I want to travel to the USA by cargo ship from either Portugal or Spain.

  1. Is it possible?
  2. How much does it cost?
  3. Is it possible that I can also have any job on the cargo ship while travelling to the USA, so that my travelling expenses can be reduced or waived?

By the end of next month I hope to get my seaman book. However, I never had any experience of seagoing. I am a Pakistani national.

  • 1
    Do you have a seamans book and do you have experience as crew on any kind of sea going vessel? I do not think your nationality makes a difference but it does not hurt to add it.
    – Willeke
    Oct 28, 2016 at 16:24
  • By the end of next month i hope to get my seaman book. However, i never had any experience of seagoing. I am Pakistani nationality holder. thanks
    – Adi
    Oct 28, 2016 at 16:29
  • 1
    Your seamans book is what makes it possible but it is likely still hard to find a company that will take you. There are other questions on the site, I think your seamans book does make this enough different not to close it as duplicate.
    – Willeke
    Oct 28, 2016 at 16:33
  • 1
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2 Answers 2


Travelling as a passenger on a freighter from Europe, including Spain, to the US is easy to arrange. Price is about €100 per day and crossing the Atlantic ocean should take a couple of weeks so you should expect to pay €1200-1500 (how much exactly would depend on the exact route, insurance and port fees, etc.) You can find many details on this site, e.g. Where can I get information on freighter travel?

I know little about actually working on a large cargo ship but as far as I know, it would typically go through a local recruitment agency in places like the Philippines that would fly you wherever you are needed. You would then stay on the ship for 3 months or so and you would not even always have time to go on shore when calling at a port. You would of course need some qualifications and appropriate documentation to be hired.

You cannot choose a route or embark for a single leg, that's too much of a hassle for the shipping line, even if you assume you would be able to do useful work and save them a little bit of money on wages. Consider this: If your work is really needed to keep the ship moving, you would need to be replaced wherever it is that you are planning to disembark. And container ships stay a few hours, perhaps a day or two in the largest harbours at most, maybe up to a week for bulkers and tankers. How could a ship be waiting for volunteers to show up? Better fly in a cheap worker with a predictable schedule to make sure you are not wasting time.

And if your work isn't absolutely needed, why would you be offered a place on the ship at all? You could hurt yourself and end up costing a lot. Paying passengers actually pay insurance against loss of profits due to the need to deroute a ship in case of emergency.

The thing is that there isn't really anything in-between: Showing up in a port and hoping to find a ship going somewhere you want to go and letting you work to pay for your passage doesn't happen anymore, at least not with commercial freighters. You might have more luck with small sailing boats but here again some experience would typically be needed.


I fear your chance on a job on such a boat are small, certainly if you want to stay in passenger space.

I found one line which shows prices for the leg of Spain to the USA, prices start at 1,321 € for the Algeciras - New York leg.

Most of the companies will have a full set of crew and will not want to take on a new man, basically a trainy, for a single leg.
But if you search all companies that cover the area you want to travel and contact each boat owner and their captains, you might find one that is short a man and might be willing to try you.
But you will be in crew area, the least berth they have most likely, getting the most dirty jobs they dare to trust a new guy on.
And the only thing that makes it possible at all is your seamans book, which makes it possible to get you in their insurance.

Unless you are legal in Spain or Portugal and hold the right visa for the USA it is a non-starter.

I talked today with someone who has been a sailor out of the Netherlands and is still in contact with captains of several different kinds of ship.
He said: "Forget it."
No single captain would take you on for a single trip between Europe and the USA. You would need several years of experience in whatever job you are hoping for and will then only be hired on if holding the right paperwork for the USA.


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