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How we shipped our Kombi Van from Australia to New Zealand

If you are thinking of shipping a car to New Zealand temporarily (i.e. for less than 12 months), then this blog is for you!

For a few years, the two of us have really wanted to travel New Zealand (Charlotte’s homeland) in a campervan (we loved our 2016 yearlong Australian road-trip). We initially looked at campervan prices on TradeMe, (both regular campervans and kombis) and how much hire would cost. In the end we weighed up the options and decided that as we wanted to travel Kiwiland for at least three months, it was worthwhile shipping over our beloved kombi, Vinnie the VW. So this blog will detail the process we followed from a pipe dream 12 months ago, to when we finally got him on the road in NZ a few months back!

Before I start with the process I will explain a few things with the benefit of hindsight. In NZ every vehicle is required to have a warrant of fitness (WOF), and these must be maintained/updated periodically (for vehicles pre 2000 it’s every 6 months). The entry certifiers are notoriously strict, and even though we were lucky enough to be exempt from some of the criteria given Vinnie was manufactured before 1990, we still had several issues – the most concerning of which was rust. With this in mind, I would strongly advise you to get any rust repairs done before shipping your vehicle over – no rust bubbles are allowed on the structural components of the vehicle and for the body work there can’t be any rust holes and/or bubbles/rusted sections bigger than 5cm. See the following NZTA website for the specifications and some example images:

The Process for temporarily importing a vehicle into New Zealand:

Step 1: Request several shipping quotes

We found three companies online and requested quotes to ship a vehicle from Fremantle (Perth, Western Australia) to Lyttelton (Christchurch, NZ). Prices varied from roughly $2,800 to $4,000 for Roll On, Roll Off (RORO) (see below). to $5,500-$6,500 for a 20ft shipping container. (As a general rule of thumb, RORO just means your vehicle is stored with others and is less secure than if it were in a container). Inclusions/exclusions for all the quotes we received were mostly the same, general inclusions being:

  • Ocean freight;

  • Export clearance/fees in Australia;

  • Cartage to the Australian port;

  • New Zealand custom clearances;

  • New Zealand border inspections; and

  • Cartage from the New Zealand port to the compliance centre.

The major point of difference and what ultimately made our decision (to go with McCullough’s) was the inclusion of transit insurance. McCullough quoted us $3,050NZD to ship Vinnie from Fremantle to Lyttelton.

Our tip for comparing quotes would be to ensure transit insurance is included and also, insurance for the cartage of the vehicle to and from the port (since you can’t drive it to/away from the port yourself).

Step 2: Determine whether you are going with the Carnet de Passage or the Temporary Import Approval.

In order to import a car to NZ temporarily, you have two options: 1) a Temporary Import Approval (TIA) or 2) a Carnet de Passage (Carnet). We went with option 1, the TIA, purely due to cost. That being said, the Carnet is valid in several countries, so if you were planning on visiting various countries in the same 12-month period, the Carnet would be the better option.

As far as I can tell, the main differences between the TIA and Carnet are:

  1. Carnet is much more expensive due to the obscene application fee ($820AUD in October 2018). There is also a $100AUD insurance premium and a $500AUD refundable bond.

  2. Carnet makes your life slightly easier:

  • With the Carnet you can bring the vehicle back into Australia without any paperwork. Whereas with the TIA, you have to apply for an import clearance to get your vehicle back into Australia. This is done via the Federal Government – Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. It costs $50AUD and is valid for two (2) years. However, because it’s valid for two years you can confirm this and get the approval before you book the ship to NZ!

  • With the Carnet you are not required to pay any duty or GST. With TIA, firstly you need a client code (your chosen shipping company will do this on your behalf) and then secondly you need to prove the value of the vehicle. The value determines the payable GST, and with the TIA you need to pay this value as a cash bond to customs. We didn’t have a purchase receipt as we bought Vinnie off good ol’ Gumtree, so McCullough’s did a valuation for us and we ended up paying a $1,685NZD bond to Customs. You get this back when you export the vehicle out of NZ within 12 months.

As I mentioned earlier, unless you were planning to ship your vehicle to more than one country within 12 months, I think the extra work involved with the TIA is worth it to save $870 ($820 Carnet Fee + $100 Insurance Premium - $50 import clearance fee).

Step 3: Book the ship

After all the above planning we didn’t actually book the ship until two weeks before it departed. You can actually leave it as late as one week before departure (providing there is space on the ship). This part was pretty easy - we just accepted the quote McCullough’s had provided and then entered our details. Most companies had a shipping schedule on their website, and for those who don't, you can request it when you ask for a quote. However, there is one VERY IMPORTANT thing I wish I knew here and I hope it helps you:

  • There are two major shipping lines operating out of Fremantle Port (and most of Australia as far as I can tell) – they are Qube and Lynx.

  • One of these companies (Qube) has a blanket rule across the world that NO personal belongings can be stored within a vehicle on board (except things that are considered to be ‘part of the vehicle’ e.g. car jack, spare tyre, bull bar etc.).

  • The other company (Lynx), don’t mind what you pack as long as it is below window level and you are happy to take the risk that nothing can be insured or locked during transit.

We were happy to take the risk and go with Lynx as we were shipping mostly boring stuff like clothes, sheets, towels, tools etc. (things that you need for vanlife but aren’t necessarily exciting for a thief). So here’s what happened to us, which was a bit of a pain at the time, especially as it ended up causing us a further delay over the Christmas period.

After cleaning the van all over with a fine toothed comb (actually I lie it was a toothbrush) (more on the cleaning in step 5), and finally packing all of our belongings into neat and labelled boxes (finishing around 3am on a workday), Vinnie was finally ready to be picked up to go to the port. So around 7am, the truck driver arrived ready for loading and said straight up, “no way you can’t ship any belongings in there, you’ve got to take them all out”. I should mention here that I’d already checked this was okay about fifty times during the process so I tried arguing that. Unfortunately, the guy said that if he took Vinnie to the port as he was (with all our belongings inside), they would just make him truck Vinnie straight back to us (at our cost). Not wanting to be pressured we asked him to give us ten minutes so we could sort something out and call the shipping agent in Australia. In this ten minutes, we thankfully found out there was another ship doing the same route eight days later (and this time it was a Lynx ship and not a Qube one) and we were able to book a spot on it (and therefore ship all our personal belongings). We were really lucky this ship was only eight days later as the schedule is fairly random and the next one departing Perth after that was almost a month later. This whole muddle was just a bit frustrating as we had confirmed personal belongings were allowed on numerous occasions, but hey, isn’t hindsight wonderful.

Our tip when booking your ship – make sure you confirm the vessel name and note that if it’s Lynx you can take personal belongings on board, whereas with Qube you cannot.

Step 4: Fill in the paperwork for your chosen shipping agent (e.g. McCullough’s)

When we shipped Vinnie, the following documents were required:

  • Passport copy.

  • Australian Registration papers (i.e. proof that vehicle is registered in your name).

  • Proof of registration payment (I could order a statement from Department of Transport [DOT] Direct that was like a receipt/invoice – this cost $4.10AUD).

  • Client Code Application Form (Customs Trade Single Window (TSW) Application), which is for NZ Customs and processed by your shipping agent on your behalf. This is only required if you go with the TIA option (not a Carnet).

  • Purchase receipt for vehicle (again only for the TIA and not a Carnet). We didn’t have a receipt so McCullough’s did a quick valuation for us.

  • Unaccompanied baggage declaration (only required if shipping personal belongings inside the van).

Step 5: Thoroughly clean and pack the vehicle

The Ministry for Primary Industries in NZ are particularly strict with quarantine. They go over the vehicle with a fine-toothed comb, mainly looking for any insects/nests or seeds/grass/dirt build-up. Failure here results in steam clean at your own expense – estimated to be around $300-$500NZD. We were actually advised not to pay for steam cleaning in Australia as 90% of vehicles fail NZ quarantine anyway, meaning you’ll more than likely be required to pay for a second steam clean there.

However, crazily enough we actually ended up passing quarantine (yay for us – at least one thing went right!), and were told we were the only vehicle on the ship that passed. (Although we don’t actually know how many vehicles were on the ship haha). But I guess in some ways this wasn’t super surprising as we had spent hours and hours cleaning Vinnie with a toothbrush to get every little nook and cranny spotless. I hoisted the van up on some jacks and used a hose-powered degreaser (and the trusty toothbrush lol) to remove dirt and grease that had built up over the past 40 years. We also made sure we sprayed Vinnie with spider spray after we finished cleaning as we had read spider webs are a common failure point.

Our tip here would be to make sure you clean your windscreen wipers really well as this is where a lot of dead insects seem to hang out.

In terms of packing our belongings, we bought some cardboard boxes from Bunnings and made a detailed list of what was in each box. We wrote the items on the outside of each box, and also included the list as an attachment to the unaccompanied baggage declaration (that we had sent to McCullough’s in Step 4). The more detail you go into here, the quicker customs can process your stuff. We stacked the boxes neatly so it was easier for customs, and we noticed they only went through the boxes with shoes in them (we assume to check the soles for seeds/dirt).

Step 6: Organise pick-up with the trucking company

Our shipping agent (McCullough’s) are based in NZ, so they had a counterpart in Australia who helped organise the export from Australia. In our case this was Dolphin Shipping (who were fantastic by the way – we cannot recommend them enough!). Dolphin shipping contacted us with a two-day range for pick-up and asked us to specify which day suited us best. We also had the option of driving the van to the trucking company’s depot but because the depot was further away from the Port, we opted for pick-up from our house.

Step 7: Track the Ship

Making the most of current technological wonders, we were able to track where the ship was at any moment using a website called Vessel Finder and entering the ship's name. It was a pretty cool way to procrastinate at work to be honest. Check out how many vessels there are around Australia and New Zealand on any given day!!

Step 8 – Customs and Quarantine

Once your vehicle arrives in NZ, it needs to pass quarantine and then customs. You don’t need to do anything here, except keep your fingers crossed. For us, the ship landed on the 15th of December and was delivered to the compliance centre on the 7th of January. Since we passed quarantine right away, this delay was caused by the Christmas/New Year period at customs (which we would have avoided if we didn’t have to rebook on the Lynx ship!!).

Step 9: Nominate a vehicle compliance centre in NZ for your vehicle to be trucked to (after it passes customs) and send them your paperwork!

McCullough’s provided us with a list of their recommended compliance centres in Christchurch to choose from. The list only had three companies on it, however we discovered several others are now certified and you can nominate whichever one you want (providing it is within a certain distance from the port so your van is able to be trucked there). We chose Complete Automotive (Sydenham) mainly because it was closest to Charlotte’s family home where we would be staying.

Paperwork you need to send to the Vehicle Compliance Centre:

  • Proof of registration in your home country (the same documents that you sent to your shipping agent in Step 4). However, they need the originals here so don’t make the same mistake as us and make sure you bring all the original documents over to NZ with you;

  • Identification (passport or driver’s licence); and

  • Carnet or Temporary Import Approval. This one was quite confusing as the document we ended up needing for the TIA was called the “Import Delivery Order” which is issued by NZ Customs and is essentially your TIA (see below). You don’t get issued this document until your vehicle passes customs, so ideally the shipping agent should send this over to your nominated compliance centre when the vehicle arrives. Either way ask them to send you a copy as well!

Step 10: Head to the compliance centre once your vehicle is there and hope it passes the stringent roadworthy tests

This step did not go well for us. Actually even that is the understatement of the year. And we were exempt from both the frontal impact standard and the carbon emission standard because Vinnie was born before 1990. Which is lucky as we have no airbags and carbon emissions weren’t something car manufacturers were considering back in the 70s.

All up, we failed on multiple sections (see the form below), with the biggest black mark being the structural integrity (i.e. rust). The safety inspection itself cost around $75NZD, and you get a re-inspection for free if you get the repairs done and bring it back within 28 days (just like a regular WOF in NZ).

These are the things we needed to do to pass:

  • Find a seatbelt certifier to write a letter confirming our seatbelts met the standards (this was because I had replaced the original old seatbelts with new ones).

  • Fix a fuel leak (which was simple and occurred in transit as we didn’t have it before we left). Funny story here – this one actually caused us to run out of fuel on our way to a mechanic to get it sorted. As our fuel gauge doesn’t work, we usually just write down the ODO at each fill up, but obviously this is not soundproof when you have a fuel leak lol.

  • Balance the rear brakes. The scores for the brakes need to be within 20 points of each other, which meant the 300/290 for the front brakes were fine but the 160/290 for the rear brakes were way off.

  • Panel beater report on our roof. This was the most frustrating and in my eyes, a very “cover my ass – I don’t want to be accountable for anything” move by the safety inspector. Our pop-top had been installed decades ago and the van was re-registered in Australia when this was done. However when explaining this we got a, “well it wasn’t re-registered in NZ was it?” D*&khead. Luckily the panel beaters we found wrote a short letter and that was sufficient.

  • Fix ALL the rust. As I alluded to earlier, any rust of the structural A-beam must be repaired (which in our case was a few small rust bubbles around our windscreen). Every single hole that was caused by rust had to be fully patched up, and any sections of rust on the body that extended to more than 5cm also had to be patched. This was the most extensive and expensive of the repairs, but thankfully the panel beaters did it pretty quick for us.

Make sure you really REALLY check your vehicle will meet all the standards, as you don’t want to find yourself having to cut your losses and ship it back to Australia. Unfortunately in our case, we had been incorrectly advised on how strict the compliance component would be, so if we had our time again we would have made sure all the rust was sorted prior to shipping.

Step 11: Get your warrant of fitness (WOF) and registration card

After all our repairs were completed, we took the van back to Complete Automotive for a re-inspection. Fortunately all the work we had done met the inspector’s standard and he passed us. Thank god. Also - the inspector was one of the entry certifiers from Vehicle Inspection New Zealand (VINZ) and was contracted out to Complete Automotive to provide this compliance service. Just worth noting as we didn’t realise he wasn’t actually a “staff member” of Complete Automotive per se.

So once we passed, (WOOHOO) we gathered all the documents from Complete Automotive and ran down the road to the associated VINZ shop (literally running as it was 4:45pm and they closed at 5pm and we’d already waited three very long weeks for this moment to arrive). Once we were at VINZ, we provided all the aforementioned paperwork (in Step 9) as well as the MR2C (the NZTA temporary import form). With all this information, VINZ issued us a warrant of fitness (WOF) (sticker for our windscreen) for $60, and we paid the ACC levy for 12 months. Which cost us a whopping $23. You don’t pay the rest of the NZ registration since you are still paying registration in Australia.

Step 12: Drive away!!!!

Stick the WOF and registration card in your window and literally scream with happiness, thanking the lord that you won’t need to go through this process again!!!


How long did it take between the van leaving your house in Perth and arriving in Lyttelton Port?

The initial ship we were booked on was 21 days, and the second one (that we went on) was 19 days. It then took another 23 days to clear customs (noting that this was the Christmas/New Year period with lots of public holidays).

How much did it cost you all together? Was this return or one way?

So far it has cost us:

  • $3,050NZD for the shipping (one way and RORO).

  • $50AUD for approval to bring Vinnie back to Australia.