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? Shipping a car (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 international car shipping.

Age matters

If 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.

international car shippingBecause 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’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 would have listed 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 would have listed 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.


Shipping in a container

Often, the safest and simplest way to ship your car overseas 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.

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 through the windshield.

To prevent damage in transit, it’s important to secure the vehicle properly inside the container.

Since a container doesn’t come with a loading ramp, you’ll 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—anything that can be driven 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 home.

But RO-RO also comes with drawbacks. For one thing, RO-RO carriers call only 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!

When you take 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.

When shipping personal effects overseas, your most useful partner is a company that understands cargo shipping and has also helped many individuals ship their property safely and securely. To start planning the best strategy for shipping your car overseas, contact the international moving experts at I.C.E. Transport.


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