Shipping the vehicle

Tiger’s Travels: 

What to do when your vehicle won’t fit in checked luggage… 

As we travelers move around from one continent to another, we generally need to put our vehicle on a ship in order to send it along to where we can pick it up again and resume our travels.  For us, this has happened five times now and there will be more to come.  Over the years we have met many others who also have experience in shipping their vehicles and have included links to some of their shipping stories as well.

I have also had the opportunity to teach a course on vehicle shipping at Overland Expo West in both 2015 and 2016.  A link to the course outline I developed is also available at the top of this page.

Naturally, entrusting your vehicle and all it contains to others for transport, knowing that you won’t see it again for a month or more, is somewhat stressful and many fears will come immediately to mind as you imagine all the bad things that might occur.  Knock on wood, but so far we have had nothing go wrong; no theft, no damage, no loss whatsoever.  Actually, that is not quite true.  We have lots of stickers on our vehicle, places we’ve been, country flags, etc. and three times now we have noticed one or two stickers missing when we retrieved the vehicle.  While we might regret the loss of a Costa Rican butterfly or a patagonian penguin, we choose to look on it as a compliment rather than a loss.  We imagine the dockworkers or the men on the ship standing around looking at our decorations and are pleased that they could enjoy something we had liked as well.  

We’ve gone from being frightened newbies on our first experience in Panama, to seasoned pros with little concern by our most recent time, shipping from the US to Australia in 2017.  In talking to many other travelers over the years, we feel that our experience has been the norm, not the exception, as very few have experienced any trouble.  Certainly things can and do happen; there is no question but that there is some risk involved in this process, and care must be taken.  But, in order for us to travel in our own vehicle to the places we want to go, shipping must be a part of the deal; and so we ship.  

Before moving on to the links that will give details on each of our own shipping experiences, a brief discussion of shipping options and other considerations might be helpful.

Types of vehicle shipping:

  1. Traveling on the ship with your vehicle could be a really fun way to go, but for the most part it is not an option other than in those situations, such as between Europe and North Africa or Iceland, when regularly scheduled ferry service is available.  The only shipping company we know of that is set up for this type of service is Grimaldi (, and they offer it, to our knowledge, only between Europe and South America.  This is a very popular service for European travelers going to or from SA as it offers several advantages over other arrangements; not only are you never truly separated from your vehicle, but the vehicle is actually classed as your luggage and customs entry into the country which is your destination can be much simpler than if you must ship the vehicle separately.
  2. Containerized Shipping, wherein your vehicle is sealed in a metal container, can offer advantages in terms of protecting the vehicle from theft as you are typically on hand to both load the vehicle into the container at the shipping port and unload it at the destination port; thus avoiding any time when the vehicle might be left unguarded in the terminal area on either end.  Also, containerized shipping is available from and to virtually any port in the world.  In some circumstances your vehicle can share a container with either another vehicle or other items, thereby lowering your costs.  The big limiting factor in being able to use a container is that your vehicle must be very small in order to fit, with height being the most difficult restriction to accommodate.  For example, our Tiger would fit in a container in regard to both length and width, but not height.  In terms of overland vehicles, generally only a van conversion with a low standard (factory) roof, an SUV or similar vehicle pulling a pop up type of camping trailer, or a purpose built vehicle with a pop top will fit.  You can read up on containers and their measurements here (

  3. Roll On Roll Off shipping, commonly know as Ro/Ro, is what we use and it has worked well for us.  With this type, your vehicle is driven on and off the ship just as though it were going on a ferry.  These ships are car carriers, which deliver new cars and other wheeled vehicles all over the world.  Ro/Ro shipping is not quite as widely available as container shipping, but still has plenty of port options from which to choose.  Before we started out, we wished that we could ship in a container in order to minimize risk, but now, having shipped five times via Ro/Ro ships, we feel very comfortable with this method.  This is primarily because, while container ships are cargo ships and ship from cargo terminals, Ro/Ro ships come and go from vehicle terminals that are accustomed to seeing, and providing security for, new cars, trucks, farm equipment and other vehicles worth far more than our little camping vehicle.  In Southampton, England in 2015 we watched with interest as eight or ten McLaren sports cars were driven from the storage lot to be loaded on a ship.  These cars have a base price of $265,500 in the US.  We have been very impressed with the level of security we have experienced in each of the Ro/Ro ports we have used.

  4. Lift On Lift Off shipping is the method of last resort, as it entails all the risk of theft occurring at a relatively insecure port along with the risk of damage during the time your vehicle is being lifted onto the vessel and again lifted off at the other end, not to mention that the vehicle remains exposed to the elements while at sea.  Fortunately, the one time we had to ship this way, in Panama, all went well, but I would certainly rather not do it again.  That said, if no Ro/Ro vessels are available at the port you are shipping from and your vehicle will not fit in a container, then this may be your only option.

  Other Considerations Regarding Shipping:

  1. Insurance: Good luck with this.  Our vehicle has traveled uninsured each time we have shipped.  In each case, some coverage has been offered at a cost that was typically about 1-1.5% of the value of the vehicle.  While we would consider paying this premium for a true full coverage policy, the policies offered to us excluded basically everything but the sinking of the ship.  While I’m being slightly facetious, it isn’t much better than that.  Specifically not covered is any loss from vandalism or theft, which is naturally our greatest concern.

  2. Shipping Agent: When shipping from Argentina back to the US in 2009 we either got lucky or the good folks at K-Line took pity on us.  For some reason we were able to make these arrangements without going through a shipping agent, but through K-Line directly.  When we contacted K-Line to make arrangements for shipping to Europe however, they made it clear that we needed to use an agent.  Others may have found ways around this, or perhaps they just got lucky as we did the one time.  You will probably have to use an agent, also referred to as a freight forwarder.  We have given links to several such agents below; if you do an internet search you will find many others.  We feel quite strongly about only using someone in this crucial role who has been recommended to us by other travelers.  2015 Update: Our experience in shipping back to the US this year has convinced us that things have become more complicated since our 2010 trip and we will no longer ask if we can handle things ourselves.  2017 Update: Our experience this year was made immeasurably better on both ends by virtue of the good work done for us by our two agents in Los Angeles and Melbourne.  I cannot imagine trying to work our way through the various situations that developed on our own.

  3. Shipping Lines: Wallenius-Willemsen ( and K-Line ( are the two largest vehicle shippers though there are many others, such as Hoegh (  You can easily get an idea of routes, ports and schedules by visiting their websites.  Please note that this information changes constantly, so you really cannot plan too far ahead.  Different ports come and go on the schedule depending on demand and shipping dates are only posted two or three months ahead of time.  We have found that there is no need to lock in a shipping date very far in advance and indeed any rate quote you are given is probably only valid for 30 days in any event.  We have had two excellent experiences using K-Line and know others who’ve had the same using W-W.  Our experience with Hoegh was less stellar but still satisfactory.  We have also learned to our dismay that shipping schedules are tenuous at best.  Both of our most recent shipping experiences, in 2015 and 2017, involved long delays in either departure or arrival dates. 

  4. Rates & Costs:  There are many factors I’m sure; supply and demand and the ups and downs of the cost of fuel are primary examples.  Aside from the issue of how competition may affect the rates being offered for a given voyage, shipping cost is generally based on the cubic volume of your vehicle.  In most cases, the weight doesn’t seem to matter, just the amount of space it takes up, but on occasions it seems that weight is used as the primary factor; we include both dimensions and weight when requesting a quotation.  You will also have port charges on each end, but the bulk of the charge will be based on size. When you request a quote, you need to know the exact length, width and height of your vehicle.  The rates are quoted in Cubic Meters, so either you or the shipping agent needs to convert the measurements into the metric system; I do it myself so that I can be sure that different agents are using the same numbers.  Each of our first four shipping experiences cost between $2,000 and $2,500 (USD) for our vehicle, which measures 6.2 meters long (243”, just over 20’), by 2.2 meters wide (87”), by 3 meters high (117”) for a volume of just less than 41 cubic meters.  Be aware that the shipper has the right to confirm the measurements you provide, so in order to minimize your costs be sure to fold in or remove your mirrors, lower or remove any antennas and the same for anything else attached to the exterior of the vehicle when dropping it off at the port.  2017 Update:  As expected, shipping to Australia proved to be much more expensive than between the US and either Europe or South America.  Shipping and Port Charges for that voyage were about $6,500(USD); see our 2017 Report for a breakdown of these charges.

  5. What to leave in the vehicle: This is impossible to state definitively!  Once again you must rely on the experiences of other travelers to be your guide.  The official printed sheets you receive from your shipping agent will almost always state that the vehicle can contain no personal items, but we’ve only heard of one couple who actually emptied their coach and shipped everything separately at great expense.  When they were reloading at the port on the other end all the port workers asked them why they did that.  At the port no one has ever asked us about what was in the truck.  Clearly, we don’t ship anything of great value in the coach, we carry our computers and cameras with us; but clothing, food, linens, pots and pans and everything else stays in the RV.  It is much better if you can close off the living area of the coach from the driver’s compartment as you must leave the key with the vehicle so that it can be driven, but you don’t want to give them access to the entire coach if at all possible.  We carry a piece of plywood under our mattress cut to fit for the purpose.  We can install this sturdy partition in just a few minutes when needed.  2017 Update:  This issue is also becoming more of a problem in the modern, terrorist concerned world of international shipping.  We had to put our foot down pretty hard and our shipping agent had to go further up the ladder in order to get acceptance of our insistence of shipping anything inside the vehicle.

  6. Choice of Port: THIS CAN MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE ON BOTH ENDS!  Do not just pick the ports that seem most convenient, but ask your shipper, research other travelers’ experiences and do everything possible to avoid ports where other folks have experienced difficulties.  There can be enormous differences in cost, convenience and security between ports.  We have shipped both in and out of Jacksonville, Florida with excellent experiences all three times.  Just up the coast at Charleston, SC, we know folks who, back in 2009, had to have their propane tank emptied and obtain certification that it was empty before they could leave it for shipping, which we did not have to do in 2010.  2017 Update:  We have had to have our LPG tank emptied and certified on both of our most recent shipping experiences.  It seems to have become a standard issue now.  

    On both the US and the European end, to say nothing of other parts of the world, there are security differences between ports, with theft being common at some and unheard of at others.  Some countries, Germany being one, will require a bond to be posted before allowing a vehicle to be shipped into the country.  If you are shipping to Europe, do not ship into Germany because they will require you to post a bond equal to 29% of the value of the vehicle, in cash, before they will release the vehicle.  This bond will only be returned to you when you leave the EU within six months of arrival of the vehicle.  For whatever reason, both of the people we know who have run into this bond issue did not learn of it until their vehicle was already at sea.  The most  recent of these two experiences occurred in 2017, so this information is current.   Needless to say, any one of these variables can ruin your day, so do as much research as you need to in order to feel comfortable with your choice of ports.  In Europe we shipped into Zeebrugge, Belgium in 2010 and out of Southampton, England in 2015.  Both port experiences were good.

    Here are replies received in 2017 by another traveler to the specific question of the vehicle bond when shipping to Europe.
    Our thanks to Larry Topliss for providing them and allowing us to share them.  I stress that this information is for vehicles being shipped into the countries represented, not those driven in from adjoining countries.  Also, do not be concerned over the mention of the six month maximum time allowed.  We shipped our vehicle into Belgium in 2010 and it remained in and around the EU for nearly six years.  We know many other travelers who have had the same experience.


"Your vehicle can indeed be temporary admitted for free circulation within the EU for at max. 6 months provided you can present a valid drivers license and an international Insurance of the vehicle.  No bond is required.

Best regards, W. Declercq

FOD Financiën | Algemene Administratie der Douane en Accijnzen

Clientmanagement & Communication 


Ellermanstraat 21, 2060 Antwerpen 

Tel: +32 257 75870


"Vehicles registered in a non-EU country and driven by a person resident in a non-EU country may indeed be imported in temporary admission free of duty and tax. Nevertheless the temporary admission is liable to a deposit (equivalent to the potential duty (10%) and tax (19%) on the current value plus transport costs), when the customs office asks for a written declaration. A written declaration is required when a vehicle enters without being driven on its own wheels (in case of Bremerhaven they come by ship). The deposit is returned when re-export is made and proven. Re-export means leaving the European Union (e.g. back to the USA. to Switzerland or to Norway) by declaring the export electronically or in written (possible in Germany for re-exports by a private individual with form 033025, other EU member statse may not have this exemption).

A deposit can be paid cash or - if the amount does not exceed 2000 euros per day, credit card AND person -by debit card or credit card (usually VISA or Mastercard only).

As far as this answer contains legal statements this information can  - for legal reasons - only be given to the best of our knowledge and is non-binding.

Yours sincerely, Schaarschuch


Zentrale Auskunft

(Central Information Unit of the German customs administration)

Postfach 10 07 61

01077 Dresden

Enquiries in English:

Tel.: +49 351/44834-530



Details, Details, Details:

Here are links to each of our shipping experiences.  You will find links to agents and other sources there.  As always we welcome your questions and will do everything we can to share information with you; just send us an email.      

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018