Do you have your sights set on a new home and life abroad? Whether you’re moving to Europe for work or want to start a new chapter of your life in Australia, there are a lot of things to consider when moving overseas — namely, how to get your car across literal oceans.
Sure, you could just sell your car and buy one abroad, but that isn’t always practical or affordable. If you’ve never shipped a car before, the process, paperwork, and pricing can feel daunting.
Working with the best car shipping companies is the easiest way to ship a car overseas, but it’s still good to understand the ins and outs of how to ship a car. Check out this moveBuddha guide to understand the shipping process, average pricing, and how to prepare for an overseas car shipment.
How to ship a car internationally
Every car carrier does things a little differently, but here’s how the overseas car shipping process usually works:
- Choose an auto shipper. Look for reputable international car shipping companies. Get at least three international car shipping quotes to find the most high-value option for your move.
- Pick a shipping method. We’ll explain this more in a second, but you’ll need to choose between roll-on/roll-off (RoRo), container, or air freight shipping. Each option comes with different pricing, transit times, and degrees of vehicle protection.
- Fill out the paperwork. Your car shipping company will tell you exactly which documents you need to provide. This usually includes the original title, registration, proof of ownership, and your photo ID.
- Understand customs and regulations. Research your destination country’s import regulations and US customs requirements. You’ll likely need to pay taxes or fees when leaving the US and entering your new country. Regulations will affect your timeline and costs, so a little prep goes a long way!
- Prepare your vehicle. Clean the car, remove personal items, and document its current condition for insurance purposes — just in case.
- The shipper moves your car. The process, timeline, and cost depend on the shipping option you choose. From there, the car arrives at your destination city and goes through customs. At this stage, you’ll pay import duties or taxes to collect your car.
- Pick up your car. Get your car at the designated location. Always do a thorough inspection of your car before signing anything or leaving the pickup area. It should be in the same condition as when you gave it to the shipper. If it’s not, take photos of the damage and tell the shipper you need to file an insurance claim. Note the damage on the receipt so there’s a written record.
- Register and insure your car in your new country. This process depends on where you now live, but don’t forget to make your car street-legal!
Types of international vehicle shipping
The car shipping process largely depends on the type of international car shipping you choose.
Roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) shipping
RoRo is one of the most cost-effective ways to transport your car overseas. This is when the movers drive your car onto a large ship, which functions like a floating parking garage. They secure your car to the deck so it doesn’t move during the voyage. Depending on your destination, it can take a few weeks or months for your car to arrive.
That might sound like a long wait, but RoRo is the most affordable option, so it’s great for everyday folks on a budget. It’s limited to standard-sized vehicles, though, so you might need a different option if you have a large SUV or truck. Your car also needs to be in operable condition.
With container shipping, you place your vehicle inside a standard shipping container, either by itself or with other cars, and load it onto the ocean freighter. This method offers more security and protection than RoRo because the container shields your car from the elements.
You might want container shipping if you have a high-value or antique vehicle. Many container shippers also allow you to ship some household goods in your car, which is a nice bonus.
Of course, the added protection comes at a higher cost. There’s limited space for containers on a ship, too, so you may have to wait longer to book container service.
If you’re on a budget but like the idea of enclosed vehicle transport, ask your shipper about shared containers. With this option, the shipper places your car in a container with other cars. It isn’t as secure as having the container to yourself, but it’s still better than RoRo.
Air freight shipping
That’s right — you can ship your car via airplane. This is the most expensive international car shipping service, but it’s also the fastest and most convenient.
With air freight shipping, the car shipper loads your car into the cargo hold of an aircraft, and it arrives within a few hours or days, depending on customs regulations.
Since air freight is so expensive, it’s best reserved for valuable vehicles or if you really need to get your car overseas, fast. The high costs make air freight impractical for most people, but it does offer unparalleled speed and security.
With door-to-door shipping, you pay a premium for the car shipper to come to your home and transport the car to a terminal or port. The shipper has to send a team of employees to your home for this, so it doesn’t come cheap.
However, some people say it’s worth the extra cost, especially if you live hours away from a shipping terminal.
Port-to-port (also called terminal-to-terminal) car shipping is more affordable than door-to-door. With this shipping method, you personally drive your car to either a shipping terminal or designated port. Port-to-port is cheaper, but you do have to deal with the hassle of driving out of your way to drop off your car.
Make sure you have a plan to get back home after dropping off your car. We recommend asking a friend or family member to follow you in a separate car.
What documents are needed to ship a car internationally?
Shipping a car internationally requires more paperwork than if you shipped your car over state lines. A good car shipping company will tell you exactly what you need, but we recommend locating these documents to save time:
- Original vehicle title: This proves car ownership. If you’re still paying off a car loan or leasing a car, you’ll need to get a notarized letter from the lienholder since they own the title.
- Bill of sale: You might need this to verify that you purchased and legally own the car.
- Valid photo ID: This is usually your driver’s license, but you can also submit a passport.
- Vehicle registration: It doesn’t matter if you’re registering it in a different country — you still need to provide proof of up-to-date registration.
- Export power of attorney: This is a document that allows the moving company to act on your behalf while shipping your vehicle.
- Bill of lading (BOL): The shipping company will give you the BOL. This is a receipt and a contract between you and the shipper. You’ll sign the BOL when you pick up your car.
- Export declaration: Some countries require you to have a document declaring the vehicle when it enters the country.
When in doubt, ask your shipper for more information. We also recommend checking your current and new countries’ car shipping paperwork requirements.
Cost to ship a car overseas
It takes a lot of time and energy to ship a vehicle overseas, which is why international car shipping is almost always more expensive than domestic car shipping.
The cost to ship a car internationally varies a lot, but typically ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 or more, depending on a lot of factors.
International car shipping cost factors
While overseas car shipping can get expensive, you do have control over some things. Consider these factors to find the best car shipping quote:
- Shipping method: This is the biggest cost factor. RoRo, container, and air freight differ wildly in terms of pricing. RoRo is generally the most affordable, and air freight is the most expensive.
- Distance and destination: Car shipping quotes are based, in part, on distance and destination port. Longer distances and remote locations usually cost more.
- Type of vehicle: Larger vehicles, like trucks and SUVs, take up more space and cost more to ship than smaller cars.
- Insurance coverage: Some car insurance policies automatically offer coverage during shipping, but not all of them do. It costs more upfront, but optional add-on car shipping insurance could be a smart way to protect your car during a long journey.
- Pickup and delivery services: Door-to-door delivery costs way more, but it’s convenient. If you’re trying to save money, go with port-to-port. It requires more time and driving, but it’s way cheaper.
- Duties and taxes: These costs depend on your destination country. Some countries impose taxes that you have to pay to release the car.
- Time of year: Shipping rates fluctuate with demand. Peak seasons, like summer, are generally more expensive. However, moving during harsh winters can also cost more because of the inclement weather.
- Add-ons: Extras will always cost, well, extra. Services like vehicle cleaning, storage, or special handling will increase your shipping costs.
How to find an international car shipping company
The best way to enjoy a hassle-free shipping experience is to work with a reputable auto transport company. Follow these tips to find a high-quality shipper:
- Check reviews. Always look for real customer reviews and feedback for companies with years of experience. Don’t just check a shippers’ website. Look at third-party sites like Google or Yelp for honest reviews. Most real shippers will have some negative reviews, so be wary of anyone with a flood of five-star reviews.
- Verify they’re legit. Make sure the shipper is on the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) database. All international shippers authorized in the USA must have an FMC license. If the company isn’t in the FMC database, go with someone else. It’s also a good idea to check the Better Business Bureau for any major consumer complaints.
- Ask for free quotes. Most car shippers offer free quotes online. It’s tempting to go with the first option, but we recommend getting at least three quotes. This gives you a better idea of fair pricing for your move. You can also use the moveBuddha Car Shipping Calculator.
- Look at their shipping options. Make sure the shipper offers the shipping method you want. Not all shippers offer air freight, for example.
- Ask about additional services. Are you interested in vehicle cleaning or door-to-door service? Ask the shipper if they offer these add-ons.
Companies that can ship a car overseas
You’re free to do your own research, but if you’re in a hurry, moveBuddha readers love these reputable international auto shipping companies:
- SGT Auto Transport: SGT has some of the highest reviews in the industry, and you can’t beat their price-matching guarantee, either.
- Easy Auto Ship: If you’re on a budget, Easy Auto Ship offers awesome customer service at affordable rates.
- Montway Auto Transport: Montway is an auto shipping broker that connects you with its network of trusted shippers across the world.
How to prepare your car for international shipping
Once you partner with a quality international auto shipping company, it’s time to prep for the long journey. Follow these tips to prepare your car for shipping:
- Clean your car. Thoroughly clean the inside and outside of the car. It’s nice arriving at your new home with a clean car, but this is also helpful for spotting any dents or scratches for your pre-shipping inspection.
- Document the vehicle condition. Take 360-degree photos of your car and note any existing damage. You may even want to take photos of the car’s underside, too.
- Leave a quarter-tank of gas. There’s no need to ship your car with a full tank. A quarter-tank is plenty for shippers to do their jobs. This makes your car lighter and reduces safety risks.
- Disable alarms. Do you have an alarm on your car? Disable it now so it doesn’t go off while in transit.
- Check the tire pressure and battery. Inflate your tires and make sure the battery is fully charged, especially if you’re doing RoRo shipping.
FAQ about how to ship a car internationally
Is it worth shipping a car overseas?
It may be worth shipping a car overseas, depending on your circumstances. The alternative is either going car-free or buying a car in a foreign country. Some people are fine with that, but the costs and complexity of buying a car or navigating foreign public transportation aren’t for everyone.
Plus, if you just bought a new car, you might not be so keen to part with it yet.
International auto transport usually makes sense if your car meets your final destination’s safety standards, the cost of the car is much higher in your new country, or public transportation isn’t that great.
How much does it cost to ship a car internationally?
Car shipping rates are typically $1,000 to $5,000 for international moving. This varies based on shipping method, distance, vehicle size, and your destination country. Remember to factor in other costs like insurance, add-on services, and customs duties.
What are the risks involved with shipping a car overseas?
It’s rare, but international car transport comes with a risk of damage during loading, transit, or unloading. Weather conditions, port congestion, or customs clearance issues could also delay the shipment.
What is the best way to ship cars overseas?
Most people ship their cars via roll-on/roll-off ocean transport. Container shipping offers more protection for higher-value vehicles but costs more. If you’re in a hurry and money is no object, air freight is the best car shipping method.
What are the most important things to do before sending a car overseas?
Before shipping your car internationally, be sure to:
- Prepare the right documents. Red tape is no fun, so gather your documents now to save hassle later. If you aren’t sure which documents you need, check with your destination country’s customs department and your car shipping company.
- Inspect the vehicle. Clean your car and document its condition with well-lit photos.
- Insure your car. See if your car insurance policy covers overseas shipping. If it doesn’t, ask your shipper if they offer additional coverage. This is optional, but some people like the added peace of mind.
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