We’ve been shipping motorcycles around the world since 1999 and have freighted in and out of every continent on multiple occasions, so there’s not much that we don’t know about motorcycle freight. Here some of our top tips and advice for how to freight your motorcycle.
For long-haul destinations and trips of more than three or four weeks, taking your own motorcycle is much more cost effective than renting. It also means you’ll be on a familiar machine, modified to suit you, properly prepared for the journey, and ready to be turned into your own personal souvenir: displaying every scratch, sticker and adornment it picks up along the way. Although it seems daunting, motorcycle freight isn’t that difficult.
Anything you need to know about how to freight your motorcycle is here!
Most people who ship their motorcycle will do so through a freight agent. Many airlines and shipping companies will only deal with you through an agent, so that they know they will get all the correct paperwork. Cutting out the middleman may seem like a good idea, but you may not save a penny and you miss out on the advice that a good agent can give you. We use Motofreight in the UK as our lead freight agent.
- In order to freight your motorcycle, you will need your motorcycle’s registration document (in the UK, the V5 or logbook) and / or your motorcycle title. Different countries have different documents, but in essence you need something official that shows you own the motorcycle or are the registered keeper of the motorcycle.
- It must be in your own personal name to make it as smooth as possible. If it’s not, you will additional paperwork, such as a Letter of Authority from the owner, sometimes this will need to be notarised and / or translated. This can just add a bit of extra complication at a border, which is why we always recommend that the document is in your personal name.
- It is important that the motorcycle registration or title shows your name as it is in your passport and that you have checked that your documents accurately reflect your motorcycle’s VIN and engine number. So get down on your hands and knees and do a physical check of the VIN and engine numbers. It is normal for a Customs Officer to physically check the documentation directly to your motorcycle. Some want you to take a photograph of the VIN. If there is a mistake, then at worse your motorcycle may be impounded and at best you might have to pay a fine and get correcting paperwork.
- The other documents you must have with you are your passport and your driving licence (often an international driving permit too).
- Some countries also require a “Carnet de Passage” – a special temporary import and export document for your bike. This link takes you to CARS Europe, which has information for UK citizens to explain about a carnet de passage (we are not going to copy it here). Different countries have different carnet providers. For eg for the USA, check out Boomerang. On the back of a carnet is a long list of countries which recognise the carnet, but many still use their own temporary import permits for your motorcycle. As a general rule of thumb -you do not need a carnet de passage for any of the Americas or for Russia, Europe & Central Asia. The main regions that practically use a carnet are countries in Africa, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Japan, Australia & New Zealand.
Air Freight vs Sea Freight
Air freight is the quickest and nearly always the most reliable, and there’s more scheduled flights. Generally, it’s more expensive than sea freight, but transit times are in days, not weeks or months. Any delays are also much shorter, so the timing of arrival is more guaranteed. At the other end, normally, it is easier to clear your motorcycle through Customs, and there are less destination charges.
Sea freighting takes longer and can be more unpredictable, unreliable and often has hidden charges – ports are more unionised and bureaucratic. We would normally only recommend sea freight at the end of your trip and not at the start. This way if there are delays, it is not so critical (Think of the delays due to the stranding of the mage ship Ever Given in the Suez Canal!). Sea options are:
If there’s a group of you, container freighting is very cost effective in your own dedicated container. A standard 20-foot container can normally take at least six bikes. You can load it how you want (subject to the conditions of any in transit insurance); just line the bikes up and strap to the bottom of the container. Crating your motorcycle is not necessary, but if your bike is strapped to a pallet it makes it more stable.
If you’re on your own, your bike will need to be crated. This is because it will be packed into a shared container with other people’s belongings. Shared containers can be very unpredictable for timing, because they will only leave when full. So it may take a few weeks after you have dropped your bike off before the container is ready to be shipped.
Another possibility is to use the ‘roll-on roll-off’ ferries that carry new cars between the main hubs of Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia. The advantage of this is that no preparation is needed on your bike and there is no crating: just ride it to the UK port and drop it off, your bike is wheeled on and off for you. Hurray! No crating costs, but the disadvantage is that it is exposed, so the risk of damage is higher. On the down side, not all RORO’s will take bikes. Consider Wallenius Willhelmson.
Another variant is going by freighter cruise ship. If you have a bit of extra time on your hands, this is a very cost effective way of travelling. You get your own inside cabin and take your bike as accompanied luggage. Consider Grimaldi.
Don’t forget to consider taking out in-transit insurance for when your motorcycle is in the process of being freighted. A freight agent should be able to offer you this. There are legal limitations to the amount that a freight carrier is responsible for and that may fall well short of the value of your motorcycle and if you rely on this, it can take a long time to be resolved. We always put in place in-transit insurance for all our motorcycles and it comes with an excess of £500.
Freight Hubs and Costs
When it comes to air freight, flying bikes out of Heathrow, UK is one of the most cost effective freights, as Heathrow is such a big freight hub. You will probably pay between £1,200 – £1,800 to freight into a long haul destination. (Prices are based on pre-COVID rates). On the other hand air freighting out of the USA is considerably more costly, and you can expect to pay up to double to go the same route but in the opposite direction. Arranging freight into Anchorage, Alaska for example is easy, but trying to get your motorcycle freighted out of Anchorage is nigh on impossible.
This is where establishing a good relationship with a reputable freight agent is worth its weight in gold. They can advise you on which are the best and most cost effective freight hubs to use for the route you want to take, so this alone could save you lots of dosh. An example is in Latin America – from 2004, we used to sea freight out of Argentina, but it got more and more bureaucratic and costly. In 2016, we switched to shipping out of Montevideo, which is much more cost effective, with a more simple paperwork process. If you talk to a freight agent about shipping to/from Buenos Aires, a good one should direct you to Montevideo instead. On the other hand, if you want air freight, then air freight in and out of Buenos Aires is much better than Montevideo.
For South America, air freight into Bogota, Colombia (or sea freight into Cartagena), and shipping out of Montevideo or Santiago are probably the most common points. Lima, La Paz and Quito less so – they are “in the middle” of the continent so not so popular. If you’re intent on using a hub that is not well used and does not have much freight traffic, you’ll generally pay more and wait longer or it is just too problematic.
A good freight agent can guide you to the best freight hubs, whether you’re headed to Africa, Asia or the Americas.
Your Freight Quote
The other aspect of freight to consider is what exactly a quote does or does not include. Most of the time a quote will be to get your bike there, but will not include destination charges, being costs incurred at the point of destination, such as storage, handling, transportation, customs clearance fees etc etc. Always ask your agent for an indication of what additional destination fees you may be charged.
Often a freight quote will not include crating your motorcycle (thankfully Motofreight in the UK include this for you, but not all do). In the US, getting them to build a crate could end up being the best part of $600-800, just for something that will probably get dumped the other end. So make sure you examine your quote carefully for what it does and does not cover.
Always remember that you may be forced to incur extra fees at the destination (eg Australia and quarantine/cleaning fees, costs of physical Customs checks) and that these things can cause delays too, then racking up storage charges too.
Preparing a Motorcycle for Air Freight
- A motorcycle is classed as Dangerous Goods for the purposes of air freight, under Category UN3166 Vehicle (Flammable Liquid Powered). This means your agent will need to prepare a Dangerous Goods Declaration to do with your Airway Bill.
- Normally, no more than two litres of fuel should be left in the tank. Some airlines insist it all has to come out, and they will check.
- Often the airline insists that the battery is disconnected too. We also recommend covering the connections with insulation tape.
- Remove the screen and mirrors to prevent them from being damaged and reduce the height of the bike. Cover the screen in bubble wrap and strap to the seat. Mirrors can be put in your panniers.
- Side panniers can normally be kept on the bike; a top box should be removed and placed on the floor of the crate (if you have one).
- Deflate the tyres to around 26psi and slacken off the suspension, ready for the bike to be strapped down to the crate or pallet.
- If you have to crate your motorcycle, then to get your bike as small as possible, consider removing the front wheel and strapping it to the side of the bike. It may not seem much but potentially can save hundreds of pounds in freight charges. To assess if removing the front wheel will save you money, to check how you are being charged for freight. If you are being charged by volumetric weight, then taking off the front wheel can have financial benefits.
- If you’re crating your own motorcycle to try and save costs, then its important to note that the wood content of the crate must be treated to ISPM15 standard and bear the Forestry Commission stamp confirming that it has been treated. Freighting a bike in non-treated wood may lead to it being impounded at the destination. Some destinations also require an inspection hatch in the crate, so the security can swab the inside. For US Customs, they must be able to open one complete side of the crate.
- Ensure the bike is clean and free from leaks, as so it doesn’t fall foul of a rigorous quarantine inspection. If you are sending your bike to Australia or New Zealand, there are rigorous quarantine rules and you motorcycle must be almost showroom cleanliness.
- Remove anything else that is considered “Dangerous Goods”. These are things like pressurised containers (eg mini CO2 Canisters for re-inflating a tyre), corrosive lubricants and flammables (eg: WD40, spare fuel, engine oil, camping fuels, some detergents) or puncture repair with foam aerosol.
- We would recommend that you remove anything that is liquids or gels, as X-ray may identify it and your bike might be pulled to one side for a physical inspection.
Preparing your Bike for Sea Freight
All the above points are valid, except you can ship your motorcycle as non-dangerous goods, provided that all the fuel is drained out and the battery is disconnected. And remember if you are shipping in a dedicated container, you won’t need to fully crate your bike.
Collecting your Motorcycle
There’s nothing quite like collecting your motorcycle in a foreign land, ready to ride your first miles of a long held dream! Armed with your documentation, there can be a myriad of procedures and payment to be made once you are at your destination. Whether you attempt this yourself or go through an agent or fixer, it will normally involve paying the handling fees to the airline (for getting your bike from the plane to the cargo warehouse), storage (for the airport for storing your bike pending collection), customs fees (for doing the inspection and issuing paperwork). This obviously can vary from destination to destination. We tend to allow a full working day to collect the bike – get there as soon as possible in the morning and allow for lunch breaks – the officials, not you!! Sooner or later you will be presented with your bike, often via a fork lift truck from the cargo warehouse. Remember, it will still be fully crated. You need to go equipped to uncrate your bike (at a minimum a strong screwdriver) and with spare fuel as your tank may be very low or empty. You might get lucky and a local may be able to assist or have tools. We tend to find that in developing countries, a crowd will collect around you, waiting to pounce on the unwanted straps and crate. Let them have them, because you’re about to experience your ride of a lifetime!
If you have any detailed questions about freight or want to get a quote, we recommend you to speak directly to Motofreight. They have access to a worldwide network of agents who can help you, no matter where you are located.
Kevin & Julia Sanders