Shipping vehicle from US to Europe

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sviva

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Hey there!
My girlfriend and I are planning an overlanding trip through Europe via car. We are trying to find cheap but easy and safe options to ship my car to Europe and back to the US at the end of our 90 day trip. We have already decided against RORO (roll-on, roll-off) due to security concerns and would ship in a closed container. Preferably we would send the car to Portugal or Spain and send it back from Greece but we are grateful for any information or experiences on the topic, such as
  • What ports to ship to and from, that will make it easier to get the car through customs and avoid extra cost
  • How to choose a shipping company that is reliable
  • I've heard that it's common to ship to Belgium, Germany, or UK, but we want to start in Spain. Why don't I read about people shipping vehicles to France or Portugal? Is there some issue with those routes that makes them better to avoid?
  • What about shipping back from Greece? is this feasible?

Thanks in advance for your help!
 
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TahoePPV

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I can't answer your question, but these may help from a guy who has done it.


 

sviva

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Thanks for the replies! I have seen basically all of Dan's videos, he's great! You'll notice from his write-up kinda brushes over his exact reasoning for choosing to ship to Belgium instead of further south, so I've been wondering about that. I have commented on his video so maybe he'll answer and we'll find out :)
 
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El-Dracho

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Hi,

We shipped our rig the other way 5 years ago. From Hamburg to Baltimore and back from Baltimore to Hamburg. We shipped RoRo. All supereasy. On the way back there was a small theft. A few pieces of clothing, tire repair kit and a multitool were gone. Silly, but easy to get over. Otherwise, as I said, everything super easy. Would do so again at any time.

Freight rates between Europe and North America are sensationally low. Currently 49 Euro/ 58 USD per cubic meter of space for RoRo. Plus a few port and handling charges and a variable fuel surcharge. It works simply and well. We have two well-known providers here in Germany who also take care of a lot of the handling. We booked at


and it was perfect!

There is also another one where I have heard good experiences from other overlanders, it is:


We got some quotes for shipping in a container at that time also. Was much more expensive.

If you do decide to go with RoRo, I can give you some advice and share some more experiences.

Cheers
Bjoern
 
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Alanymarce

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It's been a while since I've shipped NA to Europe and back (once USA-Europe, once Canada-Europe, and once Europe-Canada), however within my capacity to offer thoughts:
  • What ports to ship to and from, that will make it easier to get the car through customs and avoid extra cost. Ask for quotes from a shipping agent for half a dozen alternative destination ports and then decide on which makes sense. I would avoid shipping into the UK right now since I'm guessing that they're still swamped/confused from the Brexit fiasco. Look at different sailing dates as well as timings - we found a difference of around USD 1000 between sailings trans-Pacific in 2019.
  • How to choose a shipping company that is reliable. I think they're all pretty reliable - ask the agent for opinions.
  • I've heard that it's common to ship to Belgium, Germany, or UK, but we want to start in Spain. Why don't I read about people shipping vehicles to France or Portugal? Is there some issue with those routes that makes them better to avoid? No idea - in my case I shipped into and out of the UK, but that was simply where I was going/had been. Ask the agent for shipping into Spain, Portugal, and France. There are some main routes for vehicles (Yokohama-Felixstowe for example) but this is irrelevant - a container is a container - what's in it makes no difference to the shipping company, really. I see that there are routes between Miami, NOrfolk, Houston, or Savannah and Algeciras for example.
  • What about shipping back from Greece? is this feasible? I can't see why not - however you may have to transship en route - e.g., Piraeus to Algeciras then from there to the USA/Canada/Mexico.
It's good to hear that rates to/from Europe/NA are low - also surprising - I was looking at rates last year from SA to NA and they had doubled (blamed on the pandemic). The Global Container Index (shipping rates) has increased fourfold, and rates across the Pacific have gone up eight times!

I echo Boostpowered's comment - for 3 months surely it's cheaper to rent. Shipping costs alone, spread over 90 days, work out at at least USD30/day.
 
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sviva

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Thank you all for your replies. I would like to ship my own vehicle because I will be outfitting my rig for the trip and living in it. Hopefully wild camping and staying in campgrounds instead of hotels will help to offset some of the cost. I would certainly like to stay longer than 3 months, but in my research I have really found no way to stay longer than the 3 months allowed in the Schengen region with my US passport.
It's good to hear that there are good experiences with RoRo, however I don't think I can cope with the idea of handing the keys of my precious rig over to have it shipped that way. Thank you for the information, though.

I will look into the shipping more closely, I just wanted to test the waters and see if anyone had experience with this already.

Another tangential question I had: when in Europe my vehicle won't have to comply with the vehicle regulations there, right? My understanding is that because it will be registered in a different country and visiting temporarily (not imported), I will not have to modify things (for example headlights/taillights). However, I have not been able to find any actual documentation (laws or similar) so that I can be sure of this. Can anyone point me in the right direction?
 

socal66

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I have really found no way to stay longer than the 3 months allowed in the Schengen region with my US passport.
Really the only way is to then spend 90 days in non-region areas such as the Balkan countries, Russia and other former Soviet states, etc., and then the clock will reset for another 90 days in the region.
 

Boostpowered

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It will be a logistical nightmare that will likely take as long or longer to organize than your staying.
Especially with the whole covid thing going on.
Expect to be detained and put in quarantine for a few weeks for each country and possibly region you go through, idk a lot has changed in 15 years since the last time I went to Europe.

I know getting from England to France by car was super fun back in the early 90s idk if they are still running em but back then one of the ferry services was hovercraft ferry.
 

sviva

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I should mention this is a longer term thing, it would happen in maybe two or three years, so hopefully (knock on wood) covid isn't a factor anymore at that point
 

leeloo

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Shipping to Belgium or Germany has mostly to do with cost and paperwork. In some countries it is easy, in some complicated and can take weeks to get the vehicle trough customs. Spain is one of those countries where is more complicated. It also has to do with the size of the ports. For a shipping agent might be same if you send your car to Algeciras or Antwerp, but not to your wallet. Hence the reason most ship to Belgium - Antwerp or Germany - Hamburg. This are ports on the main transatlantic shipping lanes so rates are lower.
For temporary "import " , as long as the car is legal in US is legal in Europe as well.
If you ship to Belgium - Antwerp it will take you 2 days of relaxed driving on the Highway to reach Spain. You can even have a company to take you vehicle and ship it to Spain on land, it might be much cheaper, usually around 400 euro.. just a bit more of the cost of the drive there anyway, than to ship directly to Spain.
I would not come to Europe in something bigger than a mid size truck or you will have trouble with parking and access in the cities, or even on some camping grounds. Even the trails and forest roads are narrow . With a full size rig you will not be able to do them.
Once you are inside EU, you can travel freely. Some countries have 1 time road tax, ( for example 10 euro for 14 days driving in Austria ) some have a road tax only if you use highways, like France .
Gas is expensive, about 3 times the price in the US, so price that in. You will need 3 rd party insurance, it is mandatory . It is usually around 100 euro /month for cars that are temporarily imported..
Wild camping - I would not bet on it, maybe for half of you 90 days trip, depends a lot on what countries you plan to visit. Some allow it some do not. In Spain, it is allowed, in France it is a gray area, in Germany any overlanding activity is forbidden ( both wild camping and off-roading ) so unless you plan to stay only in countries that allow it, you will have to go to some campsites/hotels.

Camping cost for 1 vehicle ( if you have an RTT is considered an RV ) + 2 people vary from around around 10 euro up to 25 euro / night , depends if you want shore power, etc..
 
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Alanymarce

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re "when in Europe my vehicle won't have to comply with the vehicle regulations there, right? My understanding is that because it will be registered in a different country and visiting temporarily (not imported), I will not have to modify things (for example headlights/taillights). ... For temporary "import " , as long as the car is legal in US is legal in Europe as well."

You will not have to change lights (for example) - as noted as long as the vehicle is legal in the country of registration it'll be OK... However - this may not be as simple as it seems. For example, if your tyres extend significantly beyond the bodywork, expect to run into problems in countries where this is illegal - better to be legal where you're going in order to avoid spending the time arguing about it - which is never a productive exercise. Some countries are very strict on things like frontal protrusions, high intensity headlights, and so on. Also, make sure that the vehicle really is legal in the home country - sometimes people routinely get away with things which are technically illegal in their home country.

re "Really the only way is to then spend 90 days in non-region areas such as the Balkan countries, Russia and other former Soviet states, etc., and then the clock will reset for another 90 days in the region."

I'm not sure what "non-region areas" means however to expand on this good advice,
  • Albania,
  • Armenia,
  • Azerbaijan,
  • Belarus,
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina,
  • Bulgaria,
  • Croatia,
  • Cyprus,
  • Ireland,
  • Macedonia,
  • Moldova,
  • Montenegro,
  • Romania
  • Russia,,
  • Serbia,
  • Turkey,
  • Ukraine, and
  • United Kingdom
These are all in Europe but outside the Schengen Area. I'm not sure whether you'd want to spend 90 days between Ireland and the UK however this is one non-Schengen area in which you can spend time until you can re-enter the Schengen Area. The other area which would easily take up 90 days (or a lot longer) could involve leaving the Schengen Area into Croatia then exploring the non-Schengen countries in Central Europe and Eastern Europe, returning into the Schengen Area via the Nordic countries/Scandinavia (or vice versa).

re "I know getting from England to France by car was super fun back in the early 90s idk if they are still running em but back then one of the ferry services was hovercraft ferry."

I've used this a dozen times at least - it was fast and convenient - stopped operating 20 years ago - the Channel Tunnel was a lot more convenient for trucks, and obviously less affected by bad weather (not unknown in the Channel).
 
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sviva

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@leeloo Thank you very much for this advice. This makes a lot of sense, and fills in some of the gaps I had in my understanding, and provides lots of useful information. I will be taking a Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited (4dr), which is sold worldwide and I've seen them in Europe many times, so I think it should be ok as far as the size.

@Alanymarce Thank you for your comment on the legal side. This makes sense, and I already have it as a priority to make the vehicle look as "stock" as possible. I will be keeping flashy tires and bumpers to an absolute minimum to avoid problems like you mentioned.
Your advice about the Schengen region is also valuable, and makes me think about possibly expanding the trip to explore eastern europe... the question will of course be if I have enough money for that...

As far as the legal side, can anyone point me to the laws about this? It must be enshrined in law somewhere that a vehicle registered in another country and temporarily imported can be driven as long as it complies with the laws in the country where it is registered, but I can't find the actual law anywhere. If anyone can point me in the right direction I'd much appreciate it.
 

Alanymarce

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As far as the legal side, can anyone point me to the laws about this? It must be enshrined in law somewhere that a vehicle registered in another country and temporarily imported can be driven as long as it complies with the laws in the country where it is registered, but I can't find the actual law anywhere. If anyone can point me in the right direction I'd much appreciate it.
As far as I know, there is no global law or agreement on this - the CPD is a customs document and has nothing to do with standards for the vehicle. I think that (unfortunately) you theoretically have to research this for every country (!).

Now, having said that, the reality is that vehicles today are made to be sold without having to make a different version for every country - in terms of things like crash tests and so on the cost of making multiple versions would be very high, so they're all the same except for LHD/RHD, lights, and emissions (although even then there's little difference for most countries). So, provided a vehicle is legal in one country it'll meet the standards in most if not all others. Minor differences are not sufficiently important for the police to worry about. In my experience (driving foreign-registered vehicles in much of Western Europe, nearly all of South America, the USA, Southern and Eastern Africa, and Australia, over many years) I have never once been questioned on the vehicles. Now, they have always been standard or with few obvious modifications - you can't really see an upgraded suspension or a 50 mm lift, and things like snorkels and winches are add-ons which are not covered by vehicle rules in most places (although if you have a "bull bar" in Colombia you'll probably attract police attention since they're illegal).

So, I believe that the key is, as previously noted, not to have any obvious aspect which is not legal where you're going. A good example would be tyres which extend beyond the fenders/mudguards - out of interest I did a quick check and found that they're not legal in Washington state either (I just picked one state which I have previously driven into with a Canadian-registered vehicle and which I'll probably visit again before too long).
 
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leeloo

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Actually you can use the car in EU for 6 months, not sure from where this 90 days comes from...
It is true that tires outside fenders can attract attention, and talks with police over the legality on a temporary import can take a lot of time, so indeed, even if they are legal in the US, you might still get a fine . You will probably win in court, but not a very good use of your time...
Temporary impots don't have to comply with any emission tests and other things... you won't have problems with that.
JK is a very good choice for Europe, not too big, you will do fine. Enjoy.
Lights on a US car are a non issue since you guys drive on the same side of the road like us, but if any small things need to be fixed, the shipping agents know all the rules and can help with that.
 
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sviva

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@leeloo Thanks for the reply. Yes you're right, I can use the car for 6 months, but unfortunately I can't stay with my US passport longer than 90 days in every 180 days, so that's where that comes from. Basically my car can stay longer than me theoretically
 

El-Dracho

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@leeloo Thanks for the reply. Yes you're right, I can use the car for 6 months, but unfortunately I can't stay with my US passport longer than 90 days in every 180 days, so that's where that comes from. Basically my car can stay longer than me theoretically
That is correct with regard to Schengen. Without a permanent residence permit, only short stays in the Schengen States are permitted. Short stays are defined as all stays up to 90 days per period of 180 days, taking into account the period of 180 days preceding each day of stay.

But you can check the conditions of each country you want to visit. For example in Germany, non-EU citizens, non-EEA nationals and non-Swiss nationals are generally required to have a visa for stays of more than three months or stays that lead to the taking up of employment. For Germany you can look up something like this on the pages of the Foreign Office:


And as far as I can see, in Germany as a US citizen you can apply for a residence permit even for stays longer than 90 days after visa-free entry.
 

El-Dracho

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Except for Ireland and the UK.
Malta has also left-hand traffic.

I can still remember that on the ferries from continental Europe to the British Island these stickers were sold for masking the headlights because of left-hand traffic. I haven't seen them for a long time. But you can still get them from the automobile clubs like the ADAC. So no big deal.