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-   -   How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition) (https://sprinter-source.com/forum/showthread.php?t=51713)

PaulDavis 11-11-2016 11:08 AM

How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition)
When we decided to ship our (self-converted) Sprinter to Europe, I started scouring the net for information on how to do it. While I did find some useful links, a lot of what I came across seemed to have changed in important ways, or was missing important caveats. I thought I'd write up our choices and experience so that anyone else thinking about doing this can refer to it. No doubt it too will become less accurate as time moves on from the date of writing (November 2016).

  1. It takes a long time. You will likely not see your van for almost a month.
  2. It costs about US$2000 in each direction.
  3. It is quite intimidating and scary, but will probably be fine.
  4. You can do it for 6 months with no import duties, registration or paperwork.
  5. Insurance will be expensive.


You are allowed to ship your vehicle (Sprinter or otherwise) to Europe for a period of 6 months without filling out any more than a simple form. Note: this is 6 months out of any 12 - you cannot head down to Morocco (for example) with the hope of resetting the clock unless you plan to be out of the EU for long enough to round up to 12 months. This regulation is EU-wide: no matter which country you import to, the 6 months-in-12 rule applies wherever you go in the EU.

There are no import duties, no need for inspection or registration as long as your vehicle is fully registered and inspected in your home state. Note that this may require you to re-register and re-inspect your vehicle if the current expiration dates fall in the middle of your proposed stay in Europe. This can be tricky if you also plan to suspend your US insurance policy (see below), since most states will revoke the registration when that happens. So be sure to do this before cancelling insurance, not after. We imported via the UK, so we had to fill out a C100 form (very easy) that required us to give a UK address (we used my parents'). We mailed the letter to UK Customs and about 3-4 weeks later, they sent a letter to the provided address in the UK confirming that the vehicle was cleared for import without duties etc.

As the time of writing, we are still in the UK, so we do not know quite how departure will work, but all the forms and letters make it extremely clear that we MUST remove the vehicle from Europe before 6 months is up, otherwise we will be liable for the full import duties, vehicle tax + registration and inspection for safety. Note that this is also the case if the van were to be stolen or wrecked.


There are 3 parts to the insurance story.

1) Insurance back in the USA

If you're going to be gone for a long time, it may be financially worth your while to cancel your US policy. We're gone for the full 6 months, so we did this. Be aware that in most or all states, the insurance company will notify the state, who will require official suspension of your vehicle's registration (since it is illegal to drive an uninsured vehicle on any public route). We believe that our insurance company (State Farm) will happily reinstate our insurance when we return, but that remains to be seen.

2) Insurance in Europe

You are legally required to have liability insurance while using your vehicle in Europe. Failure to do so can threaten you with legal penalties (the consequence may vary by country). You are not required to have any insurance for damage or loss of the vehicle itself, but you may decide that you want some.

Contrary to information that you may still find out there online, there appears to be only a single insurer willing to offer this insurance. Your normal US insurance company will not insure your vehicle in Europe, and no regular European insurance company will insure a US registered vehicle. You may find stories about certain companies such as Geico who supposedly offer the required coverage. These stories were either never true, are no longer true, or apply only to expatriates who will be abroad for at least 1 year (this does not conflict with the 6 month rule mentioned above - there are conditions under which you can have your US registered vehicle in Europe for longer, but they mostly concern being posted there for work or long term study). Several companies in the UK advertise this sort of coverage, but when contacted, no longer offer it.

The only insurer I could find who still offer the required insurance is Tour Insure in Germany

Whether it is because they basically own the market or for other reasons, the cost of this insurance is astronomical. We pay about $800 a year to insure our van with full comprehensive coverage (though only for the vehicle value, not the conversion extras). Just 6 months of liability-only coverage via TourInsure was nearly $700. To insure the full value of the van would have cost over US$4500 for 6 months.

There's not much you can do about this (unless you manage to find an alternative insurer that I missed). We decided to get the required liability insurance, and a small amount of loss/damage coverage. However, they mis-read our form, and gave us only the liability portion, and we reconsidered and just left it at that. There was a $2500 deductible ("excess" in UK terminology), which meant that it would be fairly useless for minor accidents anyway.

3) Insurance on the boat

No matter how you ship your vehicle (more below), neither the insurance you had/have in the USA nor the insurance you will have in Europe will cover anything happening to the van while on the boat. Reading trade journals about this sort of thing gave the me the sense that in general not much is likely to happen, but if it does it will be one of two things: (1) fire on board (2) vessel capsizes due to load shifting. Neither are common, but (1) is an order of magnitude more common than (2). No idea how there can ever be a fire on board, but apparently it is a "growing risk" (though still a very small one). Note the fire risk is much smaller for container shipping compared with Roll-on/Roll-off shipping (see below for more on this).

We opted to take out US$50,000 of insurance on the van while on the boat. It cost $1.50 per $1000 of value, so it added $750 to the overall shipping cost, while also adding near-total peace of mind that if for some reason the van never made it across the Atlantic, we would not be out of pocket and totally stuck (it would obviously still be horrible). This insurance was offered by our shipping agent, and paid for as part of the bill for shipping.

[ In later posts, I will talk about shipping options, and then the actual experience ]

Midwestdrifter 11-11-2016 03:09 PM

Re: How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition)
Some companies also provide all risk insurance. This apparently will cover damage during handling at both ends or in the event that someone manages to put big scratch in your vehicle driving it around the port. Most quotes I have received are around 2% of total insured value.

The scary part in my opinion is having your vehicle sitting at a warehouse or port parking lot at both ends. These areas may not be especially secure depending on the port, which provides additional risk. :idunno:. Since we will be shipping quite a bit of gear in our vehicle there is the risk of theft, though I'm trying to mitigate that.

I'm curious if the EU would let you import for longer if you decide to get a CPD Carnet?

I have found that shipping by containership tends to be the fastest because the containerships are faster. If you can for your van into a high cube container that's the way to go I think. :thinking:

PaulDavis 11-11-2016 08:45 PM

Re: How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition)
My impression is that the Carnet mostly covers (a) things other than vehicles (b) vehicles moving between countries without other agreements. The EU and the USA have a 6 month vehicle agreement and so I believe that the CPD Carnet is basically irrelevant if you are moving a vehicle between these two domains.

ben322 11-12-2016 11:10 AM

Re: How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition)
It was my understanding that most roll on roll off ships do not allow any gear in the vehicle. We've looked at options to import vehicles back to the US and that seemed to be universal with the shipping companies but perhaps things have changed.

tinman 11-12-2016 04:12 PM

Re: How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition)
The last time we did it (Germany to Canada) advice was not to leave anything in the vehicle. We left a few bits of low value camping gear, and some of it was stolen somewhere enroute.

PaulDavis 11-12-2016 04:33 PM

Re: How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition)

Originally Posted by ben322 (Post 502114)
It was my understanding that most roll on roll off ships do not allow any gear in the vehicle. We've looked at options to import vehicles back to the US and that seemed to be universal with the shipping companies but perhaps things have changed.

Shipping agents will tell you this. I asked ours whether this was mandatory or merely liability related (aka "ass covering") and their reply, though obviously cryptic, pointed strongly to the latter. They think you should pay someone else to ship your van contents separately.

When I get to my next post in this thread, I'll describe what we did to make almost all of our stuff secure against pilfering.

PaulDavis 11-12-2016 05:08 PM

Re: How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition)
Shipping options

When it comes to shipping a vehicle across an ocean, specifically the Atlantic, there are two main choices:
  1. Container-ization then container ship
  2. Roll-on/Roll-off

You have likely seen container ships in real life or photographs and videos. The basic idea is very simple: people needing to ship stuff put it into standard sized containers that get stacked in an orderly fashion on a (typically enormous) boat.

Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo) boats are fundamentally huge multi-level parking garages that cross oceans. They have hugely high side walls, and many floors on which anything that be "rolled on" and "rolled off" can be positioned and locked down. About 75% of a typical RoRo load comes from vehicle manufacturers, another 20% from government agencies shipping government owned vehicles and/or their employees vehicles around the world, and barely 5% from private individuals.

There are many, many advantages of container shipping, most of them centered around the fact that you get to lock your stuff in the container and nobody gets in until you open it at the destination. However, for those of us trying to ship sprinter conversions there is one rather significant problem: a high-roof sprinter will not fit in the standard sized container. From what I can determine, it will fit in a so-called "mega-hi" container, and with a lot of creative engineering (e.g. fake small diameter wheels - search the forums) can fit in a so-called "hi" or "large" or "oversize" container. The issue with these containers is that the shipping costs go up significantly because they cannot be stacked in the middle of the normal boat load, since they would disrupt the regular stacking pattern. They must be placed on top of the regular containers unless there are enough of them to form their own stack, or if the boat is empty enough they get their own zone somewhere.

The other issue with container-ization is that you are responsible for ensuring that the contents are secure. Container ships can get kicked around like crazy and so this is incredibly important to get right. The boats can tilt up to (or beyond) 45 degrees left, right, front and back). Fail to adequately secure your Sprinter and it is going to get banged around in ways that could easily be irreparable.

I sheepishly admit that I did not look into actual costs for a mega-hi, but rather concluded that there were too many complexities and likely increased costs associated with using a container. We decided to go RoRo.

RoRo has the fundamental issue (as noted by commenters up-thread) that you must provide full access to your vehicle to any number of unknown and likely unidentified people. Unless you have a partition between the front seats and the back (highly unlikely for a conversion van), the people who move your vehicle from the dock into the ship and then off again have complete access to the interior of the van. This opens up fears of pilfering or worse, and leads to shipping agents saying things like "Your vehicle should be completely empty; the only acceptable contents are a spare tire and tools to change a tire". This advice is not binding - they will admit when asked that they are trying to deal with liability issues - but it is certainly scary given that most of us have vans filled quite a lot stuff that, regardless of value, we find very useful.

In the USA, the post 9/11 environment has caused a massive lockdown in port security (more on this in a later post), which means that at least there is extremely careful tracking of who crosses the port security perimeter. However, none of this is done with the intention of making your van secure - it will sit in the port parking lot, unlocked and accessible to anyone authorized to be in the port.

Port security in the UK was massively reduced compared to the US, though by contrast, the keys to my van were at least kept locked up away from the vehicle. This reduces the scope for pilfering/theft of contents, but doesn't eliminate them.


To deal with this major downside of RoRo shipping, I took some steps to try to make the stuff we left in the van not accessible without some definite and deliberate break-and-entering.

We removed everything of any value at all from the shelf boxes in the van, and left the boxes empty. The items removed were all placed in the storage boxes we use under our bed, and in other containers that were squished into the remaining storage space there. I ran a steel cable around the 4 large storage boxes, and and padlocked the ends so that no access to the boxes was possible without cutting the cable. Then I use two pieces of 1/4" birch ply to completely block off the ends of the under-bed area, screwing them our bedframe and the floor with "tamper-resistant" screws (they just need a slightly less common torx bit). The result was a large storage area that was not accessible at all without actually breaking or cutting some material.

Our sliding pantry and two deep storage drawers in the galley have southco latches installed with locks in them. I loaded them up with more items from other shelves and drawers without locks, and locked them. These are not going to resist someone determined to open them and possibly break stuff, but they do prevent casual opening.

The large closet at the rear of our van that holds my computer gear was were I put any electronics (including some nice small bookshelf speakers) that (a) didn't come with us personally (b) end up under the bed. I replaced the 1/4"-20 thumb knobs that normally are used to close it with 1/4-20 phillips head screws. Again, easy to open if you have a screwdriver, but you have to want to do it rather than just casually opening a door to see what is inside.

Our bicycles are always attached to the walls using truck-bed mounts that can be padlocked in the closed position. Someone determined to steal them could unscrew the mounts from the wall, but then they'd need a plan to cut off the mounts from the bikes. I then ran bike lock cables through the wheels, our lounge chairs and the fabric handle of our camp table. Again, easy to break if someone wanted to but making casual pilfering hard or impossible.

I did the same thing with my toolbox, running a bike cable lock through holes in the front seat mounts, through the toolbox handle and secured with a padlock that also locked the lid of the toobox.

Finally, our camp stove is held in place by a couple of removable wooden blocks that stop it from sliding around during travel. I ran a wood screw up from the underside of the shelf it sits on so that each of these blocks was not removable.

I have no idea if all these actions were required, but they left me feeling more confident that our stuff was secure.

When I picked up the van in Southampton, nothing was missing. Except ... almost all the magnets on the back of the van from places we've visited. It seems unlikely that they were shaken off - they've survived 10k miles without issue. One of the drawers did pop open during the journey, exposing the contents, but none were taken.

[ next time: finding a shipping agent ]

Midwestdrifter 11-13-2016 03:04 PM

Re: How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition)
Some good ideas there thanks for posting. As a general rule anything that isn't tied down, bolted down, or part of your vehicle will probably go missing during transit. :idunno: I am using a shared container service so there will be a third-party loading my vehicle and securing it in the container and unloading it at the destination port. While not quite as risky as leaving my vehicle on our RORO ship there is plenty of opportunity for petty theft. Thankfully having a vehicle show up at the destination port stripped is extremely unusual.

theDangerz 11-27-2016 01:38 AM

Re: How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition)
Great tips and good to know we have viable options other than redoing central america en route to south america!

autostaretx 11-27-2016 01:46 AM

Re: How To Ship a Sprinter from the USA to Europe (Fall 2016 edition)
Friends of ours shipped their self-converted Sprinter from Jacksonville Florida to Zarate (near Buenos Aires) Argentina this fall.

Here's his post about the shipment (RO-RO, nothing stolen):
((their worst worry was that it was on the Jacksonville docks when Hurricane Matthew blew through... and they were in Guatemala))



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