So, you’ve decided your next big adventure involves shipping your rig across an ocean? No problem – it’s easy. Here’s how we shipped our VW bus to Europe. If you just want details on cost, skip down to the bottom.
First, decide if you are going to ship RORO (roll-on-roll-off) or in a container. RORO is cheaper, but has more ‘risks’. A container is exactly what it sounds like, and it costs more and is limited on vehicle size. Google it – there’s plenty of info on the trade-offs.
Next, get some quotes from shipping agents. In the past, you could deal directly with the freight company, but these days you have to use an agent (and pay their fees). C’est la vie.
We found a few things worth mentioning when requesting a shipping quote:
- At least half of the agents won’t respond to your quote request. That’s just the way it is. I imagine they hear from lots of lookey-loos who are ‘just curious’. Don’t waste anyone’s time if you aren’t ready to go.
- Pick your shipping line, check their routes and schedules, and get your quote for a specific voyage. We used Wallenius Wilhelmsen when we shipped from Colombia back to the USA and were happy with the experience, so we used them again. Other companies, like K-Line, Hoegh and IVSS also offer competitive services at various ports.
- The agent’s quotes for the exact same services varied GREATLY. Try to get several quotes. Our quotes for Galveston, TX, USA to Southampton, UK varied from $1050 to $1800 for the exact same voyage.
- Make sure your quote includes everything. Some quotes were for freight only and did not include port fees, customs fees, documentation fees, etc.
- The agent location doesn’t seem to matter. Our agent was located in Florida and we were shipping out of Texas. Everything was handled by email, post and phone.
Once booked, you will get a Dock Receipt. This is your shipping form and tells you where to drop off your vehicle. You’re (almost) on your way!
Now, start packing. Well.
Technically, you aren’t supposed to have anything in the vehicle for RORO, but we’ve done it without much issue. Hide or lock away anything that you don’t want to disappear. I removed my interior panels and packed the side cavities with tools. In our experience, only small things are likely to disappear. Your mileage may vary.
You will need to drop off your vehicle at the port one week before the ship date. This is for ‘cargo lineup’ and customs clearance. Try to be prepared – don’t pull the engine out of the car the day before drop-off like I did 😉
You will have to send your original vehicle title to the shipping agent for the customs clearance. They will mail it back later (after payment!)
At the Port of Galveston, you will need a TWIC security clearance or a security escort in order to enter. Just drive up to the gate and the security guy will give you a card with TWIC escorts you can call to arrange entry. It takes a few hours and they charge $50 for the service.
Once inside, you’ll follow the escort to the correct shipping terminal and hand over your dock receipt through a tiny window to get stamped. Someone will take a look at your vehicle and show you where to park it – unlocked and with the keys in it.
That’s it – it takes 10 minutes.
Now that you don’t have a car anymore, the TWIC escort will give you a ride out of the terminal.
You will need to send a copy of the stamped dock reciept to your shipping agent (cell phone photo worked for us) in order to verify port entry and start the customs paperwork.
We intentionally chose a very long journey (30 days!) so we would have plenty of time to goof off and make a few side-trips. There are shorter voyages – some as short as 10 days.
At some point after the ship sails, you will get your bill. Pay it! After payment, your agent will ask where to send your vehicle title and Bill of Lading (the document required for pick-up). It’s a good idea to have a friend at your destination who can receive mail. Or, just don’t leave for Europe until you have all your documents ready (more on this below). We had our vehicle ‘electronically released’ so we did not need the original Bill of Lading.
You can track your ship (live) with sites like MarineTraffic. The freight company will also have some sort of ‘tracking’ page to see your shipping status. Your Bill of Lading will state the (estimated) ship arrival date.
You will need customs permission for temporary admission into the UK, good for 6 months. You can do this yourself by filling out the C21 or C110 (information varies) or you can get an agent to handle customs for you. Wallenius has a Logistics division in Southampton and they will handle all customs issues for 75 quid. To be confident we’re legal, we decided to do this. You have to pay them a 70 pound port fee at the same desk anyway for unloading. It took 4 working days (6 in total) for clearance, but there was a snag and the paperwork had to be re-submitted. Normally, it can be cleared in a day.
Surprisingly, there were no security requirements to enter the port at Southampton. I just walked up to the gate an told them I was getting my car. The guard told me where to go and I just walked right in. At the Wallenius office, I paid the 145 pounds in cash. Then, I was guided to a second building where customs clearance was verified and I waited for someone to go get the bus. Ten minutes later, a driver pulled up in the bus and handed me the key along with a port security exit receipt.
I examined the vehicle and contents pretty quickly and there was no obvious damage or issue (later, we found that the only thing that seemed to be missing from the inside was an extension cord.)
I drove (on the left!) back to the gate and surrendered the receipt and that was it! We’re now driving in England!
Here’s the breakdown of costs:
$150 Forwarding Fee (agent fee)
$100 Customs export certification
$712.29 Ocean freight (the actual shipping cost based on weight and dimensions)
$50 TWIC escort fee for port entrance
$96 UK terminal handling fee (unloading)
$103 UK customs clearance
Before shipping, you should consider a few other costs:
Transportation and lodging on each side while you are without your vehicle/home. England is expensive. Fortunately, we had generous friends who allowed us to house-sit while we waited. Otherwise this would have been a significant expense for us. Especially since customs clearance delayed us an additional 6 days. To minimize this cost, I would recommend not arriving at the destination until a day after your vehicle is scheduled to arrive. You could potentially go straight from the airport to the vehicle if everything goes smoothly. And, we have family and friends near Galveston who put us up during the drop-off period.
Liability (“third-party”) insurance is mandatory in Europe. We know some people who have gone without, but it seems like a pretty big risk. Almost everyone we have spoken to with a foreign vehicle has been asked for proof of insurance by police at some point. It’s expensive. Foreign plates makes it difficult. We used TourInsure.de for a six month policy and will keep looking for other options.
Different ports have different procedures, fees, and rules. Do your research if you are choosing different ports.
That’s it! Have fun!