OB Approved Shipping the rig overseas

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Mid Europe Member Rep Germany

Trail Blazer II

Lampertheim, Germany
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Sometimes we have to cross the sea with our rigs. At first, ferries come into question, but at the latest when we travel overseas, we have to ship the vehicle. Especially for those who do this for the first time it is an exciting thing and even after many shipments there is always something new. I have therefore recently published an article on this in a magazine. Because I think this topic is also interesting, exciting and useful for many OB members, I would like to share some information about it and have written the following text based on my own experience and information from experts and overlanders I have spoken with.

What type of transport is possible?

First of all, there are several ways to ship your rig. The most common are RoRo and container. Let´s have a look at those and a few other types.

RoRo - Roll on Roll off

The abbreviation RoRo stands for Roll on Roll off. This name already gives an idea of the shipping. Vehicles are being driven onto a cargo ship, getting lashed there securely and driven off again after arrival at the port of destination. This is similar to what you know from a ferry crossing, except that with a RoRo you do not usually drive the vehicle on and off the ship yourself. Easy one.


Another option to ship your rig is to ship it in a container. A basic requirement for this is that your vehicle is suitable for containers, i.e. has the right dimensions. Please keep in mind when planning to consider not only the internal dimensions of the container but also the entrance height of the container door. Often 20 feet standard and 40 feet standard high cube containers are used.

A 20 feet standard container has approx. the following dimensions:
Interior dimensions: length 5.89m/ 19.32ft; width 2.35m/ 7.71ft; height 2.38m/ 7.8ft
Door: width 2.34m/ 7.68ft; height 2.28m/ 7.45ft

A 40 feet standard high cube container approx. the following dimensions:
Interior dimensions: length 12.03m/ 39.47ft; width 2.35m/ 7.71ft; height 2.69m/ 8.83ft
Door: width 2.34m/ 7.68ft; height 2.58m/ 8.46ft

Information without guarantee and these dimensions can vary due to damage of the containers by heavy use. This then can make loading more difficult.

If the entry height is not sufficient. Then there could be an easy fix. For example, air down a little, drive carefully in and re-inflate the tires in the container. It is important to re-inflate the tires in the container as this gives the loaded vehicle better stability. This is especially true if there are insufficient lashing and tie-down points on the vehicle and the straps get attached to the rims. Some overlanders use special DIY "container wheels" which basically are steel discs which are far smaller than the usual tires. Of course, such constructions are always done at the vehicle owner's own risk.

To reduce the cost, container sharing is possible. E.g. two rigs in a 40ft container. Container partners can be found by a request in a forum, e.g. here. Sometimes they are also brought together by the forwarder, offering this as an additional service.


For the transport of big rigs you can choose a speciality of the container. The so-called flat rack. A flat rack usually has two end walls, but no side walls and no roof. So basically, it is an open container somehow. The rig is placed on the open platform and lashed down. The disadvantage of the flat rack is that it is usually very expensive and the vehicle is more vulnerable to weather conditions and damage. And the costs to ship flat racks are higher that container which is due to the extended handling effort and the comparatively scarce availability of flat racks. In addition, there are ports where there is no appropriate infrastructure for handling this type of transport. So quite limited use.

LoLo - Lift on Lift off

Have you ever heard about LoLo? No? But I guess you have seen pictures of that. Especially in older travel stories. LoLo is another special form of shipping for vehicles. With LoLo, the cargo is loaded and unloaded using the cargo ship's onboard crane. For this purpose, nets are placed under the wheels. The cargo is lifted on these. LoLo is usually possible for larger expedition vehicles, because the wheelbase is large enough for this type of loading. And btw, vehicles are still loaded this way today, for example in the port of Walvisbay in Namibia.

How to get the vehicle ready for shipping?

It is important that you prepare your vehicle very well for shipment.


The interior should be neat and tidy. Tidy up the vehicle thoroughly. All stuff goes into the designated storage compartments. Tie down loose items securely. Remove valuables and electronics such as navigation instruments, radios and the like and carry with you personally. Likewise, food or (open) spices do not belong in the vehicle, as this may cause problems at immigration (food in cans is usually no problem).


Your vehicle should have sufficiently dimensioned lashing and attachment points for secure lashing. This is similar to recovery situations. If there are no proper mounts, the vehicle is often lashed down via the rims.

Vehicle cleaning

Clean your rig thoroughly and deliver it clean for transport. On some shipping routes, proof of cleanliness is even required by means of a so-called Cleaning Certificate, which is issued by the shipper. Sometimes the vehicles are also washed again at the port before this is issued. Australia and New Zealand are a special case with regard to this topic. Here, the vehicle must be extremely well cleaned and often overlanders still have to pay additional costs for further cleaning at the port of destination. Occasionally, the vehicles get fumigated or heated to a certain temperature to kill pests, similar to other goods, which is why damage to seals, etc. is reported from time to time.

Fuel, propane, batteries, etc.

Fuel tanks must be "empty" for container shipping. However, usually there is always a residual amount in the tank to drive the vehicle into and out of the container. Which makes sense, right? For RoRo you will often find a specification like maximum 25% filled. There should only be enough fuel in the tank to drive the vehicle on and off the ship.

Batteries must of course be disconnected and the connections insulated when shipping in containers. In some cases, a fire extinguisher is also a mandatory equipment. Which makes totally sense to have it in the rig anyway.

What about propane tanks? On many routes it is mandatory that these including the lines must be emptied and flushed. This must often be done and certified by a specialist company. For refillable propane bottles it is often reported that it helps for the pre-shipping inspection to get a new empty propane bottle and label it "empty" and add a copy of the purchase receipt.

What else?

Have an RTT, spare wheels or even a canoe on the roof rack? Then mount and/ or lash them down securely. Furthermore, protect them against unauthorized access and pleas also pay here attention to the maximum transport dimensions. By the way, freight costs at RoRo are often calculated by cubic meter, occasionally only by vehicle length. So, you see, roof loads can increase transportation costs.

For container transport you could also put a dehumidifier in your vehicle and opening the windows and hatches for a gap This might help to prevent moisture on long transport routes.

Last but not least, you could also create a kind of short on-board manual for driving the vehicle if it has to be moved by port personnel. Draw up the instructions in local language at the port of destination/departure and English and attach the instructions in a clearly visible position in the cockpit.

What you may also want to do is to protect the seats with a cover against dirt by work clothes.

What documents are required?

First of all, for shipping of your rig the carrier usually needs a copy of the vehicle registration document and your passport.

The bill of lading (B/L) is also issued by the carrier. This bill of lading represents the goods, in this case your vehicle, during transport. You need the bill of lading to discharge the vehicle. This is done either by presenting the original or electronically (e.g., via so called "Sea Waybill"). PLEASE NOTE: originals do not go into the vehicle and are needed on site!

For some destinations there are special papers required in addition. For example, shipping a European vehicle from Europe to the US requires two additional documents. One of them is about the compliance with the American registration regulations and the other one is about the vehicle emissions (EPA exemption and HS7). These documents should be applied for in time, as it may take a while for them to be issued and TIP is not possible without the documents. Usually, the forwarder will help you with this. In addition, for container transport, before loading the vehicle or container for the U.S., the forwarder must electronically submit various data to Customs (the so called "Importer Security Filing" - ISF).

Also, you should familiarize yourself in good time with the import conditions, any vehicle insurance that may be required and special regulations such as possibly the Carnet de Passage in your destination.

What about an insurance for transport?

From my point of view, you should definitely take out transport insurance. The premium is usually calculated depending on the value of your rig (plus sometimes also the inventory). If inventory gets also insured, you have to prepare an inventory list.

But this insurance does not only cover loss of or damage to your own belongings, which is why it is so important. No, damage to shipped goods and financial losses are also insured. The “magic key word” here is "general average”. What does this mean? A "general average" occurs when the master of a ship, in order to save the ship and the goods on board from immediate, common danger, initiates extraordinary expenditures or measures for rescue, for example salvage. The damages and costs resulting from this are divided proportionally to the values of the ship, cargo and freight money. They are to be paid by the holders of interest. So, you can lose a lot more than your vehicle here. Pay attention.

Theft and transport damage

The good news is that thousands of cars are shipped every day and damage is comparatively rare. From time to time, we hear form thefts with regard to overlanding vehicles, but this is also not the general rule. If it comes to thefts this concerns often smaller thefts as for instance the theft of clothes or the like which happened to me also one time. Vehicle damages caused by burglaries can ruin a trip and it happens. But there are some measures to try to prevent unauthorized access.

So first of all, please keep in mind that your vehicle is not locked on the ship during a RoRo shipment and the key might be also in the ignition lock as the vehicle must be ready to drive. When shipping in a container, do not leave the key in the container, either deposit it in the vehicle or take it with you. Please note, if you take the key with you and you are not allowed to be there during unloading, it is a problem. There are a few countries where it is not possible to be present when the vehicle is unpacked from the container. Please check with your freight forwarder. The container gets sealed after loading. These seals are numbered. The numbers are cross-checked before opening.

Handling at the port of destination

Once the vehicle arrives, it will be exciting all over again. Many forwarders arrange contacts with agents and fixers on site. In most cases, the agent is obligatory. But in some ports you can also manage the handling without a fixer easily.

But the agent or fixer can help with language barriers, for example. He also knows the people involved on site and usually knows exactly what is possible or not possible, how and where. So, he can handle processes faster than you can as a foreigner.

Keep in mind: Despite this, the forwarder has no influence on customs orders and decisions of authorities, late allocation of customs inspection dates, detention of a container etc. All things that you may encounter along the way. This can result in costs for which the freight forwarder is not at fault and is not the right person to contact. Authorities cannot be influenced in this respect and putting time pressure on them tends to have the opposite effect.

It should be mentioned here that for access to the ports in the USA you will need to be accompanied by a so-called escorting service. You can get the telephone numbers for booking these from the forwarding agent or at the port. Did that twice. It is a very easy process and the staff at the service is very kind and helpful.

So, you want to know how a typical shipping looks like?

Let´s make two examples:

Example of a RoRo shipment

You drive with your well-prepared vehicle and the documents you received from the forwarder to the port of delivery. There you will have a short check-in and you usually will receive an access pass for entering the port area. As mentioned earlier you might need an escorting service.

Then you enter the port. A staff member will welcome you, check the vehicle, prepare a condition report including photos, the so-called Car Condition Report (CCR). You park your vehicle in the assigned space and hand over the key. Depending on the port the doors (except the driver's door) are sealed, you get a stamp on your delivery receipt and leave the port. Now you will probably take a taxi and drive to the hotel, rental car station, airport or train station or whatever. Important: The car condition report prepared by the port staff on behalf of the shipowner will only be handed over by the shipowner in the rarest of cases, for example at court. For this reason, make sure that your forwarder prepares a separate Car Condition Report. This may help in case of damage. But usually this is only done for container shipments.

On the day of loading, your vehicle will be driven on board by the port staff. As soon as the vehicle has been loaded, you will receive a loading confirmation and the invoice from the forwarder, you pay the freight charges and receive the freight documents for delivery. This is done either by mail or by e-mail.

With these documents you go to the recommended agent in the port of destination to complete the customs formalities. Then proceed to the port where, depending on the country, a customs inspection may take place, or you may go directly to your vehicle, where a short vehicle check takes place. If there is any damage to the vehicle, it must be reported immediately at the port and the forwarder and the insurance company must be informed. In addition, it is best to file a report at the local police station. This can be an important proof for the insurance.

Then the vehicle is taken over in exchange for a delivery receipt. It is as simple as that.

Example of container shipping procedure

Container has some similarities to RoRo, but some things are different. Let´s take a look at that.

The empty container is delivered to the forwarder's premises. After the vehicle is inspected, it is driven into the container and lashed securely. The container is closed and sealed (see above).

Then the container is picked up by lorry again and driven into the port terminal. There it will be loaded onto the ship within the next few hours or days or weeks. Then your vehicle is ready to set sail. Maybe there will be port calls or even a transfer to another ship on the way.

After a couple of days or few weeks, depending on the route, it is time to pick up your rig at the port of destination. The customs formalities are done at the agent's office. Then you may have to go to the authorities together with the agent (depending on the port). Then you will get to the container to unpack the vehicle. Sometimes as mentioned you cannot attend the unloading – check with the forwarder. And then the journey begins…

A few more tips

Not every forwarder has experience with tourist vehicles. But there are some companies who are specialized in shipping of overlander rigs and they have some tips and tricks tailored to travellers like us. In addition, not every forwarder has the time and patience to answer the special questions of us overlanders, because the consultation is sometimes more intensive than the everyday forwarding business.

Ask the forwarder of your choice whether a handling in the respective country can be managed and whether there are local agents for this country who are familiar with the import of tourist vehicles. Not every country is suitable for shipping. A good freight forwarder will advise you against your venture if necessary.

We should also remember that for many overlanders, shipping of the rig is often a unique and exciting story, and for many this vehicle is their home for perhaps months or even years of travel. So, it is important that you feel well taken care of by the forwarder. Take a close look at different providers and then decide for yourself who to entrust your rig to.

I saw that we already have a few POIs of such specialized companies on the OB Map and added some myself that I have experience with. It would be great if we could collect some more here. This will help many overlanders, especially long-term travellers. Thank you.

Last but not least please keep in mind that each shipment is of course very individual and the procedures described here can and should give an idea of how such a shipment can look. Depending on the port, carrier, vehicle and other influencing factors, the steps can of course be different.

What I have written here is based on my own experience and conversations with experts and other overlanders and can always be different and not every detail can be covered. Also, regulations and circumstances change. A very good preparation is therefore essential and everyone must do themselves. I hope that these lines are nevertheless a good assistance.
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Rank VI

Advocate II

Matthews, North Carolina
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Thank you for the very interesting article! I had never given thought to shipping a rig before. It sounds like a very daunting and exciting experience. Thank you for sharing your insights.