Vanlife: Vehicle & Budget


Vanlife: Read here what challenges and formalities await us when traveling around the world in our own vehicle. Everything about shipping, border formalities, maintenance, diesel costs and much more can be found here. We’ll also give you a little insight into the topic of budgeting.


Our preferred route for Ro-Ro shipping was Halifax (CAN). Due to the Corona related CAN/USA border closure we decided to go to Veracruz in Mexico. The route is riskier compared to Halifax and Baltimore. Adventurous stories of stripped vehicles can be found on the internet. Our guess, however, is that the reverse route (Veracruz – Europe) is trickier. We decided to take the risk. We evaluated the following three providers in more detail:Seabridge, Caravan-Shippers & IVSS. The offers vary in different aspects: Cost, insurance, duration and route of the cargo ship, agents in Mexico (language, availability, experience & cost) The most convincing overall package for us was offered by IVSS. Following are some background thoughts on these points.


These depend on the insurance and size of the vehicle; a few cubic meters more or less can quickly add up to a larger price difference. The cost of our vehicle was just under € 4’000.00. What we appreciated with IVSS: no hidden extra fees. The offer corresponded to the final price; there were no unpleasant surprises.

Agents in Mexico

The agents in Mexico are very important. The import can theoretically be handled on your own, but we would advise against this in Mexico (see process). The service costs a few hundred dollars extra – again, prices varied widely – but it’s definitely worth it. Experience was particularly important for us; the more vehicles an agent has already imported, the better. Another important factor is that they are stationed near the port. This means that they can intervene quickly and are always up to date. Language is also important, of course, but most speak English.


All providers offer transport insurance. Mostly, however, only for the vehicle, not the movable contents. If this is included, the sum insured is often small. On the other hand, there is a high chance that the payment will not be made in the end. At least that’s what we hear again and again. In our case we could fall back on the hull insurance of Mobiliar, where the risk of the crossing is covered.

Route & Duration

IVSS ships with the K-Line. These run relatively direct routes; with a three-week transfer time, Olympian Highway was the fastest autoliner among the three providers. A stopover was made in Southampton (GB) and Galveston (US). We heard from other ships that they are at sea for up to six weeks. Since the wait can be exhausting, we were all the happier about the short transfer time.

Shipping is not an everyday occurrence for most travelers, with many questions buzzing around in their heads. Is it allowed to lock the vehicle, does something have to be cleared separately, what is the process with bicycles, how dangerous is the route really? Martin from IVSS answered these questions very competently and always in a timely manner. This is probably due to the fact that IVVS has been shipping to Veracruz for several years.

Shipping process


For the crossing of the Atlantic, the vehicle must be cleaned of all dust and dirt. In addition, the living cabin must be sightless. Almost all items are allowed to remain on board; except for explosive items as well as any kind of food. Valuable items and electronics are recommended to be taken by plane. The gas and water tanks must be empty, the diesel tank must be filled to a maximum of 1/4. In advance, some documents must be filled out so that the export documents can be issued. A few days later we receive the shipping papers including clearance number. This is needed for registration at the port.

Delivery in Bremerhaven

Three days before departure, the vehicle is delivered in Bremerhaven. Martin informs us that the drop-off can be done between 08:00-16:00h. We were not at the port until around noon – a big mistake. Already the truck queue to even get into the area cost us the first 90 minutes of waiting time. When we finally get assigned a parking space, we stand with about 30 chauffeurs in front of the building for registration. Four hours later, nothing has happened. The port staff tells us that there are no parking spaces free in the port area – the trucks must be unloaded first, no new registrations are accepted before that. After the staff finally understands that we have a private levy, we were able to push our way in after all. We get a badge for the entrance and the necessary papers. On a parking lot in the harbor area we have to wait again. After an hour, an employee shows up and leads us to the parking lot. Then it goes fast; within ten minutes the acceptance is done. There is no inspection of the interior. We are allowed to lock the cabin and keep the key. After the ship sets sail, the invoice is issued for the shipping costs. In addition, you receive a link for tracking the ship.

Temporary Import Documents (TIP)

A few days before the arrival of the ship we are summoned to the office of our agents (Luis & Claudia from CEVERTAM) at 08:00 in the morning. After they have copied the passports and vehicle documents, we will go by bus to the bank. We have already been forewarned that this process can take two to six hours. The line in front of the bank is huge – there is only one counter, which issues import papers. One hour must be calculated per customer. The first time we are happy to have our agents. They queue up while we wait in a café. Two hours later we are contacted; we can go to the bank to continue the process. There, the waiting really begins – at least in the air-conditioned interior. When it is our turn, it takes about an hour. An inventory list is also required, which we prepare together. Why they don’t require this up front is a mystery to us. Likewise the purpose. According to the information, the customs inspection is carried out on the basis of this – which was then not the case. In the afternoon at 15:00 it is done; the temporary import papers (TIP) were issued. The vehicle may now remain in the country for 10 years. If we leave Mexico, we can either “deactivate” or “suspend” the TIP – depending on whether another entry into Mexico is planned. The cost of the permit was 60USD. The TIP with QR code must be presented at police checks on demand. There is no longer a sticker for the windshield. The deposit for the vehicle is not due in our case, because our vehicle belongs to the category “camper”.

Customs inspection

After the freighter has docked, the customs inspection is due. Together with the agents we drive to the port. With the pre-issued permit (copies of health insurance & passports had to be delivered) we come through the security area, where the bag is scanned. Camera and laptops are not allowed – but cell phones are. In addition, the port may be entered only with long pants, closed shoes and shoulder covering. Arriving at the vehicle, we have to completely empty the garage and outside storage spaces. A customs officer takes photos of the display arrangement as well as each drawer of the interior. Then it is the turn of the drug-sniffing dog. The material, the empty spaces as well as the interior are examined for drugs. After he has sniffed everything to his satisfaction, we are allowed to put everything back in. A downside is that the vehicle must remain in port until all papers are issued. Two days later we are allowed to drive it out of the harbor. From delivery in Bremerhaven to reunification took 30 days in our case. The shipment has passed without a scratch and without losses. The concerns of the riskier route to Mexico have been dispelled – the relief and joy is great.

Carnet de Passage

The “Carnet de Passages” is an international customs document that allows temporary import of a motor vehicle into various countries of the world. At some borders, it can facilitate processing. In certain countries it is mandatory to be allowed to import the vehicle temporarily. Where this is the case can be found on the site of the ADAC or TCS. However, this information does not seem to be up to date. According the ADAC site, it is mandatory for some countries in South America. However, countless reports from travelers confirm the opposite. The carnet is no longer required for South America. If the procurement would not be provided with some major drawbacks, it could be organized proforma. However:

    • The costs are not insignificant. For non-members of an automobile club it is Fr. 330.00 per year,for members Fr. 230.00.
    • In addition, there is a deposit that must be paid in order for the paper to be issued. This amounts to Fr. 3’000.00 up to a vehicle value of Fr. 9’999.00. As off Fr. 10’000.00 it is a full 50% of the vehicle value.
    • In addition, the document must be returned. If one loses it, further costs are added.

    The Carnet de Passage can be applied for at automobile clubs. The validity is one year in each case and can be extended while on the road, provided the vehicle is registered in the home country. Importantly, the initial application must take place before the trip.

    We trust the experiences of other travelers and do without the Carnet de Passage.


    You want to know how our vehicle originated? The long way from the fire truck to the expedition vehicle “Whaly” is documented here. From the choice of vehicle to cabin construction and interior design. Have fun!

    Travel Report Spain

    Due to Corona, our world tour will take us through Europe for the time being starting in 2021. But whether France or Spain, we are positively surprised! Also you can find here the travel reports of our world trip Asia & Australia from 2008 – 2011.


    Planning a long-term trip with your own vehicle? The planning effort behind this should not be underestimated. You can find our information about finances, deregistration, insurances, health and much more here.


    Whether mountain bike, camera or camping gear; there are some useful things which should not be missing. What material we travel with and what we can recommend, you can find out here.

    Liability insurances

    A conclusion of a liability insurance is mandatory. Some countries require this already before entry, others offer the possibility of conclusion directly at the border. Below you will find a summary of the providers we asked about,costs and experiences.


    In Mexico, liability insurance must be taken out before entering the country. Coverage amounts range from $300,000 – $1,000,000 (in the case of BajaBound). We received the following offers (as of June 2021).


    • Contact:
    • Cost: $171.00 for 6 months and coverage amount of $500,000.
    • Completion: Can be completed online. You will get a login with a good overview of your policy.
    • Special: Since we will be entering Mexico twice, we purchased insurance for 360days at a small additional cost ($201.00 instead of $171.00).

    Adventure Mexican Insurance Services

    • Contact:
    • Cost: $194.00 for 6 months and coverage amount of $500,000.
    • Options: Offer for $300,000 or $500,000 max.


    • Contact:
    • Cost: $553.00 for 6 months and coverage amount of $500,000.
    • Options: Offer for $100,000 or $500,000 max.

    All three providers include a medical payment of varying amounts and towing charges of $1,000. The insurances are not valid for off-road driving. In addition, we requested MexPro, Sanborns and Mexican Auto Insurance. However, we received no response from these three. We chose BajaBound because they made the most professional impression on us.


    © Howis-web