Shipping a car overseas isn’t as easy as, say—buying a plane ticket. But it can be done. In most cases, there is a fairly simple process for international car shipping; you just need to know how to do it.
The US exports a little less than 700,000 cars every year overseas. Some of these vehicles are shipped by the military for deployed service members. Wealthy foreign buyers ship others after something exclusive and special they cannot get in their home country—like a classic American muscle car.
Do Your Homework Before Making a Commitment
As with any major decision, it is a good idea to do a good bit of research before talking to any shippers or making any commitments. While getting experience without getting your hands wet may be difficult, you don’t have to go into the conversation blind.
Research Shipping Companies
Start by figuring out who provides international car shipping services. A cursory internet search using major search engines like Google and Bing is a good place to start. Then, dig a little Sleeper on the Better Business Bureau website, consumer reviews, and FMC.gov. If you happen to have any friends with specific experience shipping a car overseas, now is the time to reach out and ask for their help.
You are looking at a few things:
- Do they offer the right services?
- Can they pick up and deliver in the areas you need?
- What type of licensing do they carry? (FMC, DOT, NVOCC)
- Are they insured, and by whom? Do you need to purchase additional insurance?
- What is the company’s reputation?
- How long have they been in business?
Do the leg work before requesting any quotes, or you may be swayed into uninformed decisions by a low price tag. Once you have a shortlist of companies you are interested in working with, it is time to get quotes and find out what competitive rates are.
The first step in researching costs is to request quotes from your top 3-4 companies. Once you receive the information, you need to qualify the quote by making sure you have enough context for side-by-side comparisons.
- Services Included
- Shipping Method
- Inland Transportation
- Port Fees
Next, look online for generalized information about international auto shipping costs. You may be able to find rates on shipper websites or in online forums to make sure you are receiving competitive rates for shipping a car overseas.
In addition to the quote provided by the shipper, you can expect to pay additional fees for marine insurance, destination charges, customs duties, and additional taxes or fees levied by the destination country. Many foreign buyers quickly realize that these additional fees are not worth the cost-savings of buying a trendy new car in a different market.
Choose a Shipper and Prepare Paperwork
All of your research should lead you to a final decision. Once you have settled on a service you are comfortable with, contact that shipper and get your vehicle scheduled. They will go over the requirements with you. However, plan to provide the following paperwork:
- Clear Title
- Bill of Sale
- US Passport
Some ports or final destinations may require additional paperwork. Your carrier will advise based on the services requested. For example, if you ship a car from Miami, Florida, you may need an additional notarized power of attorney. Ports in New York or Los Angeles may not have the same requirement.
Have Your Vehicle Inspected
A lot can happen in a cargo hold on the ocean. Before shipping your car overseas, make sure everything is in good working order and documented a full inspection. Take your car to the mechanic for service and keep documentation that everything is in good working order. Wash your car and remove any dirt or debris so that the condition will be obvious in photos.
Next, conduct your own inspection with thorough notes on any pre-existing damage as well as pictures from all angles of the vehicle. This way, if the delivered car has any damages, you have reasonable proof that they occurred during shipment or inland transportation. This detailed inspection can help you recoup costs in the event of an insurance claim. In most cases, overseas car transporters will do a similar inspection prior to accepting the shipment. However, just like moving into a rental, it is important to keep your own records.
Prepare Your Vehicle
Your cargo shipper will provide detailed instructions based on the type of shipping you have selected. However, in most cases, you may be asked to remove license plates and registration tags prior to shipping. You will also need to make sure your gas tank is less than one-quarter of a tank full. Some shippers may charge extra fees to drain gas from your vehicle if it exceeds a quarter tank.
Work out the logistics of how your vehicle will get to the port on the shipping side and from the port to your new home on the import side. You basically have two options. You can either drive the car yourself or schedule a truck to pick it up and transport it. Payment arrangements should be made prior to delivery.
Additional Cargo in Your Vehicle
Shipping overseas is expensive, and it is common to find ways to make it more economical. While you may be able to pack belongings in your car, keep in mind that insurance limitations may not cover those items. And, doing so may result in additional fees like import taxes or duties on the items inside the vehicle.
Import Duties and Taxes
You will likely have to pay import duties or taxes when your vehicle arrives in the destination country. These fees vary by country, so it is not possible to give a generalization for the cost. In fact, in many cases, the cost of shipping and importing a car overseas can be cost-prohibitive.
Make sure that your shipper can assist with all parts of the shipment, including import into the destination country. An experienced broker is invaluable when dealing with any type of import.
The most common type of shipping for international cargo is on an ocean liner. The time it takes largely depends on how far it is traveling and the congestion at the ports on either the shipping or receiving time—plan for at least one week in customs clearance and an average of three weeks on the water.
Your shipping carrier will not be able to guarantee a delivery date. However, they should be able to provide reliable estimates based on current shipping conditions. For example, when many ports closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, international shipments stalled for weeks or months beyond the typical transit times. Such situations are beyond the control of an international shipping carrier.
The Bottom Line on Shipping a Car Overseas
Foreign residents returning home and military members stationed overseas often need to ship a car to another country. There are many international shipping services that can help using roll-on roll-off containers on a cargo ship. Most conservative estimates take between 3 and 6 weeks to arrive in the destination country. However, just like other imports and exports, there are inspections, paperwork, and customs clearance involved in shipping a car overseas.