We had a good experience shipping our expedition truck (motor home) from the US port of Everett to the Russian port of Vladivostok. But this did not come about without a good bit of research and probably a good bit of luck.
Without a doubt the most important ingredients in our good experience were the agents we used at each end of the shipping process.
The shipping company was FESCO who bought space on a RORO vessel (in our case the Grand Pace) owned by some other company (I never did remember their name).
At the US end we shipped from the port of Everett (explained below) and used the services of a freight forwarding agent with a lot of Russian experience (in fact a number of the people working for this organization are Russian nationals/born from the Vladivostok/East coast region).
Iliya Pankov, of Pacific Terminals, 2310 36th Street Everett, WA 98201 email@example.com fax: 425-259-6601
Pacterminals main business seems to be shipping supplies and equipment to Russia's east coast for mining and other industrial operations; not shipping vehicles for tourists. BUT - they may help if you approach them.
At the Russian end we used Links, Ltd (links-ltd.com). Their contact information is:
Yuri Melnikov, Links Ltd 89 Svetanskaya str., ste 312 690001 Vladivostok, Russia firstname.lastname@example.org
I initially got this contact from Horizons Unlimited and a number of travelers websites as well. Yuri and his team are very experienced at the process of shipping and clearing travelers vehicles processing over 100 vehicle each of the last few years. Interestingly their main line of business is shipping personal belongings for people moving into and out of Russia on work assignments.
Our vehicle is big, 3.9m H x 7.8 m L x 2.7m W and weighing in at 10,800KG.
US PacTerminals USD 150 (driver to take vehicle to port - special security clearance required) US PacTerminals USD 75 (customs clearance) Shipping costs USD 8550 Links Ltd USD 200 (acting as agent for us) Vladivostok Port Fees USD 322
The only elements of this overall cost that could in any way be considered optional (and avoided by doing some of the work oneself) is the $75 for US customs clearance and $200 to Links Ltd for their assistance in Vladivostok.
However in my opinion these costs are remarkably low for the services provided. I will say more about the US Customs clearance below. As for Links Ltd not only did they prepare a thick bundle of required documents in Russian they also transported us to the port and FESCO offices a number of times as the vehicle owner is required to present themselves and sign various papers.
We arrived in Vladivostok on Thursday April 4th. We knew from an internet search that the vessel transporting our truck (Grand Pace) docked the same day.
Friday 5th April we met Svetlana (a rep from Links Ltd) at our hotel at 3:00pm and gave her copies of passports, visas, vehicle title and other info which she turned into various documents over the weekend. Later that same day while sightseeing we observed the Grand Pace moored and our vehicle parked on the dock beside the vessel. Thus we knew the vehicle had been unloaded.
Monday 8th April we met Svetlana and an insurance agent (arranged by Links Ltd) at our hotel at 9:00am, paid for 3 months Russian vehicle insurance (needed for port processing), signed some more papers, and then went with Svetlana to the port where we in turn visited FESCO's office and customs. We were done by about 11:00 and Svetlana dropped us back to our hotel. During the day we understand that Yuri (Svetlana's boss) had to do something at the port related to our vehicle. At 4:30 Yuri took us back to FESCO's office for some more paperwork. Later in the evening we heard from Yuri that all the paperwork for that day was done and that we would get the truck the next day.
Tuesday 9th April Svetlana picked us up at 9:00; one more visit to FESCO, then we waited at the port gate for Yuri to drive our truck from the port (foreign nationals are not permitted to enter the port). By about 10:30 all was done.
Amazingly straight forward.
We started investigating how to ship our truck in early 2012 and at that time the RORO service to Vladivostok departed from the port of Tacoma. By the time we got to March 2013 there had been some kind of major change in the world of RORO ships and the service now departed from the port of Everett. This necessitated us finding a new freight forwarding company. With hindsight both the change to Everett and the selection of PacTerminals as our new freight forwarder was a blessing.
There can be no personal belongings of any kind left in the vehicle. All items accompanying the vehicle must be packed into a separate crate that will travel with/beside the vehicle.. This was THE BIG PROBLEM at the US end. We were told this by various shipping companies and agents in both 2012 and 2013. We had also talked to travelers from Britain who shipped into Halifax and indeed did pack all their "stuff" into a crate.
As anyone traveling by expedition vehicle will understand this is a real issue; how does one transport, cooking equipment, extra cloths, spare parts, tools ... the list goes on.
Just to make this a more thorny issue Yuri Melnik (at the Russian end) advised us to place all of our belongings and equipment inside the vehicle; "Russian customs are experienced with travelers' vehicles and understand they have stuff inside. Putting stuff in a separate crate will just cause problems". ... Great!!
Fortunately for us PacTerminals and I came up with a game plan to get past this difficulty. Our camper has a very large storage area under the bed that is only accessible through external doors. Also while our vehicle has a pass-thru between the truck driving cabin and the camper we are able to close off and lock that pass through and hence isolate the truck from the camper. Finally the key to the truck does NOT unlock the camper.
Thus the plan was as follows:
Place all of our belongings and equipment inside the under bed storage area, so that anyone inspecting the inside of the camper would find all cabinets and storage areas empty. The hope was that this would allow us to pass a casual inspection.
Deliver the vehicle to the port with only the truck key. An arrangement was made by Pacterminals with the customs inspector (there is only one) at Everett that if he wanted to inspect the inside of our camper he would call and someone from PacTerminals would deliver the key and also attend the inspection.
As it turned out the camper was not inspected.
It is worth noting that this arrangement worked because of PacTerminals willingness to "find" a solution, their good working relationship with the customs inspector, and probably because Everett is a less hectic port.
It seems that US ports require vehicles to be delivered a minimum of 7 days before departure to provide adequate time for customs inspection. In our case we delivered the vehicle on March 11th and the vessel sailed March 20th. For us this was no problem as we had a place to live while the vehicle sat on the dock.
In addition a vehicle can only be delivered to the port by someone holding a TWIK pass - some kind of special security pass.