We take the freedom to cross borders for granted in Western Europe, and even though we are now outside the EU, taking your motorcycle into the EU remains straight forward.  However,  once further afield that the UK & EU, traversing a frontier with your bike can become a long and unfathomable process. If you don’t prepare yourself for it – physically and mentally – and it can quickly turn your trip sour, or halt it altogether.

Motorcycle Tour Group waiting for the ferry at Algeciras Ferry Port

Borderline crazy

In essence, passing between two countries comprises four basic steps. First, you enter yourself into the country at immigration. Secondly, you enter your bike with customs.  Thirdly, upon leaving you to get yourself stamped out and finally, you exit your bike.  Simple in theory, but in practice every border you come across will be different, and faced with masses of locals, being jostled for money, and a random collection of anonymous sheds/buildings to trawl through, you’ll forget it all instantly. Here’s how to cope:

  • Push the very English concept of queuing out of your head and ride straight to the front.
  • Take your time to suss-out your surroundings and make sure your bike is as secure as possible: borders can attract a strange array of characters and foreign travellers on big bikes attract them all.
  • Using fixers at borders may be a more efficient way of getting yourself through. They will charge, but if you gain a few hours and avoid tearing your hair out, then it can be money well spent.
  • Accept that part of the system may be under-the-table payments to the man with the stamp. If it’s only a few dollars, taking a stand on principle and refusing to pay can mean a prolonged and tedious experience.
  • There’ll always be a variation on a theme to get your passport stamped: fill out a tourist visa or go to a different office to buy a stamp. In any event, Immigration officials are significantly better at pushing people across countries than Customs are dealing with private vehicles.

  • It’s Customs job to issue you the stamps or paperwork to allow your motorcycle temporarily into the country.  This procedure can vary enormously around the world, but can mean officials physically checking your motorcycle to your documents.
  • Therefore, before leaving home check all your documents. Make sure the chassis (VIN) number on your registration or title document matches your bike, and that your name on these documents is the same as on your passport. Have your original documents to hand and carry sufficient photocopies for every entry and exit.
  • In many countries that do not use a carnet de passage (see below), it is common for Customs to issue a temporary import permit for your motorcycle.  Check this carefully to ensure it is correct.  It is very common for mistakes to be made.
  • Certain countries require a Carnet de Passage.  This is an import/export guarantee that the bike will leave the country. In the UK, you can get one from a new carnet issuer called CARS www.carseurope.net. Customs will stamp this document to show entry and exit of your motorcycle.
  • Some borders will also check for food and you’ll find yourself dumping dairy products, fresh meats and fruit in the bin. A good way to ward off a search is to have smelly laundry at the top of panniers!
  • Another amusing procedure you may find is bike fumigation, which is supposed to prevent insect from getting into the next country and consists of a man spraying insecticide over the wheels of your bike.
  • Just when you think you’re done, there can be a final police check of all your documentation and then another by the security man in charge of raising the barrier.
  • Once through, ride far enough away for people not to bother you, then stop on double check all your documents.  If there is a mistake on your documents, you need to get it changed there and then.  Don’t be tempted to ignore it.

What you’ll need to cross a border:

  1. Passport – mandatory for all borders. It needs to be valid for at least 6 months after your date of departure from the country you are entering.
  2. Vehicle Registration Document (in the UK, V5 / logbook) or Title – mandatory for all borders, although blagging your way across with good copies is not unheard of.
  3. Driving Licence – often requested. The photo card will normally do, but it’s worth taking the part two just in case.
  4. International Driving Permit – occasionally requested, but normally your driving licence from your country of residence suffices. In the UK, you can get one from the Post Office.
  5. Third Party insurance for your bike – sometimes requested by police. Some countries require the obligatory purchase of country-specific insurance at the border (it’s normally cheap and covers you for very little).
  6. Carnet de passage for your bike (depending on country) – required by many African and Middle Eastern countries.


Kevin and Julia