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Taking our car to Europe for a 90-day trip

Next year my husband and I want to travel to Europe for 3 months and we would like to ship our car so that we could use it there. We've been renting a car several times for several long-ish periods of time and each time just the rent cost us an arm and a leg. One day on average cost us $90, not including fuel. My husband is very tall and he won't fit in just any car. It has to have a good amount of headroom, and those "bigger" cars cost a lot to rent in Europe. Plus cars with an automatic transmission cost more, and neither of us know how to drive a car with a manual transmission.

The car in question is a 2013 Land Rover LR2. We really want to have this car with us in Europe because it does very well in the mountains (we like to travel in Austria and Switzerland the most), and it isn't very big but is "tall" enough for my husband. It is paid off and we have a title for it. We bought it here in the US and it is made for the US market. Does anyone know if driving a car that is made for the US market could possibly be an issue in Europe if you only travel up to 90 days with it? We will not be registering it in Europe and after 90 days we'll take it back home.

We really don't want to rent or lease a car for 3 months. Our 8-year old car has only 50K miles on it and has new tires. It's in a very good condition, not brand new but close to it.

I checked one car shipping company and it looks like we can ship our car from a port in a town near where we live to Bremerhaven, Germany. The cost of shipping a car round-trip is around $1,800. If I compare this price to the rental cost we've paid in Europe, it is equivalent to 20 days of rent. And we'll be using it for 90 days, which would save us a lot of money. We'll have to add the insurance cost.

We just want to have a peace of mind, flexibility, freedom, and not to have to worry about scratching and denting a rental car and then deal with huge repair bills. And also not to have to depend on the trains (been there, and the worst part is all those railway strikes that suck joy out of your trip!). We've traveled with Eurail passes for the past 20 years and now we want to try to travel with our own car.

I've found a US insurance company that can insure our car while we travel in Europe. But I'd also like to see if anyone had experience with a car insurance for their US car they took to Europe. Not for moving to Europe (relocating), which requires you to register your car and get the local license plates. Just travel or a short visit. Were you able to use your own US insurance or did you have to buy a separate coverage for your trip? Our insurance company doesn't offer coverage in Europe.

Also, did anyone face any problems when driving their US car in Europe? For example, maybe you had to buy a permit to use a certain country's highways/autobahns. Or your headlights were not up to the EU standards. Or you had to have that oval sticker on the back of your car with the "USA" on it (not sure if they're mandatory for the US cars). Or maybe you had some other issues related to your US car?

We're planning to take our car back when we return to the US. We only want to use it for those 3 months and not to have to rely on trains and rental cars. This is not about importing a car, it's just to travel with it and for personal use.

Hope someone has had some experience with taking their car overseas and can answer at least some of my questions. Thank you in advance!

Posted by
9520 posts

Relying solely on what I learned as an Embassy employee in Italy, only diplomats can bring a car over and use it. They have different emission standards and are quite strict.

You can buy a car in Europe, use it, then ship it home. I believe Volvo, Mercedes, and BMW all have programs. I have a friend who did this thru Volvo.

Posted by
3669 posts

Others buy a car there and resell it....but I know I wouldn't want that hassle. Though I wouldn't want the hassle of the shipping paperwork and emmission and other required compliancies either.
Also imaging the target you might find yourself being with US plates...either for theft or police 'interest'?
Some of your answers may also be worth askingmon expat forums/Facebook pages....or Tripadvisor for specific countries you plan to visit. Each may have their own requirements....but as a visotir it might be less of an issue.
I think the going recommendationnis that anything over 3 weeks, you are better off leasing or buying/reselling.

Posted by
388 posts

This is not necessarily impossible to do. For example, you can do it in France:

Importing a Private Vehicle into France from Canada or the U.S. from the French embassy -- search for "tourist" and you will see that you can temporarily import a vehicle into France without paying duty or tax, as long as you stay less than 185 days in the EU, the car is exported back out of France and no French residents drive it.

However, I'd check the corresponding regulations for every European country you plan to visit, as well as paying special attention to what the rules are in Switzerland, as it is not part of the EU.

I have no comments on cost, as I've never leased or rented for this long, nor have I actually tried to temporarily import a car.

Posted by
130 posts

Renting or leasing a brand new car/SUV with European plates would be safer. I used Auto Europe.
Land Rover sits at the bottom of the reliability lists and could be hard/costly to fix.
Sitting in breakdown city waiting for a part from soon to be non-EU Britain would not be fun.
As noted, your US plates and model of car might be a magnet for unwelcome attention.
At the moment some cars with US plates are viewed suspiciously in Covid-19 Canada,
and this problem may persist in post Covid Europe. Brave new world.
A 3 month lease is easier than a rental - they reportedly do not scrutinize it on return like rental offices do.
See Rick's many posts and others about the joys of leasing a European car - with an automatic!
Having 3 months is a perfect opportunity to do the leasing thing, and fly home free as a bird.

Posted by
2901 posts

Having leased a car in France, and seeing the leasing figures others have given here, I can't imagine why anyone would even consider bringing their own car over from the US.

Posted by
7112 posts

I am stunned that r/t shipping from US to Europe is only $1800. I looked at having a car trucked from San Francisco to Seattle and the cost was $700-900 one way.

I have a hard time believing shipping a car is the most efficient solution

You do have a second car to use while yours is in transit?

Posted by
7309 posts

I had friends ship their Corolla to Saudi Arabia, use it for two years and then drive all the way to England and ship it home. It cost $600 to ship each way. But they had unlimited time.
My tall brother-in-law who lives up a mountain on the Riviera, enjoyed his Land Rover, too, but switched to BMW SUV hybrid, for much better gas mileage.
However, you've been given excellent advice by others. I'd weigh the cost and convenience of leasing a full-size SUV which includes full insurance, vs US plates attracting attention in a world in which we aren't the most popular right now, and the possibility of wasting days at the dock, or waiting for parts, etc. Those are what I would weigh.

Posted by
750 posts

A couple of the many nice things about leasing are 1) The car is insured to he hilt by a European insurance company that the leasing company trusts, not some deal cooked up by a US company hooked up with a foreign company. 2) The car is not only brand new, it has 24 hour roadside assistance which an 8 year old Land Rover will not. If you do it, which I personally would not, make sure that the shipping operator will pick up the car and deliver it to you at an accessible location, modern container ports are not always easy for amateurs to deal with.

Posted by
5534 posts

Admittedly it was a LOOONG time ago, but shipping my VW home after we picked it up in Germany and drove it to France took several months one way ... will you have a second car while the Land Rover is on the ship going and returning ? Leasing sounds like a better choice.

Posted by
24867 posts

what fuel does your Landie use? Does it need any special additives?

I'll complete this later today with the various permits you asked about.

Posted by
4980 posts

Re: Purchase programs, buy there from the carmakers, have them ship it home: You would need to verify what is still available. Many car companies have let those programs fade away, simply because they no longer produce models for the North American market in Europe. (They make them here or in Mexico) I know Volkswagen shut the program down, BMW has as well. I think Mercedes still has the program, but limited to certain models, and Volvo still has the program, but that would involve including Sweden in your plans.

My Brother used to ship his car back and forth (in the Military, so on the Federal dime), it was not quick, and unless your quote includes additional services, there was usually some type of fee to prep the car for transport, and then another fee to get it roadworthy and inspected. Storage was also charged for any days on either end waiting for shipment or pick-up. You also need to research and determine what additional equipment you will need, usually safety vests, road markers, other safety stuff. Otherwise, yes, shipping is an option, bit extreme for a 90 day trip. Your US registration is valid there (except for vignettes and other required stickers) and you do not need to have any safety or pollution control items added. I will add though that shipping a car is not Fed-Ex, need appointments to drop off and pickup. Dates to ship, transit times, and pick up each way are rough, do not plan for example to "pick up on the Morning of" instead maybe "it might be available the Week of".

I too, would urge you to look at leasing, yes, requiring an Automatic and headroom may limit your options and increase costs, but it will be significantly cheaper than the $90/day estimate you are using.

Posted by
2751 posts

When we picked up our new Volvo we were given the choice of several cities in Europe to pick up from for an additional fee, not just Gothenburg.

Also it makes a difference which coast you’d be shipping your Land Rover to and from as to length of time in transit. Our car took 1 month to ship to the west coast from Europe. Which US coast would you be shipping to and from?

Posted by
24867 posts

I'm back. We just took a long walk timed so we got back just before the rain started. Just about made it. Traffic on the A14 slowed us down, 2 delays. In Cambridgeshire it was just wet air, by the time we were back in Northamptonshire the skies had opened. Thanks for sending over the tropical storm we will be stuck with for the next 3 or 4 days.

So what do you need for your Landie? At a minimum all drivers will need an IDP - in normal times easy to get at AAA/CAA. I don't know how easy it is now. And your car will need identification on the rear using the official abbreviation (USA for US) of an appropriate size, shape and colour. Either a sticker or metal plate are easiest - AAA or car shops probably have them. You need to be sure of the fuel requirements, and be aware that RON (similar to an octane figure) is sometimes not easy to see, The European specification is changing symbols at the moment. I understand that European pump handle colour and hose colour are different than in the US. In much of Europe (many countries, they all have slightly different habits, laws and customary ways of doing things) a black nozzle attached to a black hose will be diesel. Some diesel is normal diesel, some is more expensive better or best. You'll need to know which you need. The hoses and nozzles will be the same colour, there will likely only be a note above the nozzle, or rarely, a plate on the nozzle where the advertising usually is. If you need petrol either the nozzle or hose will often be green or part green, or yellow. The local word for diesel or petrol varies from country to country - you need to know that before you change countries. The hoses don't stay on when you pump, they need to be held on. In most places it is self-service (Italy the major exception) and usually pay inside when finished telling them the pump number. Inside you may be able to use a US old-style signature credit card but they won't work outside on the island or at the pump. Then you will need a PIN-priority chip and PIN card. Fuel is sold by the litre and is very expensive by US standards. A litre is fairly similar to a quart.

It would be really handy for you to mention the countries you intend to drive in. They are all different and have different laws despite being in Europe, the European Union, and/or Schengen. I know you like Switzerland and Austria and maybe Germany but???

You'll need to acquire a bunch of windshield stickers depending on where you are going. Germany has a whole mass of environmental areas, usually but not always in cities or towns, and if you don't have a green Umweltplakette sticker in the window you get massive fines for driving in covered areas. Costs money, available at inspection centres like TüV. There is something very similar in France, you will need a yellow sticker. Registration in advance (a couple of weeks when I did it) on line for non-French cars, I don't know if US cars are eligible) and they are picky where it is attached.

Belgium does not require an environmental sticker but Antwerpen, Gent and other cities and towns now require on-line registration.

Some countries like the UK handle congestion charges and ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) charges on-line within a short period after entering. All the environmental zones I've mentioned so far are highly controlled by cameras and fines are automatic.

Road tolls are handled differently in each country. Slovenia, Austria and Switzerland (including Lichtenstein) use window stickers. Austria's are for as little as 10 consecutive days, up to a month, or multiples and are quite expensive for long stays. It doesn't cover special roads or bridges. Switzerland is CHF40 for a whole year, which is quite expensive for short stays. France is toll roads and bridges. Italy has normal toll roads but also Free Flow paid online.

I'm out of space...

Posted by
6 posts

Andrew, thank you so much for the valuable info from the French embassy. This is what I found and it looks like it's quite doable:

What kind of vehicles may be temporarily imported by tourists?

Tourists are allowed to import the following vehicles (not more than one in each category):

  • motorcycle;
  • passenger car;
  • trailer;
  • semi-trailer;
  • house trailer;
  • motor home.

Tourists may drive with their own Canadian or US license plates and with their own personal driver’s licenses, provided they comply with the driving minimum age requirement in France of 18 and they have a valid insurance. Those vehicles do not have to meet the French safety and environment standards.

What conditions apply to vehicles imported temporarily by tourists?

  • they cannot be used by French residents;

  • they must be for your personal use and should in no way be sold, rented or otherwise disposed of in France;

  • temporary admission is granted for a period of six months starting from your arrival in the EU;

  • all such vehicles must be exported when the six-month time limit has expired.

Posted by
6 posts

John R Scott, we will travel next year. Hopefully, there won't be any pandemics then.

joe32F, this is from an email with a quote I got from one of the shipping companies for RoRo (roll on roll off):

Export - Shipping (inc. BAF,LSL,BL)
East Coast (Baltimore, Brun, Charls) $ 1,249
East Coast (Baltimore) $ 1,249
East Coast (Jacksonville) $ 1,249 (our port)
Southern Coast (Houston/ Galveston) $ 0 / $ 1,360
West Coast (Tacoma, Long Beach) $ 1,900

Export Costs
AES, Docs & Port fees $400
An escort is required for US ports, expect the cost to be between $50 - $125, depending on port.

Import
Import Costs (EU Ports / UK Ports) €250-€325
(Port Fees, THC and Customs clearance, does not include any taxes or duties.)

Port calls / Route
East Coast (Bal, Brun, Charls) - port calls in Europe, Southampton, Zeebrugge & Bremerhaven
East Coast (Baltimore) - port calls in Europe, Liverpool, Antwerp and Hamburg

Sailing Frequency
East Coast (Baltimore, NYC, Charleston) - Weekly Services
East Coast (Jacksonville) - 2 to 3 sailings per month
Southern Coast (Galveston / Houston) - 3 sailings per month
West Coast (Long Beach, Tacoma) - 3 sailings per month
*sailing schedules can be provided upon request

Cut off
Normally cut off is 7 working days prior to sailing,

Posted by
596 posts

Living in a military town, many of my neighbors, friends, have lived overseas (mostly Germany). Most end up shipping a car weeks ahead of their scheduled departure from the US. If you have any connections to USAA they may be able to give some information regarding overseas insurance options. To be honest, many military people will just buy a used car when they get there with European specs.

I go to the UK for extended stays (dual citizen) and it has never crossed my mind to take my US car with me. I would suggest looking into a lease from a known rental company. I once made the mistake of renting from a local cheap car rental company and got a piece of junk that I drove all around Scotland. Never again. Lesson learned. I will always spend extra to have good reliable transportation.

Posted by
6 posts

Nigel, thanks for explaining about the pumps. We always buy the recommended premium grade fuel (93 Octane) for our Land Rover but I've heard of some people who have used regular 87 for years and they have never had any issues. Not sure about special additives though, we've never used any. And yes, I know that fuel is very expensive in Europe. An unaviodable evil... It's equally expensive whether you rent a car or bring your own one.

I just checked the AAA website and we can get an IDP for $20 per person. This is what they say you need and it looks pretty simple:

Download and fill out an application, and bring it to your nearest AAA branch office.
Two original passport pictures (also available at AAA branch offices).
A valid U.S. driver's license.
Pay $20 USD permit fee and you're ready to go!

You can even obtain it through the mail. :)

I saw the oval "USA" stickers on Amazon, so that should also be easy to get.

The countries we would like to drive in are Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, possibly northern Italy, Croatia and Montenegro but I'm not sure right now. Maybe Luxembourg, Belgium and Netherlands if we feel like going there (we just went there not too long ago). Our base will be in Austria and we will be making short trips here and there around it, spending a few days between the trips at our "base" and relaxing. We'll avoid all major cities since we've been to so many of them multiple times over the past 2 decades. If we bring a car, we want to see the countryside, the places that are hard to access if one travels by train (which we usually did for many years). Thanks for explaining about the windshield stickers, I'll research those too.

LauraB, yes, we have a second car here in the US. We work from home for several years and barely drive either cars anyway. Also, the time of shipping a car to/from Europe nowadays is 10 to 21 days.

mpaulyn, we have no army connections at all. I do have a friend whose husband was stationed in Germany but they didn't take their car with them.

Paul, we did look at a possibility to buy a car in Europe and then either sell it or import it to the US if it's a new car. The problems are (among other things):
a) Since we're non-EU residents, it is a lot more complicated than just shipping our own car to Europe; not just buying but especially selling it.
b) We don't need another car (we already have 2 and we work from home, so we don't even need 2 cars), but selling it in the US is a hassle since it won't be a brand-new car. Plus, a car that is not older than 6 months will cost a lot in import taxes. If it were a car that is older than 6 months, we wouldn't have to pay import taxes since it's considered a "used car", but then we wouldn't know what to do with a car for 6 months since we only want to travel for 3 months (no visa required for 90 days and all).

We live about 30 min. from Jacksonville, FL port, from which we can ship our car, so it's easy to pick it up right away. And my mom lives near Bremen in Germany, so it would be easy to get to the Bremerhaven port at whatever date and stay at my mom's place for free if we had to wait a few extra days. Of course, we won't get any plane tickets until we know the shipping dates.

Mona, we'll be shipping from Florida.

Posted by
1746 posts

this is from an email with a quote I got from one of the shipping
companies for RoRo (roll on roll off): East Coast (Jacksonville) $
1,249 (our port) Export Costs AES, Docs & Port fees $400 An escort is
required for US ports, expect the cost to be between $50 - $125,
depending on port. Import Costs (EU Ports / UK Ports) €250-€325

This adds up to more than 1800 according to my calculator.

And yes, I know that fuel is very expensive in Europe. An unaviodable
evil... It's equally expensive whether you rent a car or bring your
own one.

All cars are not equal when it comes to fuel consumption, and a Land Rover is hardly the most fuel efficient vehicle available.

The countries we would like to drive in are Austria, Switzerland,
Liechtenstein, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia,
possibly northern Italy, Croatia and Montenegro but I'm not sure right
now.

You need to make a rough plan and make sure you know what the requirements are for every country. This is an area where there is not much EU coordination on rules and many rules differ from country to country. Vignettes and environmental rules have been mentioned, but there are other rules as well. Such as some countries requiring first aid kits, fire extinguishers or high-visibility vests. Different laws on headlights etc. And make sure you know the traffic laws and what the road signs mean. Also, if your car doesn't show the speed in km/h, make sure you pay attention to how fast you're driving.

Maybe Luxembourg, Belgium and Netherlands if we feel like going there
(we just went there not too long ago).

Avoid Benelux, especially the Netherlands. It is not an area for an car holiday. The roads are crowded and the cities are only slightly more car friendlier than Venice. On the other hand, trains and buses will take you anywhere cheap and easy.

Posted by
199 posts

I do this for a living, don't do this.

You're looking at $4K r/t, not including any duties and taxes - or more (it's more expensive to import to the US than to export because we have a trade imbalance).

Additionally, your vehicle is at high risk to be damaged at the port of discharge by port workers (yup, happens all the time), not to mention get damaged during transit. And the same occurs in reverse.

You also will need to ensure you're covered in case the car rolls off the vessel or the vessel runs aground (especially if they declare General Average).

Additionally, you will have to pay for a French Import Customs broker who is familiar with the Special Clearance Procedure for Tourists - wouldn't surprise me if this alone was about $1000 (don't quote me, I'm a US customs specialist not French).

So yeah, lots of stuff to think about. I'd lease in country.