Shipping Ports in South America

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Overland travel in South America is perfectly feasible with a private vehicle. But one important thing you have to do, unless you already live in South America, is to arrange for a container shipment or a RoRo shipping (Roll on, Roll off). Either to cross an ocean or to cross the Darien Gap (between Panama and Colombia). One of the major questions with regard to this subject is which shipping port to ship to, because there are ports that have relatively easy procedures while others are a nightmare.

It is important to remember that personal experiences differ quite a bit in this respect. Sometimes this has to do with the travelers, sometimes with their paperwork, sometimes with the customs officer or other Señores Importantes, sometimes simply because procedures have changed over time.

The information below is based on our experience of shipping to Buenos Aires (from Malaysia) in 2007 and from what I have gathered from other overlanders. Of course, feel free to add your own experiences in the comment section below.

1. Go: Shipping ports in Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Ecuador

At the time of writing most overlanders seem to agree that Buenos Aires in Argentina and Montevideo in Uruguay are the preferred ports to ship your vehicle to. Coming from Central America, Ecuador is considered a safe bet.

In these ports, customs clearance generally takes place according to some sort of procedure, as far as procedures exist on this continent, and when you are well prepared in terms of documents, customs clearances are in most cases handled relatively smoothly and without having to pay facilitation fees.

2. Don’t Go: Shipping ports in Brazil

Overlanders appear to be unanimous in their opinion of one country: shipping your car or motorhome to Brazil is asking for trouble – a statement confirmed by Brazilians as well. Brazilian ports are notorious for fleecing travelers and from the few stories we know from those who tried: customs clearance in Brazil is a lengthy and/or costly procedure – we’re talking weeks and thousands of dollars here.

3. Maybe Go: Shipping ports in Chile and Peru

Valparaiso (Chile) and Lima (Peru) on South America’s west coast are lesser-used ports by overlanders. Not surprisingly, shipment from Europe to these ports is often more expensive than to South America’s east coast. Having said that, from the U.S. it may be an interesting option when shipping your vehicle from the west coast of the U.S. or Canada. Experiences in customs clearance in both ports seem to show a fifty-fifty percent chance from very easy to complicated and expensive.

The Panama Canal

The hurdle between South and Central America is the Panama Canal, or the Darién Gap. Options on how to organize a container shipment or RoRo shipping vary per year and sometimes per month, which is mainly due to political and economic stability, or instability, in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Since the situations of shipping ports around the Darién Gap change so regularly, check with local authorities, the overlanders’ circuit, or forums on Horizons Unlimited and Expedition Portal to learn about the latest experiences, possibilities and prices.

This information may be outdated. We’d love to hear your experiences with shipping ports in South America. Which ones did you use, and how did it go?

For more on Shipping, check out these articles:

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

5 thoughts on “Shipping Ports in South America”

  1. Thanks for another wonderful article. The place else could
    anybody get that type of info in such a perfect method of writing?
    I have a presentation next week, and I’m at the search for such information.

  2. Hi we are thinking about shipping a camper van VW T3 from Europe to Central America in Nov/Dec 2018 for a 6 months trip from the south of central America (ie Panama or Costa Rica) up north to the USA. We wondered if you could recommend which ports in Central America we can ship a vehicle to and if any country in particular is more hassle free or cheaper than others? Many thanks

    • Hi Sam, we haven’t been to Central America so we don’t know. Check out Facebook groups such as Panamerican Travelers Association or Overlandphere. You’ll find loads of people who have shipped between Central and South America. Hope that helps. Enjoy your trip!

  3. Hey, great article! Any tips or recommendations for shipping cars within South America. We would like to ship our car back to Colombia from either Buenos Aires or Montevideo. Thanks!

    • Heya Russel, no idea. What I would do is visit the large shipping companies like CMA-CGM and Maersk and see if they have routes and are willing to help you out.

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