Shipping Your Classic Car Internationally: The Dos and Don'ts

three vintage cars parked in garage

Transporting a classic car across the border is more involved than your average road trip. This is especially true when shipping by boat or airplane comes into play. Preparing your car for an international journey involves a lot more than just paperwork, especially if you want your car to be ready to hit the road once you arrive. 

While it’s impossible to prepare for every eventuality, especially when moving a highly-valued, mechanically complex machine halfway across the world, we’ve prepared a quick list of things to look out for, things to avoid and at least one thing you need to have before packing up your ride: 

Do: Know your shipping budget, then decide your shipping method. 

For some of you reading this, money is no object. If that’s the case, then we hope your vehicle enjoys its comfortable direct flight wherever you need to send it. Shipping a car via air freight can often be as expensive as the car itself, so if you’re not looking to break the bank (and if you don’t own a bank) shipping by boat is likely going to be your best bet. That said, it’s worth noting that air freight is quick and safe, especially compared to the weeks a vehicle might spend at sea. Also, if time is a factor you may not have any other option when it comes to moving your classic car. 

A vintage Audi parked in storage

If you decide to ship your car via boat, you have the option of a “roll on roll off” vessel (aka RORO) where you simply drive your vehicle on board, secure it below deck and drive it off when you arrive. While this is the less expensive option, shipping your classic vehicle in a closed private container is the safer choice, especially for a classic or collectible vehicle. Not only is your vehicle protected from any other cars on the ship, but you can also stow additional parts and tools in the container for use once you’re at your destination. Shared care containers are also available; it will cost less but take more time as you wait for other cars to hop on board.

Don’t: Forget about destination charges. 

A good shipping company will take care of all of this for you and have the numbers complete before you get underway, but if you’re a DIY’er remember that there’s not just the cost of getting your car onto transportation. Import duties, port unloading fees, delivery costs and (of course) taxes all add up once you arrive, and have to be taken care of before you get behind the wheel. Oh, and if you don’t live near a major port city, you’ll likely have to pay to have your car shipped from your driveway to the boat or airplane as well.

Do: Have your paperwork ready before you leave—and when you arrive

Shipping a classic car across a border naturally comes with a lot of documentation. In addition to all the forms your shipping company will need you to sign, a few other things will need to be on hand. Personal identification is a must; having two different kinds is a good idea. You’ll also want to have a couple copies of the car’s title: one to stay with the vehicle and another to present upon arrival. 

A bill of sale proving your ownership is also usually required, and if you are leasing or paying off a loan for the vehicle, you’ll likely have to get the loan holder to sign some documents also proving they’re okay with you taking this vehicle overseas. Physical copies of all of these documents are recommended, as are digital ones; you never know what or where you’ll be asked to present documentation of your ownership and the last thing you need is to have your vehicle kept unattended behind lock and key while you sort out a paper trail. 

Doublecheck the laws in your destination country, too - you’ll probably need an International Driving Permit to legally hit the road. It’s also worth taking some time to review local laws and research any tollways or urban congestion areas that require an extra fee to enter. 

Don’t: Let your car leave your sight without taking pictures. 

International shipping can take weeks, and when your car is out of your hands you can never fully know where it is or in what condition. Even with all of the papers signed and your car secured in its shipping container, it’s a good idea to have visual proof of the car’s status before the door closes. Take pictures (or video!) from all angles using strong lighting or before the car rolls into the container. Even if there’s just a single scratch, you want to be able to look back and prove what the car looked like as it began its journey, if you want the responsible party to take care of it instead of shrugging their shoulders. 

And just to be safe, we also recommend that you...

Do: Doublecheck your insurance coverage before your car departs. 

Shipping a normal vehicle internationally for a work placement or a military posting is one thing, but sending a classic car overseas requires some extra peace of mind when it comes to your insurance. Companies like Hagerty can offer additional protection in the form of International Travel Coverage, which not only covers damage incurred or theft during the shipping process but also adds the necessary coverage for the country you’re visiting. 

Whether you’re headed over the boundary for a touring event, a car show or just an extended visit, international insurance coverage can protect you from big trouble down the road (especially if that road makes you drive on the left-hand side).