When it comes to long-distance motorcycle journeys, there are always several layers of the experience. The glamorous, when you’re riding across some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, the skies are blue, and the dirt trails are seemingly endless; the adventurous, when you’re battling hard terrain or grumpy border officials; the weird, when you sleep in some remote Bolivian village ruins and a llama decides to move in as your neighbour; the funny, when you get lost in translation or take the wrong turn; the scary, when you have a bad crash and help is a long way away. It’s all part of the deal, and you’ve got to accept it all as it comes.
But there’s one part of overlanding I absolutely detest, and that’s…admin and paperwork. This is the least exciting part of it all, but nevertheless, visas have to be obtained, insurance sorted, motorcycle import managed, SIM cards purchased, and shipping paperwork figured out. To add to the mind-numbing bureaucracy, when you’ve been on the road for years, other issues pop up – what do you do when your bike registration runs out? Or when you’re asked to fill in your residence details at one border crossing or another, but you do not, in fact, have a home any longer?
No matter how much I despise having to do any paperwork or any kind, it’s impossible to avoid it. Here’s how to minimize the pain once you’re on the road:
Local Bike Insurance
Motorcycle insurance is a must regardless of where you’re traveling, but if international insurance is too much, the only way to have it while traveling abroad is to purchase it locally in each country. In South America, that’s easy enough – mostly, you’ll find local insurance offices in any border town. But what happens if you are traveling, say, Europe on a US-registered bike? Within the EU, you’ve got what’s known as the Green Card – European vehicle insurance you must have with you when you’re traveling here. However, if you aren’t on an EU-registered bike, it’s much harder to get.
Harder, but not impossible: thanks to overlander havens across the continent, such as Moto Camp Bulgaria, locals and expats can help you out. I’ve been using Moto Camp Bulgaria’s services for the European Green card insurance for as long as I’ve been stuck here, and so far, so good.
As luck would have it, my bike’s registration was valid for five years which meant I could travel freely without worrying about renewing it. Alas, those five years will be up in 2022; now what? Dependng on where you are at the moment your registration runs out, and depending on where your bike is registered originally, there may be an option to extend it without physically being back home.
For me, that’s not an option – I’m not planning to ship the bike back to North America any time soon – so the only other way is to register it locally. Not ideal, as there will be import fees involved, but the only other choice is to buy a new bike – and I’m not quite there yet.
Motorcycle Shipping: Time vs Money
If you’re planning to ship your bike across oceans, prepare for either spending lots of time and energy or spending money. Depending on the route and destination, shipping can be straightforward enough requiring you to simply hand over the copies of your bike reg and insurance and your entry/departure documents from the country you’re entering/leaving. That’s easy enough – but some shipping companies may also require additional paperwork such as several value estimations of the bike, temporary import documents, carnet de passage, and the like. If you don’t have the time, the patience, and the energy to do it all yourself, find a trustworthy shipping agent and let them do it all – after all, they know the ports, the port authorities, and all the procedures, and it’ll save you a serious amount of hassle. If you can’t find a shipping agent or if their fees are above your budget, brace for a prolonged and tedious paperwork battle ahead. It’s doable – but it may cost you some frayed nerves.
Visas vs Bike Import
When I attempted to cross from Peru to Bolivia on a Peruvian-registered bike back in 2013, I made the rookie mistake of thinking the passport stamp was enough and ended up spending a week in no man’s land trying to sort out all the temporary export and import papers required to cross that particular border. While you can travel freely between countries in the Schengen Area in Europe, that’s rarely the case everywhere else in the world: in South America, you need to get your immigration stamp as well as the temporary import document for your bike. In some parts of Africa, not only you’ll need to obtain visas in advance, but you’ll be required to have a carnet de passage for your bike. It’s tedious and often soul-sucking, but do your research beforehand and get that paperwork in order – or be prepared to spend days or even weeks in sketchy border towns running from one official to another trying to collect all the permits and stamps before they let you out of the country or into the next one.
What’s the one aspect of overlanding you’d gladly see gone? Share in the comments below!