As a foreigner - can I buy a bike in the US and cross borders with it?

Discussion in 'Trip Planning' started by Normlas, Aug 22, 2013.

  1. Normlas

    Normlas Adventurer

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    Hi all,
    I am in the early stages of planning a long bike trip and need some help with a couple of big questions that will have a large bearing on how I do this. My questions are around the option for me to buy a bike overseas to do this trip. Shipping costs are huge and bike prices are much cheaper in the US than they are where I live.

    I live in New Zealand and have a NZ passport, can I come to the US as a visitor/tourist and legally buy a US bike and then cross borders with it? My first leg of this trip will likely be down the America's to Argentina.

    Do I need to have a US street address for this and how does it work with ownership papers and registration or road tax?

    I appreciate that I don't need a carnet for the America's but if I want to continue and head to central Europe or Asia, can I get a carnet in US for my US bought bike if I am a foreigner?

    On the other hand, I see a lot of people sell their US registered bikes in South America instead of shipping them back to the US, could I buy one of these in South America and drive it back to the US, get a carnet for it and then continue towards Alaska and cross over to Russia etc?

    If anyone could help me out with this or point me in the right direction to get this info, it would be much appreciated.

    Cheers
    #1
  2. Kawikazi

    Kawikazi Loose Cannon

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    You could buy a bike here in Virginia and title it with a Virginia title and register it in the Commonwealth of Virginia if you had a Virginia address and a drivers license with that address on it. Illegals come in here and get a drivers license all the time. Not saying you should enter illegally, but it seems like you have a more protected status with our current administration.
    #2
  3. vfxdog

    vfxdog Been here awhile

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    The main thing you will need is a US address for the vehicle to be registered and titled to (in most states they're different things). Once you have that address you will be able to insure the bike for US travel with an NZ license (Progressive for one will do it).

    Registration is quite inexpensive by NZ standards but it can take a few weeks for the paperwork to come through from the local Department of Motor Vehicles. In many states however there is Sales Tax to pay on the purchase and you won't get rego or title without sorting that out. Most states don't have the equivalent of NZ's Warrant of Fitness so that's one less bit of paperwork to have to worry about.

    You should be fine crossing into Canada or Mexico, and even as far south as Panama, but I don't know how you would fare in South America. There's bound to be someone here who can tell you though.

    Key thing is to get as good insurance cover as you can afford- both for the bike and for medical. It can get lifetime-ruining expensive if things go wrong.
    #3
  4. Normlas

    Normlas Adventurer

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    Thanks for that advice guys, its a good start, hopefully someone else can inform me about the carnet stuff, from what I read borders are a pain in the arse anyway, and this could just make them harder and more expensive....

    Sounds you've like been to our fair shores VFXDog ! Nice to hear you don't have WOF's there - they've just changed the law here and made them yearly instead of every 6 months.

    Do they charge sales tax on second hand vehicles bought in the US as well? Or only new ones. I was aiming to buy a reasonably well farkled machine second hand with not too many miles on her (KLR probably, have had a couple here).
    #4
  5. Pecha72

    Pecha72 Long timer

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    Carnet: what's your route?? You do not need it for
    - Americas
    - Europe
    - Europe to Russian Far East, including all the 'Stans' north side of Afghanistan (but visas are a different matter altogether!)

    You will need carnet for Japan, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Australia. Most likely Iran as well. Africa is more debatable, general consensus seems to be, that most people will get one for Africa, especially going via Egypt, but there are a few, who have done large parts of Africa without it.

    Getting the carnet is not really a showstopper either. Something you typically arrange well before setting off.
    #5
  6. TUCKERS

    TUCKERS the famous james

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    No carnet needed from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Argentina! I think that road is over 30,000 miles.

    I buy bikes for overseas travelers and register them in their name. No US license needed, but you should get insurance, I can arrange that too. (for the USA).

    Personally I would ride then sell on the America's continent and then buy again on any other continent. As you say shipping is costly.
    #6
  7. Pecha72

    Pecha72 Long timer

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    I would do my RTW-tour on one bike. Even if shipping it is a pain, but buying/selling several times is not easy either, and as a bonus, sometimes you might get a turd, when you buy. Bikes usually need a few add-ons for this kind of trips as well.

    But both options are definitely possible, you'll just need to weigh the pros/cons of each one.
    #7
  8. Normlas

    Normlas Adventurer

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    Yep - that's what I'm doing here :D

    Thanks for the advice all, I am tossing up between two main routes;

    Route 1 - Ship to Australia (or buy there) - Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand-Laos Cambodia - Thailand - ship to India or Nepal-Pakistan- Iran-Turkey-central Europe- Russia (+stans) - Ship to Alaska or Canada- America's North to South -ship home

    Route 2 - the reverse of Route 1 starting by shipping to South America or buying there (but checking out if buying in the US is not an easier way to go), I've heard that if you buy a Argentinian registered bike in Argentina as a foreigner you cannot leave the country with it.


    Pretty much Africa's the only continent I am not too interested in...
    Will be keen to throw the TAT in there too if I have the time and money. Aiming to be one year on the road at this stage, but could be longer if the money holds out.

    Cheers
    #8
  9. markbvt

    markbvt Long timer

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    For what it's worth -- Vermont does not require you to be a resident to register your bike here. So you might want to look into purchasing a bike here, or nearby.

    --mark
    #9
  10. Deuce

    Deuce Crazy Canuck

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    Only one that sells Carnet in NA in Can. Auto Assoc. & it's based on the value of the vehicle.
    :1drink
    #10
  11. vfxdog

    vfxdog Been here awhile

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    I am not sure about all states, but at least 10 of the states I'm familiar with charge sales tax on used as well as new vehicle sales.

    From what Tuckers writes, you won't need a carnet for the Americas, assuming you buy wheels in the US. In fact maybe Tuckers could be the solution to a lot of potential difficulties as it sounds like he/they have an in to the Department of Motor Vehicles- could be just the folk to source your KLR. Plus they are Brits so won't have as much trouble translating your accent.

    And yes, very familiar with your shores- I grew up there and still have some bikes squirreled away in the Coromandel.

    #11
  12. TUCKERS

    TUCKERS the famous james

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    You'll pay approx. 10% for sales tax on the 'stated price' here in California.

    That $5700 10 year old BMW can have a price of $570.00 if a traveler from another country has to write it down.

    I can get travelers a bike, insurance and clear title. Don't need California License and can use my address.

    We also rent rooms on availability to travelers.

    This year I have helped four so far, last year three.

    I have bought bikes and prepared them and the traveler just picks it up, or they come and I help them buy.

    I have a fee structure that is very reasonable I am told. It's more of a paying pass time than a business.

    it's too easy to say NO......we find a way to say YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS
    #12
  13. SilkMoneyLove

    SilkMoneyLove Long timer

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    That sounds like a good deal/arrangement. Are you guys involved in this travel industry with others in other countries? If there is a network of like minded business you guys could cross reference each other.

    I think one of the main benefits of buying a bike for a specific leg of a trip is to have the right tool for the job.

    I know I would not want the same big bike as I have in the US if I were planning to head to smaller/tighter roads in another country.
    #13
  14. wheatwhacker

    wheatwhacker It's raining here

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    Check out my facebook page if your interested in Europe
    #14
  15. SilkMoneyLove

    SilkMoneyLove Long timer

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    Thanks. Just liked the page. Once I get a chance to check it out this might shape some future trips.
    #15
  16. SilkMoneyLove

    SilkMoneyLove Long timer

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  17. TrevorHeath

    TrevorHeath Seattle to ??

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    If somebody already stated this, sorry I missed it.

    In Arizona:

    1. There is no sales tax on private purchases.
    2. You are issued the paper title on the spot at the DMV office.
    3. You can buy tabs (yearly vehicle tax) for up to five years in advance.

    TH
    #17
  18. Solohobo

    Solohobo Been here awhile

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    Basically you can buy a bike as a foreigner in any state in the USA, but you need to wait the 3-4 weeks for the Title/Registration to be mailed to you, then you can go to Latin America, as the vehicles title needs to be in the same name as the Passport holder crossing a border. You could tour the western USA National Parks, which 4 weeks is ideal, via Grand Canyon, Bryce, Moab, Rockies, Yellowstone, Glacier National, Yosimite, and the california coast...lots of great camping too. June to Aug is best....

    As far as taking the bike to Argentina, there is no road from Panama to Colombia, as the Darien Gap is the issue. You have to either take a sailboat charter, which takes 4 days, via San Blas islands, and about $600PP, or, ship the bike, and then fly, airfare is usually about $500. Many people ship it to Ecuador too...there is a series of cargo boats you can take too, but this requires a very fluid schedule, some true roughing it, and Spanish would be a huge help.

    Speaking of Spanish, you should seriously consider Spanish Immersion in the start of the trip. You can get the basics down online and or with a Rosetta Stone type course, then do a homestay or small spanish school for a week to get it practiced and understand the basics with more confidence. This will not only make your trip more enaging with the locals, it will open up many more doors for you, and make many new friends. It also will be a safety assurance, Latin America, is not exactly safe for a foreigner, on a bike muchless, so knowing where not to go, and what to avoid, is also very important.

    Rainy season is a issue in Central America, its from May to early Dec, with July usually the heaviest rains in most countries, flooding and landslides are the norm, road closures are usually cleaned up withing hours, a day max, but you need to be prepared gear wise, as its hot and humid in the low lands, and rainy and misty on the volcanoes/mountains, and downright cool on some elevations over 6000FT, which are many. Oct is the worst month as you go south, Costa Rica/Panama sees rain if feet, not inches, and many parks and areas are closed or shutter for the month.

    Hurricane season is from Aug to Nov, and this can effect the entire region, not usually a direct hit, but time to time, the Yucatan/Belize and Honduras take a hit...usually it tracks to MX/Texas...

    Crossing to Colombia on a boat to Colombia in Dec is not recommended, many dont even make the run due to winds and high seas.

    There are a lot, and I mean every hour, micro climates all over CA, due to the mountains, volcanoes, and two coast so close to eachother, with the two oceans and winds creating these climates, from cloudforest to jungles, your gear is going to make the difference, so invest in the best and most versatile. in South America, you have the Andes and snow/frigid conditions, the opposite of in Southern Hemisphere. So summer in North America is May to Sept, and thats winter in Argentina/Chile, vice versus.

    I would suggest looking for a bike on Cycle Trader in California, thats the biggest Motorcycle market in the world, usually people on CT have nice bikes and have kept them up, Craigslist is a pot shot, usually the sub $3K bikes are there, and many are not pretty...

    Keep in mind also, that all of Central Americas 7 countries (not including MX) can fit into Colombia, so distances are far greater in SA, and require more time, than in Central America. Allow 3 months for sightseeing in CA, 8 months for SA is a rule of thumb, and thats just the key highlights.

    Buying and selling a bike in Latin America as foreigner can be a real process, and its best you know what the legalities are, otherwise, you may find you can NOT leave a country with the bike, if everything is not in order and legal. Lot of scams there, foreigners selling to foreigners.

    So my tips for a epic trip are as follows:

    1- Spanish Immersion
    2- Good Gear for the extreme climates
    3- Never drive at night.

    Other tips.

    1- Crime and petty theft is a major issue in Central America, I have been going there for over decade. I have hiked and traveled much of Guatemala, Dove in Honduras, and poked around Nicaragua. I go to Costa Rica for weeks at a time... You need to park the bike in a secure, guarded area at night, in a home or hotel hallways is best, you dont park on the street or left unattended. You cant leave anything unattended on the bike. Period.

    2 Camping, its not something that is recommended overall, its not safe, and gringos are targets for theft of belongings, you cant leave anything unattended.

    3- The main Pan Am Hwy is all 2 lane, (Except MX/Guatemala) thru mountians, no shoulders, and cargo trucks and nutty drivers, its nothing like the USA, and average speed is about 40MPH, 80KPH...the roads are often pot hole strewn and have washouts, landslides in rainy season.

    4- Rainy season is May to Dec, Hurricane season is from Aug to Nov, the peak rainy season is Oct, the Yucatan to Panama on the caribe side is a hit n miss. Costa Rica/Panama in Oct early Nov best avoided, its daily heavy rains, key parks are closed, and many beach towns shutter for the month of Oct/

    5- You need the title to the bike in your name, which needs to match your Passport. You also need to hit borders in early AM, as you need to que up to get out of one country, and then que up again and go thru processes that can take 2-6 hours of paperwork, import fees, insurance and copies of copies of copies to 4 different office on the border...The bike will go in your Passport, you cant leave most countries without it...or else pay import fees and taxes, usually more than 100% of the value of the vehicle, which they determine the value, not you, and its not in your favor. have 12 clear pages in Passport for CA.

    6-You cant enter Panama without a "Proof of Onward Travel" as of late via bus or flight, meaning you need a flight, so check into that, as you have a vehicle.

    7- Capitals are best avoided, though the main Pan Am connects them all. They are polluted, congested, crime ridden not a good place to get lost as a gringo on a nice bike.

    8- Budget, a backpacker can go thru CA staying at hostels, eating local food (rice/beans) for $25 day, $40 day private room/cabina/bath, $60 day for nice, and $100 day to eat and stay in gringo level places.

    9- Best camping options are in National Parks with ranger stations, Costa Rica has the most options, great hiking, super scenic roads and varying climates and eco systems.

    10- Do you plan to take spanish immersion? This would help the trip huge, and also open many more doors for staying with locals and pitching a tent on private property. Tent camping in hot, humid, rains for hours on end is no fun, promise, I am a huge camper, fishing and hiking person.

    11- Dengue Fever is a issue in rainy season, cover up. Get Typhoid, Dyptheria and Hep A-B (Hep B is sexually active) and a Tetanus booster

    12- You should buy mace and a good knife once in CA, have a smoked face shield, and dont take routes you dont know if its not safe, drug traffickers and gangs are a issue, you need to know where not to go, they usually dont mees with a foreigner, but if they do, your most likely good as dead..

    13-ATM Debit Card with No Foreign Transaction fee and a low Non Netrwork Fee.

    14- Medical Insurance that covers a motorcycle, and also has evacuation insurance, the majority of CA is rural, and hours to a decent hospital, otherwise it is crude clinics that have old xray equipment (if lucky) few english speaking medical personnel, and access to a MRI or Cat Scan will only be in the capitals, and you have to pay first. If serious trauma (motorcycle accidents usually are) then you need to get to Houston/Dallas, Miami, on a MedVac plane, commercial flights wont allow sick people to fly. Thats $50K.

    15- Dont plan to rider more than 4-5 hours a day, the sun is intense in CA, roads are small and you need to be alert, on defense, its fatiguing and stressful in a car, muchless a moto....

    16- Wear full protection, full face helmet (tons of bugs and gravel on roads in tropics) back protector, waterproof riding suit, not a rain suit, these will be like a sauna in 95 degree and 100% humidity. Riding pants and boots, not shoes. Stay hydrated too, major heat and sweating is non stop.

    17- Get a good GPS, waterproof, signs and roads are not well marked and not easy to figure out.

    18- You will share the road with farm animals, farm equipment, people, children as there is no where else for them to walk to town, school, home, bus stops...

    19- Many countries have new motorcycle laws, you need to wear a bright vest in Costa Rica now. Helmet laws are enforced with vigor.

    20- Read the "Driving the Americas" website and forum.

    21- If you take your time and kick back, know some spanish, its a epic journey with rich culture, beautiful vistas, amazing scenery, nature and wildlife, ecu systems, warm hearted and salt of the earth locals.

    22- 99% of tourist/travelers visit CA and have a great time no issue, so have some street smarts, know where not to go, and be careful at night, as its when most shit happens.

    23- *******Dont travel at night, ever, ever ever**********get to where you need to be by 3pm, it gets dark 530-6pm.
    __________________
    #18
  19. cab591

    cab591 Been here awhile

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    Buying a bike in the states, it depends on the states.

    Vermont would be the easiest to register in, as you don't need to be a resident. Their taxes / fees are also incredibly low. It just takes them a while to ship you your plates / title / registration.

    Arizona is also incredibly easy. You can even skip the long lines at the MVD (not a typo, it's "Motor Vehicle Department" in AZ), and go to a 3rd party MVD instead. Only issue is I think you need an AZ license in order to register here, but there might be a way around it.

    You take the signed title from the previous owner to the MVD, pay like $4 for a "title transfer fee" (basically pays for the ink in their printer). If you want shiny new plates, I think it's rolled into the first registration payment (which I honestly believe is just some random number they pull out of their arse). Throw the expiration sticker on the plate, and the plate on the bike, and you're good to go. There's plenty of insurance providers to go with. I use Geico -- cheap, and online. I can insure a new vehicle and print new cards all from home.

    Sounds like an awesome trip! Good luck! :freaky
    #19
  20. Medisingutten

    Medisingutten Adventurer

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    Thanks for all the info, Solohobo :) my plan was always to ride mostly alone, but maybe smart to team up with some other travellers sometimes....
    #20