The Ultimate Guide To Shipping Your Car

If you love your car, you want to be able to take it anywhere with you, especially if you are making a major move. Whether you have an off-road monster and want to bring it to untamed lands, want to try out your sports car on the European highways, or just want to bring your family SUV with you to wherever you are going, you have a good reason to take your car with you if you are reading this.

Moving your car is a natural part of moving yourself. With most moves, you can drive to your destination in your car, even if it takes a little while. A road trip can be an incredible journey, and bringing your stuff along can significantly reduce moving costs.

Unfortunately, there is still an issue for many car owners hoping to move: cars can't yet cross oceans under their own power. Therefore, you need to consider other measures to get your vehicle to its overseas destination. From finding the right ship, preparing your car for shipping, and being there to pick it up or arranging to have it delivered, there is a lot for you to do.

While your mileage may vary depending on where you live and your vehicle, here are our recommendations for shipping your car:

The Costs and Logistics of Car Shipping

There is a good reason many people simply choose to leave their car behind with a friend or family member or sell it when they are going to make a move or an extended trip overseas: there is work involved in shipping it. Also, it is expensive, sometimes more than the car is worth. Unless you have an extreme attachment to your car or it's a luxury or rare model worth saving, it is generally better not to consider shipping it.

Overall, you can expect to pay about $1000 to $5000 for overseas transport of a personal vehicle, with the cost going up if you need additional special services. Factors involved include the type of vehicle, its weight, whether you want expedited shipping, the total length of the journey, the number of legs on that journey, and your pickup method (whether you are doing door-to-door shipping or pickup at port).

While there might be a few tips and formulas out there, there is no substitute for simply calling a shipping company and getting a quote.

However, while it might not always be the best option, we write this article under the assumption that you know this and you want to ship your car anyway. It will undoubtedly be cheaper than changing over to a new car in a new country in many cases, and there is the sentimental value to consider.

Finding a Company

Quite a few companies ship cars overseas (search for international automobile transporters). After a few searches or asking around for recommendations, you should check reviews for the company and its credentials. They should be licensed (the exact licensure may vary based on region and the types of vehicles they ship) and will likely have a DOT license you can ask for or lookup as well. A shipping company should also be insured against potential issues, even if they are the safest option out there. We recommend that you narrow down your list of companies before moving forward to other steps to save time.

Once all this is done, get some quotes to budget your transport. Even if you are willing to spend thousands on this, saving money is always preferred. You may or may not get information about insurance for your shipment, which we generally recommend for your vehicle if the price is reasonable and the policy is good (this will depend on the car and your preferences).

Using a Shipping Container

If you want to ship your car overseas, a shipping container is the best option in most cases, and most companies will use them. They are designed to protect goods and machinery from the elements, seawater, and air in particular, and are often the perfect size for a car.

A standard 20' shipping container might not be the right choice for larger vehicles, but there may be larger containers that will work, or you may wish to use something else entirely. Whatever company you are working with will likely know what to do, having transported similar vehicles in the past (if they do not have that experience or capability, perhaps you should find another service provider).

Some companies will store multiple vehicles in a larger container. While your car will be with others, and you might need to wait a bit longer to get a shipment to the destination, this will likely be cheaper. You may want to ask more about the containers, security, and methods for securing the vehicles and see if they are to your standards.

Whether you use one and what type you use will depend on the company and your shipping method. When planning, the terms you want to look for are:

Consolidated Vehicle Shipping: Your car is placed with other vehicles in the same container for transport and then transported once there are enough cars. This might take a bit longer, and your car doesn't have the security of its own container, but it is secure enough and will not be as expensive as some other options.

Sole Container Shipping: Getting a 20' container, putting the car in there, and ensuring it's on the next ship to your destination. This can be pricier, but it is relatively simple and will get your vehicle there reasonably quickly. You can generally get things going as soon as you have your vehicle and the paperwork in order. You can use your own container, but remember, transporting a container in addition to your car to the port can be some serious work.

Roll-on Roll-off (RORO): This does not involve a shipping container at all, and instead, your car will be driven or brought into the hull of a vessel, where it will be secured and stored with other vehicles. Note that your car will not be as secure as it will be in a shipping container and that this process can take a while, but it will likely be cheaper than using a shipping container. Also, with this method, you usually cannot have many if any items inside the vehicle. Effectively, consider this a budget option.

 There may be other options or variations of the above. If a company is for some reason obscure about its methods (outside of reasonable limitations for privacy), we would not recommend working with them.

Pre-Shipping Preparation

Shipping your car can be an involved process, especially if you want to ensure maximum safety and efficiency. Before shipping it, make sure of the following if you are responsible for any part of the preparation:

  • Make sure that you drain the car of any fuel so that there are no incidents or issues. There may also be regulations that you need to adhere to involving this, so be extra careful. You might want to bring a fuel can or two when picking up your car so you can get it going as it will arrive empty.
  • Additionally, disconnect the battery and alarm system, both to prevent potential incidents and make things better for the ship's crew (the last thing they need is a car going off in a container, and they can't stop it.) You will be able to reattach it later, though bringing something to give your car a charge when picking it up can be helpful (if your vehicle is not going to be running for some time at sea, you may need to give it a jump-start later).
  • If there is anything in the car, make sure it can't be damaged or cause any damage if moved or rattled around. Items should also be well-secured. The seas can be rough, and objects can move.
  • Either you or the crew may do this depending on how you are getting the car shipped, but make sure all wheels are blocked from the front, back, and sides. Usually, wooden blocks or similar are used for this, but other solutions might be available. Wheels should also be strapped to prevent movement (ideally to points on the container walls), and of course, the car should be in park, with the emergency brake engaged. There may be variations of this depending on your vehicle, the container, or the shipping company.
  • Inspect the vehicle and take pictures just before transport. If you are shipping goods inside the car, document and photograph them as well.
  • If your shipping company wants anything else done, be sure to follow those instructions as they likely relate to security or the safety of either your vehicle or the crew. Complying will allow for faster processing of your vehicle.

Depending on the company you are working with, you may not have to worry about any of this, and the shipping company will handle it for you (in fact, they will insist on it). All you might need to do is drive down to the port or have someone come and pick up your car for you.

How Long Should It Take?

The exact time it takes for your car to get to its destination depends on multiple factors, though you should get a timeline from the shipping company. Overall, it will usually take anywhere from three to 12 weeks, so you will need to plan a few months ahead. The exact timing will naturally be dependent on the length of the journey and other factors (most outside of your control).

You may also be able to pay more to get a more direct route for your car. This will likely be expensive, and we promise that whatever it takes to go without your car for that much longer will be cheaper than expediting the process. That said, you should choose whatever option best fits your plans and budget.

During transport, you may or may not be able to track how your car is doing or where it is. If such a feature is available, the shipping company will let you know.

In any case, any sort of travel, whether by land or sea, is subject to complications, and while you should not expect your car to get lost at sea, there could be unexpected delays. We recommend that you plan on alternate travel or transport arrangements around the time of arrival just in case your car has not arrived by then.


Unloading your car is a process that is effectively the reverse of loading and transporting it. You will likely want to take public transport or get a ride to make sure that you can pick up your car easily and plan ahead of time. You also should schedule a bit more time than you might expect to take, as the unexpected can happen, even if it's just traffic. You do not want to rush and arrive flustered.

You may want to make sure you have what you need to set your car up and get it running again, such as some jumper cables, a small tank of gas (just enough to get it to the nearest station), or something else. Read any materials ahead of time and prepare for the unexpected. The port or shipping company likely will have what you need, having done this thousands of times before.

If you do not want to deal with the trouble of picking up your car at the port, you can likely arrange for additional transport by truck to your new residence, though this will result in additional costs.

Once you get your car back, make sure that the first thing you do is check to see that it is working properly and that there is no damage or changes to the vehicle or its contents. Make comparisons to the pictures you took before departure.

Registration and Paperwork

Most countries will not let you ship in a vehicle from another country without any inspections or paperwork. While customs, etc., is all part of the process, it can be nerve-wracking for some, especially if you have not done it before.

Unfortunately, since there are so many different countries and variations of the process, we cannot provide you with a complete guide as to what to do regarding customs, imports, etc. We can offer the following general tips, however:

  • Check what the limitations and options are regarding car registration and licensure between your home country and your destination.
  • If you are shipping within the same country, you probably do not have much to worry about. You will likely need to re-register in your new state if this is applicable, but you will have time to do so, and you will be able to drive away with your car to figure out your next steps.
  • Your shipping company will likely be handling much of the process for you, though they will require paperwork. While the exact paperwork required may vary, you should have your passport, title and bill of sale for the vehicle, and other paperwork related to your car available.
  • Some countries or even specific ports will require additional documentation or have certain restrictions, so be sure to look up information specific to the port and country.
  • Before signing anything or finalizing arrangements, make sure to go over all of the details one last time to ensure that things will proceed as planned.

Additional Shipping Methods

While we mainly focused on shipping via large cargo ship or ship specialized in transporting cars, as ocean shipping is often the only option for those overseas journeys, there are other options for shipping your car. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Truck Shipping

Have you seen the trucks carrying half a dozen to a dozen cars on the highway? If you have, then you have seen one of the main car transport methods on roads, whether the cars are new or not.

Truck shipping is generally widely available if you are willing to search online. You can get service quickly, and the costs are acceptable, especially when compared to the cost of gas and additional expenses you would have if you were to make the journey yourself.

The main downside of truck shipping compared to other options is the potential for damage to your vehicle. While most drivers will make every effort to make sure no harm comes to your car, the elements can have an impact, and other drivers will be on the road (and they are not all as safe as you).

To mitigate this, you might be able to find enclosed transport if you want to keep your car entirely safe, as even the safest and most professional truck driver cannot prevent or predict every occurrence. The extra protection of the enclosed space can make a huge difference.

In any event, arranging truck shipping within the country is relatively easy, and costs will vary depending on the weight and size of your car (though most will be standard) and the length of the trip. Overall, a coast-to-coast trip can cost up to $1500, but it will depend on the above factors. If truck shipping involves international transport, there may be some extra expenses and paperwork involved, though the shipping company should know how to handle and arrange things.

Train Shipping

Another option for land routes is train shipping. Energy-wise it is a far more efficient option than truck or plane shipping, and it is relatively fast, involving a constant, often direct route to your destination. It is affordable compared to other transport methods and will even likely be cheaper than truck shipping (on average, you shouldn't expect to pay more than $1000 for coast-to-coast shipping of a standard vehicle).

Train shipping works as you would imagine. Note that your car might be exposed to the elements on the journey depending on the route and the train used, so do be careful to check if you want the most delicate hands on it. You can often choose between open or closed container shipping, and we would recommend a closed container for most people, despite being slightly more expensive.

While it certainly has its advantages, train shipping might be limited by availability both in terms of nearby railways and whether there are any companies nearby that offer car shipping services by train. Searching will likely let you find something if you live near a significant railway or developed area, but it would be best to have a backup plan in mind as well.

One last note: if you are moving your car as part of a big move, in most cases, you can load up your car with boxes and other items before getting it loaded on the train, potentially reducing additional shipping costs. You shouldn't put in valuables, however, and you should also double-check your car's tire and battery condition so you can drive it off safely once it reaches its destination.

Plane Shipping

We are hesitant to mention it as it makes little sense for most people, and the cost will be exorbitant. That said, it will likely be a safer method of transport and can be faster in some circumstances as the loaders will need to take more care. With plane shipping, your car will be loaded onto a specialized cargo plane and shipped to its destination, much like anything else shipped by air.

The exact cost can vary greatly, from just a few thousand for the simplest and shortest options (though a quick drive or truck shipping will still be cheaper in such instances) to over $100,000 when international overseas flights are involved. Your car will likely be attended by experts and secured well, either with a few other vehicles or all alone. You will probably be able to schedule the day of pickup and delivery to some degree, though some notice will be required. Overall, it is a luxury service for people with luxury or specialty cars.

Again, and we cannot state this enough, we do not recommend this in most circumstances. The cost will be enormous, it will be horrible for the environment considering the jet fuel involved, and while you can get you the car fast, there will still be logistics involved to set up or pay someone to have set up for you. There will be ways to get yourself where you need to go in the meanwhile.


Storing and shipping a car is a more complex process than you might think. It will require some paperwork and forward-thinking and some expense (a significant expense in some cases). However, if you know you want your car wherever you go, you know that you will be willing to go through most of the steps above. We hope you find a method and a shipping company that will work for you and your vehicle, and we wish you the best of luck with your journey.