Eastern Europe Shipping Blog

Expert tips on smarter shipping between the U.S. and Eastern Europe, including shipping of heavy goods.

International Car Shipping: What You Need to Know


Are you moving overseas, or planning an extended visit? Would you like to bring your car? International car shipping (or pickup truck, motorcycle, powerboat or any other motorized vehicle) isn’t complicated, and it doesn’t have to be expensive, as long as you know what you’re doing. 

Here are some important things to keep in mind about how to ship a car abroad.

Age matters

international-car-shippingIf your car is two years old, you’ll probably have no trouble taking it abroad.  But the car that has served you faithfully for a dozen years is another story.

Because they’re concerned about engine emissions, many countries won’t let you import a car above a certain age. The cutoff varies from country to country, and the rules may change over time. So, before you arrange to ship your vehicle, check with the Customs office in your destination country.

If you want to ship something like a 1966 Mustang, though, you’re in luck: old cars are welcome if they qualify as antiques. For example, countries in the European Union allow you to bring in a car that’s 25 years old or more. Many other countries have similar rules. 


Which Cars Enter Duty Free?

When you bring products into a country, often they are subject to duties and taxes. But most personal effects can enter for free. That includes motor vehicles. (See checklist for shipping personal items overseas.)

The catch is, you must be able to prove that you have lived overseas for at least one year and you’ve owned your vehicle and kept it registered for at least six months. As long as you have documents to show the car has been registered in your name for the required period, you can bring it in duty free.

If you’ve been leasing your car, however, there’s an interesting wrinkle. Say you’ve leased for three years and then bought the car. Can you take it to Europe without paying duties and taxes? That depends. In some states, the title lists you as the owner throughout the leasing period. For Customs purposes, that makes the car your personal property for more than six months. In other states, the title lists the leasing company as the owner. The car becomes yours only on the day you buy it. If you take it to Europe five months later, you’ll owe duties and taxes. 


Cost and Other Factors

What will it cost to ship your car overseas? A rough average for the shipping cost is about $1,000 to send it to Europe from the East coast in a shared 40-foot container, but it could be twice that much or more in its own container.

The type of ocean freight you choose also bears on the cost. For instance, roll-on, roll-off (RO-RO, more on it later) can be less expensive than container shipping. The distance from your home to the port of departure, and from there to the port of arrival, is another cost factor. Also, some ports are more expensive due to higher fees and handling charges.

You can also choose a port-to-port option, but most prefer the convenience of having a freight forwarding company handle the entire door-to-door journey.

A thorough inspection of your car prior to its shipping date is a must to document its condition in case there are any damage claims. Here are the key steps:

  • Make sure all important papers and any valuables are removed, to comply with shipping regulations.
  • Keep the fuel tank below one-eighth full, which reduces the risk of fire and is a standard safety requirement of ocean carriers.
  • Have all your important documents (title, registration, proof of ownership), as well as any required export/import documents.
  • Verify with the shipping company if additional paperwork is needed for customs clearance.
  • Deactivate the car’s alarm to prevent it from going off in transit, which could trigger a fee.
  • Make sure the car is in good working order. Checking the tire pressure helps prevent damage during loading and unloading. A quick diagnostic visit to your mechanic isn’t a bad idea – especially to check for any fluid leaks, which could also lead to an additional charge.
  • Wash the car, which makes it easier to identify and document any pre-existing damage. Take photos from front to back.
  • Make a copy of the key to hand over to the carrier to move it as needed.


Shipping in a Container

Often, the safest, simplest and cheapest way to do international car shipping is in a shipping container. You can ship one or more motor vehicles in an ocean container with no other items, or you can include one or more vehicles with miscellaneous personal effects. It’s less expensive to use a shared container vs. a single dedicated unit, but there could be a greater risk of damage in transit.

If you ship a vehicle with other personal items, load all your other property first, and then back the car in so the front windshield faces toward the doors. That way, when a Customs officer inspects the container, it will be easy to reach the vehicle and examine the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) through the windshield.

Goods shipped inside the car for container transport may not be covered by insurance, so the carrier would not be responsible for them. You also need to check the regulations of the destination country, as some have strict import rules for vehicles and their contents. Anything stowed inside the car must be secured to prevent damage during transit.

The vehicle itself has to be properly fastened inside the container with wheel chocks and ratchet straps. Since a container doesn’t come with a loading ramp, you may need a flatbed tow truck to help you load the car. If you’re shipping just a vehicle, a freight forwarder that ships personal effects can arrange for a flatbed tow truck to pick up the car and drive it to their warehouse for loading into a container. The forwarder will make sure the car is correctly loaded and secured. 


What About RO-RO?

If you’re shipping just a vehicle, you might consider using roll-on, roll-off (RO-RO) service. A RO-RO ship is like a floating parking facility for cars, machinery and other vehicles that can be driven or wheeled on and off the ship. You drive your car to the port, hand over the keys, meet it at the port overseas and drive it to your new home.

While cheaper and generally faster than container shipping for cars, RO-RO does come with drawbacks. For one thing, RO-RO carriers only call on certain ports. If you’re moving to Poland, for example, you’ll have to travel to Germany to claim your car. And unlike cars shipped in containers, a car on a RO-RO ship must travel empty; you can’t pack it full of extra items you want to move. Also, while RO-RO carriers do shield their cargo from the elements, your car won’t get the solid protection it would have within the steel walls of a sealed container. 


Don’t Forget Insurance!

Taking out marine insurance to cover your vehicle while in transit is strongly recommended. While it adds to the overall shipping cost, the protection and peace of mind it offers far outweighs the expense. Of course, the premium for a classic or exotic car will be more expensive due to the higher value.

When you ship a car overseas, you can drive it for a limited amount of time with your US license plates, but your US insurance doesn’t apply. You’ll need to carry local coverage during your stay. Of course, if you’re moving permanently, you’ll need to register and insure your car in the new country. 


The Best Strategy for Foolproof International Car Shipping

If you understand all the ins and outs, you can ship a motor vehicle overseas without trouble or excess expense. But if you’re not an expert – especially if you’ve never shipped a container – you could probably use some help.

If you’re shipping all your personal goods overseas, including your car, check out our full guide on shipping personal effects overseas.

Your most useful partner for an overseas move is an international shipping company that has helped many individuals and families ship property safely and securely. I.C.E. Transport is a family-owned business that understands the stress an international move can put on families and will work patiently to answer all of your questions.

We take care of every logistical detail to ensure a smooth, door-to-door shipping experience. Get in touch today to learn more.

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