Argentina to Africa

Border crossingsPosted by Espen Mon, April 23, 2012 12:05:25

Zarate in Argentina to Port Elizabeth in South Africa

In a frustrating moment a few weeks back I posted a blog about the pain of organizing shipping. Well, now it is all done, and I thought I should write a post about how to do this without the frustration. The challenge with international shipping is basically that isn’t a ferry service. The schedule can and will change (most of the time not with many days, though), and the price is not something you’ll get from a board at the port. Shipping a vehicle between continents is cargo freight, with the limitations this involves.

When we left Punta Arenas in southern Patagonia, we had a clear goal of driving to Montevideo and ship our car in a container. The best (read: cheapest) way of doing this is to share a container with another vehicle (read: traveller). Reason: The freight cost is not the biggest part of the total cost of shipping. Funny enough. It was relatively easy to get a price for the freight of a 20 ft container from Montevideo to a port in South Africa. That would be about, or just over, 900 USD. For a 40 ft container it would be about 1800 USD. And the price would be the same shipping from Buenos Aires. However, as we started asking questions about port fees and how and where we could load our vehicle into the container, the price starts to go up. And is it possible for us to do all the paper work ourselves, or do we need to book a customs broker?

We knew that when we flew to Antarctica we lost our chance of sharing a container with travelers we knew would leave for Africa this summer (southern hemisphere). They booked a 40 ft with a third couple, and we knew we would probably have to organize shipping on our own. And so it was. By the time we had reached Buenos Aires we had a few more answers to how and what it would cost. It is not possible to load the container at the port. Not in Montevideo, and not in Buenos Aires. The container has to be trucked out to a certified warehouse and loaded there. This adds from 500 USD to the total price. The next thing we figured out was the port fees, and that the ports don’t really want to deal with individual customers. You could basically be forced to organize this through a customs broker. I did hear about a couple who managed it on their own in Montevideo, but it sounded like they in the end actually got some help from one of the agents “for free”. I never heard the story directly from them. Anyway, the price now, both from Buenos Aires and Montevideo, is about 1400 USD in addition to the freight.

Then we started asking for the cost of unloading and taking the vehicle through customs in South Africa. Same thing there. The ports and customs don’t want to deal with individual customers. This time our friends shipping a few weeks before us had tried hard. After several days they gave up and booked an agent. The container has to be trucked out from the port and unloaded at a warehouse. In South Africa this would cost you, according to the agent we were using, from about 1000 USD. Some ports are more expensive. A new port outside Port Elizabeth could set you back 1800 USD from the trucking of the container. And this is before the port and the custom has charged their fees. In total, we were looking at abou 1500-1600 USD in South Africa to get our Patrol back on the road after shipping it in a 20 ft container. Total: about 4000 USD plus air tickets.

At the same time we got an email from the shipping agent we wanted to use saying the voyage would have three transshipments and would take about 46 days plus port/custom handling at both ends. That was it. I picked up the phone and started calling Ro-Ro agents. They have frequent sailings from Buenos Aires in Argentina and from Santos (Sao Paulo) in Brazil. The standard rate is 55 USD per cubic meter freight, and 20 USD per cubic meter BAF (bunker adjustment factor = you pay for the fuel). Our Patrol came in at about 20,7 cubic meters, which is about 1553 USD. There was supposed to be a vessel in Zarate (one hour north of Buenos Aires) the 3rd of March (3 days after I got the quote), so I drove there and started checking the local fees. Customs was free, and the port fee was 90-110 USD (if you pay at the port it was supposed to be 110 USD, but as I delivered the car on a Saturday this cost was invoiced to the shipping company, and they charged me 90 USD). Bill of Lading (the document that will give you your car back at the “other end”) fee was about 70 USD. And that was it. Now, as you know, there was a down side to this particular sailing… It was canceled. Four days after the vessel was supposed to be in Zarate (it was anchored outside Montevideo), they decided to turn it around and sail back north to Brazil and out of my reach. Three and a half week later I delivered the car in Zarate for the next sailing. There is about one per month.

Drying the tent and packing my backpack.

So why didn’t we look for Ro-Ro in the first place? It has a bad reputation. They transport thousands of new cars around the world, but these are empty. An overland vehicle stands out, and would normally be full of interesting stuff for the guys that drive the car onboard and have access to the vehicles in the port. And because of the handling, the vehicles are normally not locked. But, what we didn’t know was that there was a direct route from Zarate to South Africa. This way there are few chances for the bad guys to get away with your stuff. In Zarate they let me lock the car when I parked at the harbor. I made sure to deliver the car as close to the sailing as possible (this is a risk as the time at port can change FAST, make sure to check status often), and when there are no more ports between loading and destination, there are not local people onboard that will have access to the vehicles. And as we had booked a customs broker in Port Elizabeth (first port in South Africa), he had access to the vehicle as soon as it was driven off the vessel, and could lock it while we waited for customs inspection (it arrived a Saturday afternoon, and we had the customs inspection on Monday morning). When I got there and looked it over, everything was fine and nothing was missing from the car.

In Port Elizabeth, we booked Louis Scholtz with John Fish Agencies, and everything went very smooth. We were picked up at the airport (me from Buenos Aires at noon, and later Malin coming in from Norway in the evening). Louis and I went straight from the airport to his office and started the paperwork. Half an hour later he drove me to Lungile Lodge where we had booked a room for week while waiting for the vessel to arrive. The next day he came by our place for the payment. When the vessel arrived on Saturday, he was at the harbor and received the car and parked and locked it. Monday morning he picked me up at Lungile and we went to the customs office to meet with the inspector.

The inspector came with us to the port to see the vehicle (he only looked at the VIN number), and then we went back to the customs office and processed the Carnet de Passage.

From customs we went to the shipping company’s office to get a cargo release form, and then back to the port. After a quick stop at the “Finances” building, we had the papers we needed for taking out the car. Louis disappeared for a few minutes with the papers while I looked the car over, and then we were ready to go. He even guided me through town and back to Lungile to make sure I was okay (driving on the left IS a mystery to me…). Ready for a new continent.

So! Conclusions: We paid 1553 USD for the freight, 160 USD for document and port fees in Zarate/Buenos Aires, and then 845 USD for the port fees, customs inspection, and the broker in Port Elizabeth. Total: 2558 USD. This is about the same as you would pay per vehicle when sharing a container, total about 5000, or just over, for a 40 ft. However, driving the car into the port in Zarate, deliver your customs vehicle permit, park, go to commercial center in Buenos Aires and pay for freight, fly to Port Elizabeth, hand papers over to the broker, pick up the car same day (or the next day (if it is not in the weekend)) as the vessel arrives, is definitely an easier process. Risk could be higher if the vessel goes to other ports along the route, or especially if you have transshipment and your vehicle is left unlocked in a port for days and weeks. But with a direct sailing I believe the risk is low if you can be flexible on the delivery date (deliver one or two days before loading).

Shipping Zarate to Port Elizabeth check list:

1. Email or call Carolina Guillart in MOL (Agent):

Sales& Customer Service PCC, AgenciaMarítima Sudocean



Can be smart to copy in: baipcc@ocean.com.ar in case Carolina is out of office.

(For MOL container freight contact Luisina Abruzzese: labruzzese@ocean.com.ar )

...book space on the sailing of interest.

2. Deliver vehicle at Terminal Zarate (in Zarate). Carolina will advice when. Ask for a contact person at the port.

GPS coordinates to main gate: S34 04.392 W59 02.735

Ask in the boot (green roof) to the right for your contact, and they will also have to give you a permit to drive in.

My contact at Terminal Zarate (speaks english) was:

Mr. Steven Aita

Operaciones Div. Vehiculos

Terminal Zarate S.A.

Cel./mobile: 549-11-6295-7796

3. Get a taxi to Zarate bus station (terminal omnibus) and go to Buenos Aires.

4. Book flight tickets to Africa......

5. Contact Louis Scholtz in John Fish Agencies:

Email: louis@jfa.co.za

Tel: 041 581 1103

Mobile: 072 429 1767

6. Louis will pick you up at the airport and arrange everything. Bring vehicle papers.

- in Port Elizabeth we stayed at Lungile Lodge Backpackers while we waited for the Patrol. Nice and not too expensive. They have parking for when you get your car out. Safe area, and not far away from the port. GPS coordinates: S33 58.734 E25 38.630


7. Your driving your own vehicle in Africa! (remember to drive on the LEFT side of the road!!)

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