Shipping a car to Europe

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Once you have chosen and purchased your American car, the next step is making sure you have all the necessary documentation in order. Shipping a car to Europe can seem like a big undertaking. Whether you're working through an importer or planning to organize the shipment yourself, CARFAX's U.S. Import Guide can help explain the ins and outs of the process.

What you need before the car can leave the country

Proper Documentation

In order to ship your car back home, it's important to have the proper documentation lined up in advance. The first, and perhaps most obvious, document you need is the bill of sale for the vehicle. The purchase invoice should include the following information:

  • Buyer(s)
  • Seller
  • Vehicle Manufacturer
  • Vehicle Type
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) – Very important!
  • Year of vehicle
  • Price
  • Date and signature

Additionally, when shipping a car to Europe, you will need to fill out a Declaration of Dangerous Goods. This is used to identify whether your shipment contains any specific items (such as airbags, car batteries, gasoline, extra paint, etc.) that are considered potentially dangerous. On top of this, you will need a Shipper Export Declaration. The U.S. Census Bureau generally requires this whenever shipping items valued at more than $2,500 or for goods requiring a license.

Title / Certificate of Origin

Every American car has what is called a Certificate of Title; often times it's simply referred to as the title or pink slips. Because of this, it's important that you never allow yourself to be tempted to buy (even at a low price) a car without a title.

The title contains the following pieces of information:

  • Identifying information about the vehicle, including – at minimum – the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), make, and year it was manufactured.
  • The license plate number.
  • Technical information about the vehicle that is used to define its tax class. For example: the gross vehicle weight, power, and purchase price when new.
  • The name and address of the purchaser, or when the purchaser isn't the person who will normally use the vehicle, the registered owner.
  • If the vehicle was financed in any way, the name of the lien-holder (or legal owner) to whom money for the car is owed.

A new car may not have a title, but rather a Manufacturer's Certificate (or Statement) of Origin, which is similar in meaning to the title. Regardless of which document you receive, one is necessary to have when shipping a car to Europe.

Registration Card

If you are in America and would like to bring the car to the port yourself, you will need to obtain a registration card. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is responsible for vehicle registration. (Note: depending on the state, the exact name of the department may differ.)

In order to register, you will need the title and proof of auto insurance. The cost of the registration procedure itself varies from state to state, ranging anywhere between $10 and $70 for a car. Often times when you buy from a dealer, they will assist in the application and the necessary formalities. If they don't, or you bought from a private owner, you may find that purchasing motor vehicle liability insurance may be your biggest hurdle in this process.

The registration card is proof that the vehicle has up-to-date registration and must always be carried.

License plates (Number Plates)

In some states, the license plates remain with the car for the life of the vehicle when there is a change of ownership; while in others, the previous owner keeps them. In this case, a plate must be purchased for the trip to the port of shipment. If you only need a "One Day Permit" in order to drive the car directly to the port, you should ask the dealer if he could assist you in the procurement of one. Otherwise, you will again need to make a trip to the DMV.

When shipping a car to Europe, the American license plate should be submitted, when possible, to the European regulatory authority where the car is arriving. Since American license plates are often sought after as souvenirs, it is advisable to take them off before the shipment and to carry them in your own personal luggage.

In order to ensure a smooth process when shipping a car to Europe, it's recommended to plan for the vehicle to arrive at the port around three days prior to the departure of the ship. During this time, the U.S. Customs Service will check through all of the documentation. It is always a good idea to make extra copies of everything, just in case something gets lost. And since the documents are also critical for admission into Europe, it is also advisable to carry a copy with you in your luggage.

Getting the vehicle to the port

Now that you have finalized your purchase and have all the appropriate documentation in order, your car is ready to be transported to the port. There are two main options on how to get it there for transport: drive it yourself or hire a delivery transport service to pick it up from the seller and deliver it.

reimported cars

Driving it yourself

Perhaps you'd like to include a road trip to your time in the USA, or maybe the port is close enough that it simply makes sense to drive there yourself. Either way, you'll need to calculate the costs for fuel and, if the port is far away, any accommodation you’ll have for overnighting (hotel, parking fees, etc.).

car in port

Picking up your vehicle

There is a wide network of professional and reliable transport companies who can help you when shipping a car to Europe. They will pickup your vehicle and deliver it quickly to the chosen port of departure. Depending on where you purchased your vehicle, most companies can pick it up within 2 to 5 days. It's also important to let the company know if your vehicle is not in driving (or even rolling) condition. Transport for such damaged vehicles will often incur additional charges.

Depending on the distance from the point of pickup to the port of shipment, the price can start at around $100 for a few miles and increase to $900 from a Midwest state. It's recommended to do a little research and shop around for the best price.

Vehicles can be transported by ship from several locations including:

  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Charleston, South Carolina
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Houston, Texas
  • Jacksonville or Miami in Florida
  • New York City, New York
  • Norfolk, Virginia
  • Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in California
  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Wilmington, Delaware

It's important to inform yourself of all local regulations regarding importing vehicles into your country.  Be sure to carefully examine prices, taxes and import duty, shipping costs, etc.

Shipping a car to Europe can seem like a big undertaking. Following this U.S. import guide should help to ease the confusion. For more information on how to import a car from the USA, continue reading Part 3: .