Extended stay at Shanghai Yangshan Port

We never thought or said it was going to be easy. And so, here we are. Still without a car, just six weeks before we want to leave Shanghai to start our Great Return back to Holland.

What happened? Our car arrived in the port of Shanghai after 30 days sailing on April 7th right on schedule. But after a couple of days we got a worrying call from our agent that there was a huge problem at the customs. We were told we needed at least two, but possibly three licenses and some other documents to get the car cleared, documents we were never told about before we shipped the car. Of course we checked numerous times if all our documents were in order before we shipped the car and every time our agent reassured us they were. We were misinformed but maybe should have triple checked ourselves if everything was indeed in order. You could say we made a classic China-beginner’s mistake, we always warn others about….

More confusing

Now with our back against the wall, we were facing some tough choices. Those licenses would cost thousands of euros each and take at least a month to arrange. We didn’t find that acceptable, especially since no one still wanted to guarantee anything, let alone the clearance of the car. What followed were a lot of calls to customs in Shanghai, middlemen, agents, contacts, local governments, Dutch customs and more to see whether there were other ways.

Instead of clearer, everything became even more confusing, since different authorities told us different things. At some point a person at the Shanghai customs told us it would never ever be possible for a foreigner to temporarily import a second hand car, something we know for a fact is not true.


Shipped back to Holland

Anyways, our mood quickly began to deteriorate to the point where we felt we should sue someone for emotional damage. We’ve been preparing for this adventure for more than a year now and the idea of shipping the car back to Holland was just too agonizing. At some point after another disappointing call and talk we came to the conclusion that the only option left was for our Blue Beast to be shipped back to Holland.

But those of you that know us well, remember our China-mantra ‘Nothing is easy, but everything is possible’. And again this proved right. Among all the distress, one company/agent in Beijing stood out and was able to reassure us at the last moment he could guarantee clearance of the car with all the official stamps and licenses for an acceptable price. So today we signed a service agreement with him and are very confident our car will be cleared in the end. If it doesn’t we don’t have to pay.

Mandatory guide

It will take at least another five weeks and still will cost quite a bit of extra money we didn’t originally expect, but we still have that time and that money. Of course the car isn’t officially cleared yet, so we’re not uncorking the Champagne yet, but we are very confident we will be able to in the end.

This new clearance ‘route’ though does have some consequences for us. The most annoying one being that we now are required to travel with an official guide in the car as long as we are in China. Don’t ask me why, but it’s mandatory apparently for foreigners who travel in their own vehicle in China. We’ve rented cars in China numerous times without the need for a guide and can freely roam all over China, but as soon as we step in our own car a guide needs to be in there as well. Even if you’re living in China for eight years, ‘Beijing’ still thinks you’ll need a guide.


Now, our car only has two seats, so were hoping to be able to skip the guide after all, but this is China so they now provide us with a very small guide with a maximum height of 1.50 meter who can sit/lie in the back of our car. We’ll provide the pillow. Well, that’s gonna be fun!

Since we have to pay a guide fee every day and also need special permits to drive in Xinjiang, Mirian and I decided to change our route and skip the Xinjiang-part from our itinerary. So instead of re-entering China from West-Mongolia, we now will try to cross into Russia in the far west corner of Mongolia.

Nuclear test site

That’s not too bad after all, since this Altai-region in Russia’s Southern Siberia is extremely beautiful. Visiting Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia, is also something I’m especially looking forward to. Don’t ask me why, but the sound of the name alone makes me longing to go there, since I was a kid.

Another extra sightseeing spot we now will be able to visit is the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Northeast Kazachstan. Also known as ‘The Polygon’, this area was the primary testing venue for the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. The Russians conducted 456 nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk from 1949 until 1989 and all what is left now are some huge craters and deserted buildings. We’ll make sure the radiation is not a danger anymore, but since lots of international leaders already visited the site I suspect we will be fine.

25 countries

All this rerouting will probably not have an effect on the total days we will be traveling. We still expect to be able to do the whole road trip in 99 days. Instead of 24 countries, now we will cross 25 countries.

We feel we were close to falling into the abyss, but are hopeful now we have overcome our first major obstacle.

4 Responses to Extended stay at Shanghai Yangshan Port

  1. Patricia Daemen

    Heel veel succes en… Take care!

  2. Floris

    Ooh guys, what a story!
    Good luck with these “latest leadjes” ;-)
    We’re crossing our fingers.

    Lucy & Floris

    PS : the mandatory guide thing is hilarious!

  3. Steven

    Fingers crossed for you guys! About the Semipalatinsk Test Site, I wouldn’t call it free of danger, but you can visit (you need another permit though to visit Kurmatov). I would love to read what you have to say about it!

    This is a good article (ru), Google Translate can make sense of it. http://www.voxpopuli.kz/post/view/id/484 Yes, people live there!

  4. Kirt

    What a tale! The height-challenged government required guide laying down in the back is hilarious!

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