Read how we managed a vehicle container shipping to South-America…

While in preparation for our overlanding journey we found very little information on the Internet regarding overseas vehicle shipping. It was quite a feat to overcome and we’ll try to address in this article the most popular questions regarding vehicle container shipping to the best of our knowledge and hands-on experience in the matter.

Many ask us why we opted to ship our vehicle directly to Uruguay. Generally, people who undertake a Pan-America overlanding journey start from any point in the Americas with the aim to make it to Ushuaia, Argentina, to the Southernmost tip of Patagonia, basically, the end of the world, and of course, the road.

But considering we’d never driven further than to Toronto together prior to this, we wanted a route that would give us time to build up some experience and street credits before committing to a 40,000 km itinerary throughout Latin America.

Shipping our vehicle from Miami to Uruguay filled all of the above criteria twice, here’s why.

First off, taking our time as we drove South towards Florida would serve as a “buffer period”, a three-week test of our equipment, add-ons such as our new roof top tentroof rack and auxiliary battery system among other items. Secondly, by making our itinerary’s start in South America, we would have the time to build some overlanding experience in somewhat first world regions before returning towards Central America which we thought would have more to contend with in every sense.

vehicle container shipping Marquestra overlanding

In retrospect, this was a very smart idea. We’re still not sure that if we’d chosen to drive from the USA, heading south through Mexico, that we’d have made it at all to Central America. A lot of people do, but we knew our limits and ourselves “at the time”. This route option turned out perfect… for us. That’s how we initially came to the decision to ship our vehicle directly by container ship to South America.

vehicle container shipping Marquestra overlanding

So off we were, driving from Montreal to Miami, taking our time, testing our gear, trying out our ARB fridge (priorities: who doesn’t deserve a cold one at the end of the day) and all of the extra gadgets which our Jeep Wrangler aka Redbird was outfitted with.

The details on how we shipped our Jeep Wrangler from Miami to South America 

With some in-depth research on Drive the Americas, we found some interesting information pertaining to international vehicle shipment. There are two main options for maritime shipping of your vehicle.

RORO: Which stands for Roll-on/Roll-Off. The vehicle is driven on board the cargo ship, much the same ways new cars are delivered from Europe or Japan to the US.
    Pros: Cost is generally lower than container shipping.
    Cons: You give the keys over. Unless you have a cabin divider that can be secured, your gear will be prone to burglary. Which as we’ve read, happens a lot.

CONTAINER SHIPPING: You drive your vehicle into a 20 ft (or 40 ft) container, which is locked, sealed and tagged with an ID number.
    Pros: Secured from theft and protected from all sides.
    Cons: Costly and subjected to more of the outside weather as the actual container may well be sitting atop the ship for three weeks at sea.

You can find a lot of information about vehicle container shipping from overlanding champions Landcruising Adventure.

It quickly became apparent that we would require some freight forwarders to take care of the paperwork. Again, some folks do all of this themselves; we decided to hire a broker to facilitate to process. So we proceded on getting Redbird onto a container ship with the help of Andy from International Air Cargo. (Contact info [email protected] or 3058153619)

vehicle container shipping Marquestra overlanding

It’s a tight fit!

Once we got the brokerage and customs coordinated with them, we made our way to a designated logistics company where our 20 foot bright Red Hamburg Sud container was awaiting Redbird at the loading dock. Up the ramp and into the cargo box, that sounded simple enough, but the height, length and width of the Jeep and its rooftop tent made this quite a challenging morning.

vehicle container shipping Marquestra overlanding

Driving into the loading area

Container Width

2.35 Metres

Internal Width

Take out any needed items out of the vehicle before putting in it the container.

Container Door

2.28 meters

Door Opening Height

If a ramp is used to drive in it will impact the clearance.

Container Height

2.39 m

Internal Height

If you need to deflate your tires, do you have access to a compressor to reinflate them?

Once inside, we got the battery disconnected and the four wheels tied down, the container was then sealed and hauled away, ready for its journey at sea.

TIP: Plan ahead as the height of your vehicle on an angled slop is actually a couple inches more than in a straight line.

vehicle container shipping Marquestra overlanding

Not much wiggle room 

vehicle container shipping Marquestra overlanding

Unplugging the battery is essential

vehicle container shipping Marquestra overlanding

Strapping down all wheels

vehicle container shipping Marquestra overlanding

Checking the last details

vehicle container shipping Marquestra overlanding

Locking it up

After your vehicle is tucked away in the container, you’ll probably need some accommodation.  If you plan appropriately you can really find some great deals on AIRBNB.  By creating a new account via this special link, you”ll get 38$ US off your booking! 

A few days later, we received news that our container was loaded onto a ship named Cape Irene on route to Montevideo, Uruguay. It would take more than three weeks to get there, sailing South along the Atlantic coast, the Caribbean and rounding Venezuela and Brazil on its way to Montevideo’s final port of call. 

Keep track of the serial number for verification 

The actual Customs agents were Datacargo in Montevideo, Uruguay. They spoke mainly Spanish but thank goodness for Google translate 🙂 Our Spanish was pretty basic at the beginning of our trip (much better now!). Their fee was a bit steep, but it was our first landing in Latin America and we wanted and needed assistance with the ‘’custom clearance” process.

Using custom agents was very helpful in getting our vehicle cleared out faster out of the port authorities.

Our Jeep Wrangler, Redbird, was kept in its maritime container for 7 days in the port of Montevideo. And we were told it could take several more weeks before it would get released !! Then DataCargo pushed some doors and used some local knowledge to get the process expedited. And off we were, ready to start our thing…

Once we’d processed all of the bureaucratic BS with the local authorities – in Spanish of course! Our baby finally cleared customs. We arrived at the port facility, waited for a boom truck to bring the container around to the landing area. We popped the lock and said hello to Redbird once again, this time on the South-American soil. We drove it out of port – straight to the nearest gas station as container shipping requires you to have an almost empty tank on any vehicle in transit. Yes, our adventure was about to take shape!

And there it goes again! Another vehicle container shipping…

When we finally made it back North, venturing into Colombia after some 20 000 km of trekking through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, we had to face yet again the repeated challenge of shipping Redbird, this time, from Cartagena to Panama.

It’s the safest way to go, knowing full well that the rebel-occupied 50km “Darien Gap” between Colombia and Panama is not a route one wants to chance-it through… Some have tried and from the stories, we decided to ship rather than walk out of the jungle naked! The port of Colon, Panama’s Gulf of Mexico port was to be the arrival destination. Once again, we said goodbye to the Jeep, this time from Cartagena, Colombia. No longer newbies at this shipping gig, we found another couple online, also in need of shipping their vehicle to Panama.

We managed the logistics jointly and therefore saved some money by putting both vehicles in a 40-foot container. The added benefit of doing this with another couple also helped alleviate some of the stress associated with customs and the endless waiting! This time, the wait was only a couple days, as the crossing is quite short. In Colon, Panama, which is by the way, not the best or safest place to be… We hired a taxi driver for the day, as our back and forth driver to get all our stamps and forms filled out in a timely manner, knowing full well this was going to be another day of endless bureaucratic runaround.

… From Colon, it was up to the Panama Canal to Panama City, headed North – home.

If you’d like information or have questions on shipping a vehicle abroad, feel free to get in touch with us!

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Marquestra Vehicle Container Shipping