So you want to ship your car to Europe?!

Prepared by Mark Thompson (copyright) - NY NJ BMWCCA


This is based on my personal experiences- yours may differ. Rules and regulations change and your individual experience with shipper(s) Governments and Customs may be different- including damage and /or vehicle loss, fees, taxes, etc. This is a review of my personal experience, and I and /or the organizers- owners of any website(s) you may be reading this on am/are not responsible for any issues and or costs you may incur from shipping your vehicle.


For the past few years I have shipped my personal vehicle to Europe for holiday touring purposes. I did this after consideration of the costs and amount of personal enjoyment I would experience driving my own vehicle while on holiday.

It is important that you consider initial costs, unexpected costs and possible delays and your individual financial and holiday timing situations carefully during this decision process. Obtain several quotes from shipping companies, insurers vs. renting a put put car or luxury sports vehicle in Europe from a number of car hire agencies ( i.e. Sixt, Avis, Europcar, etc) consider if your car is in good shape and will be reliable while traveling in Europe; repairs, parts, oil etc are VERY expensive in Europe. Please note that driving a rental vehicle at a track or off normal roads may be prohibited- read your rental agreement!

Renting a specialized vehicle for “off road use” can be found, but can be expensive. You need to get quotes and do your math.

I’m certainly not discouraging you! Do your homework and any maintenance now or it may cost you!

Auto Tourist Visa

When shipping your personal car to Europe your car will be on an auto tourist visa in the European Union. In order to use a tourist visa in the European Union you must:

Own the vehicle outright with a clear title and clear documentation of ownership as a personal vehicle


If there are liens on the car (i.e. bank loan) you must have clear documentation from the holder of the lien that is listed on the title that they will allow you to temporarily export and import the vehicle for personal holiday use. You can do this by calling your lien holder (bank, credit union, etc) well in advance of your planned trip and ask them for a letter of clearance. (Of course there is the usual series of phone calls, transfers and questions when you call your bank- but be persistent) This letter should include the dates of your trip, as well as the time your car will be on a boat to and from Europe. So make sure the letter has a BROAD date range (i.e. months!) around your holiday dates. Also ask them to NOTARIZE this letter and send three copies.

If you own the car, but a lien holder is still on the original title—Get a Letter, or consider getting a new title from your DMV without the lien.This saves against any delays or hassles .

If your car is a personal vehicle- you generally do NOT need to have a Carnet (a type of export visa)- please make sure how this applies to you, your citizenship and type of vehicle.

If your car is a commercial vehicle, or a vehicle you intend to use for commercial purposes (i.e. demos, exhibitions, fee for services etc) you most likely need a carnet. You should consult an import/export professional for this type of use- I can’t help you.

The vehicle must be registered in your state of residence. The registration must be current. Renew the registration before you ship if it is due to expire. Remember the time frame, from two to three months total time.


In order to use an automobile Tourist Visa you MUST have European auto insurance for the term of you holiday travel. When you obtain the insurance, you get an auto “GREEN CARD” that is proof of insurance and some documentation usually needs to go with the car when shipped. Also the “green card” must be in the vehicle in case you get pulled over in Europe and the polizia want proof of insurance. Obtaining insurance has become increasingly difficult/costly recently due to the global economic crisis.

You must have this insurance set up, and have the green card before you ship the car. Some insurers also will include coverage for the shipping duration (USAA) – e.g. if the boat sinks or someone smashes your car on the dock, etc. Please ask the insurer and get clear documentation. This also saves in costs- shippers will ask you if you want shipping insurance which usually costs anywhere from 0.5% to 1.5% of vehicle value each way.

European tourist policies also can be liability only, or full comprehensive. The choice is yours and you should consider the costs vs. how you’d feel if you had liability only and grandma hits your M3 on the autobahn-ouch?! Or is your car not too expensive and you don’t care?

Make sure the policies cover where your traveling- usually covers all EU countries and is listed on the policy-- Eastern Europe can be an issue – so please check- are you really driving to Moldova?

When looking for insurance you may consider:

Call your current insurance company to see what they can offer or recommend.

Specialty insurers like Hagerty and others- if you insure with them, they can get you a European temp policy

Geico offers European insurance. You must fill out a claim history and they review it prior to any approval. Please note that Geico exists in many European countries and each subsidiary does their own screening( google it). So you may be accepted by one, but not the other subsidiary. This usually requires multiple email contacts to various individuals in several EU countries- so start early!

USAA is an insurance company that insures military veterans and there families. Note that if your parents/spouse is current or ex military, you may qualify by having them purchase auto , life or even a small personal property policy ( i.e. a small insurance policy for the vets personal jewelery 50 - 90 bucks depending on how much coverage you want). Lately USAA has been doing a lot of advertising and in some areas may insure the non-military – please see their website and give them a call.

AIG/ AIU used to issue temporary European policies, but closed that section after the financial crisis and bail out—you may want to call/ email them to see if the unit has reopened.

ADAC- the German auto club equivalent of AAA in the USA may provide temporary tourist policies, or provide contacts to companies that do. Check their website(in German) and send several emails to appropriate contacts they list in customer service. Also check the links below and see what is available

If you’re from CANADA- call the CAA- they may be able to help Canadians only with insurance and the whole process. They used to have an office for import export and I had contacted them in the past.

AAA in the USA has been useless in the past few years when I have contacted them- I don’t know if they have any new solutions

Search the web- Google etc


So if you can get insurance and an OK from any lien holders/banks or you have a clear title- what now?

Shipping the actual vehicle can be done in several ways:

Do you want to put your cream puff in a container? Good idea if you have a rare car-but costs more- approx $1200-2000 each way, depending on port, east or west coast.

Do you want to get together with your travel buddies and put two cars in a container- or multiple cars in several containers? A good idea if you have a rare car and can get your buddies together- multiple cars can reduce costs by negotiating with the shipper!

Do you want to ship it RoRo? (roll on – roll off)

RoRo is when they drive off the dock onto a specialized car carrier ship—that’s how your bmw got to the USA anyway( also the boats are not usually filled up on the way back to Europe)

Do you want to ship it by air?

Done that...approx $7-10,000 NYC to Belgium via Luxembourg- but it was there in two days...previous shipper forgot to put my car/container on the boat!- so I had to do air- after much “negotiating” and shared costs. I do not recommend this LA/NY based company whose name is the same as the seven time F1 champion......If you must ship by air, you can contact FEDEX( $$), Cargolux, Evergreen or an independent shipping agent.

Where do I Ship to?

I usually ship to Belgium- I have not had any problems and the people are generally very pleasant and efficient. Shipping to Germany via Bremerhaven is an option-However, I have heard that occasionally the Germans apply a large cash tax/lien on particular ( i.e. expensive or rare ) cars that is refunded after the car is shipped back out of Germany. This fee is to deter people from selling their cars in Germany and then splitting the country—I have no specific experience or information to verify this!(maybe a carnet would be useful if you go this route- see CAA link below)

How long does it take?

NYC to Europe in general by boat ( container or RoRo) takes about 10 days. Of course where you’re shipping from/to adds time. Los Angeles to Europe can be 3-4 weeks via the Panama Canal. Arrival times are not guaranteed as weather and mechanical trouble can delay arrival- however I have not had any problems with delays- most ships are on a very tight schedule.

If you’re a left coaster, what you should consider is whether you want to drive across country for fun and ship from an east coast port. Or, do you want to put precious in a truck and ship it to an agent at an east coast port? You also can just ship it from Long Beach, CA, Port Hueneme, CA or Galveston, TX. Just discuss options with the shipping agent and consider your schedule

How much does it cost?

From NYC to Belgium averages $650-850

From Belgium to NYC approx $900

You need to add $200-300 each way for port fees, customs clearance etc- note each agent has their own cost schedule- so negotiate and compare- ask your shipper if a less expensive overseas/ US port agent is available. Add any shipping insurance desired if your European policy doesn’t include shipping insurance-see above. Make sure you get these costs upfront and on your shipping receipts and bill of lading! This way you can compare shippers and port agent costs- you can also negotiate a bit Also get the return costs at the same time and the name, contact address, phone numbers, etc of the pickup and return agent- DO NOT arrange a one way only before you leave- unless you are fluent in whatever language you expect to return from and have deep pockets! If your shipping cars with friends, you might be able to get discounted rates or the shipping insurance included- are you a good wheeler dealer?

How does it happen?

Get your shipping and return dates and specific instructions from your agent. Check to make sure there aren’t any USA/EU holidays at pick up / drop off dates- ports close for these holidays!

Generally you drop the car off at the port of exportation 10-14 days before the boat leaves- this is because US customs reviews all documents and inspects vehicles. Consider taking some photos of the car at drop off—just in case.

Bring all the documents your shipper instructs you to and any monies needed for fees

Make sure you have the car exactly how they instruct you- usually 1/8th to 1/4th tank of gas and NO NON STOCK stuff in the car- i.e. don’t leave your Meguiars, extra oil in the trunk, sunglasses in the glove box, etc -No non stock spare parts or luggage - it will be gone or you will pay import taxes!.

Don’t be surprised if the rugs are pulled up by inspection agents....I haven’t had any damages to my car. DO NOT FORGET TO GIVE THEM THE KEYS! Have an EXTRA key to take to with you to Europe in case they lose the ones sent in the car! Some people take their USA plates off the car in case Joe dock worker in Europe wants a souvenir—I usually take one plate off to take with me to Europe—I haven’t had any problems

Once you drop your car off, call your agent in a few days to make sure it’s cleared customs and is loaded on the boat. If you get the boats name/#- you can often track the boats progress on the ship lines web site, or marine enthusiast sites like

NOTE: most all EU Countries require a front and rear plate- if you live in a state that doesn’t use front plates- don’t be surprised if a polizia stops you in Europe for not having a front plate—just tell them its not required where you live- politely! Make sure you have all your USA registration, title and Green card insurance documents with you wherever you drive- I keep notarized copies in the car, and the originals on my person

After you arrive in Europe, call the receiving agent and get pick up instructions. The agent will tell you if it’s cleared local customs and give you a date/ time. It took only two days for my car to clear customs- but I don’t guarantee yours- so make sure you car is scheduled to be at your destination a minimum of five to seven days before you arrive ( There may be a storage fee). Be on time- European longshoremen have specific working and lunchtimes and you don’t want to upset them! Bring your papers, passport and any monies your agent instructs you to to the designated pickup point. Usually I prepay, but every port is different and you may need to bring cash or a certified check. I usually bring extra notarized copies of documents and cash in case they are needed Many times this is an out of the way place near or in a major seaport, so use the great European mass transit system to get close and take a local taxi if you need to. I usually check trains and buses before I even fly to Europe and know how I’m getting to wherever before land- Don’t freak out! The car may be at the agents office, or they may drive you to some parking lot near or on a pier- inspect the car (check everything including under the car- even drive it a few feet to check suspension, take pictures if needed and document any damages if any immediately with the agent– Once all the paper work is done – Your on your way!!

The return trip is pretty much the same. US customs can take a week or so to inspect and/or even x-ray your car before they release it to you. If you have a really funky vehicle they may ask for documentation that the car complies to US Spec and emissions- you may need to show them your local car registration/inspection or get a letter from the manufacturer- I had to get a letter saying my car was US spec from Nissan two weeks after I picked up the car- took ten minutes on the phone and a couple of faxes.

I have listed below the contact info for the shipper ( EH Harms- US division of BLG of Germany) I have recently used- note they bring over the bmws/mercs, etc from Europe via roro service.

Other Thoughts

Buy a USA decal to put on the rear of your car- required in many EU countries

Consider buying a European union approved first aid kit and reflective triangle to put in the trunk if your car doesn’t have them- “required” in some EU countries. Check with your dealer, or cheaper- buy one on eBay

Contact your car maker customer service section to see/request the honoring of your USA car warranty in Europe-just in case something happens- and get a letter from them to take with you on your trip

Please note that you may need European navigation DVDs for your car if available (eBay, Navitech or dealer) – I just bring an old TOM TOM that I preloaded with European maps

Good luck and enjoy your drive!!

Some shipper’s sites

BLG Logistics
E.H. Harms USA/

Marine tracking sites

Digital Seas
Marine Traffic

General Information and sites that may offer pearls

Transport Reviews
Hub Pages -Overseas Auto Insurance For American Cars Abroad
eBay - Far and Away: Taking Your Collector Car Abroad
CAA CA: Travel CarNet