Shipping a Car From the U.S. to Europe: A Simple Guide

Posted by Ben Davidson about 9 months ago

If you plan to ship cars to Europe, there are a few things you can do to ensure a safe, reliable, international delivery experience. A highly qualified shipper can facilitate a smooth transaction by providing everything from receiving your vehicles to deliver them to your doorstep. 

Choosing the best company from many international moving companies can significantly reduce your total shipping costs and provide you with many different delivery options.

Once you have all the necessary documentation in order, the next step is to deliver your car to your new home. You have several options when transporting American vehicles to Europe. 

Do you prefer sea or air transportation? Let us look at the benefits and costs of both options.

Transporting U.S. Cars to Europe by Sea: Methods and Costs

International car shipping from the USA to Europe by sea is generally the most cost-effective method. Ships heading for Europe depart daily from all major US ports. When departing from the main ports on the East Coast (e.g., Baltimore and New York), it takes about ten days to arrive in Europe. From the West Coast (e.g., San Diego or Los Angeles), the trip usually takes about 20 days. 

Arrival time, of course, cannot be guaranteed due to weather conditions and possible mechanical problems that may cause delays. In most cases, however, delays are rare, as most ships operate on very tight schedules.

Roll on-Roll off (Ro-Ro)

When you transport American cars to Europe using the Roll on-Roll off method, your vehicle will travel abroad on a ship specially designed for transporting vehicles.

One of the main advantages of using the Ro-Ro method is that the fees at the destination are cheaper compared to transporting containers since your car is simply driven off the ship. Therefore, using a crane to move boxes is not necessary. The vehicle will be cleared at the berth for entry into your country.

One of the disadvantages of using the Ro-Ro method when transporting cars is that you are not allowed to pack any personal belongings in your vehicle. Also, not all ports can accommodate this type of vessel.

This method of transportation is ideal for transporting vehicles that are simply too large to be shipped in a container such as campers, recreational vehicles (R.V.), and motor homes.

Container Shipping

While the fees at the destination are slightly higher for container transportation, you have the option to load personal items into your car. There are several options to choose from when using container shipping for transporting cars to Europe.

40-Foot Container

You can book a shipment in which your vehicle is carried in a container with other cars. The consignor then decides how many vehicles are transported in the box. This method is usually the most cost-effective and suitable for ordinary cars and motorcycles.

For a little more expenses, you can also choose to have the vehicle delivered with a maximum of 2 cars in a container. Using this option, you can ensure that your vehicle is loaded and locked on the container floor. It is a limit to the potential risk of unexpected damage. This may be a preferred choice when transporting new, expensive, exclusive, or classic vehicles.

20-Foot Container

If you are worried when it comes to your car, you can also reserve a small container just for you. This method is expensive but much faster as there is no need to wait for other vehicles and cargo to be found and loaded into the container. 

If safety, speed, and quality are more important than cost, then this method may be right for you.

Typical costs

The cost of transporting cars from the USA to Europe usually starts at around € 650 for a compact car and can reach about €1800 for large off-road vehicles. 

If you book an individual container, the price starts at around € 2900 for a 20-foot container or about € 4200 for a 40-foot container. 

Note: Each shipping company has its price chart. Be sure to ask if there is a less expensive port in the U.S. or Europe.

Shipping U.S. Cars by Air

Transporting American cars by air is very expensive. You can expect to pay from € 6,500 to € 9,000 from the East Coast (such as New York) to a European airport. 

The only real advantage of this method is that it only takes about two days to arrive. This is a convenient method if time is not on your side, and money is not an issue.

Shipping Insurance

The final step in American transportation cars to Europe is obtaining transport insurance. When insuring your shipment, many options are usually available directly from the sender.

All-Risk insurance

This covers almost all possible problems that may arise, including fire, theft, scratches, dents, and other damage.

Total-Loss insurance

This type of insurance applies only to "total loss" that occurs during transport. For example, if the container falls overboard or is damaged, then the vehicle is declared as a total loss. Other damages, such as scratches and dents, are not covered.

Typical Costs

You can estimate payment of about 1.5%-2.5% of the estimated value of the car. For example, if you bought a vehicle for € 20,000, you can expect to pay about €300-€500. 

Note: Some personal car insurance policies also cover transport. Make sure you ask your insurance agent at home whether this is the case or not.

It is crucial to inform yourself about all local regulations regarding the import of cars into your country. Make sure you read carefully about prices, taxes, and import duties, transportation costs, etc.

Transporting American cars to Europe is just one step in the complicated process of importing American vehicles. Compliance with this guide to U.S. imports should help simplify the process.


Once your car has been shipped, the next step in the process is customs clearance. This includes paying the necessary import tax and duties.

You might also like: The Things That Car Insurance Companies Don't Want Us To Know

Arrival in Europe

When your car arrives at the European port, the vehicle is either disembarked (if you used the Roll on-Roll-off method) or unloaded from its container. 

You will need the appropriate documents to allow the vehicle to enter the country. To avoid delays or unnecessary problems and to ensure a smooth customs clearance process, you will need the following documents:

  • Sale and purchase note

  • Certificate of Title

  • Shipper's export declaration

  • Declaration of Dangerous Goods

  • Passport

  • Direct view form (Note: only necessary when working through the importer. This allows them to work on your behalf).

  • VAT number (Note: only required when clearing the vehicle on behalf of your company).

  • Exemption from import duties and VAT. (Note: this is only possible if you move to Europe and include your vehicle as part of your household goods).

These documents are usually required to obtain customs clearance for your vehicle without any problems. However, you will need to pay import tax and duties before this can happen.

Payment of Import Tax and Duty

It is much easier to go through this part of the process if you use an importer to get your car into the country. The applications that need to be filled out at customs are relatively complicated. 

If you have not used an importer and have to complete this part yourself - Take your time, ask any questions you may have, and make sure that everything is clearly explained if you do not understand.

Despite the complex forms and documentation requirements, import taxes and duties are relatively easy to understand. Customs clearance tariffs are set at the E.U. level. You can expect the following tariffs when you pay import duties, depending on the type of vehicle you buy:

  • 22% for trucks (including pickup trucks, where the truck bay is more than 50% of the wheelbase length)

  • 10% for passenger cars (this includes pickups when the truck bay is less than 50% of the wheelbase length)

  • 8% for motorcycles with an engine size of up to 250 cc.

  • 6% for motorcycles with more than 250 cc engine capacity.

In addition to import customs duties, you must pay import tax to obtain customs clearance. You will also need to pay a value-added tax (VAT) of 19-22% on imports, depending on the country.

A Note about Customs Declarations

Whether you are using an importer or shipping yourself, make sure you have an accurate customs declaration. The declaration must include:

  • A precise description of the goods

  • Their value (usually the actual price you paid)

  • Whether the goods are gifts, commercial or personal items

Since the required documentation discussed at the beginning includes a bill of sale, it is not possible to corrupt this information. However, beware that some importers will include in the customs declaration, a value that is lower than the actual price paid. In this case, they are trying to avoid paying the full price of duty and VAT when the goods arrive in Europe.

However, since you are technically an importer, it is your responsibility by law to make sure you have an accurate declaration. Inaccurate information can only lead to delays if Customs request information about your vehicle. Your vehicle may be confiscated, and you will be responsible for any additional costs incurred (such as storage, testing, etc.).

Always read the fine print when using an importer. If you are unsure or confused about something, ask questions. It is still better to be reliable than to be sorry.

It is imperative to know all local regulations regarding the import of vehicles into your country. Be sure to carefully study all costs, taxes and import duties, shipping costs, etc.

Now that your car has finally arrived in Europe and gone through customs clearance, you are almost ready to take it out onto the open road. 

Technical Adaptations to Meet European Regulations

An imported car from the USA often does not meet European technical and safety standards. Therefore, you may need to make some changes or adjustments to obtain a European vehicle permit. In most cases, only minor technological changes will be required.

Getting the Car Inspected

Before bringing your vehicle in for registration, you must present it to an authorized technical inspection body (e.g., TÜV or DEKRA). There, it will be checked for compliance with local requirements. 

Most American cars may require minor changes. It is, therefore, preferable to make an appointment for an inspection and to find out which documents should be taken with you.

There is often no problem temporarily driving with U.S. plates, provided that you have the appropriate insurance. Otherwise, you will need to get a temporary license plate from the registration office while you travel to the inspection center.

Check the Datasheet

Verification of the data sheet (or specification) is one way to get an idea of how many changes will have to be made before the vehicle registration is received. 

If the exact model of your vehicle has ever been approved for entry into your country, a datasheet must be available.

For all significant European vehicle brands, the search should not be difficult. Most manufacturers will send you a specification on request, either free of charge or at an extra cost. Be sure to attach all available technical data on your vehicle, including the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), to your request. 

Although obtaining a permit for your U.S. import is not required for the vehicle registration process, experience shows that it is a useful and cost-effective resource.

Exhaust Emissions Test

In some cases, European emission regulations may be the essential stop for American models, especially if your car is the first of its kind to be registered. 

Since 1993, the measurement procedures in European countries have been different from those in the USA. This means that the results of emission tests in the USA are not comparable, even if your car is registered as a 'low emission' car in America.

If your car is the first of its kind to be tested in Europe, the cost can range from € 750 to € 2,500, depending on the complexity of the test. Sometimes, exhaust emission tests have already been done on American vehicles. 

In this case, technical inspection authorities will often be able to check the certification status of your vehicle using Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to see if this expensive process is necessary. This information should also be available on the vehicle datasheet.

Once you have received an official message from a vehicle inspector that all is ok, you can start the vehicle registration process.

You  might also like: Things You Need to Know When Shipping Your Car Across The Country

Vehicle Registration and License Plates

Typically, no matter where you send your vehicle, you will need to register the car in the country of your primary residence. Although there are no specific rules on vehicle registration in the European Union, the following information reflects the practice of many E.U. member states.

There are documents which are required to complete your vehicle registration:

  • Customs clearance certificate

  • Certificate of Title (used vehicles) or Certificate of Origin (new vehicles)

  • Original purchase invoice

  • Technical Inspection Report

  • Evidence of Insurance

  • Passport or I.D. card

In addition to these documents, you may also have to provide proof of fitness before you can complete your vehicle registration and obtain the license plates.

Payment of Road Tax

There is no general road tax law in the European Union. You will have to pay these taxes as required by law in the country where you live. You may be entitled to a tax exemption when you register your car under certain conditions, such as when you move to another place of residence, if your vehicle is over 20 years old, or if it is environmentally friendly. Ask your local government about the specific requirements and conditions in your country.

Once you have completed the steps above, you will finally be able to get your vehicle registered, have your plates installed, and be on your way. 

It is essential to inform yourself of all local regulations regarding the import of vehicles into your country. Be sure of the costs, taxes and import duties, transportation costs, etc.

To sum up

If you plan to send cars from the USA to Europe, follow this guide to ensure safe, secure, international road transport. Qualified shippers can facilitate a smooth transaction by providing everything, from receiving your vehicles to deliver them to your doorstep. 

Choosing the best company from many international shipping companies can significantly reduce the total shipping cost and provide you with many different delivery options. Making sure that you do all the necessary things when you come to Europe will also make the transition easier.


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