Military Life Active Duty Military Moves

Ship or shop? Your overseas vehicle guide

If you’ve got orders in hand for an overseas move, you’ve most likely started thinking about the decisions involved.
Bravo Troop, Regimental Engineer Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment
U.S. Soldiers, assigned to the Bravo Troop, Regimental Engineer Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, apply snow chains to a Medium Mine Protected Vehicle at the 7th Army Training Command's Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Jan. 29, 2020. (U.S. Army/Spc. Javan Johnson)

If you’ve got orders in hand for an overseas move, you’ve most likely started thinking about the major decisions you’ll need to make soon – where you will live and what personal belongings you will bring with you. Deciding whether you’re going to bring your vehicle with you or purchase one in the country you’re relocating to is one more thing to consider.

Both options require a certain amount of planning and consideration, so we’ve compiled this how-to guide to help you in the process.

Make sure you can drive overseas

Before you leave U.S. soil, you and any licensed driver in your household over the age of 18 will want to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP). AAA and AATA are the only two entities inside the U.S. that can issue these permits and you will need to apply for them while you’re still stateside. IDPs are valid in 150 different United Nations countries for one year from the issue date.   

If you’ve already moved overseas, you can still get an IDP, it just may take longer to receive it. You can apply for one here. If you’re in Germany or the UK, provisions under NATO allow military service members and their dependents with US driver’s licenses to obtain a driving permit, known as the U.S. Forces Certificate of License. To get this, you’ll have to access your Joint Knowledge Online (JKO) account with your CAC and take the certificate course. Your on-base transportation or licensing office will then conduct a driver’s test and issue you your permit. There’s a handy manual for the German test, and a website of traffic regulations for the UK test. Your base transportation or licensing office will be able to administer the test for you to get your local license.  

Shipping Your Vehicle

Getting your car to your next overseas duty station requires some forethought and a little elbow grease up front to get your vehicle prepped. While there’s no exact timeline to follow from shipment to delivery, it’s safe to assume you’ll be without your vehicle for 30 days or more. Here are a few things to consider.

1. You can only ship one vehicle, and it must meet size and weight requirements, otherwise you’ll have to pay an oversized vehicle fee. It’s also wise to consider the country you’re entering. International gas prices are hefty – about $5.40 USD per gallon in Germany and $4.60 in Japan unless you’re exclusively purchasing fuel through AAFES on post. Do you really want to take on the increased financial strain of fueling your gas-guzzling F-250? Also, a lot of European and Asian roads and parking are significantly more compact than our roomy American highways and parking garages. A compact, fuel-efficient car may be a wise choice at your next station.   

2. You’ll have to drop your car at a Vehicle Processing Center (VPC). These government-contracted logistics centers will help you make sure your vehicle is ready to ship. There are 38 VPCs stateside, and you may have to drive a bit to reach one. 

There are several required documents you’ll need in hand when dropping off your vehicle.

  • A copy of your orders, authorizing you to ship a vehicle
  • Proof of vehicle ownership (title or registration are fine)
  • If your vehicle is a lease you must have written authorization to ship it
  • If someone other than you is dropping of your vehicle, they will need a signed Power of Attorney or a letter of authorization allowing them to do so on your behalf

Other requirements.

  • The fuel tank must be ¼ or less full
  • Your vehicle must be vacuumed, totally free of dirt, debris, and personal items, and cannot be wet or damp. You may have tools like a jack or tire iron and a spare tire
  • There can be no open recall on your vehicle
  • Drop off a full set of keys for the ignition and door

3. Once your vehicle arrives overseas, you’ll have 45 days to pick it up. If you’ll be deployed during that time, someone will need to have a Power of Attorney from you to pick it up on your behalf. Make sure you follow proper local regulations for obtaining license plates and registration before you drive your car away after pickup. Usually your on-base transportation office will provide these services at cost for you. 

To read more about shipping your vehicle, check out the US Transportation Command’s manual or the website PCS my POV.

Buying Overseas

Purchasing a car in a foreign country can actually be much easier than you’d think. There are a couple of  companies that cater specifically to military families overseas and can take the worry out of buying or selling a vehicle.

Military Auto Source is a car-buying service located in more than 20 countries and on 50 bases overseas. Their online and in-person tools help you search for new and used cars online and ship them directly to you, stateside or overseas. So, if you find yourself at your new duty station and aren’t finding a vehicle you like on the local market, Military Auto Source is a great tool to get what you’re looking for at competitive prices. The company has been partnered with the Exchange for more than 60 years as a DoD contractor, and a portion of their sales go to Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs. If you decide you want to sell your car before you return stateside, Military Auto Source can help you do that as well. 

Service Credit Union (Service CU), a financial institution for service members, veterans, and DoD employees, has several international banking services to make buying a car secure and stress free. They are part of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) initiative, which allows you to make payments from your Service CU bank account directly to any institution within the European Union. So, if you want to purchase a car with cash or pay for your vehicle plates and registration, using SEPA is a secure and efficient way to go. It’s secure and efficient. 

Service CU also participates in a network called V Pay, which replaces credit and debit cards, since many European retailers don’t accept them. Your V Pay card connects to your Service CU bank account, allowing you to make secure purchases, like fuel or car maintenance services, across the SEPA. You’ll be able to move relatively freely (currency-wise) within the EU, removing the hassle of having to exchange cash or Euros or incur hefty exchange fees if you withdraw money at an ATM. You can also use it online. 

If you’re wanting to consolidate all your services with Service CU while you’re overseas, they also have auto loan options for new and used vehicles, including motorcycles and campers. Or if you decide you want to refinance your current loan, they offer those services as well. 

Whether you end up shipping your current vehicle overseas to your new duty station or buying on the local economy once you arrive, it’s never too soon to start planning for your move. The more decisions you can take the stress out of, the smoother your transition overseas will go. Regardless of what you decide, there are plenty of resources to take the guesswork out of your international move. 

This article is sponsored by Service Credit Union.