When arranging the shipping we had been told the transit time would be about 26 days. What we hadn’t been told was that this was time at sea, and there would be an extra eight days added for changing ships in Malaysia. All of a sudden our anticipated arrival date of 18 May became 26 May, and we had a bit of extra time on our hands. We even considered the possibility of extending our stopover in Dubai and getting some short-term contract work to generate a bit of cash. In the end, the extra time was easily used up in Perth as we tried to make sense of the process for temporarily importing a motor vehicle.
We had already spent ages researching the requirements before even deciding to ship the vehicle to Fremantle, but although we had some idea of what to expect we were still not fully prepared for the reality. We should add that, always looking to save a dollar or two, we decided that we would have a go at attending to all the necessary formalities and clearances ourselves rather than engage a customs clearance agent.
Our Land Rover is covered by a Carnet, issued by the ADAC in Germany, to ease the process of temporarily importing the vehicle. There is more information on this in previous posts. Bringing a vehicle into Australia is definitely easier with a Carnet. Without one, you need to apply for a temporary import approval and lodge a large deposit with Customs.
In theory, the process sounded simple – find out when the container will be available from the shipping company, arrange for Quarantine and Customs inspections, arrange a temporary vehicle movement permit to take the vehicle for a roadworthiness inspection, pay for compulsory third party insurance and off we go, into the outback. If only it was “that” simple.
I decided to start phoning the various government agencies in reverse order so that I could find what each needed completed by the previous step in the chain. The Department for Planning and Infrastructure, who look after vehicle licensing, were very helpful. Once the vehicle was cleared by both Quarantine and Customs we could arrange a temporary movement permit over the telephone. The permits last for 48 hours and are only valid for nominated journeys, which in our case would be from Fremantle Port to the vehicle inspection centre in O’Connor, and then, in the case of a failed inspection, to the address where we were staying. In fact, this part of the process almost did go this smoothly, but more on that later.
Customs were also very helpful. Once we knew when the container was arriving we would need to arrange to have it moved from the wharf to a bonded container store, then we could phone to book an inspection. They gave us the names and numbers of a few container depots who might be able to help. We would need to go in to the Customs office beforehand to fill out an unaccompanied personal effects statement for all our equipment contained in and on the Land Rover. Best of all, there would be no charge.
From the contact details Customs had given us we phoned around, but only found a couple that were willing to help us with our single container. Prices were similar, and we decided we would use Fremantle Container Depot (FCD), right by the wharf.
Quarantine advised that we would need to visit their office at the Perth International Airport with copies of our documents so that we could be issued a “WO8” number, as well as to pay the initial fee for documentation and the first quarter of an hour inspection time. This was beginning to sound relatively straight forward, so with high hopes we set off on our way to the Airport. The unfortunate thing about Perth’s international airport is that there is no public transport running to or from it. We had figured out enough of the bus system by now to know that we could get to within about three kilometres, and from there we could walk. The threatening rain quickened our step, but we were very fortunate that when it did begin raining a kind taxi driver stopped and gave us a lift for free. I had to take back all those things I said about taxi drivers… It still took us over two hours to get there.
Once we were in the Quarantine offices, all was not quite as simple as it had sounded on the telephone. It now seemed that in order to get our WO8 number we needed to first lodge our paperwork with Customs so we were “on the system”. Without that, Quarantine couldn’t do anything. It was now getting late on a Friday afternoon and we were starting to think we might have to wait until the following week to make any progress. The Quarantine officer we spoke to took copies of our documents, and once everything was set up we could make the payment over the phone, so at least we wouldn’t be forced to make the journey back to the airport again.
Seeing as we had got that far, we decided to try the airport Customs office to see if they could help, even though it would be the Fremantle office who we expected would actually deal with our Carnet. We explained that we were bringing a vehicle in on a Carnet to Fremantle, that it was due to arrive the following week, and that we needed our documents lodged so that we could go back to Quarantine for our elusive WO8 number. The Customs officer took our documents, saying he would see what he could do. Half an hour later he returned looking very pleased with himself, with our carnet duly stamped declaring that our vehicle had been imported! The ship hadn’t even arrived at the port yet… Trying to kill even more birds with one stone, we then confused matters even more when we asked about filling in an unaccompanied personal effects statement. We were now told that because we had personal effects in the vehicle, this changes matters considerably. These would need to be itemised separately on a “lower house bill” which we should be able to get from the shipping company (next week – it was now after 5pm). In the meantime, our customs clearance would be reversed and we would be taken off the system again. Arrgh! To cap off a great afternoon, we had a long walk in the rain back to the bus stop, just missing one bus with an hour wait until the last bus for the night. By the time we got off our train we had a long walk to where we were staying. We got back at about 9:30pm worn out and a little unsure about how things stood for the following week.
I had been calling the shipping company all week for confirmation that our container was on the right boat and due to arrive, but they had not been able to tell me anything. They wasted no time in faxing the bill for the remaining fees though. Finally after the weekend they were able to confirm that the container was on the ship, and that the vessel had arrived in port at 5am that morning.
Further calls to Customs (in Fremantle) revealed that a separate bill for the personal effects would only be required if we needed those items separately from the vehicle being cleared, which can take some time. We therefore didn’t need this. The Customs Officers in Fremantle made everything seem straight forward again, and put our minds a little more at ease.
The following day we made a first trip of the week to Fremantle. First stop was the shipping company so that we could pay their bill and collect a delivery order for the container. The only hiccup here was that there was no record of the release of the Bill of Lading from the Cape Town end, as we only had a scanned copy of the Bill that had been emailed to us after leaving South Africa. This didn’t cause too much concern though, and we were soon on our way to Customs House. The officer there couldn’t understand why his colleague at the airport had stamped our Carnet before the vehicle had arrived, but basically said that there wasn’t anything more they needed to do. As far as Customs was concerned the vehicle had been cleared. We filled in the personal effects statement, and again there was nothing there of concern to them. Customs complete.
On to FCD. We made all our arrangements with them, and they took copies of all the necessary documents. They informed us that there was a Stop Work meeting (!) on the wharf that day, so weren’t able to load or unload any containers for four hours, which would put things behind for the week. There was, however, still a chance that they could have our container off the wharf by late the following evening. Sure enough, when I called the next day we were assured that the container would be there ready to open the following morning. We fronted up early the next morning, but after standing around for a while we were eventually informed that, actually, our container wasn’t due off the wharf until the coming night. So close but yet so far. FCD were very apologetic, and dropped us back in the centre of Fremantle. Fortunately, two of the staff live near to where we were staying, and offered to pick us up early the next morning. It turned out that they had also driven to Australia, in an almost new Austin Princess in the 1970s. We had plenty to talk about on the 40km trip to Fremantle.
Soon after arriving our container was presented for opening, and after the straps and wheel chocks were removed I was asked to drive the Land Rover out of the container. FCD have Quarantine officers on site, and the officer on duty proceeded to inspect any items of concern. All of our equipment and personal belongings and the vehicle interior were cleared, but despite the time and effort we went to cleaning the underside of the vehicle in South Africa, a waterblast and steam clean was deemed necessary. What followed was a full day of cleaning. I even had to dismantle the front end of the vehicle so that the engine cooling and air-conditioning radiators could both be cleaned out. We were hanging around most of the morning, but after some encouragement decided (against my better judgement) to leave them to it and go for a walk and have some lunch. While we were gone, a senior Quarantine officer had come to carry out an audit (having heard a Land Rover had arrived from Africa), and things were a bit more serious when we returned. It was starting to look like the vehicle was not going to be passed anytime soon. The problem areas were pointed out to us, and we got stuck in again, cleaning behind soft linings, underneath the cubby box and beneath door trims. In the meantime water blasting continued, flushing everything conceivable until water ran clear. It was surprising how much soil was still washing out, so it is understandable why they go to such lengths. Even the inside of the roof rack rails were washed, although nothing came out of them. Denise the waterblaster operator worked like a trooper all day, and eventually we were ready to attempt a final inspection. The Quarantine officer spent nearly two hours going over everything, watching as all orifices were flushed with clean water. She even wanted the insides of the doors flushed out. Finally, as it was approaching 6pm and getting dark on a Friday evening we were given the all clear. The vehicle was dripping wet inside and out, but that didn’t matter, because we were free to go, after we had gone to the ATM to get out even more cash to pay for the cleaning (the extra Quarantine bill arrived by post a few days later). It had been a long week, and I have to admit, there were plenty of times I wondered whether it was really worth it.
By this stage it was far too late to get the vehicle inspected for roadworthiness and licensed. We drove back to where we were staying and had to wait until the following Tuesday, after the Monday public holiday, to arrange a new movement permit and drive to East Perth for the inspection. The inspection centres operate on a first come first served basis, and by the time we arrived there was a substantial queue. We were warned that as they were closing early for the day to attend a funeral it was unlikely that we would be seen, and maybe we should come back tomorrow. Seeing as there was nothing else we could do anyway we decided to wait. There were some guys in the queue who work for car dealers, and we got the impression that they spend quite a bit of their time there. Sure enough, just as we made it to the front of the queue we were told that since we were a foreign vehicle it would take longer to process us, and therefore there would not be enough time to fit us in today. “Come back tomorrow.”
We arrived the next morning about quarter of an hour after opening, but already there was a queue of about 20 cars, with some there having arrived before 6am. They only open at 7:30am! We reckon Western Australians like to queue even more than the British. We nervously waited, fully expecting to be failed on some minor point. I surreptitiously ducked under the car to wipe of the stubbornly remaining drip of oil. When our turn finally came, it was breeze. The inspection, including test drive, was done in about 20 minutes, with the paperwork taking a further 15 minutes. We were even complimented on how dry the underside was for a Land Rover.
From there we had to go to the licensing centre, where the paperwork was processed and we purchased compulsory third party insurance. This includes registration in Western Australia, which as far as we can make out is also valid in the other states and territories. It is only valid whilst both the UK tax and Carnet are current.
So there we were, free to roam. It is a long-winded process, and certainly takes patience to negotiate. Sometimes it seemed that it was so difficult that even some of those who implement it don’t fully understand it. As I mentioned, there were plenty of times I wondered whether it was really worth it, and perhaps buying a vehicle in Australia and then selling it again might have been a more prudent option. For us though, the Camel is part of the trip, so it wouldn’t be right to be here without the old girl.
It’s possible that we got off quite lightly, too. We recently met a fellow overlander who shipped his Land Rover directly from the UK to Fremantle. His took two weeks to clear Customs and Quarantine, and he was even made to empty the refrigerant from his air conditioning system!
Australian Automobile Association - www.aaa.asn.au/touring
Australian Customs Service - http://www.customs.gov.au/
Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service – http://www.aqis.gov.au/
Department for Planning and Infrastructure (Western Australia) – http://www.dpi.wa.gov.au/