For out usual readers this will be a bit of a different post that what you are used to. It will probably be a little boring, but I wanted to make sure the details of shipping our van from Jacksonville, Florida to Zárate were published online somewhere. Months back while researching how to do this I did not find much information, so I hope to help fill that gap.
I’ll start out by saying that we are not experts, in fact the process may have only gone as smoothly as it did because we were lucky. Who knows.
A word on knowing Spanish
We know some Spanish, but are very far from fluent. We can form sentences and seem to be able to get our thoughts across when speaking; however, listening is a whole other story. Argentinians speak fast, have an accent, and use different words than we are used to. We find that we can pick out a few words, but often we don’t, unless we can get them to slow down and use simple words. Knowing some Spanish will help you with this process, but I don’t feel that it is a requirement. Simply approaching things with a smile and the right attitude helps tons. There were one or two people who spoke some English at two of the six offices. Know your basic words for numbers, greetings and probably most importantly, saying thank you.
Her name is Lola and she is a 2005, medium length, tall Sprinter van. We shipped her via RORO from Jacksonville to Zárate using K-Lines. On the US side, we had an agent set things up, coordinate with customs and sell us shipping insurance. He charged us $2,684 for shipping plus $250 for insurance. On the Argentinian side, up until the last minute, we were going to use an agent and were quoted $2,400. After some shopping around and talking to people we decided to get her out ourselves. In the end we paid our agent $302 to release our paperwork and another $305 to the port for receiving the van. In the end we paid only $607 instead of $2,400. Because we went through the process independently (without an agent-except for getting our paperwork released to us) we did not have to pay a customs fee ($750) or fees for the agent and the customs broker.
Finding an Agent on the US Side
As you may have imagined we were pretty busy as we were preparing to leave Seattle. We had to finish working at our jobs, finish the van, pack for our trip, move stuff out of our house and say good-by to everyone. I didn’t do much research on the process of shipping. In the end I found in agent that was recommend on a forum somewhere, wrote him an email and he gave me a quote. It was easy and I only got one quote. It was inline with what I expected and the guy seemed to know what he was talking about. His quote was for $2,600 and included everything on the US side except the cost of an escort on to the port ($50). We worked with Stephen Aron from International Freight Experts.
I was open to shipping to any country in the southern portion of South America (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile or Peru). Stephen told me that Argentina would be the best. I don’t remember his reasons, but I went with it. Stephen worked with the shipping line, customs and the port. The main documents that he needed from us was our passports, and the title (the real one, not just a copy).
There was a lot of back and forth and some issues, but in the end Stephen made it happen. The hardest part was dealing with US customs. We had some issues with my wife’s name not matching the name on the title, that got them excited. I ended up having to file for an employer tax identification number, not sure why. Stephen took care of all of this. He charged us $2,684 for shipping plus $250 for insurance. Insurance cost us $1.25 for every $100 insured (we bought insurance for $20,000 for $250).
Dropping Her Off at the Port
We dropped Lola off at the port in Jacksonville on September 21st. They needed it there 5 days early, but we also wanted to leave it early so that we could head to Guatemala. The actual shipping date was delayed once and delayed again because of Hurricane Mathew, and the boat didn’t actually leave until the 12th of October. The drop off went smoothly. The morning of we coordinated with our escort. She met us and lead us onto the port grounds and took the van to the shipping office. The whole thing took less than 45 minutes, simple.
Changing our minds about an agent in Argentina
From the beginning Stephen told me that I would have to find an agent in Argentina to help me get Lola out of the port. When I asked about doing it myself he said that even the Argentinians that he had worked with, that were fluent in the language, and familiar with the bureaucracy did it using an agent. He strongly discouraged it. I had also heard other horror stories about people having problems. I was happy to follow his advice and figured that having an expert go to bat for me was the best way to go.
From what I had found online, I expected the fees to get her out would be anywhere from $200 to $700. So I put off talking to an agent, and didn’t really get a quote until the last minute. Based on a recommendation from Stephen I got a quote from a company called WAVE Logistics. They are actually located in Uruguay, but their website says they have an office in Buenos Aires. The quote came from Martin Forteza, out of the Uruguay. I later found out that they contract with another company, Project Cargo, in Tigre, Argentina (a Suburb or BA). His direct quote to Stephen, cutting me out of the loop, was for $2400. The quote was just a number and didn’t include any details or break down of the costs. Stephen assured me that the price was typical and that it was so high because that is just what you have to deal with in shipping to Argentina. Why did I ship there then?
Like I said we were pretty busy and concentrating on a ton of other stuff. I put off doing research on what this should cost, but eventually got around to it. I talked to a few bloggers that I new had shipped vehicles before. They both said this seemed very high but didn’t know any specifics about Argentina. They, too, had heard stories of The Argentinian Bureaucracy. One suggested that I post a question on the PanAmerican Travelers Association group on Facebook.
I got a ton of responses saying that it was high, but few from folks with direct experience shipping into Argentina. One response from someone with experience said that this was along the lines of what she paid, and that while high it was just the way it worked in Argentina. Between the Customs fees and the high agent fees this was what you were getting.
I was also advised to contact Cristian (Cris) from Andean Roads. Andean Roads rents camper vans and offers a number of services to overlanders; including shipping help, insurance, and vehicle storage. Cris is a great guy that is very friendly, and has a ton of experience with overlanding and overlanders. If you need advice or help with anything in the BA area he is the guy to contact. Cris worked with his agent and provided me with a quote for $1,285; however, his agent was not comfortable because another agent’s name was already on the paperwork. He thought that customs or the port would have a problem with this and it would cause big problems. He recommended that I stick with my current agent.
In the end I decided that meeting face to face with the folks at Project Cargo would be the best way to go, Stephen pushed me to do this. Possibly they could give me a better price. When I arrived they were able to reduce their price slightly, by a measly $200.
I sat down with them and we went through the numbers together. It seems that only about $1,400 of the $2200 would be going to pay actual fees to Customs or the port. About $750 for the customs fee, $480 for the port, and a $100 SIM fee (not sure what this is). The balance was to cover their fees, the customs broker’s fees, and it seems a good chunk to cover their asses in case things went wrong. We really are small potatoes for these guys. I got the feeling that they were used to working with much larger shipments.
Surprisingly, after talking with them and going over the fees, they recommended that I go to the port and do it myself. By doing this I would only have to pay the port fee, the SIM fee, a smaller fee for them and nothing else. They figured it would only cost me about $800, total. By doing it myself I would not have to pay a customs fee ($750). With this much savings, I decided it was worthwhile giving it a try. The worst that would happen is that I would have to go back to Project Cargo for more help. I left their office after giving them $302 to “Release the Bill of Lading” this is where the mysterious SIM fee comes in. They suggested that I arrive early in the day, this way I could probably get her out in just 1 day.
Argentina requires that you have insurance before entering the country with the vehicle. We ended up buying insurance through Cris at Andean Roads for about $27/month plus a handlers fee of $50. For 8 months this came out to be about $33/month. Cris suggested I use an address outside of Buenos Aires for a better price.
Getting Lola out
We wanted to get to Zárate as early as possible. By car it is about 1 hour northwest of the Buenos Aires. There are a couple options for getting to Zárate. There is a train, but it only runs a few times a day.
There are two buses. The 194 Bus, but not all buses on this line go all the way to Zárate and it makes a lot of stops along the way. There is also a coach style bus that has limited stops on its way out of the city, and is run by the company Chevallier Metropolitano, and leaves from Plaza Once every 20 min (~AR$50/US$3.40). We caught it at Plaza Italia at around 6:00 am and arrived at the Zárate bus station at about 7:20 am. From there we caught a 10 minute taxi (AR$130/ US $8) to the port proper.
Right off the bat we were directed to the main gate. This was not the right place to go, they would not let us in and directed us to the offices that were down the way. We headed there and found the Caja Office where we paid the port fees. We ended up paying $305, $200 less than what Project Cargo thought we would have to pay, score!
They then directed us to the Customs (Aduana) office at the operations area inside the port. After getting our gate pass at the main gate we caught the little shuttle to the operations offices within the port. It was on this ride that we got our first glimpse of Lola, off in the distance.
Hooray, she was in fact at the port!!! Once we were at the office we were told that we had skipped a bunch of steps and that we needed to start the customs paperwork before actually getting it verified, naturally. Unfortunately, this would have to be done at the district customs office in Campana (~20 miles away). The man was very nice and told us that he knew a guy that could take us up there, wait with us and bring us back for a reasonable fee.
The driver was a hoot, and extremely friendly. He didn’t know any English, but boy did he know Spanish. He proceeded to talk at a mile-a-minute all the way to the customs office. It was mostly about the town, the shops, and how to get out of the port once we had Lola. I had prepared a ton for this day, but I remember thinking at that moment that I had not thought about what to do after we got her out. This was pretty low on the list of my worries at the time.
Once we got to the district office, we went to the window that the nice folks standing around directed us to, and we gave them our paperwork (bill of lading, passports, international drivers licenses, original title, and proof of insurance). The man that helped us spoke some English which helped things, but we really didn’t know what was going on. After about 1 hour he gave us the customs paperwork and told us to go back to customs office that is near the Caja Office. So we headed back to the port. After spending more than 2.5 hours with us the driver only asked for $20, what a deal, we gave him a good tip.
We submitted our paperwork to the customs folks are the port, and were told that we needed to go to another customs office that was only about 100 meters away. We gave them our paperwork and after about 10 minutes were told to go back to the first office. Once there they looked at it for about 10 minutes and told us to come back at 1:30, about 1 hour later (it was lunch time). At 1:30 we went with the customs agent into the port to do the inspection. We finally got to see Lola up close! She was actually in Argentina and we got to put our hands on her! The inspection was simple, he was mostly concerned with making sure the VIN matched the title. We didn’t open up any drawers and no questions were asked about food, weapons, or the contents of the van.
We drove back to the offices, waited a few more minutes, and were told that everything was good and that we should go back to the operations offices inside the port to get the final verification done and get the van.
We headed through the main gate again. This time we actually belonged there. At the operations office we handed our customs paperwork to the nice lady at the customs verification office. After waiting a bit longer she had everything approved and directed us over to the other nice lady at the Terminal office, across the room. We waited a few more minutes and were told everything was good and that we should now go to meet a guy who would deliver Lola to us, Yay!!!! We met the guy and he sent us on our way, after waiting a few more minutes and signing my name a few more times.
We were driving out of the port by 3:30pm (about 7.5 hrs start to finish). In the end we only had to pay $608 to retrieve her.
A lot easier to swallow than the $2,400 we initially thought we would be paying. We didn’t have to pay any bribes or anything to customs, for that mater. The people we worked with were all very professional, nice, and willing to help us out. It seems almost as though, because we were the foreigners they were taking extra good care of us.
Based on our experience this was not that hard of a process and I would totally recommend that anyone give it a try. A few pieces of advice:
- Go in with a smile on your face and keep the smile going. Each person along the way is just doing their job and doesn’t know about your problems.
- Expect a ton of bureaucracy, there is a ton of paperwork to be done and a lot of people need to sign off on it.
- Arrive early, and expect the process to take at least the whole day or maybe go into the next day.
- Bring a lunch
- Bring a book to read
- Remember that your time is not really worth that much, and much less than an a customs broker or shipping agents time. While going through this process we saw a ton of other guys (customs brokers) standing around just like us. You could pay them to do the standing around or do it yourself.
- Keep your paperwork organized, keep multiple copies of your important documents, I keep PDF version of everything on my phone too.
We had to pay our agent $302 to release our Bill of Lading, that included the mysterious SIM fee. You may be able to avoid some of this by not making the mistake of starting out with an agent. Although you will probably need a local address for the port to use. Cris with Andean Roads may be able to be this address, but he may charge you a fee for this service (I would in his place), and it will probably be worth it.
I hope this helps. I feel like I included a lot of detail, but please get a hold of us if you have any questions. If you are about to go though this process, we wish you the same luck we had.