Shipping a vehicle overseas may seem like a huge hassle for those who’ve never done it. It’s definitely pricier and more involved than having a car transported within the country, but the shipping process can be relatively easy and painless.
For peace of mind and the safety of your vehicle, you have to hire the right international car shipping company, van line, or freight forwarder.
To be clear, shipping a car overseas on your own isn’t an option.
That said, if you’re moving with the military, have accepted a new job or transfer to a foreign office, or are just looking for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, taking your car with you is worth considering.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the options you have and what you need to know about shipping a car overseas.
Types of International Vehicle Shipping
When shipping a car, truck, or SUV overseas, you’ll generally have the following options –
Ship your vehicle by container
With containerized international auto transport, you can have your vehicle shipped in a-
- Container by itself
- The same container as your household goods
- Container with other cars (shared container)
When shipping your car in its own container, it’s less likely to get damaged, but it’s not cheap and is usually reserved for high-end vehicles with discerning owners.
On the other hand, putting it in a container with other vehicles is more efficient and is, therefore, less expensive.
However, there may be delays with this method because the international moving company or forwarder will wait until the container is full before sending it on its way.
If you’re moving to a big city like Sydney, Australia, or Tokyo, Japan, it probably won’t be an issue, but for those heading to Borneo or Tierra del Fuego, it may be.
Lastly, from price, efficiency, and convenience standpoints, shipping your vehicle with your household goods is the way to go.
Just remember, since your vehicle will take up a big chunk of space inside the container (most shipping containers are 40 feet long), you may not be able to take all your furniture and personal items with you.
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Some ocean transport vessels move vehicles in overseas car shipping containers, but some haul cars, vans, RVs, SUVs, and heavy trucks staged in huge ‘parking lots’ in the cavernous holds.
In fact, this is how companies transport most vehicles from factories in one country to ports in other countries.
It’s called ro-ro shipping service because the vehicles are rolled on (driven) at origin and rolled off again at your destination country.
Before the ship departs, each vehicle is secured to the deck with heavy-duty chains or logistics straps to prevent shifting and rolling.
Ro-ro service is convenient, inexpensive, and available to and from most of the world’s largest ports.
On the downside –
- It may not be suitable for expensive vehicles
- You never know who’s doing what to your car when you’re not around
- If you live far from ports at origin and/or destination, transit times can increase drastically
Did You Know?
With ro-ro service, an auto transport company will pick your vehicle up from your residence in your home country and transport it to the port of departure. Another will deliver it from the destination port to your new overseas home.
For CEOs, high-level diplomats, and globetrotting business moguls who need their wheels ASAP, shipping a vehicle by air is the best option.
Unfortunately, for the rest of us, it’s prohibitively expensive. In some cases, car shipping costs can actually exceed the value of your vehicle.
Not surprisingly, it’s a service offered by few companies.
Door-to-Door vs Port-to-Port
With most international auto shipping methods, you’ll have the option of having your car picked up from your old home and dropped off at your new home.
This is called door-to-door service.
You may also opt to take your vehicle to the port or terminal at origin and pick it up from a designated customs clearance warehouse, port, or terminal at the destination.
This is called port-to-port service.
The latter may save you a few bucks, but anyone who’s ever dealt with crabby bureaucrats and finicky customs officials in a foreign country will tell you it’s just not worth it.
How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Car Overseas?
Shipping your car overseas can cost as little as $1,000, but in some cases, it could set you back $5,000 (or much more) depending on –
- Time of year
- How quickly you need it
- Which country you’re moving to
- Which shipping method you use
- Import taxes, tariffs, duties, and other destination charges
- The distance between origin and destination
- The length, height, width, and weight of your vehicle
- Your vehicle’s estimated value and the insurance you choose
- Pickup and delivery options (port-to-port or door-to-door)
With so many factors involved, it’s impossible to get an idea of how much it’ll cost to transport your car without contacting multiple service providers for free car shipping quotes.
What Companies Ship Vehicles Overseas?
Abundant competition means plenty of shipping options and relatively stable prices for those considering sending a vehicle overseas.
Most of the big national van lines (like United Van Lines and Atlas Van Lines) have dedicated international relocation departments that handle overseas moves for corporate clients that demand top-notch service for their transferees.
Most families ship at least one car with their household goods, which means moving company customer service representatives and move coordinators know how to get vehicles moved safely, efficiently, and for a reasonable price.
In short, van lines are great options.
International Moving Companies
As their name implies, international movers specialize in overseas relocations, and most have staff with decades of combined experience coordinating and managing every aspect of shipping a vehicle overseas.
Like you would on a local or long-distance move, get multiple quotes.
Freight forwarders are like brokers in that they specialize in connecting people in need of international moving and auto transport with companies that provide those services.
Most have networks of moving companies they partner with within different countries. On the downside, they mark up their prices, and communication can be tedious since customers always deal with a ‘middleman.’
Did You Know?
Some international moving companies and freight forwarders have their own overseas offices and employees, while others use third-party service providers.
How to Prepare Your Car for Overseas Shipping
The company you hire should give you a written list of things to prepare your car for transport.
Generally, you’ll need to –
- Make sure it has ¼ tank of gas or less
- Remove personal items from the trunk and glove box
- Note the mileage, existing damage, and mechanical condition of your vehicle
- Have an extra set of keys made (ideally from the dealership)
- Fully charge the battery, or buy a new one
- Disable the security system
- Top off the oil, coolant, and power steering fluid
- Secure the spare tire and jack
- Inflate the tires
When picking up your car, the driver will make a detailed descriptive inventory that includes the vehicle’s make, model, and year of manufacture, as well as its condition, noting dents, dings, scrapes, rust, etc.
Check out our car shipping preparation checklist for a full breakdown of how to prepare for the process.
Did You Know?
A bill of lading is a document issued by the carrier (the auto transport company) to the shipper (you) to acknowledge receipt of goods (your vehicle) for transportation. Bills of lading are binding contracts that should include all relevant automobile information, service dates, and prices.
Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs
What Documents Do I Need When Shipping a Car Internationally?
When it comes to shipping a car overseas, there’s lots of paperwork.
Though it varies between companies and countries, you’ll usually need –
- A Passport and another form of photo ID like a driver’s license
- The vehicle’s registration
- The original title or a notarized sales receipt (bill of sale)
- If you are leasing the vehicle, written consent from the lessor (lienholder)
Your auto transport company will require you to provide these documents well in advance of your actual pick update.
For more information on the rules and regulations for shipping a vehicle overseas, check out U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s guide to exporting a vehicle.
Should I Ship My Car Internationally or Buy a New One?
Weighing the pros and cons of shipping your car overseas versus buying a new one when you get there depends on your particular situation.
Deciding which option is best usually comes down to doing a simple cost/benefit analysis.
- The value of your vehicle vs. the cost of shipping it
- Where you’re moving – rough roads in rural Tanzania or Cambodia may not be suitable for vehicles with low ground clearance
- Licensing and insurance laws and restrictions for foreign drivers
- The cost of new and used cars in the country you’re moving to
- Highway safety and fatality statistics
What’s the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC)?
The FMC is a federal agency that regulates international maritime trade both to and from the United States.
What are the large ports in America?
By volume, the largest ports in America include Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Baltimore, Norfolk, Virginia, and Savannah, Georgia.
Do local movers ship cars to a new country?
Some do, but you’re better off using a national van line, freight forwarder, or international moving company.
Is it worth shipping a new car overseas?
It may be, but you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons before deciding if it makes sense.
Do I need shipping insurance?
Most international auto shippers offer free insurance, though they’ll give you the option of purchasing more comprehensive coverage.