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The plan is to drive my car (a small 4x4) from Prudhoe Bay1 (Deadhorse), Alaska to Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego in Chile. I will be travelling for an undetermined duration, with a minimum of two years. (I know it can be done a lot faster, but it's about the journey, the destination is just an excuse).

We will leave in the first week of January, 2013. For various reasons, I've decided to bring my own car. So, I'll need to ship it from Europe to Canada.


My questions are:

  • Has anybody shipped a car between Europe and Canada or the U.S.?
  • What kind of cost am I looking at?
  • Any gotchas I need to know about?


Quick Update
I'll be shipping from wherever is the cheapest option in Europe (mainland) and shipping to the cheapest option in Canada or the U.S.


Extra Information
Many people suggested buying a car in either Canada or Alaska. But that does not answer the question I was asking : ) The car has some very nice base characteristics (very small, very good off-road ability, cheap) and in addition has special modifications for long range independent travel (such as, but not limited to, extended fuel- and water tanks) and in addition, I know this car's history so I can make an informed estimate about it's reliability. So, I've decided to bring this car. The question is now, what's the best/cheapest option to ship it.

I will likely not re-register the car in the U.S. nor Canada. I've heard from several travellers that it increases hassle if your car is registered in a different country than you live in, so, for now, the plan is to keep the car registered in my home country.

1) I Actually wanted to go to Barrow, but it turn out the 200 miles between there and Deadhorse are an expedition in itself.

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Which country in Europe? If you ship from a port, it will be cheaper than from somewhere landlocked, where the shipping company will have to use a truck and then put it on a boat. Also, the closer the port is to Alaska, the less expensive it's likely to be. –  Eri Jul 9 '11 at 14:33
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You do know that the road ends in Panama at the Darien Gap right? –  user27478 Jul 9 '11 at 19:51
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I used to travel to the US a lot 20 years ago and always bought cheap cars in California with no problems at all. It was much easier and cheaper than the same thing at home in Australia. Unless there is a special reason to take your current vehicle, such as it being specially customized for such a trip or taking this specific car the point of the trip, I would highly recommend buying a vehicle in the southern US and make sure all your paperwork is 100% in order for the border crossings. Mexico has tough rules for bringing cars in from the US for instance. –  hippietrail Jul 18 '11 at 7:07
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Are you planning to re-register your car on arrival in the US, or do you intend to keep your European registration? If the latter, the situation may be a lot easier. If the former, not only will you likely have to pay duty, but the state in which you register the car may require you to pay an additional tax (usually around 5% or 6%) on the current value of the car. –  ESultanik Jul 18 '11 at 13:31
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@hippietrail, the car has some very nice base characteristics (very small, very good off-road ability, cheap) and in addition has special modifications for long range independent travel (such as, but not limited to, extended fuel- and water tanks) –  Jacco Jul 31 '11 at 9:57

3 Answers 3

Unless the car is over 25 years old, it's very difficult to import a car into the US. Check out this article for some details:

Importing Rare Cars into the US

If it's newer, it has to meet Department of Transportation and EPA guidelines. California used to charge a $300 "smog" fee for a car brought in from another state, unless it had a special "California" sticker. You will also have register and get insurance for the car. You may be better off buying a car in the US and then selling it when you leave--like the Top Gear guys did in this episode:

Top Gear USA Road Trip

Here's the official word from Customs and Border Patrol:

Importing a Motor Vehicle

Ah-ha, there is this exception:

Nonresidents may import a vehicle duty-free for personal use up to (1) one year if the vehicle is imported in conjunction with the owner’s arrival. Vehicles imported under this provision that do not conform to U.S. safety and emission standards must be exported within one year and may not be sold in the U.S. There is no exemption or extension of the export requirements.

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I actually tried to go form Canada to Panama earliert this year, with a friend in a campervan :)

Agree with mkennedy - importing a car is way more expensive and quite a hassle. It would be much easier to buy a car in the states. One word of advice: do not buy a used car in any of the "wet or cold" states like Alaska, Canada, Oregon or any other northern states in the US. From my experience the heavy snow, salt and stone chips on the roads in canada cause heavy corrosion, that means some cars are already junk after less than 10 years. If you can, purchase your motorvehicle somewhere in arizona, new mexico or nevada.

When i tried to cross mexico we got some issues because we didnt not have all the required papers (insurance, proof of ownership; something with an "official canadian stamp" on it) for the boat on the trailer - so we got stuck there until the papers had been organized back in canada and emailed to us, which took quite a while.

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With regard to "wet or cold" states, I do agree with that advice as long as you don't intend to use the car in a cold area. A friend of mine bought a car that had previously only been driven in Florida (a hot state). The car appeared to drive perfectly in Florida. He moved it up to Pennsylvania (a cold state) and he had all sorts of problems during the Winter (presumably due to defects that only arose when the temperature dropped below freezing). –  ESultanik Jul 18 '11 at 13:36
up vote 5 down vote accepted

So, to answer my own questions

Has anybody shipped a car between Europe and Canada or the U.S.?
It seems to be quite common to ship cars between Europe and the either the U.S. or Canada.

There basically are three options for shipping a privately owned car:

  • Let an international moving company ship the car (and whatever else you want moved) for you. International moving companies tend to do it all for you. You just let them know what needs moving from where to where and they will sort out all the details for you.
    The downside of this is, of course, the cost of the whole opperation.
  • Shipping your car with a RORO-ship. There are several shipping companies that offer RORO services. Most companies also offer transportation to and from the harbor, if required.
    This option is quite convenient and cheaper than the international movers. But.. you cannot ship any additional gear, just the car, as you are not allowed to put bags or boxes into the car.
  • Shipping by Less-Container*. With this option, your car is stuffed in a freight container, together with other freight. The good thing about this option is that you can ship extra gear inside your car. The downside is that it may take longer to ship your vehicle (the container will only be shipped with a full load) but prices are more or less equal to the RORO option.

What kind of cost am I looking at?
I did not look into the price of having the car shipped by an international mover, as they where clearly the more expensive option. Shipping your car by RORO and Less-Container is calculated by either length of your vehicle or, in some cases, weight of the vehicle. To give you an indication, I was quoted prices between € 1,000 and € 1,200 for my 3.75 m long car.

Any gotchas I need to know about?
The paperwork when you get there. It should pose no extraordinary problem getting the vehicle admitted to the country for up to one year, as long as you only intend to use it yourself and plan on taking the vehicle out of the country when you leave.
However, the mandatory liability insurance is currently causing me headaches :(

*) Less-Container the common abbrivation for a 'Less than a Container' Load

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