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ask joanne

My husband and I are thinking about shipping our car abroad to use on an extended trip and are wondering if we are being realistic, and if so, are there many hoops to jump through? – Louise in Welland, Ont.

If you want to experience roads further away than just south of the border in the comfort of your own automobile, as you might expect there's quite a bit to consider, but it may just be easier than you think.

Motorists who've vacationed abroad in their own vehicles say it's cheaper than renting for an extended period of time. Those on multi-country trips also want to avoid the hassle of renting a car in each place they visit. Others simply feel more comfortable in their own vehicles.

Whether you're planning to tour Australia in your Silver Ghost or heading down through South America in a Norton, you may need a Carnet de Passage en Douane, which acts as a passport for your vehicle. Many (but not all) countries require this customs document before they'll admit visiting vehicles. The Carnet system was set up in the 1960s, through automobile associations around the world.

"Before then, people would take their vehicles over to these countries but wouldn't take them out, so they'd be left for scrap alongside the roads or whatever and there was no way to collect duties and taxes," says Suzanne Danis with the Canadian Automobile Association's (CAA) National Office.

Danis is responsible for issuing the Carnet for vehicles departing from North America. The processing period is 6-7 weeks. Photographs of the vehicle and applicant are required, as well as copies of your passport and vehicle registration documents, an application fee ($650 for members, $750 for non-members), and a financial guarantee in the form of cash, a letter of credit from your bank, or an insurance bond.

The price of the financial guarantee depends on where you're going, and what you're driving. CAA calculates this using the value of the vehicle and the maximum amount of duties and tax that could be claimed by the countries you'll be visiting. In Egypt, this is 180 per cent of the value of the car, and if you're using an insurance bond it's 800 per cent. Australia, on the other hand, is very cheap for motorcycles – duty and taxes there are only 26.4 per cent. In any case, you'll receive the guarantee money back when your vehicle returns to its country of origin – unless you choose to pay with a bond, in which case the return is only 50 per cent.

To find out the documentation requirements for your journey, contact CAA. "All of our information says the Carnet is required in South America, but I'll send you with one today and no guard will ask for it. Your identical twin sister will go tomorrow and she'll be asked for a Carnet at every country and won't get in without one. I tell this to all my clients in advance; we're not trying to cheat them, it's their choice if they want to take one for South America or not," says Danis, who adds that she once helped a couple who were stuck in Peru for three weeks until they obtained a Carnet.

A Carnet is valid for one year from the date of issue. If you decide to stay away longer, it can be renewed while you're gone.

You'll also want to find out if an International Driving Permit is required where you're heading. The International Documentation section of CAA's website lists countries requiring both, along with a calculator to provide an idea what it would cost to take your vehicle.

If you decide to ship your car abroad, remember to expect the unexpected. According to Danis, even the best laid plans can go south. "We once issued Carnet's for nine 1923 and 1924 Silver Ghost Rolls Royces to go to Australia. They were headed for a travelling tour. The shipping vessel they were on happened to go bankrupt and the cars were literally stuck for nine months. The couples ended up going to Australia, but their vehicles never arrived."