How to Ship a Car (with specifics for South America)

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Originally published in 2013 / Updated in 2017

Over the past 15 years we shipped our Land Cruiser a couple of times:

To ship a car is one of the most troublesome parts of overlanding – I think most overlanders will agree on this. But, since there is more water than land on this planet and you do want to see more than one continent, well, what can you do?

You ship your car. But how?

Here are some basic issues with regard to shipping. Note that our personal experience is limited to container shipment. Info on RoRo shipping is what I gathered from other travelers.

How to Ship a Car

You can divide overseas shipment into two main categories

  • Container shipment. With a container shipment your vehicle is transported in a locked and sealed, metal container, which minimizes the chances of it being damaged or broken into.
  • RoRo shipping, or Roll on Roll off, which means your vehicle is transported on a cargo boat.

Sizes & Types of Containers

20ft vs 40 ft containers:

  • Most containers measure 20ft or 40ft.
  • Both are suited to ship regular cars.
  • The height and width of a 20ft and 40ft container are the same.
  • A regular car fits into a 20ft container but you will probably save money by sharing a 40ft container.

If the vehicle is too big for either a 20ft or 40ft container, there are several alternatives:

  • A hi-cube container has the size of a 40ft container but a higher roof. The advantage is that the container is sealed and thus secure; the disadvantage is the high costs.
  • An open-top container has the same measurements as a 20ft container but has no roof. There is reasonable protection against damage, but the top is open and the vehicle is vulnerable to burglary.
  • A flat track is suited for a vehicle that is wider than a 20ft container as it is open on all sides. Disadvantages are the high price, vulnerability to damage and burglary, and corrosion from salt water.

How Does RoRo Shipping Work?

You, or an employee, drives the vehicle onto a ferry-styled cargo boat and will be secured by a number of straps and braces. Depending on the situation and the RoRo shipping company, you drive your own vehicle onto the ship or hands over your keys to the shipping liner.

When both RoRo vessels and container liners ply the same route, RoRo shipping is often the cheapest way to ship a car. It has less bureaucratic hassle than a container shipment as in most cases a RoRo shipping rate includes all paperwork, whereas in the case of a container shipment the owner has to clear his vehicle at the port of destination.

RoRo Shipping From Europe to South America: Grimaldi

Most Europeans with large-sized cars like motor homes or heavy-duty trucks use Grimaldi, an Italian RoRo shipping agency. Grimaldi offers two possibilities:

  • You drive your car onto the ship and fly to your destination where you’ll pick up your vehicle. The advantage is not having to sit on a ship for four weeks. The disadvantage is that Grimaldi will probably stop at several ports along the way for loading and unloading, where experience has taught overlanders to stay near their vehicle to avoid burglary and damage. Not being present leaves your car vulnerable in these ports.
  • You drive the car onto the ship and accompany it during the four-week shipment South America. You will pay an all-inclusive price for the vehicle (which depends on size/weight) and an all-inclusive price for board and lodging.

To Ship a Car across the Panama Canal or Darién Gap

On the Central American side, the most common ports to ship a car from are Panama and Costa Rica. On the South American side, overlanders mostly choose between Colombia or Ecuador. This choice is a result of personal preference, political stability – or instability – in these countries, and the availability of shipping liners.

Best check with other overlanders to exchange the latest information, or check out threads on the subject on the forums of Horizons Unlimited or Expedition Portal.

How was your shipping experience? Feel free share in the comment section below!

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18 thoughts on “How to Ship a Car (with specifics for South America)

  1. Hi there! I would like to know if you had the experience of shipping a normal car from Europe to South America. If yes, which are the best countries in both sides to do the connection? And how much in average it will cost? Or compensates more to buy a car while in South America, for example? Thanks a lot! Enjoy your trips around the world!

  2. Hi there! I would like to know if you had the experience of shipping a normal car from California to South America and how much in average it will cost?. Thanks a lot!

  3. Hi , I would like to know if you had the experience of shipping
    a motor boat of 42 feet 18.000 lis.,from Montreal Canada to Santos Brasil and if it’s possible
    how much in average it will cost..
    Thank you!!
    Marc Sanz

    • Hi Marc, as written in the article we have shipped our trusty Land Cruiser in a 20ft container. We have no experience in shipping a 42ft motor boat. But I am certain you can. You can ship almost anything. Contact your nearest CMA-CGM or Maersk agent and ask them to help you handle it. But beware of shipping things into Brazil as we are told mostly by Brazilians about the difficulties with the customs in getting around the red tape. Good luck and keep us posted on your motor boat.

  4. Hallo.
    Mijn vriend en ik beginnen dit voorjaar aan ons nomaden leven in een omgebouwde vrachtwagen. Wij willen tzt overvaren van Europa naar Zuid Amerika. Weten jullie of je op zo”n boot je hond mee kan nemen ?
    Alvast bedankt!
    Annemieke

    http://www.trucknomads.com

  5. Hi, I am looking at shipping a van or similar from the UK to South America (preferably Chile or Argentina) and then driving all the way to Alaska. I know there are certain rules about imported cars in different countries, but not sure what paperwork / licences I would need to take a UK imported ship from South America to Alaska, do you have any advice on this please?

    • Hello Danielle, great that you are going to explore South America! You will have a blast. You are not looking into importing a car, but you are basically Temporary Importing a car. I think most borders you cross will be straightforward as you are likely not to be the first person with a foreign car to pass. Just bring your original title and registration of the car and you’ll be set. For more information per country have a look at this excellent page: http://wikioverland.org

  6. Hi there, i would like to ship the car the other way around, from Peru to Europe. I live in the Netherlands. Would you have any recommendations for the shipping and know a company which can offer this service?

  7. Hi there…
    I intent to move to Santiago Chile South America and I want to take my Audi with some furniture…..how much will be aprox….if you can tell me please.
    Regards

    Ricardo Mauricio

    • Hi Ricardo, if you’re going to live there, you’ll have to import your vehicle. That’s a whole different ball game that taking a vehicle across the ocean for travel and get a Temporary Import Document. I can’t help you with this, sorry. Check out the major shipping lines on Internet (Maersk, CMA CGM, etc), and ask them for a quote. Best of luck and enjoy Chile!.

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