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.

  • 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
    Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 14:33
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    You do know that the road ends in Panama at the Darien Gap right?
    – user27478
    Commented Jul 9, 2011 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. Commented Jul 18, 2011 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
    Commented Jul 18, 2011 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
    Commented Jul 31, 2011 at 9:57

5 Answers 5


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

  • He Jacco - some good basic info on driving your car on to a RORO. But ....... you want to move your car to deadhorse? to alaska generally? I'd be interested to hear if you found that possible. I imagine not.
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 13:10
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    Doing a quick comparison of ro-ro.internationalshippingusa.com vs cars.internationalshippingusa.com, it's about 2x as expensive to ship via a full, 20' container vs RORO. The estimate was ~$1800 vs ~$900. I'm guessing in both cases there are numerous small charges that are tacked on to those fees, but for someone who has a specially outrigged vehicle for long-term traveling and has no intention of trying to register a vehicle at their destination, that is a very attractive option.
    – James
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 14:00

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.

  • this just seems kind of weird. it's no big deal "transplanting" a car europe->usa. there's just some paperwork and a few fees. (what's new?) Sure, in the example at hand, it's a "ridiculous idea", the OP should just buy a junker in Deadhorse.
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 13:09
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    This entire answer assumes the OP will be living in the US, which I don't think his question implies at all. He'll be traveling throughout the Americas, likely spending no more than a few months in any given country, so none of these things apply. Why are people upvoting this?
    – James
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 7:47

I actually tried to go form Canada to Panama earlier this year, with a friend in a campervan.

I 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 motor vehicle somewhere in Arizona, New Mexico or Nevada.

When I tried to cross Mexico we got some issues because we didn't 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.

  • 5
    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
    Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 13:36

Taking your car from America to Europe or vice versa is not really a problem. Temporary importation is based on the UN's 1968 Convention on Road Traffic, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Convention_on_Road_Traffic . Even if the US and Canada haven't signed it (let alone ratified), they seem to play by its rules, which means that drivers from these countries can expect to be treated likewise in Europe.

Another interesting issue in this relation is the carnet de passage, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnet_de_Passages , especially the global map there. Although this formality seems on its way out, it is still surprising to see in what embarassing state of self-caused isolation Australia and New Zealand are...

Back to the Americas. There seems to be some movement around the Darien Gap, like colombian suggestions to finally close it, or the establishment of a ferry service between Panama and Colombia. Best is to drive to Panama City and then find out locally if the ferry runs and at what times? If it doesn't, take the weekly freighter, or a daily cargo plane to Bogota.

My experience is not quite recent so no rates given. But it should be affordable.


The "gotchas" are mainly centered around import costs. The price of shipping won't be cheap, but will be determined by a couple different factors: distance, type of vehicle, time of year, company, etc. The other main thing to look out for are import taxes. They can vary quite a bit between countries and significantly affect the overall cost.

I've worked with A1 Auto in the past between Canada & the US and they had a good handle on the international laws and taxes. They operate worldwide so they might be a good place to start. I would definitely advise getting in touch with a few companies to find out an "average" price and to see how well-versed they are at shipping between countries.

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