Shipping a vehicle to South America

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The picture above shows our Landy together with a friendly and efficient Eduardo Kessler, our “Despechante” in Uruguay a few minutes after the Landy was “cut free” from the container in the MonteVideo harbour. The Landy had sailed on the oceans for 6 weeks from Cape Town to Spain and from there to MonteVideo. To our utter joy and pleasant surprise everything was in one piece with no damage whatsoever, apart from our nerves that is!

Sending your vehicle from South Africa (or any country of origin) to your planned destination will require detailed logistical planning, specifically around the forwarding, clearing and regulatory aspects of international cargo movement. There are a multitude of service providers willing to assist with this process, unfortunately we have experienced that not all of them are offering a full end to end solution with all costs included, and quite often prices are marked up significantly to the individual person that is unfamiliar with the industry. The terminology used by the shipping and forwarding industry is similar to Greek – uncomprehensable and totally confusing. In our experience the use of an independent agent is essential for inexperienced individuals, unless, you are prepared to get ripped off.

We have used the services of Gerhard Fourie to assist us with shipping our vehicles from South Africa to South America. On his recommendation we have decided to use the Port of Cape Town in South Africa as loading port and the Port of Montevideo in Uruguay as our destination port. However, Durban or even Port Elizabeth could be viable options depending on the particular shipping agent. The Port of Montevideo in Uruguay was chosen as Uruguay is known to be much less bureaucratic than some of its neighbouring countries. Do not use Brazil or even Argentina, but Chile or Cartegena in Columbia could be an option although it is much further. Shipping to MonteVideo also makes travelling from South Africa quite easy as you are able to take a direct flight from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo in Brazil and from there connect to Buenos Aires, Argentina and then take a short ferry ride from Buenos Aires to Montevideo. (While doing so, spend 3 days or so in Buenos Aires it is a facinating city that we most enjoyed).

Gerhard Fourie has assisted us with the following key aspects of moving our vehicles:

  • Identifying and booking the correct container size based on our vehicle’s dimensions
  • Assisting with relevant administration requirements for vehicles (both South Africa and South America). There is a significant amount of documentation to be completed, incl. Carne du Passage, Vehicle Clearance certificates, Insurance for vehicles etc.  
  • Recommendation a Forwarding Agent in South Africa as well as negotiating all freight and related land side costs with shipping lines
  • Appointing a “Despechante” or Clearing Agent in Montevideo
  • Communicating and arranging customs clearing of vehicles with the clearing agent on our behalf
  • Loading of into a container, lashing and strapping of vehicles inside of container and loading of vehicles under customs supervision 
  • Verifying that correct shipping documents are available and completed on time
  • Tracking of container throughout the process, from loading date to offloading date.

A few considerations to take into consideration during the planning stages:

  • Make sure your vehicle of choice can fit into a container before you decide on a steed for travelling the Americas! Here is a link to container sizes – but do not act on this information alone, double check sizes on your own and with your shipping agent! A high-cap container is OK to use (that is what we did), and you can also deflate the tyres to loose a few extra millimeters in height if that will make the difference.
  • It is much cheaper to put 2 vehicles into a 40 foot container, than to use a dedicated 20 foot container for one vehicle. If you do not have a friend who wants to share the container with you, you can try your luck by posting on the facebook page of the PanAmerican Travellers Association (a very good source for all sorts of information for travelling the Americas).
  • Europeans often use a Ro-Ro (roll-on, roll-off) type ship for sending overland vehicles from Europe to South America and back. Often they would accompany their vehicles on the same ship which makes entry into the country of destination much easier – if you accompany your vehicle your entry of the destination country is regarded by customs as simialar to a normal border crossing, the paper work and cost is thus much less. Europeans are therefore much less constrained by overland vehicle dimensions than what we are. However, it is generally not advisable to use this type of arrangement from South Africa – the chances of break-ins and theft from the vehicle are high.
  • Put all the spare parts that you may need (and a few more) in the vehicle when shipping, this will save you much hassle and cost on the other side. Depending on the vehicle, spare parts may be very costly and at times impossible to find, and this applies even to vehicles such the Toyota Land Cruizer. Do not assume that the situation with regard to popularity of vehicles and part availability over there will be the same as in South Africa – it is not!

Gerhard Fourie is based in Cape Town, and can be reached on the following contact numbers:

Mobile no. (+27) 72 577 9942
E-mail address
Skype address grfourie81
LinkedIn profile

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