Visas Visas Visas.

Our approach was to get as many in advance as we could, so that we didn’t get held up on the road waiting.  In the end this worked well.  The only country we couldn’t do in advance was Mongolia (it would have expired by the time we arrived at the border) and so we got it in one day in Astana, Kazakhstan.  The rest required a careful plan, calculating out the period of validity for the visa, how far in advance you could apply, and how long they would take to issue.

The requirements vary depending on where you are from, and change regularly, so I cannot explain the visa requirements for each country.  We used http://www.projectvisa.com as the starting point for each country, and then the local embassy for the detail.  We used http://www.stantours.com for our letters of invitation.  A few people have asked about Russia and complexities around your route.  Yes, you do need to submit your itinerary with both your visa and LOI applications, but this for us was simply the main cities we were passing through.  They wish to know your route, more than where you will be on what night.  Once in the country this was never asked for again, or even mentioned.

Magda (very centre) is dwarfed by the Mongolian landscape

Magda (very centre) is dwarfed by the Mongolian landscape

We had a multi-entry (business visa) for Russia, as we were entering and exiting several times.  However this was expensive, and we didn’t use the third entry.  It was valid for 180 days however, which was the main advantage, and allowed us to apply well in advance while in our home countries.

Kazakhstan was a double entry tourist visa, which also required an outline of route (again, sequence of cities).  We got this one because it had a longer validity period, which allowed us some flexibility on arrival and departure dates.  Check if you need an LOI for Kazakhstan.  I didn’t.  Andres did.  (Mexicans y’know).

China was a double entry tourist visa (valid for 180 days, single entry is valid for 90 days).  While the visa application itself is relatively straight forward, the complexity comes later with the car, and this is where you need Navo or a travel provider experienced with overlanders to make it happen for you.  They will look after the car registration, import/export, drivers licence, and getting your entire route pre-approved.

Set your expectations on this:  Once the route is agreed, don’t plan to just wander where ever you wish.  That’s just not the deal.  You can deviate up to 50km from the route and that’s it.  So spend the time with your travel provider and understand the route in advance.  For us, we fell behind schedule a little at the beginning (when we got held up getting across the border) and again during heavy road works in Sichuan province.  This didn’t seem a huge deal with Navo, and we gradually caught up to schedule without incident.

Vehicle Paperwork.

For us, the Australian vehicle was most difficult in Europe, with the green card insurance scheme (read our entry to Croatia again…).  Beware:  It is difficult to get for a non-European registered vehicle.  If you do get it, check the countries it is covered for, as not all are automatically included.  Buying on the border is tricky – we couldn’t in Croatia, in Turkey we got held up for two days, and then got entirely ripped off when they did process us.  In Ukraine it cost about $10.  In Turkey it cost about $150.  And when your car is being held in no man’s land until you have it, you haven’t got much choice.

But apart from that, the remainder of the countries were relatively straight forward.  Each border works in a similar way:  First guard checks number of people and registration plate, writes on a piece of paper and waves you on.  Immigration will handle your passport and visas, and ask you the same old questions:  Where have you come from, where are you going, how long will you be here for.  Once that’s stamped, customs will handle your vehicle, which in general will be temporarily imported and exported.  Each country varies slightly, in Russia we had to pay a fee for this (about $40) but it was valid for a period which covered both our entries and exits.  Countries like Mongolia give you an import paper which you must give back on exit.  Drama ensues if you don’t.  Apart from Russia we never paid any bond, or any money at all for bringing the car through.  Ever.

Crossing a border by ferry: Laos to Thailand across the Mekong.  Note how much of the windscreen is covered on the truck, think I'll let him go first...

Crossing a border by ferry: Laos to Thailand across the Mekong. Note how much of the windscreen is covered on the truck, think I’ll let him go first…

Have your car registration papers in good condition, or even laminated – you will have to hand them over so many times, to police, border guards, anyone who’s interested, that they become like toilet paper by the end of it.  Magda’s were the most unconvincing registration papers ever, and combined with lack of English reading resulted in several unconvinced policemen.

We were only given grief about the car once, in Kazakhstan, where tinted front side windows are not allowed.  Even though Magda’s were only 5% tint, that apparently is not allowed.  That said, we were let go without issue when I started getting grumpy and asked the police officer for his ID number, so you should be able to talk your way out of it.

Waiting waiting.  Sitting in China customs on the Mongolian border, waiting for approval to enter China proper.

Waiting waiting. Sitting in China customs on the Mongolian border, waiting for approval to enter China proper.


One of the most asked questions from other overlanders is shipping, particularly for those considering shipping in and out of Australia, but also for those shipping from Asia back to Europe.  The best place to start reading about it all is here:  http://www.goannatracks.com/Home/How_to_Explore_Planet_Earth_in_a_Vehicle.html

However the author states that it is cheaper to ship by container than by RoRo (Roll on Roll off).  I disagree, and in all the quotes I got, both Australia to Southhampton, and Asia to Australia, RoRo was cheaper.  I recommend getting multiple quotes.

Locked and loaded: Securing Magda into the container at Pork of Bangkok, ready for shipping to Australia

Locked and loaded: Securing Magda into the container at Pork of Bangkok, ready for shipping to Australia

Out of Australia:

I used www.cargoonline.com.au and they did a great non-fuss job.  The vehicle went RoRo, but did spend just over 2.5 months at sea.  This is because RoRo ships run weekly on a set of fixed loops between Asia, Australia, US (via Panama) and to Europe on a constant schedule, so mine went from Sydney via Perth to Korea, Japan, Mexico, Panama, eastern USA before arriving into Europe, staying on the same ship the entire way.  Getting onto one is reasonably easy and there were plenty of date choices.

Indicative quotes to ship Sydney to Europe for a standard 4WD:  RoRo: $2,500.  Container:  $3,000, plus insurance.  Handling costs in Southhampton were around $250 for RoRo.

Into Australia:

A warning:  Shipping into Australia is expensive.  As a guide, the container, all the Thailand paperwork, customs, loading, wharfage and the shipping to Australia itself came to around $2,800.   The cost of handling the container and getting through customs on the Australian end (which cost $250 in the UK for RoRo), came to over $3,300…  This included over $800 just to truck the container from the the wharf to the Quarantine yard for inspection.  The list below gives you an idea of the items that will be levied:

AUD $316.20     – Port Wharfage Service Charge (as applicable by the Shipping Line)
AUD $362.80     – Terminal Handling Charge (as applicable by the Shipping Line)
AUD $65.00      – Bill of Lading Processing
AUD $47.50      – Sea Cargo Manifest Reporting
AUD $29.50      – CMR Customs Compliance
AUD $135.00     – Customs Entry Preparation & Lodgment
AUD $55.00      – ACS Customs Entry Red Line Processing (as applicable by the Australian Customs & Border Protection Service for verification of the Vehicle Import Approval )
AUD $65.00      – ACS Customs Underbond Movement Application
AUD $39.50      – AQIS Quarantine Compliance
AUD $55.00      – Quarantine Entry Preparation & Lodgment
AUD $198.50     – AQIS Quarantine Entry Process Fee (as applicable by AQIS Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service for documentary  assessment)
AUD $890.00     – 20ft Shipping Container Cartage from Fremantle Port Wharf to S.77G Customs & Quarantine Depot, Shipping Container Lifts, Shipping Container Unpacking, Vehicle Unloading & Shipping Container DeHire
AUD $157.50     – AQIS Quarantine Officer Inspection (as directed by AQIS Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service)
AUD $182.50     – AQIS Quarantine Exterior Steam Cleaning (as directed by AQIS Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service)
AUD $65.00      – AQIS Quarantine Interior Bio Vacuum Cleaning (as directed by AQIS Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service)
AUD $127.50     – AQIS Quarantine Officer Re-Inspection (as directed by AQIS Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service)
AUD $89.50      – ACS Customs Officer Inspection (as directed by ACBPS Australian Customs & Border Protection Service)
AUD $72.50      – Attendance to both the Customs or Quarantine Inspections ($72.50 per hr or part thereof)
AUD $ N/A        – Delivery from the S.77G Customs & Quarantine Depot | to be arranged by importer
AUD $295.35     – GST applicable

RoRo was a little cheaper, but not much, and with less frequency between Asia and Australia (particularly Perth).  The key point here is that if you are mid-trip, and your vehicle is full of belongings, then container allows your belongings to remain with the vehicle, and so makes far more sense.

From Bangkok to Perth, it was exactly 4 weeks between car drop off and driving out of the Quarantine yard.  This was made up of a few days loading, another few days transferring between ships in KL (so a total of about 2.5 weeks at sea), then a week from arrival into Perth, unload, XRay, transfer to Quarantine, inspection, clean, reinspection and release.  It would be difficult to get it much faster than this.  I drove the vehicle into the container, and back out in Perth, but the reality is that your vehicle will sit unsecured in the Quarantine area of the shipping yard for several days with the keys in the ignition.  I was highly nervous about all this, but nothing went astray.

Cleaning:  It’s a nightmare….   Australian authorities will charge you $250 per hour for any cleaning.  I spent a whole day cleaning Magda, down to the level of wheels off and scrubbing the suspension, but it was still not enough (though they only did one hour more themselves).  But they go through to the level of dirt caught in bash plates, in the chassis, even dust/dirt in the bottom of cup holders inside.  So the more cleaning you can do, the better, as this will blow out your costs.

4.5 months of dust and dirt being blown out in Thaliand, prior to shipping

4.5 months of dust and dirt being blown out in Thaliand, prior to shipping

For those shipping from Indonesia/Timor, there is a shipping company called Perkins (http://www.perkins.com.au/) who run ships between Darwin (northern Australia), Dili (Timor) and Singapore.  This is the cheapest way to move a vehicle between Australia and Indonesia/Timor/Singapore, however I found them quite difficult to deal with by email – lots of following up etc.  They don’t have RoRo, vehicle will usually be put on a flat steel pallet the size of a container.  Only a couple of days between Timor and Darwin.


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