


Hi friends,

My wife and I currently live in Shanghai, China for work (and life experience of course). Now, we are about 3 years away from early retirement and were thinking of returning to the USA for the first time since 2003 to build an expedition vehicle to take 'round the world for a decade or so. However, getting back into China with a foreign vehicle is .... a bit of a headache. So... we had a thought.

In about 2 years, move over to a different visa. Move to a 3rd tier city. Buy something like a DFAC 3.5t delivery truck (think Chinese NPR with a 13' shipping container body on the back). Then doing a basic build. Bed.,small kitchen, composting toilet, small solar setup. No pass through, no AC, small heater and some roof vent fans, no extra windows, added man door, and some spray foam insulation. We are only 2 people but we have 3 dogs and a cat so a #vanlife build would be very tight. If we get an extended van we need to go up a drivers license class either way. Our Chinese licenses stop at 9 passengers or 3 tons. The big extended vans are above that class. Same class as the NPR clones.

Then kicking about this giant country for about a year.

At the end we rock up to a dealer, hand the keys over and take whatever they offer us. Lose the lot in costs but it should be pretty low to start with. A new truck costs ~15k USD, the quick costs I have calculated bring the whole cost to about 20k USD. If we get 8k for the truck we'd be more than happy. We calculate that getting into the country for one vehicle for 3 weeks with no guide would cost ~4.5k USD so spending 12k for 12 months seems pretty OK to us. Plus, as we speak some Chinese, and would have our own visas, we wont need a guide.

So, does this seem stupid?

I am just wanting some rationality check to make sure we aren't being incredibly stupid.


Sounds good. It is always easier and more fun to explore a country with a locally licenced truck because you attract far less attention. I have 2 RVs on 2 continents and this is not unusual. I know somebody with 4. If it is legally possible why not. The only suggestion I have is to use sheet insulation instead of foam or better still get a body for a refrigerated truck. Foam is a mess to work with and smells.


Since labor is so cheap here... we'd be paying a company to insulate the truck with the spray foam. For the sheet insulation, the body style is congregated much like a shipping container. Mater of fact, for all intents and purposes, the boxes are shipping containers minus the corner locks.


Please note, while this picture shows a BEV, we would be looking for a diesel vehicle. ~3l engine, ~90kw, not fast, not glamorous, 2 wheel drive, manual trans, ~95kph max speed. But then, things here are much slower than the western countries.

We have looked at the reefer trucks but the initial purchase price as about 5000 USD higher than the non-refrigerated boxes. I have a quote for ~800 USD to insulate the area of the box so it's hard not to look at the metal boxes.
Last edited:


I've been bumping back and forth from USA to China multiple times per year for 15 years, Nice hotels in the 3rd tier cities are cheap, and you get big buffet breakfast. Just saying...
Last edited:


Supporting Sponsor
The only thing I can see possibly hanging you up is selling the truck here. Does the truck meet our EPA requirements? Are there any parts here? The low power and highway speed are limiters. I think walking up a dealer would likely not work so well. A better idea might be to prearrange a sale through a website like this. Otherwise I think the plan is great.

As a side note, we really love the time we spend in China! Wonderful people, and our ties there just keep getting deeper. There are things that we buy there now that save us zero money over a US supplier, but the quality is better. The service and attitude is better. I can get a sample product and a quote in my hands from China before I can get anyone here to return my call. If we ask for a custom product, the cost is fair. Here the cost is punitive We need to learn a little Chinese too.


Hey Tern Overland,

Yeah, we have found the same thing. The products here are either superior quality for the same price or a lower price for similar quality to what we could get in the UK and the US. I suppose since most things are made here.

We would be leaving the vehicle here in China before we leave as exporting a vehicle is even more impossible than getting one in. We would only build a very basic build knowing it would be sold off in 1 year.

We've been here in Shanghai for nearly 3 years now and will probably be here for another 2 or so before the build starts. Our friend lives up in Dongbei area and has repeatedly invited us to her home, we may have a 'base' from which to build up there with a local to help with the more complex translation and negotiation during the build. We could employ her family member as a personal assistant for the 1-2 months we would be building.

Now....all I gotta do is keep sane in an insane work culture for the next 400 working days.



Current challenge here is how to get a bigger license category. I currently have a C1 category and think I need either a B1 or B2 category (Middle passenger vehicle, or Heavy Goods Vehicle). I have our HR looking for a school for me.

If this goes ahead... I'll do a basic build log.