Shipping a Vehicle from North America to Europe
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The process of shipping a vehicle from North America to Europe is not nearly as difficult or expensive as people assume.
Step 1: Choose a shipping method
There are two options to ship, Roll-On, Roll-Off (RoRo) and inside a container.
RoRo is usually cheaper, but it means you must give the vehicle keys to the port workers who will drive it on and off the vehicle “ferry”. Some people have no problems, others report horror stories of almost everything not bolted down being stolen. It’s common advice to separate the rear cargo section with a steel cage and padlocks, and make sure the keys you provide can not open that section.
Lots of people wind up using chains and padlocks to protect their stuff, and even then there are reports of stolen or damaged items.
I personally was not willing to take that chance, so I was happy to pay a little extra and ship the Jeep inside a shipping container.
Most 4x4s fit inside a regular 20 foot container, though be sure you check the size of the door, it’s a bit smaller than the container itself. Remember you can always lower your tire pressure to gain another inch if needed. If you can find someone to share with, it’s much cheaper to put two vehicles in a 40 foot container and split the costs.
If your vehicle is taller than the door on a 20 footer, going with a 40 foot “high cube” container is an option – the whole container and door is quite a bit taller.
Step 2: Choose a port of departure
Choose a shipping port somewhere on the East Coast of North America, as it will be cheaper and faster than shipping around from the West Coast. Common choices are Halifax, Nova Scotia, Boston, New York, and various ports in Florida.
Step 3: Choose a destination port
It’s basically the same price to ship into any port in Western Europe or the UK, pick one that suits you best. Usual candidates are Antwerp in Belgium, Bremerhaven in Germany or various options in the UK.
I chose Antwerp because it’s further South so I will spend less in gas driving to Southern Spain, and I don’t have to pay to get it across from the UK on the train.
Step 4: Gather quotes from shipping agents
Usual suspects for quotes are Seabridge, Affordable Freight and weshipcars.co.uk among many others.
It helps to be a little flexible in your destination port if you want the best price, and ships usually sail every week or two.
Be sure to ask what costs are included in the quote and what costs are not. Make sure at a minimum everything on the departure side is covered. There will likely be fees on the destination side that can’t be perfectly quoted or included in the quote – you’ll just have to go with it. (For example, I was told they would be “A few hundred dollars”… more on that in a minute)
Lock in your best option, and give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the departure port with days to spare. Rushing adds lots of unnecessary stress to the whole thing.
For paperwork the shipping agent will only need a scan of the registration and your passport. Also provide a list of everything in the vehicle (clothes, camping gear, tools, spares, etc.)
Step 5: Prepare the vehicle
Clean the vehicle until it’s perfectly spotless inside and out, especially underneath on the frame and anywhere else mud might be caked on.
Then clean it again until it shines like new.
There will be a customs inspection at the destination port, and you really want to avoid paying extra because it needs to be cleaned for agricultural reasons.
Empty the vehicle of all food.
Make sure it’s almost out of gas/diesel – shipping agents want less than 1/8 of a tank at most.
Step 6: Load the vehicle
You will have to load the vehicle at least a few days before the ship sails. It’s easy enough to drive into the container and climb out either the drivers window or out the back.
The loading company will secure the vehicle to the floor of the container, and likely disconnect the battery. Watch them seal the container so you know it’s safe, and take a photo or write down the numbers on the customs seal, and the numbers on the container.
Wave goodbye to your friend as it is taken away.
Step 7: Pay
Now the vehicle is loaded and on the way, you can pay for the shipping, and receive a receipt for that. You may or may not get your Bill of Lading now, which is the official document showing what’s in the container, and who owns it. You can get it later too, no worries.
Now it’s loaded, you can book your own plane flights. Doing so beforehand is risky incase there is an issue, and again will add to the stress of the whole thing. WestJet now fly direct from Halifax, NS to cities in Europe and the UK, it’s an extremely easy ~5 hour flight.
Step 8: Wait impatiently
Sailing time from Halifax, NS to Antwerp in Belgium is just under 2 weeks. Fly yourself to the destination, and do some touristy stuff as a backpacker for a while
Step 9: Get European “Green Card” Insurance
You must have vehicle insurance to drive in Europe, and your vehicle won’t clear customs without it. A few options for foreigners with foreign vehicles are:
http://arisa-assur.com – Who quoted me €105 Euro per month for every country in the EU. (email@example.com)
http://alessi.com – Who quoted me €249 Euro for one month, then €105 Euro each month after that for every country in the EU plus Morocco and a few others. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Step 10: Get a freight forwarder at your destination port
When shipping inside a container you can’t walk into the port to get the vehicle yourself, you must pay a freight forwarder to do this for you.
Ask your shipping line for recommendations, there are always tons to choose from. Get as many quotes as you can, prices vary a lot. I wound up paying €1449 Euro to have my Jeep taken out of the container and to clear customs, which is extremely expensive and I was not happy out how much the price kept going up for seemingly no reason. That being said, everything was done perfectly the first time with absolutely no problems.
Total Shipping Costs – 1 Jeep Wrangler in a 20 foot container Halifax, NS to Antwerp, Belgium:
|Shipping, 20 foot container Halfaix->Antwerp
|Container inspection, Move, Intervention, Release, Unstuffing
|~ $3000 USD
Drive out of the port with a huge grin on your face, and enjoy your European adventure.
Just watch out for the extremely expensive gas!