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How does International Car Shipping Work?

What's in this article?
  1. International Car Shipping How Does It Work?
  2. Preparations
  3. Ocean Freight Transportation Options
  4. United States Customs Regulations
Sending Stuff Overseas

International Car Shipping: How Does It Work?

The following article is written with the assumption you’ll need to use ocean / sea freight to transport your car. If you’re planning on transporting your automobile by land to a country such as Canada, click here.

So, how does international car shipping work using ocean / sea freight? To begin, you must understand the following:

When it comes to international transportation, any automobile, which needs a DMV registration (cars, trucks, mopeds, ATVs, motorcycles and jet skis) are considered motor vehicles by Customs, both in the U.S. and in foreign countries.

Shipping automobiles from the United States to other countries overseas with the help of ocean freight requires adhering to special procedures concerning safety issues and Customs. These procedures make transporting automobiles overseas a slightly different process than transporting cargo.

International Delivery Companies


How does international car shipping work? Before shipping your car, it may be helpful to follow these steps:

  • Wash the vehicle. This will reveal its overall condition, so the freight forwarder, as well as yourself, can take note of any damages. It will also prevent soil or pathogens from being carried to another country.
  • Carefully note the car’s condition. Inspect the vehicle for scratches, dents, dints and other problems. Photograph every part of your automobile with close-ups for the damaged areas.
  • Take out custom and loose items. Remove luggage, spoilers, bicycle racks, GPS systems, stereos, and other valuable additions from the vehicle, since it may not be accepted by customs or lost during transportation.
  • If you’re using a container to transport your automobile, you can pack other items inside it as well. However, you will have to drive the automobile in and out of the container, so make sure all mirrors and windows are accessible. Manual shifters must have no obstructions and / or the breaking system must be operable.
  • Remove passes and toll tags. If you keep toll devices inside your automobile during transportation, you may face additional charges, so we recommend you remove or deactivate them.
  • Fully charge your battery.
  • Inflate your tires.
  • Disable the security system / alarm.
  • Keep only 1/8 of the fuel tank full. For safety reasons, many carriers allow only a limited amount of fuel to be kept in the vehicle.
  • Note any mechanical issues. If to operate the automobile, there are certain instructions the carrier must follow, make sure you explain them to the auto transport company.
  • Report or resolve leaks. Leaks may damage your vehicle, as well as nearby automobiles when placed in a shared container. Before shipping the vehicle, we recommend you either repair the leak or instruct the auto transport company on how to safely store the automobile.
  • Fasten convertible tops. Convertible tops should be secured tightly, in case of extreme weather conditions or climate changes during transport.
  • Prepare the automobile for the climate of the new country. To make sure your automobile remains operable, it should contain coolant, engine oil and other liquids needed at its destination.
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Ocean Freight Transportation

Ocean Freight Transportation Options

How does international car shipping work? There are 2 ways to transport a vehicle from the USA with ocean freight:

  • RoRo (roll on, roll off) ocean freight shipping: This is a term used in the industry of ocean freight shipping for wheeled cargo, which you may drive aboard and off the ship. These include cars, boats on trailers, railway carriages, trucks, etc.
  • Container Shipping: The second option is loading the motor vehicle, be it a car, motorcycle, jet ski, or small boat, into a container, and carrying it across the sea as such. Because the car is less exposed to the elements and prying eyes, it is considered the safer option, though it is more expensive.

Container shipping also comes in 2 forms:

1) Single vehicle container shipping: This option is most often used when shipping a luxury or classic vehicle. This is because the chances of the vehicle arriving at its destination with no damages are higher.

If your origin or destination port is a landlocked city, single vehicle containers are often your only option. This is because the automobile will be transported via truck / rail to and from the ports.

An advantage of filling a container with a single automobile is the bill of landing for your ocean freight will be given to just one recipient / consignee of the automobile. Because of this, possible costs, delays and problems caused by the consolidation and the deconsolidation of the vehicle at the origin / destination ports can be eliminated by the consignee and shipper.

2) Transporting multiple automobiles inside 1 container: This means your vehicle will be shipped across the sea alongside others in the same container. The cost is less compared to single car container shipping, but the probability of damage occurring during transport is higher.

If automobiles from multiple consignees are placed in the same container, then finalizing the documents for the international shipping may get complicated, and delays, problems, and additional costs at origin / destination may occur.

United States Customs Regulations

United States Customs Regulations

How does international car shipping work when you get to customs? You must prepare in advance the automobile’s title, along with 3 copies (front and back) before the automobile can leave the U.S. In case there are liens on it, you’ll need the lien holder’s notarized letter allowing you to export the vehicle. However, keep in mind automobiles with liens on them are rarely approved for international transport from the United States by U.S. Customs.

If you as the owner cannot go with the automobile to the departure port, you may give a power of attorney to a representative. However, choose this representative carefully, since they will act on your behalf, and any negative results caused by them will fall on you.

Across the globe, most country’s customs will want you or your representative to present the original title of the automobile when recovering it from the destination port. If the automobile has been sold and then shipped to you, you should have a bill of sale as well. If these documents are not presented, the automobile may be placed in storage, causing you additional costs.

Before the ocean freight container is loaded onto the ship, its doors must not be sealed to allow the VINs and Customs Officers to verify the automobiles. If the container’s contents cannot be checked, it will be rejected.

So, how does international car shipping work? We hope the above article has answered some of your questions. For more details, contact us directly.

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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing. 

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood. 

With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.

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A-1 Auto Transport is a disclosed agent for the following shipping companies:

Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
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