Over the past 15 years we shipped our overland vehicle a couple of times in a 20-foot container:
- From Bangladesh to Singapore (read here)
- From Malaysia to Argentina (read here)
- From Suriname to South Korea (read here & here)
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 vehicle shipping. Note that our personal experience is limited to container shipment. Info on RoRo shipping is what I gathered from other overlanders.
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 high-cube container: the size of 20, 40 or 45ft 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: the size of 20, 40 or 45ft but 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/40ft 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 as well as the availability of shipping liners.
Sources of Information:
- Forum of Horizons Unlimited
- Forum of Expedition Portal
- Facebook group: PanAmerican Travelers Association
- Facebook group: Vehicle shipping motorhomes &4x4s
Tips, Suggestions, Feedback
How did you ship your overland vehicle? Please share in the comment section below!
Originally published in 2013 / Updated in 2017
We Have a Favor to Ask
Do you enjoy our content?
Please consider supporting our work. Here are free and paid options, all of which help to keep this website going.