When traveling the world on a motorcycle, the ride is half the adventure – but you’re going to have to ship your bike by air or sea several times to make it around the globe. In this article, I show you all the different ways to accomplish this, and what to expect when shipping your bike worldwide.
In the previous article, I went over what you can expect (in regards to paperwork and documentation) when traveling through multiple countries on your motorcycle. Picking up where I left off, I’ll go over the process of shipping your bike between countries.
Once you’ve got your route laid out, you may have some sections that you either can’t, or don’t want to travel over. Obviously you’ve need to get over large bodies of water, but there may also be overland routes through countries that you want to bypass, whether it’s because of permitting reasons (such as China) or because of security reasons (like Iran.) In these situations, the big decision you’ll need to make will be whether you should ship your bike by sea or air.
Going by air is definitely going to be more expensive, but often times, the added cost will be well worth it, considering the increased convenience. Not only will the bike arrive in a day or two, but delays are also much less common. If your sea shipment is scheduled to take two weeks, don’t be surprised at all if it actually takes three or four. And when you factor in the cost of waiting around while your motorcycle is at sea (even if you’re staying in budget friendly accommodation and eating cheap food), all that money you saved will be used up pretty quickly.
Once you’ve planned out the routes that you’ll ship over, check out HorizonsUnlimited.com. They’ve got a fairly extensive database of shipments people have made in the past, so it’s your best place to start looking at which ports of departure and arrival are most commonly used, and to find contact information for shipping agents.
This sign at the customs offics in Mumbai wasn’t all that reassuring…
Every time you ship your bike, you’re obviously going to have to go through customs, both to show that your bike is leaving the one country and that it’s entering the new country. In the seven times I shipped my bike, the difficulty of this process varied greatly (but it was always more involved than when crossing a border overland).
When shipping from Toronto, Canada to Glasgow, Scotland, I had about an hour of paperwork on either end, which was by far the easiest of all my shipments. The worst was from Istanbul, Turkey to Mumbai, India. In Istanbul, I spent about eight hours over the course of three days working with my shipping agent to make sure everything was in order. Then in Mumbai, I had three long days of waiting around, filling out repetitive paperwork, and taking a couple taxi rides around the city to get various signatures. And along with all that, I’d also paid a customs clearing agent $200 to speed up the process! Who knows how long I’d have been there if I were trying to do it all on my own!
Along with the variability in customs processes, different shippers have different requirements for how the bike is loaded. In one case, the cost was based only on weight, and the bike was loaded and strapped down (by their crew) into an aluminum air cargo container. All I had to be concerned with was making sure the battery was disconnected and the tank had less than one gallon of fuel in it.
The crew at the Glasgow Airport, unloading my bike from it’s fancy air cargo container.
The ship I used from Australia to New Zealand was technically a roll-on/roll-off ferry (though it was only for vehicles, not passengers). All I had to do was drop the bike off at the docks, and the crew took care of the rest. It wasn’t even required to disconnect the battery. To go from East Timor to Australia, a friend and I had a 20 foot shipping container to ourselves, which made life pretty easy. Again, the battery had to be disconnected, and fuel level less than one liter, but packing was simple. We wheeled the two bikes into the container, tied them down, and they were on their way.
But typically, your cost will be based on volume, rather than weight (unless you have a tiny motorcycle made out of lead or something). In these cases, it will save you a considerable amount of money to partially disassemble the motorcycle and pack it into as small of a crate as possible (a good shipping agent should be able to help you find a company that can build a crate for you; or if you get really lucky, maybe you can find someone going the opposite direction as you and reuse their crate). For these situations, I’d remove my panniers, front wheel, windshield, and handlebars, so that I could pack the bike as tightly as possible.
Packing my motorcycle into a smaller crate in Kathmandu saved me a couple hundred dollars.
They didn’t have a forklift at the Kathmandu airport, but luckily they have plenty of workers!
My favorite shipment of all was from Malaysia to Indonesia. Rather than utilize a large cargo ship, I found a boat that made trips between Sumatra and Malaysia every two weeks. When it left Sumatra, the boat was loaded down with vegetables to be imported to Malaysia, but on the return trip it was pretty much empty, so the owner would make a little extra cash by letting travelers load their motorcycles for the return trip. It was a fairly informal process, which was really nice, but it was pretty stressful to watch my motorcycle being lifted off the dock by crane and old tattered lifting straps, then lowered onto the boat (see photos below.)
Loading my F800GS on the Indonesia bound vegetable boat. Talk about nerve-wracking!
Secure storage on the boat to Indonesia.
All of the time you put into researching visas, carnets, and shipping can get a bit monotonous and boring, but just remember that a little bit of pre-planning will go a long way towards avoiding some stressful situations while on the road. And when you’re dealing with lengthy border crossings or shipping processes, try not to get too frustrated. Go into them expecting some hassles and inconvenience.
Keep in mind that you’re likely going to be dealing with people who speak a different language than you, and you’re presenting them with a situation that they don’t often have to deal with. When you find yourself sitting around waiting on customs officials and shipping agents, have a chat with the other employees or travelers that are around. Surely they’ll be interested in hearing about your trip, and they’ll probably have some of their own stories as well!
What would you like to know more about when it comes to preparing for an epic motorcycle trip? Leave your question in the comments below!