Shipping the Quest
For many, it is a dream to travel in America with their own vehicle. At the beginning, we asked ourselves, “Does it have to be OUR camper?” We researched and calculated for a long time: Maybe we should convert a new camper in Canada or the USA? In the end, we found that shipping was easier and cheaper for us. Vans are even less affordable in America than they are here, and we would also need accommodation for ourselves and the dogs during the conversion period. Additionally, we wouldn’t have the conversion or the tools for it. Another reason: We don’t have to give up our beloved Quest!
We opted for Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo) shipping. In this method, the vehicle is not loaded into a container but driven onto a ship by port workers. Naturally, you have to hand over the keys to the vehicle, which can feel strange for many people! (It felt that way for us too.)
We chose the provider Seabridge, but there are others available, such as Overlander Shipping. By the way, the ships used for transporting vehicles are the same.
RoRo shipping is particularly popular on the East Coast of North America, especially in Halifax. This is mainly because shipping in a container can be expensive. Moreover, the likelihood of anything going missing during RoRo shipping is very low. Therefore, container shipping is not really necessary.
There are several options, and practically any major freight port can be used, such as Hamburg, Bremerhaven, Antwerp, Liverpool, or Zeebrugge. For us, Hamburg was a suitable choice as it was our old hometown, especially because we still have family and friends there. They warmly welcomed us amidst all the preparations and bid us farewell with a heartfelt “Tschüss!”
By the way, the cost of shipping has increased in 2023!
Currently, the freight rate is €63.00 per m³ (as of May 2023) to ports on the East Coast (Halifax/Baltimore). The freight costs are calculated based on the volume of the vehicle’s maximum dimensions, which is length x width x height. Add-ons and modifications can quickly increase the costs, so it’s better to consider transporting the roof box inside the vehicle if in doubt!
By the way: For shipping to the West Coast, the ship has to travel around the continent, resulting in a higher cost of $109.00 per m³ plus an additional $7.20 per m³ for the Panama Canal passage. It’s considerably more expensive, so think carefully about where you want your adventure to begin.
As an example, the Quest has the following dimensions:
- Length: 4.79m
- Width: 1.84m
- Height: 1.94m
This results in a volume of 17.10m³. Since there is a minimum requirement of 21m³, we have the lowest possible freight rate. Our final freight calculation was as follows:
|Freight rate||1323,00 €|
|BAF (taxes)||496,13 €|
|Import Declaration Canada||75,00 €|
|ISPS Terminal Charge||50,00 €|
|Freight and port fess (Hamburg)||195,00 €|
|Extra car cleaning||75,00 €|
|Port fees Halifax||185,00 CA$|
|Agriculture Inspection Halifax||75,00 CA$|
|Transport insurance||300,00 €|
|Freight forwarding fees||150,00 CA$|
The vehicle must be handed over no later than 2 working days before the ship’s departure. (Note: If you drop it off too early, you’ll still have to pay!) We shipped from Hamburg, where the ship usually departs on a Monday. Therefore, the vehicle must be handed over on the preceding Thursday.
For the pickup, some calculations are necessary. The ship takes 2 weeks to arrive in Halifax. The vehicle can only be picked up 2 working days AFTER its arrival. Additionally, it’s advisable to factor in some buffer time for potential delays, as they are common in maritime shipping.
Therefore, the following schedule applied to us:
- May 25, 2023: Vehicle drop-off at the port
- May 29, 2023: Ship departure from the port of Hamburg
- June 12, 2023: Arrival in Halifax
- June 14, 2023: Earliest pickup from the Halifax port
However, in 2022, there were significant delays in maritime shipping. (According to Seabridge, an average delay of 14 days was reported.) Seabridge informed us in advance to account for this delay. Therefore, we decided to book the ship one week earlier. Changing the booking was not a problem.
To obtain a price for shipping, you need to request a quote from Seabridge. Fortunately, this is very easy to do through their online form.
To book a quote, Seabridge requires a copy of your passport, the completed booking form, and a copy of the vehicle registration document.
Please note that bookings can only be made up to 3 months in advance. We were definitely too early with our 6-month timeframe. On the other hand, spontaneous bookings are also not possible!
Before dropping off our vehicle at the port of Hamburg, we regularly checked the departure date of our ship. It’s possible for it to be delayed, so it’s important to stay updated. We obtained the name of the ship from Seabridge. Seabridge provided us with a very detailed description, making the drop-off process quite foolproof.
Since we shipped through Seabridge, we can only share our experience with them. However, we believe that other organizations would provide similar information to you.
In our case, there was only a one-day delay, which actually worked out well for us as it gave us some extra time to meet the 2-day drop-off deadline.
The drop-off itself at the port of Hamburg was straightforward. We drove to Shed 48 for check-in. There is a container outside the building with an automated ticket dispenser. You take a number, wait until your number is called, and then proceed to the counter.
Very important! You must wear a reflective vest here; otherwise, you will not be checked in! This also applies to the destination port, so be sure to include reflective vests in your carry-on luggage!
The staff member was very friendly and didn’t require much information. With our ID and vehicle registration document, he quickly found our booking. We received two forms and a beeper, similar to those used in some restaurants. Additionally, detailed instructions were provided on where to go in the port. We returned to our car, waited for the beeper to go off, and then we were allowed to enter the port.
Finding the correct location was not difficult: just straight ahead until you reach the parking lot with other motorhomes and new vehicles. Park your car and head to the office container located in the parking lot. The process there was also quick: we handed in our check-in documents, beeper, and car keys. We were briefly asked if we had forgotten anything in the car. Then, a shuttle arrived and drove us out of the port.
The next day, we received an email from Seabridge, informing us that the car had been measured again. This confirmation indicated that everything was in order during the drop-off.
While you’re waiting for the ship to reach its destination port, there’s one important thing you need to do: PAY! Up until this point, you have likely only paid for the transport insurance. Yes, it may seem strange, but that’s how it works. So, while you’re in the waiting period, you will receive a payment request from Seabridge (around 1 week later), and it’s crucial that you make the payment promptly. Without it, you won’t get your car back. Only after this payment, you’ll even have the opportunity to schedule an appointment with customs. You’ll need to arrange this appointment as well. Fortunately, Seabridge provided a detailed description of this procedure too.
As you already know, your first stop will be the customs office. We had a lot of contact with the customs officer beforehand. This was because our van pickup was suddenly rescheduled. The port of Halifax had unexpectedly closed its gates due to a labor union strike on the exact day of our pickup. Unfortunately, this caused a lot of stress for us just before our departure, as we had to quickly change our rental car booking and bear the additional costs.
The appointment, contrary to what we had read, took place directly in front of the customs office. We received the necessary documents for the pickup from the freight forwarder. Then we went to the customs office, where we had some of the papers stamped. We needed these documents at the port the following day. Without the strike, we could have driven directly to the port after the customs appointment.
You can park your rental car in this parking lot: N44.66335, W63.62570. Then you have to walk to the olive-green building, passing through the barrier on the left side. Remember to wear your high-visibility vests here. Your passports will be checked, and then you will be provided with a taxi to enter the port area.
Make sure to bring the original documents from the customs office! Then it’s time to wait. One of the port workers approached us, and we had three things to do:
- Check the car for any exterior damage.
- Check the car for any interior damage.
- Verify if the car starts.
On our charge controller, we could see that the car had not seen any sunlight on deck for about 15 days. So, don’t rely on solar power for your battery. Once you’re done, you can leave the port.
Import requirements are quite strict. For example, gas, food, or dog food are not allowed to be imported.
If you send supplies, you could have trouble with customs. In our case, nothing was checked during either the drop-off or the pickup. We taped our drawer locks to ensure they wouldn’t open on the ship, and the tape looked untouched. Back at the parking lot, it’s advisable to take a moment to breathe and organize. The parking lot is free and spacious, allowing you to calmly transfer your luggage from the rental car to the van and tidy up. You may also meet like-minded individuals there who are also organizing their vans.
If you notice any defects here, it’s too late to file a complaint! You can only do so within the port area.
In our case, everything was in order. Nothing was broken or missing. So, there’s nothing standing in the way of your great adventure!