How to Export a Boat From U.S. (Complete Guide for Beginners)

In Boatingby Christopher Schopf

The United States has many great boat manufacturers, and people from all over the world have come to the states to buy boats!  Unfortunately, exporting a boat from the U.S. isn’t as easy as one might think. If you are thinking about buying a boat in the United States and sending it abroad, you’ll need to do a lot of research first.

In this post, we’ll talk about what it takes to export a boat from the U.S. We’ll also talk about some of the steps it might take to import a boat into your home country.

Check out our great guide for beginners!

How to Physically Export a Boat From the United States

Before we talk about all of the legal hurdles you may have to face when exporting a boat from the United States to another country, let’s talk about how to export the boat physically.  After all, if you can’t physically move the boat from the U.S. to your destination, then there isn’t any point in worrying about the legal and financial requirements.

Shipping the Boat by Freighter

One of the most popular ways to ship smaller boats overseas is by freighter.  When you ship by freighter, your boat will be put into an enclosed container and rolled onto a much larger ship.  The cost of shipping the boat in this manner will generally depend on the weight and size of the boat.  The larger and heavier the boat, the more money you’ll pay to have it shipped.

Additionally, you’ll have to consider the distance that the boat will be transported as well.  Typically, the further the boat will be shipped, the more money you’ll pay.  However, some companies will actually charge you more money per mile of transport.  For example, AllDayAutoTransport.com charges an average fee of $1.40 per mile for transports less than 1,200 miles.  However, they charge between $1.80 and $3.00 per mile if the trip is over 1,200 miles.

Another thought to keep in mind is that the United States is a massive country.  There are 3.8 million square miles within the United States, and unlike countries like Russia and Canada, most of this is inhabited.  This means that there are many different ports to ship from, and some ports may be much closer to your country than others.

For instance, people shipping a boat to Europe from the United States might be better off shipping from a port on the east coast rather than the west coast.  Conversely, people shipping to Asia might be better off shipping from the west coast.

Of course, there is also the issue of transporting across the country as well.  People who have boats built in Florida but want to use a western port will need to have their boat transported across the country by truck.  In the end, this could end up being costlier than just shipping it from the east coast, so it’s important to consider the cost and time involved with each type of transport plan.

Picking the Boat Up Yourself

Some people may be better off picking the boat up themselves.  This is especially true if you’re exporting the boat to Canada or South America.  In this case, you may find that the cost of sailing or driving the boat to your home country is much less.  Also, you might find the journey home only adds to the fun of buying a new boat.

This is true for people buying boats to bring back to countries that are further away as well.  A large sailboat could be picked up in California and sailed all the way back to Australia or some other faraway destination.

The only word of caution on this is that you’ll be sailing a boat that is brand new to you, and you may want to take a few shorter trips around the U.S. before making your final trip back home.  This will give you a chance to get used to the boat and to discover any issues that the boat might have.  If the boat is new, this will give you the added benefit of having the chance to bring the boat back to the maker to make repairs before you head off to your home country.

Getting Someone Else to Sail Your Boat Home

People exporting used boats from the United States may be able to get the original owner to sail it off to them.  This would be a great way to verify that the ship is in good condition as the owner probably wouldn’t agree to sail it across an ocean to you if it weren’t seaworthy.  It’s also a great way to save money as you may be able to get the owner to do this for free or at a heavily discounted rate.  The owner will get to have one last trip in their boat, and you’ll get a great deal on the physical component of exporting your boat out of the U.S.

If the owner isn’t willing to sail the boat to its final destination, maybe somebody else will be.  There are professional companies that do this for a fee, and it can sometimes be easier and less expensive than sending the boat over by freight.  In fact, some people may be willing to do it for free for the chance to get to use your boat.  This ends up being a win-win situation as you save money on exporting the boat, and the person saves money on a boat rental.  Just be sure to vet the person very well, or you’ll run the risk of losing the boat to theft before it ever makes it to you.

The Requirements for Exporting a Boat From The United States

To legally export a boat from the United States, you’ll need your passport or license, a copy of the boat title, an invoice or bill of sale, a bill of lading, proof of insurance, and possibly a VAT certificate.  In many cases, you’ll also have to pay an export fee.  This export fee will vary depending on what country the boat is being shipped to.

Unfortunately, tariffs are usually complicated and often punitive, so you may find these tariffs to be exorbitantly high.  For instance, recent retaliatory tariffs of up to 25% have been increasing the cost of exporting yachts from the United States to much of Europe.  This means that a person buying a 4 million dollar yacht could end up having to pay 5 million for it with the tariff in place.  For this reason, it’s usually a good idea to find out what the tariffs are before you buy a boat in the U.S.  This is especially true if you’re buying a very large or expensive boat as the tariffs could determine whether or not the boat is worth purchasing.

Importing a Boat Into Your Country

I once heard a joke that said that getting a man onto the moon only required that NASA solve two problems.  The first problem was getting to the moon, and the second problem was getting back from the moon.  Of course, the punchline was that they needed to have both problems figured out before they left.

The same holds true for exporting boats as well.  Properly exporting a boat from the U.S. won’t do you any good if you can’t import it into your country when it arrives.  Imagine sailing a boat all the way from New York to London, only to find out that you didn’t have the legal right to do so.

Every country that you import into will be different, so you may have to research your specific country before you can proceed.  For instance, Canada may only require that you pay a duty fee before or upon re-entry into the country.  Another country, on the other hand, may have an embargo set up on any boats made in the United States.

People importing a boat into the United States have additional environmental requirements that they need to meet.  This involves completing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Engine Declaration Form 3520-21.  If the United States is doing this, many other countries are probably doing something similar in their country.

Another roadblock to bringing a boat into your country could be customs.  Many countries will want you to file the new boat with customs before bringing it back home.  Again, this is something you’ll have to ask your home country about, as this can change depending on where you’ll be bringing the boat back home.

Does The Boat Have A Trailer?

Will you be driving your boat back to your home country?  If so, you may want to consider using your own trailer.  Using a trailer that is already registered in your home country will eliminate the need for you to register a new trailer upon returning.  It can also reduce the amount of duty fees and tariffs that you’ll need to pay when exporting and importing your new boat.

Unfortunately, you won’t always be able to do this, and you’ll have to buy the trailer with the boat.  If this is the case, you’ll want to check with your country’s motor vehicle department to see what you’ll need to do to register your new trailer properly.  You may also need to get the trailer insured for the journey, and you may need to do this in both the United States as well as your home country.

When you do get to your home country, you may find that you need to get your trailer inspected.  It may be a good idea to find out what this inspection entails so that you can get a feel for whether or not the purchased trailer will meet your home country’s inspection requirements.  Some countries will have different lighting and braking requirements, so these points are important to know before you get started.  You may find that your country requires brakes for a certain trailer, and the U.S. does not. 

In this case, you may not even be able to get the trailer properly insured in your country, which could make getting the boat home a lot more difficult.

Using an Export Company

Some people find that it’s much easier to use an export company to do everything for them.  These companies can be hired to do just the exporting, or they can be hired to handle both the import and export process.  Personally, I’d probably use a company that does both so that you don’ t have to worry about coordinating your importing efforts with them.

A good export company should make the process of exporting and importing your boat a lot less confusing.  They’ll have prior experience working with customs as well as any other related agencies, and they may even be able to leverage this experience to help get your new boat home to you in much less time than it would have taken you to do so.

Additional Export Considerations

Some people may find that it’s easier to export a boat from a country other than the U.S.  However, these people may have their hearts set on buying a boat they found in the United States.  The reasons for this could vary from high tariff fees to country embargoes or a whole host of other reasons.

In this case, you might want to consider using a third party to export the boat somewhere else first.  For example, you might find that exporting a boat from Canada is much easier than exporting a boat from the United States.  If this happens, you could try to find the same boat in Canada first.  If this fails, you could have the boat exported to a dealership in Canada, where you could then buy the boat to export from there.  Just be sure you add up all of the fees before doing something like this, as exporting a boat two times over could end up being more costly in the end.

Buying Considerations

Another thought to keep in mind is that buying a boat in another country could lead to a poor purchase.  Even a newly built boat can be fraught with issues.  Once you get the boat home, you may find that you have little recourse.  Before you make any purchase, you may want to have the boat inspected.

The best way to do this is to come to the United States yourself.  Once you get here, you can hire an independent inspector to help you thoroughly inspect your new boat.  This is especially true when buying a used boat.  Professional boat inspectors will be able to do fluid tests and will have access to local labs that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.  These tests won’t cost much money, and they could save you from making a bad purchase.

This also holds true for the boat’s trailer, as well.  You’ll want to have the axles, the brakes, the lights, and even the tires inspected before you drive to the port.  In fact, you may even want to take pictures of these items so that the transporter can’t make any false claims against your boat.

Inspecting a New Boat

You may find that a new boat is even trickier to inspect than an older boat.  This is especially true for custom boat projects as the design itself could contain flaws.  In this case, you may want to take the boat out for a test ride before making your final payment.

Even after all of the payments have been made on the boat, it might be a good idea to do some traveling in and around the United States.  This will give you a chance to test the boat out while you’re still close to the builder and within reach of local boating stores.  The advantage of this is that you’ll be able to fix any issues and buy any parts you need before you get back home.  On top of this, you’ll get to explore some of the rivers, lakes, or coastal areas that the United States has to offer.

Final Thoughts

Exporting a boat from the United States or any other country for that matter can be a complicated and frustrating experience.  If this isn’t bad enough, importing it into your home country can be just as complicated and frustrating or even worse.

Not only this but exporting and importing a boat can be quite costly.  In some instances, the process can easily double the cost of the boat purchase.  For these reasons, it’s a good idea to do all of your due diligence before you make your purchase.  Once you know what you’re getting into, you’ll be able to decide whether or not the boat is worth all of the time, money, and stress that you’ll most likely be exposed to.

For those of you who do decide to export a boat from the United States, my advice would be to try to make an event out of it.  Use the lengthy process to create a boating vacation for yourself.  Come visit the country and explore the areas surrounding the boat dealer.  Consider transporting the boat yourself and turn the event into a road trip.  The United States is a large country with a lot to offer, and we’ll be happy to welcome you here.

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