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how to ship your car to europe
logistics and chaos

Our car in Cornwall

Our CR-V sitting in front of our Cornwall house

Apparently, the only people interested in shipping their cars from the United States to Europe are military personnel and the super rich mega-billionaires, because there are a whole bunch of companies related to those two groups and absolutely nothing on the Internet about how an average person can ship their car to Europe.  I mean, I've got to think that there are other people than us interested in doing this, though, to be honest, in the three months we have been roaming through Europe, we haven't seen any other American license plates.

Nonetheless, I'm going to spell it out for you because I've got to think that we aren't completely unique in this world.  (And, if we are, I really would like to be unique for a better reason than that we decided to ship our American car from the U.S. to Europe.).  This post is full of nitty gritty details and some behind-the-scenes chaos that only we seem to land ourselves into.

1.  Why did we ship our car to Europe?

Trains/ferries were out because of the dogs: Most ferries do not allow dogs if you are a foot passenger and some trains do not allow dogs at all.  And, we knew we wanted to spend a lot of time in the countrysides, meaning that a car is essential.

Car rental was too expensive : Renault offers a 6-month car lease in Europe , which includes car insurance and AA service (similar to AAA in the U.S.) and we could have done two different car leases plus an additional one month lease.  When I priced it out, Renault came in at a whopping $16,000 for a compact automatic car for the 13 months.  (If we had rented a manual shift, teeny compact, it would have run more around $9,000.)  Eeks!

We couldn't purchase because we weren't residents: We looked into purchasing a car in Europe but, just like in the USA, in order to purchase a car, we needed to have residency in Europe.  Some travelers had purchased cars in Europe without establishing residency by using expired license plates, but we didn't feel comfortable doing that.

So, our last option was shipping our own Honda CR-V .  At first, the process seemed completely insurmountable but, as we broke down the issues and talked to the shipper over and over again, it became manageable.

2.  How much does shipping a car cost?

Here's the break-down of costs for the entire year:

Item Cost (all in USD except as noted)
Shipping car from Charleston, USA, to Thamesport, UK $1395
Marine insurance for transit $75
Worldwide car insurance through Clements International $1518 (for the year)
Car registration in Alabama $150
Agency/X-Ray Customs Fee in UK 435 GBP (approximately $693 USD)
Return shipment (estimated) $1470
Return fees (estimated) $500
Total $5801
Additional fees held ON DEPOSIT to be returned when we leave the UK

2347 GBP

So, that made the decision REALLY simple.  For less than $6,000 USD we could drive our own very large, comfortable car for the entire time rather than shelling out an extra $10,000 for a compact car that would barely fit our stuff.  Of course, we have to pay for fuel and service costs (such as oil changes, etc.), but we would need to do that with a rental car, and we've discovered that our Honda CR-V actually gets better gas mileage than many of the European cars that we've rented.

3.  Do you have to pay taxes/customs/duties?

The EU and UK have a "temporary importation exemption" to the general importation of car duties , which allows non-UK/EU citizens to import their car for up to 6 months, as long as the car is used for tourism purposes and the car is not left or disposed in the EU/UK.  In addition, the EU/UK allow cars to be imported without paying taxes if the individual has a limited work assignment or is a student for longer than 6 months.

If you've been paying attention, you must have realized that we are staying longer than 6 months so . . . I had to ask for an exemption from the tourist exemption.  I emailed the UK customs officials and explained that we are staying for 13 months, have already booked our departure ticket, and I will be writing and selling my writing about my trip to the EU.  The UK Customs Officials responded in three weeks and notified me that they would grant my exemption because I have a writing assignment that ends on a specified date.

Read more about the UK/EU Customs requirements here .

4.  How did you find car insurance?

The Green Card is a document recognized in over 40 countries, including all the countries in Europe, which certifies that the person holding the Green Card has minimal insurance coverage in those particular countries he/she is driving through.  The Green Card is not itself insurance, but is rather proof of insurance in many, many countries.

So, in order to drive through Europe and be an American traveler, you must have insurance that meets the Green Card requirements.  We found only two companies that will underwrite this type of insurance: Geico and Clements International.  Geico wanted to charge us about $7000 for the year.  When Clements --- an insurance company focused on dealing with expats --- quoted us $1518, we both laughed out loud --- they only wanted a few hundred more than we were paying for minimal car insurance to keep our car registered in Alabama while we traveled!

We have been INCREDIBLY pleased with Clements --- their service is prompt, responsive, and much cheaper than anything else we've looked at.  We are also using them for health and electronics insurance coverage, and several of my travel blogger friends have told me that they are also switching to Clements for gear insurance because Clements actually covers expensive amounts of camera and computer equipment while traveling.  Yay for Clements!

The only thing that we absolutely needed in order to get the insurance was a UK address to which they could ship the Green Card.  So, if you're going through Clements, keep that in mind.

5.  How is the shipping supposed to work?

Here's how the whole thing was supposed to work out:

a.  16 weeks before Car Arrival Date (that is, the date we wanted the car to arrive, shortened to CA Date below): Email UK customs officials regarding exemption of temporary import duties.

b.  16 weeks before CA Date:  Begin corresponding with car import agency.  We worked with Schumacher Cargo Logistics , who as far as we can tell, is the only company out there that will actually deal with individuals and not companies.  Schumacher is a go-between and deals with the real cargo logistics folks that do the actual shipping back and forth.  Schumacher has a limited number of places from the United States East Coast from which they can ship --- they told us they can ship from near Newark, New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; Charleston, South Carolina; and Jacksonville, Florida.  In England, they only ship to Thamesport, Kent.

c.  13 weeks before CA Date:  Finish filling out paperwork, including sending payment to Schumacher (or other shipping company.)

d.  8 weeks before CA Date:  Drive to shipping yard and drop off car.  Leave yourselves plenty of time to drop off the car because the shipping office we had been told to drop off the car at was incredibly confused and spent almost half an hour trying to find out where we needed to go.  They finally figured out the shipping yard and dropping off the car was the easiest part.  It took us about one minute to drop off the car, give the guy our bill of sale and title, key, and walk away.  (Though it was a bit nerve-wracking to give all that important information to a random person.)

e.  Wait, wait, wait.

f.  CA Date:  Receive confirmation that the car has arrived.  The car arrives anywhere between 4 to 8 weeks after delivering it to the shipping yard, so your car might have to sit in the warehouse, in which case you will be charged warehouse fees of about 10 GBP per day.  Assuming all goes as planned, you should receive confirmation from the shipper that your car has been offloaded, at which point you will need to pay them via bank transfer the customs/duties fees to be held on deposit, and then you can pick up the car once they receive the fees.

g.  One week after the CA Date:  Receive bill of sale and title from Schumacher by courier, shipped to a UK address.

6.  How did the whole thing ACTUALLY work out?

Well, the whole thing was an unmitigated DISASTER from front to end. On the day we dropped the car off, we drove around Charleston for an hour and a half to four different shipping locations because Schumacher couldn't figure out exactly where our car needed to be sent.  Then, the car was supposed to arrive sometime between 4 to 8 weeks after dropping the car off, but we are pretty confident that they forgot about our car, and didn't send us confirmation that the car had shipped until after Patrick prodded them multiple time.  So, we didn't actually receive the car until 11 weeks after we shipped it, meaning we had to rent a car in England for 2 weeks, which we didn't expect.

We also didn't know that we were supposed to pay the customs amount via bank transfer, meaning that we had to hole up in an internet cafe, talking to my Dad over cell phone to help us do the bank transfer because my bank requires a "SafePass" keycode which must be sent to an American cell phone number in order to transfer large amounts of money to international banks.  We picked up the car and it smelled like the worst kind of awful, awful stale cigarette smoke --- though neither of us smoke --- and we couldn't get the smell out for weeks.  And, then, after we had the car in hand, it turned out that Schumacher lost our original bill of sale and there is no way for us to get another one from Honda, meaning that the copy Patrick made is the only version we have.

Our advice to others planning to ship a car:

- Set aside a lot more time than you expect at either end --- we were so happy that we stayed in England for a solid month after the car was supposed to arrive because it gave us flexibility when the car didn't get there in time.

- Make copies of EVERYTHING and keep hard copies and electronic copies in several places.

- Set aside a lot more money than you think you'll need.  We didn't expect to pay the deposit and were so glad we had extra money sitting in that bank account then.

- Figure out how to do international bank transfers from an international location well beforehand.  Bank of America offers a $25 SafePass card which we have now purchased which lets us easily make international bank transfers from anywhere in the world.

- Put an air deodorizer in your car before you hand it over to the shipping company.

- If your car locks up its radio system when the battery is disconnected, remember to take the PIN code for your radio.

- Smile and take a lot of very deep breaths.

Ultimately, we have our car and it's wonderful being able to drive such a large and comfortable vehicle.  We get all sorts of curious looks about our license plates and one very drunk fellow in Spain nearly fell over as he perused the Steelers logo on the front of the car.  We've been working our four wheel drive hard in Italy because we're staying in an area with mostly rural dirt roads, and we can't imagine storing all of the dog food and extra supplies in a smaller car.

If you see a Honda CR-V with Alabama license plates in Europe, that's us!  Honk if you see us!

[And, I'm sure I've left out all sorts of questions that people have, so leave a comment with thoughts, questions, or just "Hey, we saw your car!"]