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Comprehensive Guide to International Car Shipping

This guide delves into the ins and outs of shipping cars overseas, offering essential insights into cost-effective vehicle transport options and the role of logistics companies. Whether you're planning a global relocation or selling vehicles internationally, discover how to navigate the complexities of car shipping and freight logistics with confidence.

Are you embarking on an international move and planning to bring your vehicle along? Understanding the intricacies of car shipping and freight logistics becomes paramount for a seamless transition. This not only aligns with your move but also ensures a budget-conscious approach. Importantly, shipping your car overseas proves to be a cost-effective alternative to purchasing a new vehicle upon arrival.

Transporting vehicles, especially across oceans, presents a significant undertaking. Yet, the process of shipping cars overseas is remarkably streamlined, especially when coordinated with experienced logistics companies. This guide will provide comprehensive insights into the essential facets, helping you make informed decisions and ensure a smooth journey. While this guide predominantly focuses on maritime freight shipping for vehicles, we'll briefly touch upon international air transport as well. Keep in mind that air transport, while an option, tends to be more suitable for rare or high-value car shipments due to its associated costs.

By acquainting yourself with the nuances of car shipping and freight logistics, you can confidently embark on your international move, leaving no detail overlooked.

International car shipping by ocean

When it comes to international car shipping, a plethora of companies are available to choose from. Thorough research is essential to find the ideal company that aligns with your requirements.

As is the norm nowadays, commence your quest through search engines. A straightforward search for terms like "how to ship a car overseas" or "international car shipping" will yield numerous companies for your initial research.

However, there are specific criteria that any company you hire must meet.

  1. Offer services from your current location to your new destination.

  2. Possess proper licenses, bonds, and insurance.

  3. Collaborate exclusively with third parties, such as freight carriers, that are also appropriately licensed, bonded, and insured.

If a company fails to satisfy all three of these criteria, consider eliminating them from your list. To ensure legitimacy, especially in terms of third-party shipping partners, don't hesitate to inquire about licensing and insurance. Simply accepting a verbal affirmation is inadequate; ask for their licensing numbers to personally verify their validity.

Once you've whittled down your options to companies that fulfill the aforementioned requirements, delve into more direct comparisons. Check their standing with the Better Business Bureau, delve into online reviews, and request quotes. This approach will empower you to make an informed decision and select the most cost-effective option.

Gather your documents

Just like many aspects of an international move, transporting a car overseas involves paperwork. To ensure a smooth process, you'll need to provide export documents to the U.S. Port of Entry where your vehicle will be shipped from. This should be done at least 72 hours prior to the transportation date. While not all documents will be applicable to your case, they typically include:

  • Completed U.S. Customs & Border Protection Vehicle Export Cover Sheet

  • Original vehicle certificate of title or certified copy, along with two additional copies

  • Photo ID

  • Vehicle registration (including foreign registration)

  • Bill of lading

  • Notarized bill of sale

  • Correctly filled and notarized Export Power Of Attorney (POA) if authorizing someone to make legal decisions on your behalf

  • Completed EPA forms demonstrating emissions compliance (specific requirements depend on the destination country)

  • Completed DOT forms for safety compliance based on the destination's car safety laws

  • If your car has a lien, an official letter from the lien holder granting permission for overseas transport, including vehicle details and your entitlement

  • Any additional documents related to the vehicle

Preparedness is crucial regarding documentation. Prior to your move, directly contact your Port of Entry to understand their specific requirements and deadlines. Allow at least a month to gather all necessary paperwork.

Additionally, notify your local DMV about your car's overseas shipping. Depending on your state's guidelines, you may need to surrender your license plate. Also, arrange a new insurance policy at your destination to ensure continuous coverage for your vehicle. Certain U.S. insurance companies like GEICO and Clemens Worldwide offer liability coverage overseas, providing further options for protection.

Prepare Your Car for Travel

While it might seem convenient, remember that you can't pack boxes or personal belongings inside your car for shipping. Generally, only items directly related to the vehicle, like a spare tire or jumper cables, are allowed. Ensure you remove crucial documents like registration and insurance information.

Your chosen car shipping company will provide precise guidelines on permissible items inside the car during export, as well as fuel limits (usually no more than one-quarter full). Ensure your car is serviced and in good condition, and check tire pressure. Customs agents will thoroughly inspect your car for prohibited pests and debris at the border. As a precaution, have your car washed and vacuumed before reaching the export Port of Entry. Additionally, prepare an extra copy of your car key, as one will be needed by the shipping company.

What is the Cost of Shipping a Car Overseas?

The total cost of shipping a car overseas is influenced by the distance your vehicle will travel and the chosen service provider. Typically, anticipate a range between $1,000 and $5,000 for shipping one car to another country. While this constitutes the core fee for your car's transportation, keep in mind that other additional charges may apply (further elaborated on below). This base cost encompasses your car's accommodation during the journey.

Several factors consistently influence the cost of shipping a car internationally:

  1. Vehicle Model and Manufacturer: The size of your vehicle directly impacts shipping expenses, with larger vehicles requiring more space and incurring higher costs. Similarly, luxury or vintage cars demand extra care and come with pricier insurance premiums.

  2. Shipping Distance: Shorter distances result in lower shipping expenses, as the total mileage covered is a critical factor.

  3. Mode of Transport: Opting for air transport significantly elevates costs compared to sea transport. Within sea transport, various options are available, each with varying cost implications.

  4. Seasonal Considerations: Weather conditions in both the origin and destination countries matter. Winter conditions or the threat of hurricanes during hurricane season can affect costs. Exploring shipping quotes across different times of the year can potentially lower expenses for those with flexible timelines.

  5. Economy vs. Expedited Shipping: Balancing cost and time, economy shipping offers a cost-effective option albeit with longer transit times. On the other hand, expedited shipping reduces sea travel time, but at a higher cost.

By understanding these fundamental factors, you can make informed decisions regarding international car shipping, aligning the process with your timeline, budget, and preferences

Additional Expenses to Account for in Car Shipping

Consider These Supplementary Expenses When Shipping Your Car Internationally:

  1. Marine Insurance: Ensuring your car's protection during maritime transport is wise. While some shipping companies may not mandate it, obtaining supplemental marine insurance safeguards your investment against risks on the open water. Check with your current car insurance provider for marine coverage, or explore add-on options with your shipping company. Alternatively, third-party marine insurance can also be purchased.

  2. Destination Charges: Upon arrival at the new country's port, your car must be safely transported from the freight carrier and undergo customs procedures. An agent is required for this process, and your shipping company can help you locate one. Budget approximately $500-$800 for this service.

  3. Customs Duty: International shipping often incurs customs duty, a tax applied to shipped items. The fee's calculation typically involves a percentage of the item's value. Consult the port of your destination country to ascertain their customs fees.

  4. Additional Taxes and Fees: Be prepared for potential sales tax, processing fees, and supplementary charges associated with car shipping overseas. While your shipping company may provide estimates, maintaining budget flexibility is advisable to accommodate unforeseen expenses.

By factoring in these additional expenses, you can create a more comprehensive and accurate budget for your international car shipping endeavor.

How long does it take to ship a car overseas?

The duration of shipping a car overseas varies based on the destination. Generally, allocate a time frame of 3 to 12 weeks for ocean transport, contingent upon the final location. Your chosen shipping company can provide a reasonably accurate arrival estimate, barring any customs-related delays.

Selecting Your Shipping Method:

  1. Container Shipping: Opting for a dedicated shipping container offers the quickest route for overseas car transport. Alternatively, choosing consolidated vehicle shipping, where your car shares a container with others bound for the same destination, might be more cost-effective. However, this approach could elongate the timeline, as the container needs to fill up before shipping.

  2. Roll-on/Roll-off (RORO) Shipping: This method involves securing your car on a vessel without a container. RORO is budget-friendly and generally faster than consolidated container shipping. It operates like a parking lot within the ship's hull: your car is driven on, secured, and driven off at the destination. Though cost-effective, RORO exposes your car to the elements. It's essential to note that RORO vessels often visit multiple ports, potentially impacting the exact arrival point.

Balancing Timing and Budget

The choice between these methods depends on your priorities. For a swifter and safer option, sole container shipping comes highly recommended. If budget constraints are a concern, RORO can offer affordability but with slightly longer transit times. Select the approach that aligns best with your desired timeline and financial considerations.

International Car Shipping via Air Freight: A Speedy Yet Pricey Option

Transporting your car internationally by plane, also known as air freight, is the costliest method but offers unparalleled speed. If urgency and budget flexibility allow, this option can be completed within days, a significant contrast to the weeks or months needed for ocean transport. This method suits those seeking swift delivery, such as individuals with valuable cars like antiques, vintage models, luxury vehicles, or unique pieces.

Just like ocean freight, specific prerequisites apply. Your car must be operational, devoid of personal items, and carry no more than one-eighth of its gas capacity. Delivery options include door-to-door or terminal-to-terminal, with the latter being more economical. Required documents mirror those for ocean shipping (identification, proof of ownership, etc.). Consulting the embassy of your destination country is advised to grasp current tax rates and import regulations.

Cost Considerations:

Typically, air freight expenses exceed the car's value. Unless circumstances necessitate rapid delivery, this option may not prove cost-effective. The cost of air shipping could rival the price of a new car. While HomeAdvisor cites domestic airplane transportation at $2,000 to $4,000, international rates can skyrocket to around $40,000, with some reports even noting figures as high as $100,000.


In the dynamic world of international car shipping, careful planning is essential to ensure a smooth and cost-effective process. Whether you're moving abroad, selling cars overseas, or managing car logistics, understanding the intricacies of transporting vehicles across borders is crucial. From selecting the right shipping method – whether by ocean freight, air freight, or other means – to considering factors like shipping costs, documentation, and additional expenses, this guide equips you with the knowledge to navigate the complexities of international car transportation. By accounting for the destination, shipping duration, and budget constraints, you can confidently embark on your car shipping journey. Remember, whether your car is a prized antique, a luxury model, or simply a cherished possession, informed decision-making ensures a seamless transition to your new destination.


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