Over the Border: A Guide to International Car Shipping

Posted on
6 min to read

There are a lot of reasons you might need to move between countries and just as many reasons that you might need your vehicle to come along for the journey. And after your overseas stay, you’ll need to get your vehicle home. That’s where international car shipping comes into play.  

While the practical concerns that surround shipping a vehicle overseas and shipping a car from city to city aren’t all that different, there’s just a lot more to think about when you’re shipping a car from country to country and back again. Your car will be traveling by land and by sea, and it will be subject to different rules and regulations along the way.  

Moving abroad is tough enough, and international car shipping can add a whole other source of stress. We created this guide to help make the entire process less intimidating, so you can focus your attention on learning your new language and getting acclimated to the culture in your new land. Here are the most common questions we receive about international car shipping along with detailed answers that will help you prepare for your vehicle’s big move:  

How much does international car shipping cost?

As with all auto transport, the cost of international car shipping varies based on a number of factors. This includes the make, model, and dimensions of the vehicle, where it’s currently located, where it’s going, customs clearance and port charges, any fees that country may levy, and how the vehicle is being shipped.  

 For instance, it will cost less to ship a smaller car from New York to Europe in a shared container than it would ship the same vehicle in a sole-use container. Shipping on a roll-on/roll-off or RORO vessel (where vehicles are driven directly into the boat and then secured) is an even less expensive international car shipping method.  

Getting a quote is the first step in the process of shipping a car overseas. Give yourself plenty of lead time to find a shipper. Contact a few auto transport companies and see what they have to say. Chances are that the quotes you receive will be in the same ballpark, but if you encounter a price that seems almost too good to be true, be wary. Read reviews of each auto transport company that gives you a quote and pay attention to your gut.   

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What are the pros and cons of container car shipping versus roll-on/roll-off shipping 

 Both options are safe and will get your vehicle where it needs to go, and many auto transport companies can provide either container shipping or RORO shipping depending on the client’s circumstances and their wishes.  

One of the biggest pros of container car shipping is that sometimes (especially in the case of vehicles shipped in sole-use containers) carriers may allow personal items to be shipped inside the car. Vehicles also don’t need to be in running condition to be shipped in a container, so you can ship a car that’s not working 

The cons of shipping your car overseas in a container are that it tends to be more expensive and, in the case of shared container shipping, your car won’t depart until the shared container is full, which means its departure date will be highly variable.  

RORO shipping is just as safe as shipping a vehicle in a container, as all cars are blocked, braced, and tied down in the vessel. The big pro of choosing RORO shipping is that it’s the least expensive form of international car shipping. It also tends to be the fastest, and the most predictable because very few things will prevent the vessel from setting sail as scheduled so departure and arrival dates are almost guaranteed.   

The cons of RORO shipping are that you can’t leave anything in your vehicle (which makes it a lot like domestic shipping), your vehicle must be in running condition since it will be driven onto the boat, it may be exposed to some degree to the elements during its voyage, and it won’t be fully inspected at departure and arrival, which means your car will only be insured for total loss and not damage.  

What are the basic requirements for international car shipping 

The basic requirements for shipping a car to another country are similar to those you must abide by when shipping domestically. You’ll need:  

  • The keys: Your shipper will require you to leave a set of keys for your vehicle, but that set should never be your only one! Have a spare key or fob made before you ship your car. 
  • Your registration and title: You won’t be able to get your vehicle into and then back out of the ports without the originals.  
  • The license plate number: You’ll likely need to submit your license plate number to the regulatory authority where the car is arriving in advance of your vehicle’s arrival date. 
  • A photo ID: You will need to present government-issued identification when dropping off and picking up your vehicle. A passport is your best option. 
  • Creditor statement: If your vehicle is leased or financed, you’ll be required to present a notarized statement that proves that the creditor or the lessor knows that the vehicle is being shipped internationally and has given you permission to take the car out of the country. 
  • Bill of sale: If you’ve bought a car overseas and you want to ship it back to the states, you’ll need to prove you purchased it. 
  • A Declaration of Dangerous Goods: When you’re shipping a car to Europe, this form simply outlines any potentially dangerous items (like the battery or gas) in your vehicle. 
  • A Shipper Export Declaration: The U.S. Census Bureau requires this declaration when items valued at more than $2,500 or those that require a license to own or operate are shipped. 
  • The Consignee Form: Your shipper will have you fill out this form that includes your name, address, and phone number; information about your vehicle and its value; and information about the person who will pick up your car at its destination.  
  • Container list: You’ll fill this out if your vehicle is traveling in a container along with other items belonging to you. 

Note that individual ports will have their own requirements that may be different from the requirements listed here. Always make sure you know what the port, the shipper, and customs will require to process your shipment well before your car’s departure date. 

How long does international car shipping take?

The answer to this question is highly variable depending on where your vehicle begins its journey and where it will end up. There is sail time, which refers to how long it will take the vessel carrying your car to get from port to port, and you can’t forget to factor in the amount of time it will take to load and unload your vehicle, and then get it to your pickup location (if you’re not picking up at port).   

From the east coast of the United States to ports in Europe, the sailing time may be as long as two weeks or more. From the west coast to Australia, your car’s transit time may be more than twenty days. The only definite is that given the distances involved, international car shipping takes longer than shipping a car across country 

Make sure to give yourself plenty of lead time so you get your vehicle when you need it. The absolute fastest shipping option is usually preparing all the necessary documentation well in advance and then prepaying to ship a car in a sole-use container, though you should be aware that this will also be the most expensive option by far. 

Can I ship my car overseas from anywhere?

Auto shippers ship cars from many locations in the US, including Miami, New York City, and Los Angeles, as well as from ports in Virginia, South Carolina, and Maryland. If you don’t live near the coast, you can still ship a car overseas, but you’ll also need to coordinate shipping from your location to a terminal city. Typically, the shipper you’re working with to move your car to another country will be able to help you with this part of your vehicle’s journey along with any additional shipping needs you may have in your destination country.  

Can I ship other goods inside of my vehicle?

As noted above, this is typically only possible when you’re shipping your car in a sole-use container and you will probably run up against volume limits when packing additional items. If you’re moving a large volume of goods, look into booking a 40-foot sole-use container, which can accommodate both a car and items like furniture.   

If you’re booking RORO transport, nothing will be allowed to remain in your vehicle other than the spare tire. Don’t try to get around the rules! Anything that remains in your vehicle is at risk of being stolen. You may even want to remove the license plates from your car prior to shipping, as US license plates are considered collector’s items in some countries.  

Will I be able to drive my vehicle right away?

That depends on where you and your vehicle will end up. Your shipper will be able to help you navigate the laws and policies that govern vehicle ownership, registration, and operation at your destination. If you still have questions, call the embassy of that country for advice about what you’ll need to do to legally drive your vehicle. Chances are, though, that if you’re not permanently relocating, you shouldn’t have to register your car in your destination country or apply for a license there.  

In Europe, you can drive a car with American plates and tags for up to six months without having to register it in the country where you’re living as long as you will ship your car home before the six-month limit is up. This assumes, of course, that 1. your US insurer will continue to insure your vehicle when it is overseas and 2. your vehicle meets European standards for safety and emissions. You’ll also need an International Motor Insurance Card and an International Driver Permit.   

What else do I need to know? 

International car shipping can involve taxes, fees, regulations, and even limits on the types of vehicles that can be brought into the destination country. For instance, in some countries, only vehicles under a certain maximum age may be brought into the country and in some cases, tariffs and duties will be based on the size of the engine not the value of the vehicle. And in Australia, you have to get import approval prior to shipping or they won’t let your car into the country.   

These laws are updated frequently, so the information you find online may be out of date. Your best sources of information will always be the embassy and your shipper. The more you know about the rules of your destination country where foreign vehicles are concerned, the easier the process of shipping your car overseas will be. You can never be too well-informed! 

Ready to transport your car with Montway?

Our car shipping advisors are available by calling (888) 666-8929 to answer all your questions.

Get an instant quote
Get an instant quote


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