Over four years ago, I met Bruno at a little campsite on the coast of Vilanculos, Mozambique. I remember asking him, during that first afternoon’s inspiring conversation, where he was headed next.
His reply: Alaska.
It appears Bruno has been planning his return to North America for at least four years (truthfully much longer). It’s been a long time coming, which is why August 10th was such a monumental day for Bruno and me. Totoyaya, our beloved homemade camper van, arrived in North America!
Our vehicle’s arrival onto any new continent is special (over the years I have personally had the opportunity to experience an arrival in Asia and Europe, though Bruno has also experienced its arrival into Africa, North America, and South America), but our arrival to North America holds a particularly special place in my heart – it’s my home continent!
I’ve spent the last decade (plus) exploring lands far and wide, but I’ve spent so little time exploring my own (unless we count all those childhood moves). There’s an incredible satisfaction in knowing that I’m finally going to delve deeper into the landscapes, culture, and history of my own special region of the world. It feels like a return to my roots, like coming full circle after a decade of wanderlust.
This month, Totoyaya will be peacefully parked in the driveway of my parents’ home along New Brunswick’s Atlantic Coast while we spend time with family and friends. We’ll hit the road sometime in September. In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting – and potentially helpful – for me to share our experience with shipping our vehicle from Europe to North America.
Step 1: Choosing the Shipping Method
There are two primary ways to get a vehicle across the Atlantic Ocean – putting it in a container, or doing a roll-on roll-off (RORO) ferry. I talked more about our experiences with these options here, but basically, ferries are generally the option we prefer. They involve less paperwork and are faster to organize. The drawback is that the vehicle is less secure, as you have to hand over your keys. Cost differences depend on size of vehicle and time available to plan the journey.
There isn’t always a RORO available, but the journey between Europe and North America is so popular now that there are several RORO options. We opted to go with Seabridge because they are one of the most popular and reliable options, and Bruno’s priority for this journey was simplicity.
Step 2: Choosing the Route
We thought we would ship our vehicle from Hamburg, Germany, but Seabridge recommended that we ship from Antwerp, Belgium, instead. The ferry ride would be several days shorter (four, I think) and the services provided would be in French and English, rather than German only.
Seabridge offers several ports of arrival in North America, but for us, the option was easy. Halifax is only three hours away from my family home, so Bruno and I could stay there while we waited for Totoyaya to arrive. This was a great way to bide our time, as there were 2.5 weeks between the date we handed over the keys in Antwerp and the day we could collect our vehicle in Halifax.
Apparently Canadian customs are pickier than the Americans, but the advantage of arriving in Canada is that we weren’t given the one-year time-limit on our foreign vehicle, which is what happens when you arrive in the US.
Step 3: Making the Reservation
You can make a reservation up to six months in advance, but since we were departing Europe at a less busy time (the busiest times are at the beginning and end of summer), we reserved online a few weeks before our departure. You need to know the dimensions of your vehicle, as the cost is factored at 47 euros per meter cubed.
When you reserve, you are also given the option of purchasing car insurance with Seabridge. Even though we weren’t asked to provide proof of our insurance, if we ever get stopped by police or have an accident, it’s the first thing we would be asked for. We would never drive in North America without vehicle insurance, and though we declined Seabridge’s insurance offer, we found it difficult to find affordable insurance for a European vehicle in North America. Finally, we went with Progressive.
We did opt for trip insurance on the vehicle with Seabridge, as it was only about 150 euros for the journey.
Step 4: Preparing the Vehicle
Unfortunately, I wasn’t around for most of the vehicle prep (I was spending some family time in Canada before Bruno joined me), so my poor hubby had to do most of this work on his own. I know this involved cleaning the interior of the vehicle thoroughly (a requirement for the Canadians), removing the water jugs and bicycles from the back exterior of the vehicle, emptying our personal items from the cabin, and high-pressure washing the exterior of the vehicle.
There is a customs inspection upon arrival, and the cost of that inspection is included in the shipping quotation. However, if the customs inspector determines the vehicle isn’t clean enough, there will be an additional cost to clean and re-inspect the vehicle.
Step 5: Loading the Vehicle at the Port of Departure
Vehicles bound on North American ferries with Seabridge from Antwerp must be in the port by noon every Monday (during summer, that is; winter may have less departures). Bruno was impressed at how simple the process was. He simply parked at the port, entered the building of the agency, got an entry pass into the port, brought the vehicle to be weighed (ours comes in at 3100kg!), handed his reservations documents to the agent, was told where to park, handed over the keys, and was given a receipt of the delivery. In and out in under an hour.
Seabridge then provided us with a document package of how the pickup in Halifax would happen, and it included maps, campsites, phone numbers and addresses of the offices we’d need to visit. The package was well-detailed and we felt confident and clear about the next step in the process.
Step 6: Picking up Vehicle at Port of Arrival
We followed our ferry’s progress online with a link that Seabridge had given us, so we knew it had arrived in port Sunday afternoon, just about two weeks later. It takes a couple of days before the vehicle is available, because everything is unloaded from the ferry and customs takes a day or so to check the shipment.
On Wednesday morning (2.5 weeks after dropping the vehicle off in Antwerp), you do two quick visits in Halifax before heading to the port to pick up your vehicle. First, if you’ve opted for the service, you go to a customs broker affiliated with Seabridge to pick up a packet of documents. You have to pay $150CAD for this. The office is located in downtown Halifax (5km from the port) and the visit takes five minutes. The simplicity of this step in the process was well-worth the money.
Next, you walk 600m to Canadian customs, hand over the forms you received at the customs broker, answer a few questions about the contents of your vehicle and the intention of your trip, and get your documents stamped. This also took about 10 minutes.
Bruno and I opted to do these visits the Tuesday afternoon, because the vehicle pickup at the port can only happen between 8:30-11:30am and we didn’t want to be rushed for time. In retrospect this was not necessary – everything can be done in a single morning.
At the port, we went to the entry office, showed our passport and got vests and guest passes. We were driven into the port to an office, where we handed over our packet of documents. Someone walked us to the vehicle for a cursory inspection, we signed a document, and the vehicle was ours to drive out of the port!
Concluding Thoughts on Our Experience with Seabridge
Based on the dimensions of our vehicle, it cost us 2585 euros to ship our vehicle on the Seabridge ferry from Antwerp, Belgium, to Halifax, Canada. This price included optional trip insurance. We also had to pay $150CAD in Halifax for the broker’s services.
While this price was possibly higher than other companies (and several euros per square meter higher than Seabridge used to cost), Bruno was incredibly satisfied with the experience. It took less than an hour on each end of the shipping, which was so much simpler than his experiences doing any other long distance shipping. Also, the price we were quoted was the full price, and there were no additional costs that surprised us at any point in the process. Bruno felt confident and safe with Seabridge, our vehicle arrived undamaged and with nothing missing, and neither of us experienced any stress during the process.
We can thus fully recommend Seabridge for shipping vehicles between North America and Europe, and we would do it again without any hesitation.
FYI, Totoyaya is, indeed, still for sale. We’ve decided to keep traveling with her in North America until we find her a proper new home. For all you North American readers, this means that our beloved camper van is now available in your own backyard! Please do pass the word on!