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Shipping from Brazil to the USA Roll-on Roll-off: Part 1

Written by Jessica on June 11, 2013

roro shipHere we go again friends. I know you love shipping posts almost as much as you love budget reports. This time, we’re headed home, Santos, Brazil to Galveston, Texas, roro style.

As usual before we begin, a few general bits of information:

Goin’ RoRo

Roro stands for roll-on roll-off. It means “without a container”. It’s great because it’s a fraction of the cost of a container, and for those of you with large vehicles, it is the only option. It’s bad because you must hand over your keys. Your vehicle will be parked, usually unlocked, at various ports around the world. Anything in the inside that isn’t bolted down is likely to be stolen.


If you ship roro, you must empty your vehicle or accept the likelihood that you will lose everything inside your car. End of story. Our fridge is bolted in place, our big camp items (stove, chairs and table) were so dilapidated we had no reason to keep them. Everything else fit easily into our 2 checked bags per person quota. It worked for us, it might not for you. Either way, understand that this is roro, it’s not container shipping, and these risks are very real.

Santos is a Busy Place

We shipped out of Santos, the port nearest to Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo. This is the busiest port in Latin America. Shipping your car from here is a bit like trying to land a crop duster at JFK Airport. The backlog at customs is ridiculous, and the cost to park your vehicle at the port is also substantially higher than anywhere else in the continent.

Why would we ship from Santos? One reason: flights from Sao Paulo to Seattle were a record low amount, $377 each. Not kidding. The $3,300 the three of us saved in airfare is still more than the extra fees incurred from shipping out of this port.

There are plenty of other ports in Brazil you can ship from, Paranagua, Vitoria, and others. If your decisions aren’t based on flights, then I recommend avoiding Santos. It’s a crazy and expensive port.

Wallenius Wilhelmsen

roro ship

The company we shipped with is called Wallenius Wilhelmsen. The more you drink the easier it is to pronounce. They ship roro (and roro only) worldwide. Many others have used their services to go from Europe to the US, and visa versa. They are professional, organized, and they respond to annoying tourists emails relatively promptly.

But perhaps most impressive is their website: It has routes, schedules and a nice little form you can fill out if you want a quote. It works. With this site it is possible to start investigating your shipping options sooner rather than later. While the schedules change frequently, the routes do not. And once you get connected with a quote, you’ll have a customer service rep that you can email and ask annoying questions of all day long.

The Steps

  1. Go to the Wallenius website, pick your shipping route, measure your car, get a quote.
  2. Hire an agent. Note that Wallenius REQUIRES this.
  3. Email copies of you Brazilian temporary vehicle import permit to your agent.
  4. Print, copy and notarize, driver’s passport, vehicle title, and power of attorney, and give documents to your agent.
  5. Your agent will make booking with the shipping company and will schedule drop off of your vehicle.
  6. Print copies of the drop off papers and go to the port and drop off vehicle.
    1. Check in with the front gate. They take digital fingerprints and photo and verify ID.
    2. Get escorted to the TEV office. (terminal do vehiculos)
    3. Escorts will bring officials, who have the originals of the drop-off paperwork. They will call the vehicle inspector crew.
    4. The inspectors will thoroughly review your car, take photos and document all the defects. They will ask questions about the mechanical state of the car.
    5. Turn over your key to the TEV officials.
    6. TEV officials will walk you to the pedestrian exit of the TEV parking area. You will be issued with exit papers so you can leave the port.
    7. Walk to the terminal exit and hand the papers to security who will again verify your photo, ID and fingerprints.
    8. Have someone call you a cab.
  7. Leave the country (optional).
  8. Have your car inspected by customs. Our agent and his colleagues did all of this.
    1. Turn in papers to customs and wait for them to be reviewed, for us this took nearly 2 weeks.
    2. Customs may request additional documentation or statements. We sent via email to our agent, without hassle.
    3. Customs will schedule an inspection, usually 2 days after they have approved the paperwork.
    4. Customs will clear your car to be loaded.
  9. Pay the people. See our experience below for details on how we paid.
  10. Contact an agent in the USA and ask them to file ISF paperwork. This MUST be done before the ship leaves the foreign port or you will have increased likelihood of extra customs inspections at the arrival port.
  11. Wallenius loads your car. When this ship has left port you’ll receive confirmation the cargo is onboard. Several days after that you’ll receive the Bill of Lading via email.
  12. Sit around and wait for your ship to arrive in the U S of A.

Our Experience

The setup

This all started back in Chile at a house on the beach near Valparaiso. It was the first week of December, we were 3 months from the scheduled end of our trip. The googling began. Hundreds of enquiries were sent, to travelers, shipping companies, freight forwarders, agents, brokers and everyone in between. I had one mission: to go to Brazil.

It took three months to find a company. Let me be clear, it took THREE months of constant work. There is NO documented information about vehicle shipping out of Brazil for travelers. There are plenty vague rumors about it being “bad” and “bureaucratic” and “expensive”, but no one who ACTUALLY did it.

We considered every option possible. We even listed our car for sale. Remember that? Bad idea. In the coming weeks I will write a second article that details all of the info I have about shipping from other ports in South America. For now, back to Brazil.

In March, we were in Bariloche, and I got an email from this guy Miguel, to whom I owe more to than he knows. And he introduced me to Wallenius Wilhelmsen. I requested a quote. And the answer came back. Roughly $550 to ship Roro to Galveston, plus $600 in port fees in Santos. Not bad.

Then, an amazing thing happened. I pulled up to check one way flights. And there it was, my ticket home, Sao Paulo to Seattle for $375. Every other one way ticket out of the continent cost right around $1200, and the week we wanted to leave they were $1500. I pitched the idea to the guys. Roro shipping from Santos and cheap flights home, 6 weeks for Uruguay and Brazil, we’re home in time for Overland Expo.

Bam. Done. We’re going to Rio, baby!

The interim

forks in the road coverNothing happened on the shipping front for the next month or two. We were busy with this cookbook project you might have heard about. Reports online said that if you ship with Wallenius you don’t need an agent. I naively believed them.

We had a hostel owner friend in Foz do Iguazu (owner of an awesome place called Iguassu Travelers Hostel) call around to people he knew in Santos. He also called Wallenius for us. Portuguese is not a fun language. What he discovered was that the quote we recieved previously was accurate, but that we would need an agent. Wallenius in Santos requires it. No exceptions.

The agent

Between Iguaçu falls and Rio de Janiero we did our best to find an agent. Actually that’s a lie. We did what we could given this damn cookbook that had to go to print and trying to enjoy our last few weeks on the continent.

Our last night in Rio we finally had a response from an agent, Ramiro Colsani (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ). He spoke English. He’s worked with tourists before. He could help. He asked us to email him our temporary vehicle permit from Brazil and said he would contact Wallenius and customs in Santos to see if our goal was possible.

A few days later we heard a double whammy of bad news. Ramiro’s fee was a whopping R$2,200 (USD$1,100) and customs in Santos takes an average of 10 to 15 days to clear a shipment. It was April 24th. Our ship was scheduled to leave May 6th. That gave us 11 days, best case scenario.

And so, we did what we always do. We consulted google and started drinking.

Two facts came to light. $1,100 is a typical price to pay for an agent in the busiest port in South America. And second, if our car was to miss the planned ship, Ramiro could complete all of the rest of the work in our absence. In fact he would do all of the work whether we were present or not.

We agreed to pay the hefty agent fee and decided to leave the next morning for Santos.

Prepping blue for his RORO trip

The paperwork

The good thing about a $1,100 agent, is that your job consists of handing over lots of papers, and then sitting in a beach house drinking caipirinhas for 2 weeks.

Ramiro emailed us a power of attorney document with instructions to have it printed signed and notarized. He asked us to deliver the notarized power of attorney to the office of his colleagues in Santos. We left our beach camp spot, hit up the copy shop, then the notary, and were in Santos by 3pm.

The logistics office in Santos was shockingly professional. In fact, it was better run than most offices in the USA. The staff looked over our papers than walked us to a nearby notary. Apparently we also needed notarized copies of the driver’s passport and the vehicle title. The also took regular copies of Kobus’ driver license and green card, and copies of our Brazilian import permit received when we entered at Iguazu.

After the photocopy frenzy, the logistics staff took us out for coffee and handed our papers to a third member who walked across the street to the conveniently located customs office, just to make sure the papers were sufficient. (Seriously, these people are good).

They said that they would contact the shipping company and request a time for us to drop off the car at the port. We hoped that would be the next day, Friday. If we dropped the car on Friday we still had 10 days to clear customs. The clock is ticking.

We moved into an apartment in Praia Grande, and prepared Blue to be shipped home.

At the port

Unfortunately, the shipping company (Wallenius) didn’t respond to the parking request on Friday. With everything closed over the weekend our hopes were dwindling. Finally, late Monday, we received word from Ramiro that we should deliver the car first thing Tuesday at the port. He emailed us drop off papers and told us to go to TEV (the vehicle terminal), at the port.

Kobus and I arrived at 7:30 with Blue at the port in Guaruja, the other side of Santos from Praia Grande. (GPS S 23 57.475 W 46 17.371). At the front gate there are several booths where trucks were queued. On the left side was a car only lane and several security guys standing around. We went to the left side in hopes that one of those guards spoke English.

Port security

They didn’t, but we some semblance of Spanish we got by. The guard told us to go straight forward and park on the right and wait of the office to open.

waiting at the port

We did as instructed. Sat and waited. The window finally opened, but the official there looked at our papers and said we were in the wrong place. But his Portuguese explanation of where we needed to go was way too complicated for us to understand. We went back to the front gate.

The security guard that helped us before was clearly confused. We said it was wrong place, he said, it was the right place. Finally he started asking other cars in line if someone spoke English or Spanish. Finally a nice guy wearing a TEV shirt offered to help. He only spoke Portuguese, but clearly knew where we needed to go. He explained the process to the security guy, who started to explain to us in his terrible Spanish, but then decided that showing us would be easier.

The security guy hopped in our car and we went back to the first office where I was dropped off to wait, vehicle owners ONLY in the port. They drove back to the front gate. Only this time they got in one of the big truck lines.

driving into port

Long story short, you have to go in these lines to be registered. They take down all of your info and fingerprints and then you can drive into the other side of the port. This process took an obscene amount of time because the guy running the computer didn’t see the “extranero” check box. They spent a good hour trying to figure out what to enter for Kobus’ CPF (Brazilian ID) number.

Once everything was entered an escort came out in his own car and had Kobus follow him to the proper TEV parking lot. The escort went into a nearby office and out came several officials, including an awesome English-speaking lady named Fernanda and our friend with the TEV shirt who set the security guards straight in the first place. They had all of our original paperwork in hand (amazing!)

This crew of TEV officials called in the inspection team. Four guys got busy documenting every ding and dent on our car. They took photos, made notes and asked lots of questions. It is important to note that our car was empty, except for the fridge bolted in its usual place. Fernanda told us that if we had belongings in the car, it wouldn’t be a big deal for this inspection, but it would be a problem for customs.

blue inspection

When the inspection was over, the TEV official asked for the keys. Kobus handed them over and watched Blue drive away. Weird.

The TEV official walked Kobus to the pedestrian exit of the TEV parking lot. They issued “port exit papers” that essentially said that Kobus came in with a car and could leave without it. With these papers he walked back to the security exit, which happened to be right where I was waiting. Security checked his papers, his ID and his fingerprint and then let him go.

Fernanda, our awesome English speaking helper, called us a taxi. We walked to the front of the port, now carless, and got in our cab. It was a whopping R$150 (USD$75) back to our apartment. But, given that it took nearly 2 hours in traffic, I think we did ok.

The waiting game

Thankfully our ships' departure date moved back to the 9th. We got 3 more days. Of course, we also learned that Wallenius required all documentation (including the customs clearance) to be delivered 48 hours before the ship docks. Gain 3 days, lose 2.

Jessica looking for the ship

And so we sat around our apartment, drinking cachaça and waiting for customs to make their move. Over the next 10 days we sent more messages to Ramiro than you could imagine. But, customs wasn’t going to move any faster. Later in the week, the ship was delayed another day (until the 10th).

The day comes that the paperwork is due. May 8. We take a bus to the airport. Jared flies out that night, Kobus and have two more days iin town before our flights on the 10th.

Jared checked in

We’re having our last dinner together in Sao Paulo airport and the customs inspector finally decides to review the paperwork. He requests a letter from us explaining why we want to bring our car to the USA. We write it, sign it digitally and send it immediately.

The ships departure is moved back another day (now the 11th). The paperwork gets approved, but customs still has to do a physical inspection. Ramiro (our agent) says now is a good time to start praying. He has a colleague wait in the customs office in Santos all day.

We go to a bank in Brazil and deposit the fee we owed Ramiro. He insists that we don’t pay anything until the car is onboard. With a wad of reals to use up and international wire fees at record high, we compromise and pay his fee in Brazil and pay the rest of the shipping and port fees to a US bank account when the car is loaded an all port fees are finalized.

010 packed bags

Customs doesn't inspect our car the next day, or the next. We fly home on the 10th, with little hope of making our ship. The next few days are a blur. We’re jetlagged, in meetings, reuniting with family members, sorting cookbooks, trying to pack for overland expo. Our car is in a port in Brazil. We have no bill of lading, and are under the assumption the ship has come and gone. It’s May 12th.

Then, the ships departure moves back to the 14th. We are now officially on borrowed time.

Customs inspection is scheduled for 8:30am on the 14th. Ramiro gets permission from Wallenius to do a last minute cargo load. (For the record, that’s what you pay $1,100 for).

Inspection goes off without a hitch and the car is cleared for loading. Our ship docks a day later (again!) on the 15th. Is Blue onboard? Unknown. Emails. Calls. More emails. Answer: You won’t know until the ship departs. We fly to Flagstaff and setup for expo.

Thursday the 16th we get a skype message from Ramiro.

“Cargo is onboard.” Holy Mary Mother of God. I kiss the cell phone. It’s gonna be a good Overland Expo!

The following Tuesday Ramiro emails us our bill of lading and final invoice. All payments are in good order. We send a wire transfer to Ramiro’s logistics company bank account in the US and forward the Bill of Lading to our agent in Galveston. More on that in part 2.

Total costs in Brazil:

R$2,200 (USD$1,100): Agent in Brazil
USD$562: Freight shipping from Wallenius - cost is actually USD$450 + 25% BAF (tax)
USD$768 : Parking at the port (called gate-in) First 10 days is R$869, each additional day is R$98. We paid for 16 days total.
USD$32: THC fee (port fee, per cubic meter of your vehicle)
R$250 (USD$125): BL fee
USD$45: Admin fee (because of US based bank deposit)

Total shipping costs from Brazil: USD$2629
Not having to reschedule flights or miss the best South America has to offer: Priceless

Additional personal expenses:
R$20 (USD$10): Copies and notarizations
R$150 (USD$75): Taxi from port to Praia Grande
USD$754: Flights Sao Paulo to Seattle (2 people, Jared used frequent flyer miles)
USD$850: Awesome apartment for 10 days in Praia Grande

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