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Living in France: Expatriate Resources

Ship a Car to France

Long-Stay or Frequent Visitors Save

I’ve lost count of the times we’ve gone back to “la douce France.” Usually we’d stay with my husband’s family and take public transportation everywhere, often with our four children. We rode the Metro, took train trips to the sea, buses from the airport, and boats down the Seine.

That all began to change when in April of 2001 we purchased the key to our future life, a stone village house in the south near Carcassonne. The place came with great old furniture and a garage.

Renting a car in Europe, especially in summer, put a big dent in the budget. Our first rental was in September for a wedding; the outlay was $850 for 10 days. The next time, in December for three weeks, we racked up $1,200. The following summer, when friends and family arrived for another three weeks, we paid a whopping $1,800. Ouch! We could have bought a used car for the same price.

And so began the adventures of the 1990 Honda.

It had only 70,000 miles and was small enough to scoot around those little French roads. Plus, it was paid for. I “googled” international auto shippers online and came up with a top 10 list. When I contacted each one either by phone or email only four returned with a quote. Amazingly, the cost for our car to sail the shortest distance, from New York to La Havre, ranged from $950 to $2,800. I checked out the websites for the companies with the two lowest quotes and settled on Sanko, Inc. because it was the most experienced and professional.

At the port hundreds of vehicles were waiting in long lines. You must go to the front of the line and ask for the customs office, then find the Port Authority office which checks your paperwork and gets you through the gate to the ship.

Shirley Kiriako, our shipping agent, was knowledgeable, professional, and personable. She walked me through each step and asked for a followup call when the mission was accomplished at the port.

Fast forward six weeks. After arriving in Paris we took the TGV to La Havre. The port office was a block or two from the train station. A polite woman there informed us that there was a surprise 105-euro fee. Map in hand, we walked the four blocks to the French customs office.

Within 15 minutes all papers were checked and stamped. The friendly folks there actually called us a cab for the 20-minute ride to the outer limits of this huge port. No sooner had we arrived at the Comatran office we saw a man driving our old car toward us. From the time our feet hit the pavement in La Havre to when we climbed into our car we’d spent no more than an hour and a half.

Et alors, the feeling of being able to head out in any direction at any time? Priceless. Let the “joi” begin!

Shipping Reminders

Keys: Leave only one ignition key. Take important items from the glove compartment. Leave registration and insurance papers.

Papers: Put your passport number on any documents requiring identification. The original title is required at departure, so make two copies. Customs must stamp all documents for validation. The last person you see before your vehicle boards will hand you a receipt in triplicate. Without it, no car at your destination.

Go early: Ports can be chaotic especially near closing time (4 p.m. in N.J.).

Storage price: Storage was free for the first week (in France), then just a few euros each day thereafter. Ask your shipper for details.

Shipping insurance: An optional sum insured our car in case it accidentally met up with the Titanic. Take photos for proof of condition at shipyard.

Advantages: Apart from the convenience factor, consider selling the vehicle if it’s no longer needed. In some places the profit may surpass your total public transportation costs abroad.

No possessions in the car: It’s all about weight.

The 1/4 tank rule: This takes some planning. You don’t want to take the chance of not getting on board at the last minute.

Take food and water: You must stay with the car until it’s ready to ship. This took five hours.

Legalities: Contact the U.S. embassy in your destination country forinsurance, plates, taxes, etc.

Editors note: In terms of shipping and quotes for shipping costs, there are various agencies that ship cars worldwide and offer explanations of the most recent regulations. You should research to find out the most current options given that regulations change on a regular basis.