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Send and import a motorvehicle to Australia


This page describes the process of shipping a light motor vehicle (category up to 3.5 tonnes) registered and insured in Switzerland as container freight to Melbourne (State of Victoria, Australia), the administrative process for the temporary import and for obtaining insurance. The fact that the vehicle was shipped from Switzerland and that it is a 4x4 motor home with a custom body is only relevant for obtaining insurance. The rest applies to all cars and motorcycles.

Note that a fundamental assumption for the content of this page is that the vehicle is imported to Australia only temporarily and under a so-called Carnet de Passages en Douane, CPD.
A permanent import is a different kind of animal, is much more complicated and expensive.




Original German version.

Introductory Comments


The effort in terms of both money and time required to get a foreign motor vehicle onto Australian roads
under a Carnet de Passages (see below) is relatively high.Unless you have a vehicle that cannot be rented or bought in Australia in a similar configuration, it probably is not worth the trouble and expenses . If you do not have at least good language skills in English, perseverance and the ability to persuade people, it is almost compulsory to contract a competent partner, or else the transaction could become seriously delayed.

My urgent advice ist to ask shipping firms for an all-inclusive offer, i.e. incl. all costs at the points of departure and arrival, transport insurance. customs fees, quarantine fees, container pickup and release, etc.

It is my hope that the information provided here will significantly reduce the time required for a similar exercise, that stumbling blocks are identified and that uncertainties are eliminated.

All informations on this page have been verified to the best knowledge and belief but are provided without warranty of any kind.


Melbourne (Victoria) seems to be a very good destination to bring a vehicle into Australia for three reasons:

  1. The third-party liability insurance coverage issued by VicRoads (see further down) covers all of Australia
  2. Victoria does not perform any technical inspection of the vehicle (such as correct lighting, brakes test and general road-worthiness checks)
  3. High competition between logistics providers keeps prices for container pickup and processing down, customs and quarantine fees are reasonable
This is not so in other states, where either the insurance coverage is only for the issuing state (NSW to my knowledge) or excessive technical barriers are put up (WA, NT to my knowlege)

Should anyone be able to contribute their own experiences from importing cars or motorcycles to other Australian states can, then I am most happy to integrate them here:

Documents in the Country of Origin

The most important document is the Carnet de Passage. It is often issued by an official automobile association of the country where the vehicle is registered. The CPD is essentially a passport for a motorvehicle; it is a UN document that enables you to temporarily import the car into a country accepting CPDs without having to pay import tax, without locally registering the vehicle and without it having to fully comply to local laws and regulations (e.g. left-hand drives vs. right-hand drives, emission standards, etc). In order to prevent you from selling your car without the government getting its import duty, you are required to put down a bond in the country issuing the CPD. The bond is paid back only after the vehicle returns or after import duty has been paid in the destination country.

See this page (in German only) for more information about the CPD, about vehicle registration documents and driver's licenses.


Costs

Shipment Basel/Switzerland Melbourne March 2010 EUR
Carnet de Passages 217
40 'HC container Basel/Switzerland — Melbourne (including all fees and taxes on sending end)
3592
Transport insurance 1% of eg EUR 35,000
350
Container handling fees Melbourne container terminal
375
Customs Broker
165
Customs duties (settled without actual inspection of the container)
0
Quarantine inspection and charges
141
Container transport terminal to depot, unloading, container return, handling fees (logistics company Melbourne)
520
Total 5360
  
Melbourne — Basel (February 2011)
All-inclusive offer by Müller & Gysin (incl. transport insurance for e.g. EUR 35.000, etc.)
 5240
  
Basel — Melbourne (September 2014)*
All-inclusive offer by ITS, Basel, all costs included (incl. transport insurance for e.g. EUR 40.000, customs and quarantine fees, etc.)

* the price includes the direct routing without container transfer in Asia and a guaranteed date of arrival, ca. EUR 800
6806


Shipping from Cargo Terminal in Basel, Switzerland

The most difficult part of shipping was to find a suitable logistics partner. The major seaports in Europe also offer roll-on roll-off shipping (RoRo), in which the motor vehicle is driven onto and from the ship under its own power. My inquiries (including with Höegh Autoliners) yielded that no personal items may be carried on the vehicle, and that the vehicle is transported unlocked. Since this was non-negotiable to me, it was not the product I needed.

As a consequence I concentrated on container cargo and asked the following companies for a quote (in alphabetical order):
  • Fracht AG, Basel (2010): no longer in business, was strongly recommended to me.
  • ITS, Basel (2014): very professional, very customer-oriented offer and shipment processing; price almost matched best offer.
  • Müller & Gysin, Basel (2010, 2014): Expert advice, best offer.
  • Schenker/DB, Zurich (2010): Cannot listen, highest offer.
  • Schuhmacher Spediteam, Basel (2010): rather slow response times, more expensive.
  • Spedition Ebert, Hamburg (2010): competent, good offer, somewhat brief responses to questions. Too far to drive in winter time.

In 2010 we chose Mueller & Gysin. After that, everything was pretty easy. The same with ITS in 2014, where it was very easy.

The vehicle was travelling in a 40-foot high-cube container because of its height (2.55 m); there are 20-foot high-cube containers, but not in Europe. High-Cube ist the standard these days (rather than the exception) and only costs a few 100 EUR more; 40 foot costs only about EUR 800 more than 20 foot. The cheapest way is hence two vehicles in the same 40 foot container. However, be sure to have two separate waybill document issued. This allows independent processing of customs and quarantine. Otherwise both vehicles could end up being blocked if one of them is not released, e.g. because it is not clean enough.

Our motor home was driven into the container under its own power at the depot of the cargo company, then the container was moved to Basel Rhine Port by truck. It continued on the Rhine to Rotterdam and on an ocean liner via Singapore to Melbourne container terminal. The whole trip lasted for 8 weeks (Rotterdam — Melbourne: 47 days, the offer said about 36 days — that's the only point in which I am not totally satisfied because it meant the vehicle was available two weeks late).

Required Documents

  • Vehicle registration document
  • Carnet de Passages en Douane
  • Packing list for personal effects

Packing the Container

See here. The container is locked and a sealed ("bolt seal"; the seal can be broken only with a good pair of bolt cutters). The cabin of the vehicle remained unlocked and the keys were left in the glove box to avoid the customs having to break into the vehicle in case of an unplanned inspection on the way.

Cargo Insurance

This is the responsibility of the client (you); in my case the local cargo company organised a quote and completed the transaction at a reasonable price. This insures the cargo against theft, shipwreck, washing over board, crash when loading and unloading, etc. Insurance does not cover war and terrorism ( am unsure about whether the lot is insured if Somali pirates sank the ship) and ... natural disasters.

Container terminal Sendai, Japan, after the March 11 2011 tsunami

The insurance terms and conditions (example: Baloise insurance) are in the Annex .

Documents issued

  • Sea Waybill (by container carrier)
  • Arrival Notice (by container carrier)
  • Delivery Order (by container carrier)
  • Insurance policy (by insurance, see Annex )

Tracking 

When the container left Rotterdam, I was notified by the Swiss cargo company and got the Sea Waybill document. Die Spedition gab mir auch den Namen und das Kennzeichen des Schiffs bekannt. They was also sent me name and identification of the vessel. I found out that the said vessel MOL Eminence could be tracked on marinetraffic.com. This made it possible to calculate with increasing accuracy when the container would arrive. Approx. 10 days before arrival I received the Arrival Notice (see below) by email.


Receiving the Container in Melbourne and Import Procedure

Preface

I spent a lot of time in Melbourne in 2010 in finding a simple and low-cost solution but did not do that again in 2014 — which wasn't more expensive eiher ….
By the time the container arrived, I lived in Melbourne and had all resources and means of communication available. I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to receive the container at the terminal itself or in the immediate vicinity so it can be inspected by the authorities. In my opinion this must necessarily take place at the depot of an approved cargo handler, which has to be paid of course. 

Processing upon Arrival in Details

You can essentially skip this paragraph if you — as advised above — to for an all inclusive offer and a strong logistics partner => continue at Customs Regulations and Inspection Provisions.

As soon as there are personal effects in the container (and thus noted on the Waybill), dealing with quarantine and customs authorities is much more complicated. Many cargo companies firm withdraw when they become aware of personal effects. All commercial freight (probably more than 99%) comes pre-registered and is processed electronically, while shipments containing personal effects are handled via physical documents and appointments for inspection by the authorities have to be arranged specifically. It would probably be possible to arrange all of this yourself, but after several days of research, phone calls, and even on-site visits I threw the towel and contracted a customs broker.
  • http://johnsonwills.comCustoms broker, so no real logistics company with its own infrastructure, but with experience with CPDs. Select and subcontract their partners on a case-by-case bases, take a commission of approximately AUS $ 250 (March 2010).

After this it was actually pretty easy and I could have spared myself some tedious research. Below I focus on the procedure as carried out by Johnson-Wills. The detailed results of my preliminary "investigation" are documented here (German only, still there are some useful links should you be inclined to doing it yourself) and provide some background to the steps carried out behind the scenes.
The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) has a description of the import conditions organised by state.

From the moment the container arrives at the container terminal until you drives away with your vehicle, a week goes by. It seems quite impossible to get this over with quicker, and should there be problems with customs or quarantine authorities, then the delay increases.

It is advisable to buy an Australian prepaid SIM card for your mobile phone because always and everywhere you will have to provide a phone number; a foreign phone number would technically work, but presents an obstacle for Australian callers (a clerk might not be able to dial numbers abroad). In March 2010, Virgin Mobile had a very attractive offer ("Bean Counter") with an appealing web site.The SIM card arrived by Post within three days.

Process in Detail

  1. Contract customs broker
  2. Pay container handling fees
  3. Prepare documents
  4. (Container is picked up in the terminal, inspected by customs and quarantine authority)
  5. Insure vehicle with road authority (specific to Victoria)
  6. Organise car insurance
  7. Pay import fees

Contract Customs Broker

The customs broker should be contracted at minimum a week  before the arrival of the cargo at destination port. Once the container has arrived at the container terminal (i.e. is unloaded from the ship and stored at the dock), you have three business days to pick it up from there, otherwise serious storage fees apply.

Pay Container Handling Fees

Several days before the container ship entered the destination port, I received the Arrival Notice from the container company as well as an invoice for the container-handling fees at the container terminal. Once they were paid, I received the delivery order. This latter enables the local cargo company (subcontracted by the broker) to pick up the container from the container terminal. The delivery order can be issued before the arrival of the ship which gives you more time to organise ahead. If possible have this sent to you electronically.
Depending on who is listed as recipient of the cargo, the arrival notice could also be sent directly to a local logistics company or broker.

Prepare Documents

Wayne Johnson of Johnson-Wills required the following documents (Examples of documents can be found below):
  • (Sea Waybill — as an information only)
  • (Arrival Notice — as an information only)
  • Delivery Order
  • Carnet de Passages en Douane
  • Packing list of personal effects
  • Completed Customs Declaration (Unaccompanied personal effects statement B534 (PDF))

Thereby he already proved to be a cost saver: for new goods in the personal effects there are certain value limits that should not be exceeded in the customs declaration, otherwise this gets the attention of the customs. New goods are anything you have not owned for at least twelve months.  Note: today you can order almost anything through the Internet and the customs authority can thus assess the real value of things with relative ease. The limit for new goods was at $ 1500 per person (please double-check this figure).

It was well worth filling in the customs declaration honestly. Eventually, customs released the container based on the documents only, i.e. without a physical inspection of its contents.

The customs broker subcontracts a local cargo company that is certified for the handling of personal effects. They pick up the containers from the container terminal on your behalf and cart it to their own depot (usually in the vicinity of the airport). There the container is opened, the vehicle is pulled out with a fork lift or truck, and stored securely (access control, video surveillance). This is also the place where customs and quarantine inspections take place.

Customs Regulations and Inspection Provisions

Here are some stumbling blocks you can avoid:
  1. Total value of new goods
    As mentioned above.

  2. Refrigerators
    Import of new or used refrigerators which contain CFC or R134a (almost all common compressor refrigerators, for example by WAECO) are subject to authorisation, even though the exact same model is sold in Australia.
    The permit is issued by the Australian Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts; not only does this take a week (and can, if applied for too late, delay the customs clearing of the container), but it also costs $ 400!

  3. Air conditioning of the vehicle
    Requires  no permit (according to the same office) if the vehicle is imported under a CPD.
In our case, the customs officials have probably overlooked the refrigerator on the packing list. Lucky us.

A vehicle under a CPD can remain in Australia remain for at most 12 months, for more it must be permanently imported and be converted to right-hand drive.

Quarantine Regulations and Inspection Provisions

Again, there are some stumbling blocks you can avoid:
  1. Wood
    Untreated wood is fumigated for 24 hours. Oiled, coated or laminated wood (plywood, particle board) from Europe does not seem to be a problem, but the officials obviously have some leeway to make the call. Fumigation delays the import procedure by at least one day. Wood from Asian countries, from Africa or South America is a potential problem.

  2. Cleanliness
    The rule is: "For the purposes of this import condition, clean means clean as new." ( Regulations for vehicle-Import )
    The inspection of our vehicle took about 20 minutes (I was not there).
    Particularly critical are the wheel houses (dirt), radiator (dead insects) and the dashboard where it meets the windshield (dead insects).
    If the vehicle is not considered clean enough a steam cleaning is prescribed. If the cargo company does not have a (certified!) steam-cleaning facility, the vehicle has to be moved to an appropriate facility by flat-tray truck. This costs and takes time. However, once clean enough, it will be released right there and need not be transported back again.
    How you get a car really clean is described here (German only) (addendum 2014).

As our vehicle sat in the container on special container wheels (see here), I applied at the Customs Broker that I could be present when the truck was unloaded from the container in order to put the normal wheels back on. This was approved by the cargo company. The staff at Direct Couriers in Keilor Park were very helpful. As the vehicle had been loaded into the container at below zero °C and after the roads were salty and wet, it just was not really clean. This could be fixed at the same time as changing the wheels ... :-)))

Reminder: Background information on the entire procedure can be found on this page (German only but certainly some useful links).

Documents

Name
  Description
Example
Packing List
Issued by shipper for the carrier: list of goods inside the car
Page 1 of 2
(Sea) Waybill
Transport confirmation of the carrier to the shipper. Issued after loading the container. Waybill
Bill of Lading
Transport certificate by the operator of the vessel to the carrier
-
Arrival Notice
Arrival notification of the carrier to the consignee. Contains the ETA (estimated time of arrival), the name of the ship, the name of the terminal operator, etc.
Arrival Notice
Delivery Order,
Release Order
Release order of the carrier to the terminal operator (via the consignee)
All invoiced fees have been paid and the consignee may collect the freight.
Release Order
Carnet de Passages ein Douane (CPD)
So to speak, the passport of the vehicle (see here ) Original CPD
Unaccompanied Personal Effects Statement (B534) Multipage import declaration form by the Australian Customs Service
Unaccompanied personal effects statement


Registration and Insurances 

Here are the facts: a vehicle imported to Australia temporarily under a CPD
  • is not registered, but
  • continues to circulate the registration and with the number plates of the country of origin
  • is not imported in the sense of the word
  • does not need VIA (vehicle import approval)
  • just requires an Australian third-party liability insurance.
Our vehicle was also not checked for roadworthiness, meaning no inspection by the Victorian Road Traffic Authority, VicRoads.

Liability insurance (personal injury)

In contrast to e.g. New South Wales, Victoria liability insurance against personal injury (third-party personal insurance) is exclusively issued by  VicRoads and not by private insurers. For CPD vehicles, this is a so-called Non-Registered Vehicle Accident Cover. Note : non-registered, not unregistered (the latter also exists and is much more common).



(Click picture to enlarge)

Required Documents

  • Carnet de Passages
  • Vehicle registration document from country of origin
  • Passport of vehicle owner

It took me several days to figure out how the vehicle has to be registered and insured here (or to be precise: is not just registered, see above). The problem was that only VicRoads staff with many years of experience seem to know what a CPD is and what they have to do with it. Several times my phone enquiries and a visit to VicRoads office ended with some team leader for whom "CPD" did nothing and who was not willing dig into it. The answer was always a referral to the Department of Infrastructure, to private insurers, etc. In the end, it was the customs broker, Wayne Johnson, who (coincidentally?) got a VicRoads-person on the phone who knew her way and who pointed him to the TAC form. After that, once again, everything was very simple. So just print out the TAC form above and take it to the VicRoads office as a sample.

With VicRoads almost anything can be settled over the phone 13 11 71 . The TAC-form was issued at a VicRoads office, which took about 8 minutes.
  • Addresses and business of all VicRoads offices
Melbourne:

459 Lygon Street
Carlton, VIC 3053 (2 km north of the centre)

Johnstone St
Broadmeadows VIC 3047 (7 km east Tullamarine Airport)

Insurance (own property damage)

Private insurers will provide insurance for the vehicle itself and the valuables on board. For regular cars there is a wide choice, but only a minority insures vehicles under a  CPD. Among them is the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, RACV, but they rejected our vehicle (see below).
The insurance cover is obtained via about this procedure : the coverage is guaranteed over the phone from the very date and the paperwork follows by mail. Then you have 28 days to complete the application; to provide all the information and documentation requested (photos, no-claims bonus certificate of insurance in Europe, etc.); and to pay the premium.

Required Documents

  • Photos of the vehicle
  • Evidence for the vehicle value (invoices)
  • Completed application form

Insurance Providers

In addition to normal cars, the RACV insures motor homes as well, however, our T-Rex was rejected because it is a non-standard vehicle and it was apparently difficult to assess the insurance risk. If you're rejected they are quick in referring you to the Victorian ombudsman for insurance matters, who, unfortunately, will probably not be of any help either.

The Caravan and Motorhome Club of Australia CMCA offers to its members very good coverage at attractive rates, however, the policy is offered under certain conditions only:
  • the vehicle owner must be / become a member (about $ 60 per year)
  • the vehicle must be a "real" motor home, that is, it must have permanent facilities for living, for storage and food preparation. Even a removable refrigerator leads to more questions.
    Also they requested images of the vehicle.
The CMCA has the insurance requests handeld by the insurance broker Ken Tame in Melbourne while the actual insurer is Wesfarmers General Insurance Limited (trading as Lumely General). The people at Ken Tame seemed well informed, in the end I declined their offer because our T-Rex was only just accepted as a camper van, and most importantly, because they would only recognise about half the value of the motor home as the insured value (they did not perform a serious assessment of the real value). The reasoning was specious. Moreover, they did not adopt the no-claims bonus from Switzerland although that had been promised and had been factored in on a price example earlier ("all new customers receive the maximum bonus as a starting bonus"). After all, the cover that I had enjoyed in the three weeks up to my declining the offer was not invoiced!

CIL is an insurer that specialises in mobile homes, caravans, etc. The agency left me with a very positive impression from the beginning, albeit the policy conditions were not  quite as good as those of the CMCA, such as no breakdown hotline, slightly lower coverage levels. After all, the vehicle was insured at its full value.
Again, "all new customers receive the maximum no-claims bonus to start with". Eventually the premium was a bit cheaper than at CMCA / Ken Tame and the personal assistance more competent and forthcoming. Recommended.

Road-Side Assistance

The automobile clubs of all Australian states (in our case RACV) offer roadside assistance. For regular cars, this insurance is arranged within 15 minutes over the phone or at an office of the respective automobile club; however, they would offer only a very limited kind of insurance for our campervan, such as on-site assistance but no towing (too heavy) or transport (too high) in the event of a breakdown. Value for money was rather poor and it is not much of an insurance for the worst case either. One would therefore have to try one's luck in the truck segment which I did not venture into.

Even under a regular policy, breakdown assistance is restricted to the urban centres pretty much and towing or transport is only included only for the first 30 km or so. Still, in the event of a breakdown someone comes along and tries to fix the problem on site.

On the other hand, we were assured by Australian 4x4 drivers that away from the busy roads and the cities, one can count on the help of local people and truck drivers. These people would not even ask about weight or height, and the mechanic in the nearest village has worked on all kinds of vehicles from a lawn mower to a road train and are almost sure to find some kind of solution to your problem. Either way, it's worth carrying any special tools (e.g. for the removing a drive shaft, etc.) yourself because the mechanics of both the village workshop and the breakdown service will not have these handy.

We have purchased a satellite phone and would try to contact local or remote help in case of a breakdown or emergency. Tourist brochures always list phone numbers of local information offices which can refer to the local mechanic or towing assistance.

Shipping back to Switzerland

Shipping the vehicle back in a container works the same way. Unfortunately none of the contacted logistics company in Australia were able to provide a quote for the shipment back to Basle within the given time frame; the stumbling block seems to be the transport from a European sea port to Basle—a territory they are not familiar with.
We finally went for a fixed-price offer by Müller & Gysin again (see costs table at the top of this page).

The Swiss Federal Customs Administration has an informative web page regarding Moving to Switzerland from abroad (relocation goods). Essentially, you have to fill in the Form 18.44 and provide several annexes: a list of the imported goods, official confirmations of your absence from Switzerland for at least six months, and, if applicable, a confirmation of a house-rental contract or similar abroad.

Important: you must have the CPD stamped by the customs officer when the vehicle enters Switzerland. Only this stamp will enable you to claim back the deposit you had to make for obtaining the CPD in the first place.
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