So you took my awesome advice, bought your car through the Japanese auctions, and now it’s ready to head overseas. There are a few misconceptions when it comes to the international shipping of vehicles. On one hand, most people think cars are loaded into containers and transported on a huge ship. While this is possible, it’s unlikely. Most cars are transported via RORO shipping. I’ll show you why, and what’s involved with the process.
RORO vs Container
RORO = “Roll On Roll Off”
Container = What people usually picture when they think a car is shipped overseas.
Since container shipping is pretty obvious, I’ll focus more on why RORO is better. RORO is the simplest and cheapest method of shipping for vehicles, and unless you’re talking about a $50,000 car, RORO is a no-brainer.
This is how it works: Vehicles are driven directly onto the RORO vessel and secured to the car decks (tied down like a car would be inside a trailer). They are securely inside the vessel, wind-and-watertight. It is important to note that you cannot ship items using this method, but spare tires and factory fitted accessories are allowed (no, you can’t transport extra parts/drugs/bodies inside the car). RORO shipping is a very popular way of transporting cargo to other countries. The idea was created and developed by the Japanese car manufacturers to ship their cars to USA and Europe in a fast and efficient manner by using specialized ships called “vehicle carriers”. The vessels are still referred to as “vehicles carriers” today.
International RORO shipping is popular with exporters and importers for 2 simple reasons: cost and efficiency.
The cargo is simply “rolled on” the vessel at the port of loading and “rolled off” the vessel at the overseas destination. Everything is handled by the port workers. There’s no need to hire and pay export warehouse for crating, container packing, flat rack loading, port delivery, etc. This really helps in keeping the cost of international shipping down.
Shipping via RORO service from the U.S. can be arranged from the major ocean ports: New York, Baltimore, Charleston, Jacksonville, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Savannah, Galveston, and Los Angeles (and this list is still growing). On top of that, the unloading/inspecting process is quick.
Here’s an example of what an inter national RORO vessel looks like.
The Shipping Process
So you bought your car. Is it going to magically get on a boat that’s going to your closest port? That’s actually kind of how it works (except replace magic with your exporter). You win the bid, transfer the money to Japan (pretty easy to do if you work with a good sized bank, and I’ll talk about those costs later), and now your exporter takes care of the Japanese paperwork. Most likely, your exporter will send you pictures of your car before it gets on the ship. This helps eliminate liability for shipping issues on their side.
Money is transferred, Japanese legality is cleared. Now you’ll probably wait 1-2 weeks for a RORO vessel to get to whatever port your exporter works with. RORO vessel aren’t rare, but they’re not popular either. There isn’t one sailing into the port everyday, so there will always be a wait.
Car gets loaded, and now you wait even longer. Much longer. 30-38 days from my experience. Are the California port workers on strike? That adds time. Is there a storm at the Panama Canal? That adds time. It can vary depending on circumstances, but you’ll be waiting a little over a month for your car to hit the port.
This is where you can take a break, kind of. The only job you need to do in this month of downtime is coordinate with your customs broker so the government is prepared when your car arrives. What’s a customs broker? I’m glad you asked. My next chapter will cover just that