Visas and borders

Here you will find more details on our experiences relating to visas, border crossings, vehicle paperwork and other administrative tasks we had to undertake on our travels. We hope this may be of use to fellow travellers, but remember that circumstances/rules/regulations can change at any time, sometimes the process can be different tomorrow! Always seek out the latest information which more often than not comes from those travelling in the opposite direction! Our route changed a few times prior to departure because of changing visa rules and new volatility issues in places.

We are dual EU/Australia citizens, but being considered Australian residents while based in Europe, creates a number of additional hurdles that we have to deal with. It is easier, from a paperwork perspective, to start in your country of residence if you are planning such a lengthy trip. Note that not all EU Countries are treated the same for visas and borders. Check your own countries requirements.

USA – Canada – Abottsford US9 31 May 2017 (EU Passports)

As usual in USA/Canada border crossings you only process through the arrival side, in this case Canada. We used our EU passports as we had entered Canada originally on them. Licence plate was asked for and any US purchases remaining in Canada. We approached one at a time for processing. Many vehicles, cars, SUV’s & pickups being customs checked, we were waived through.

Canada – USA – Laurier US395 29 May 2017 (Australian Passports)

Returned to USA on our six month B1-2 visa. A quiet border crossing only processing on the USA side. Information asked for was the registration plate of the vehicles, which seems to be entered into some computer system. Took about five minutes to process. We were required to remove helmets for visual matching with the passport.

USA – Canada at EUREKA US93 23 May 2017 (EU Passports)

As usual in USA/Canada border crossings you only process through the arrival side, in this case Canada. We used our EU passports as we had entered Canada originally on them. Was asked when we planned to leave Canada, but no information was asked about our motorcycles. We were asked to approach one at a time for processing. 

Canada – USA at Niagara Falls 15 April 2017 (Australian Passports)

Rode across the bridge at Niagara Falls to the US side. At the vehicle checkpoint are passports are taken and sent by vacuum tube to the Customs and Immigration building. We were directed to park our motorcycles and go upstairs in the Customs and Immigration building. There is a lift that takes you up to a waiting area. Because we had visited Iran post 2011 we were required to obtain a US visa to enter the USA before we left Australia. With our B1-2 visa we are allowed to remain in the USA for up six months, not the usual 90 days under the visa waiver system. A benefit for long term traveller for the cost involved in getting the visa. Usual fingerprints, a stamp and white card, not the green visa waiver card. We are good to go and can use the same card for multiple entries for up to six months, but must remember to hand the white card back on our last departure from the USA.

Double entry Russian Visa in London April 2017 (Australian Passports)

The UK is now one of the four countries, the others being Denmark, Myanmar and Namibia, that requires a visit in person by the applicant to provide additional biometric data in the form of fingerprints. This came into force on 10 December 2014, after our first Russian visa application so this was new for us. A reminder that it always pays to check current visa requirements.

The visa application can be broken into three stages, firstly obtain or gather all required supporting documentation, secondly complete the Russian online visa application and finally go to the visa processing centre to submit the application.

Our first step was to obtain a visa support document, also known as a ‘letter of introduction’ which is a requirement for any Russian visa application. We chose the ‘Real Russia’ travel agency to provide this for £25. Which we did online at http://www.realrussia.co.uk. The completed document will be emailed to you in pdf format and will be in Russian. Note that as a motorcyclist you will need to select ‘Auto Tourist’ as your purpose of visit. This brings up the appropriate fields for entering motorcycle details. We subsequently had to change our dates of entry and Real Russia obliged at no cost. Very helpful. We also wrote a supporting letter to the Russian embassy outlining our travel plans and other requested information.

The Russian visa online application form is lengthy but not complex. It can be found at https://visa.kdmid.ru When they ask for the last 10 years’ travel history, if you are a frequent traveller luckily the maximum number of countries you can enter is 30. We left the employment history section blank and mentioned we were retired in the covering letter. We did find a slight variation in the Australian and UK Russian embassies supporting documentation requirements. Also if you decide to change the country where you will make your visa application, you will need to complete the visa application again. Country is a non changeable field.

Russian visa application processing is outsourced in the UK by M/S VFS Services (UK) Ltd http://www.ru.vsfglobal.co.uk (VFS). They have offices in a number of locations in the UK. We used London. The visa submission process is very efficient and even though we had covered the retirement and education questions in the supporting letter, VFS have a couple of one line form letters stating either one is retired or did not have a university education, just sign, simple. Finger printing process is similar to the USA or South African immigration. Our previous experiences applying for Russian visas meant we had no problems and our applications were accepted.

VFS have set up an environment to assist those who make errors in their application by providing four PC workstations and a printer to correct mistakes on the application form. Note that the PCs do not have full internet access, they are primarily for fixing incorrect application forms. All were occupied!

As we applied on Australian passports, without showing proof of residency in the UK, the process time is 14 working days. We had one passport back in 7 days, the second in 14 days.

Double entry Mongolian Visa in London April 2017 (Australian Passports)

Coming soon, contact us if you need information sooner.

Carnet de Passage June 2014

Given some of the countries we are travelling through would require an import deposit of up to 500% of the value of the bikes, a Carnet de Passage is a cheaper, not cheap, way for us to manage this. As we travel on Australian motorcycle licences, we needed to have a UK address for the motorbike registration when we purchased them and a bank account in the UK, both of which we were able to provide. The paperwork process was straight forward except for a double check of the engine numbers which are behind the lower crash bar mounting brackets! Yes this will require removal of the bolts, best take a photo before you have the brackets fitted (BMW F700GS).

We used the RAC in the UK, who as some people will be aware no longer offers Carnets. Because the bikes are only 12 months old, the cost of the Carnets equates to about the cost of one bike, based in our specific countries import duties, of which approx. 50% will be refunded upon our return of the bikes to the UK in 2015. Each country has a Carnet de Passage issuer, normally a national motoring body, who you would need to approach for their respective approach to this form of insurance.

– Anthony

Latvia – Russian Border at Zajesje E22 on 4 July 2014

This border was our first real border crossing, as within the EU one just passes a marker in the road. Here we will need to produce documents, complete paperwork and carry out any other activities deemed appropriate by the authorities in both sides. As forms and information requirements seem to change from time to time, and sometimes without warning I will not provide a detailed step by step guide to this crossing, only what seemed helpful to us in getting through the paperwork where appropriate. As we had indicated in our blog post of of 4 July 2014, we spent over seven hours at this crossing. The long processing time appeared to be caused by the larger number than usual of non Russian tourists crossing and the human resources available on the Russian side to complete the processing formalities. Things to watch out for include:

– Do have all your original paperwork with you, and keep checking requirements. We were asked by the Latvians for proof of our UK motorcycle insurance, which we had printed from the pdf document supplied by the insurance company, plus proof of the geographic coverage of the insurance, which I happened have on an iPad. We heard they asked for originals but the pdf of terms and conditions on the iPad seemed to suffice. Seemed strange as our coverage stopped at the border of the EU which we were about to leave.

– On the Latvian form given to you as you enter the customs and immigration, make sure you acquire both the customs and immigration stamps on this form as both are needed to exit Latvia to enter Russia.

– Russian forms for immigration and customs need to be filled in duplicate. Any mistakes and you have to start again, which slows to process for you and those behind. If in doubt, leave it blank and you will be directed what needs to go in and avoid having to start again.

– The Customs form, if you have a motor vehicle, will have a sticker added over the section which contains the vehicle details including a QR code, I assume to stop changes being made to the vehicle details.

– The process is has a number of defined steps, if you find yourself waiting, best to check as there may be an assumption that you know the process and should have moved to the next window.

– Keep calm, be polite and make sure you have enough water and food if the process is slow. Remember that the customs and immigration staff are only following their procedures and for visitors to western countries such as ours the process for visitors can be more arduous.

– If you are travelling to either Belarus or Kazakhstan after Russia, note that they are both in the Eurasian Customs Union with Russia and your customs declaration form received at the Russian will be needed to exit either of those countries.

While the time to cross was lengthy, the process was fairly straight forward, but if you miss a step or stamp you have to go back and complete the missed action.

Russian third party vehicle insurance is available at any petrol station across the border, expect at 11:30 at night and a small motel can be found opposite the first petrol station, not cheap for what is offered but again at 11:30 at night offers a bed and includes breakfast.

– Anthony

Russia – Kazakhstan. near Mashtakov. E131/M-32 14 July 2014

The Russian to Kazakhstan border crossing, coming from Mashtakov, was very simple and only took 2 hours. Both countries are members of the Eurasian Customs Union (EACU) and thus the customs form for the motorcycle provided on entry to Russia is good for Kazakhstan, as well. This means no customs form to fill in entering Kazakhstan. Since 1 July 2015 Kyrgyzstan is also a member of the EACU. Remember to keep this form until you leave the last country of the EACU which includes Armenia and Belarus.

Neither country maintains the section of road between the border posts so expect loose gravel, potholes and bumps at slow speeds. The entry into Kazakhstan was very easy. Luckily we knew the process from a most helpful forum on Caravanistan: http://www.caravanistan.com get one tiny piece of paper (5cm x 2cm, 2″ x 1″) from a helpful border guy in a tiny shack who filled in with our registration number for us, drive a few metres and park and go to another shack and quickly fill out the blank form we’d just been given by another guy while we’re queuing, make sure the first tiny piece of paper got stamped then, then go to yet another building for customs. Once again, another helpful guy came up to us which saved us going into that building. He asked what we had in each bag and top box, asked if we had any guns or knives, and waived us on, saying we didn’t have to go to the big building. Drive on again a few metres to one last little shack, hand over the tiny piece of paper duly stamped and here we were now in Kazakhstan. The hardest part was to hang onto all those pieces of paper, registration documents in the incredible wind!!!

Next we had to find where to get the vehicle insurance. We had heard to look out for unmarked looking buildings immediately after the border. And we found them on the right hand side a combination of shipping containers and portacabins. Simple process to get insurance, we paid in cash, cannot remember how much.

– Anne & Anthony

Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan border – July 23, 2014

We have just arrived in Bishkek, having ridden our motorcycles from Taraz & Merke in Kazakhstan through to Kayyngdy & Kara-Balta in Kyrgyzstan. Our map (Reise know how) didn’t show it as a border crossing and our gps wanted to take us on the new M39 road loop to Korday but we took a chance. It was the easiest and quickest border crossing!! The whole process took about 45 minutes.

It seems that the majority of the ‘traffic’ entering Kyrgyzstan at this border crossing is on foot – we saw one truck come in after us, that’s all. Not a single car.

On the Kazakhstan side, you need your Eurasian Customs Union document for temporary import of vehicles and other valuable goods (which we got when entering Russia and to which they have stuck a summary sticker and QRcode with all your information). They give you a customs exit form to complete with all the same information as you originally wrote when entering the Union. They stamp both and keep both forms and required sight of our passports and vehicle ownership documents.

We were then taken by a customs officer to the exit of the Kazakhstan immigration queue to leapfrog the queue, inside a building. It appears that this is the standard procedure as the truck driver did the same. Once done, customs went through one of our bags, asked if we carried a gun, and waived us away.

The Kyrgystan border is a few metres away. Once you have shown your passport (they look for the Kazak exit stamp – in our case, it confused them that we left Kazakhstan on an EU passport but wanted to come into Kyrgyzstan on Australian passports – that was for consistency across the Stans – but they decided to stamp our EU passports :-(. That process took less than 5 minutes and we were welcomed into kyrgyzstan. There was no paperwork or forms to fill in. Too easy.

– Anne

Kyrgyzstan vehicle insurance – July 24, 2014
We have just found out where to get vehicle insurance in Bishkek.

The insurance company is called KyrgyzInstrakk, located at 219. Chui Avenue, 2nd floor. The entrance is just down a little alley off Chui Avenue. A young gentleman called Arafat Ucenov, spoke enough English and was very helpful.

Interestingly, vehicle insurance is not common here. If/when there is an accident, both parties negotiate who is at fault, and this make take up several hours to come up with an agreement, and decide how much to pay.

– Anne

Bishkek visa photos – July 30th, 2014

ProFoto Centre is a great place to get your photos printed or any other kind of prints made. Great, central location right on Prospekt Chui, west of the fountains on Ala-Too Square. Phone number 664 993.

I had a passport photo on a usb stick which I needed the background made lighter and printed in 2×2 inches for an Indian visa. No problem. 2 colour photos resized, touched up and printed in 15 minutes for 72 com.

– Anne

Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border at Shamalday Say – August 2nd, 2014

Rather than going to Osh, along the main road with all the trucks, we decided to try a small border post at Shamaldy Say which we couldn’t find any information on but was marked on our map. The sign for the border indicated right at the next junction, and suddenly there it is, a barrier about 10m from the tiny turn off. The Kyrgyzstan side consists of two small buildings, one on each side of the road and three people. Army, Immigration and Customs. Formalities are quick and we are done in 10 minutes, a single passport stamp required. About 1km away in the mid morning heat haze is the Uzbekistan building. We ride a mixture of dirt and tar, past various farms and crops, with no other vehicles in sight, to an imposing set of closed double gates that guard a large walled compound, with buildings, vehicle lanes, inspection trenches, gardens, flower beds and trees but no one in sight! No vehicles waiting ahead of us either which is unusual for a border crossing. A solitary guard approaches from some 100m away and after showing our passports, the gates open and we ride to the covered area and park the bikes amidst a large purpose built customs/immigration complex that is completely devoid of vehicles or people, whether border officials or travellers. We are guided by a border post official sitting on his chair to exactly where he wanted us: further forward, no a little to the right, a bit forward, you over here, stop right here. Perfect. He points o us to the building behind him.

Immigration first, we enter the customs and immigration building. The only other people crossing were a family of four from Uzbekistan. Staff outnumber us by 2 to 1. Immigration completed and on to customs where four people, two men and two women are sitting behind a row of desks facing us. Customs forms in English are produced and we complete them by hand and in duplicate, passed for checking: one wrong answer, we will have to start again. Could we have new forms please. No need. Phew! A tipex pen is produced and we are saved. The first sign of a less formal approach to us.

Registering our bikes takes some time as the customs officer had to understand the English language documents. “Anna, come here please, what is …” Anne goes into his office then goes out again. Then a little later “Anna, what is …” This goes on for a little while as Anne helps him complete his online form. When Anne tells him that she forgot to include her camera in the list of electronic goods to be declared, he said it wasn’t important and that we need not have listed all that we did as they were not new. As we wait for him to finish, we are offered tea by customs, we tell a soldier where his colleague has gone and he thanks us. We feel a warming towards us by the Uzbeks. Customs start a detailed inspection of our pannier contents as Anthony declared 500 tablets of medicine.

They all gather round as Anne passed him heart tablets, head tablets, stomach tablets to stop diorrhea, stomach tablets to help the other way, antibiotics for this, malaria tablets, etc he says “ok ok!!!” when his hands are full and he tells us we are good to go. We pack up, (one customs officer kept telling Anne that Anthony should be strapping the bags down as he has more muscles!) and get ready to leave but not before they all get the photos they want of themselves on the bikes, and with us!! Sadly they didn’t want Anne to take photos of them but even apologised about that. A few good laughs, hand shakes and we set off with friendly waves from the Uzbek officials.

All this took two hours: the time is taken by the process, which both sides have to follow. In the time we were there, only 4 other people crossed all on foot, no vehicles. Without increased staff or procedural changes, this border post could not handle greater numbers on either side of the border.

– Anthony & Anne

Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan border Shavat – Dasoguz. 20 August 2014

Having now found the correct crossing point, see blog entry dated 1 September, we arrive at the usual locked gates, but instead of being allowed in straight away as we were when entering Uzbekistan, we had to park our bikes at the roadside and then go into the immigration building, just inside the gates. The border complex is on a grand scale, similar to the one at our entry point of Shamalday Say. We needed to complete two copies of the the customs declaration, the same form that we completed on entry into Uzbekistan, although the officer indicated that he did not need as much detail as we had filled in on personal effects when we entered Uzbekistan. We understood that only new unused equipment and possessions should be recorded.

It was then pointed out, since we cannot read Cyrillic customs documents, we had not purchased vehicle insurance when we entered the country as one of our customs documents should have been annotated with that information. We can only assume this did not happen as we crossed at an obscure post, with probably little foreign traffic. While we continue the immigration process the local insurance agent is summoned to enable us to purchase insurance for a country we are leaving. The insurance costs about eight dollars each, but worth remembering to ask for it if it is not mentioned when entering Uzbekistan as we still had to do this on the exit, although probably not with as much diligence as if we were entering the country. I think we had to take out the now historic insurance purely to keep the paperwork in order.

A local woman used a cell phone to take a call while her passport was being processed, it was confiscated, she was still waiting for passport processing an hour later when we left Uzbekistan. There are warning signs not to use phones or cameras so take note.

No interest was shown in checking our declared currency matches the paperwork, just an interest in the name pound for UK £. Absolutely no interest in our carefully collected hotel receipts that all hotels provided without fail and with due process on each hotel’s part.

The customs process focused on all the medication I am carrying, but with explanations and my age they passed on and finished the process. A number of the senior staff came to look at the motorbikes and we then set off for Turkmenistan.

We cross a creek, reach a checkpoint where our passports are scrutinised, and then we are told to proceed down a road, past what looks like an old border crossing complex on to a larger and grander customs and immigration facility. Our initial welcome is from an English speaking customs officer who directs us to immigration for processing. This requires the payment of $US11 per head at a small bank window located between customs and immigration, a straightforward process.

We proceed past a metal detector, that is not used. Every crossing in the region seems to have one and a baggage ex ray machine, but we are never asked to use them. The customs form for our personal possessions’ similar to Uzbekistan, but only a single inward copy is required and a lot less detail than Uzbekistan, i.e no requirement to declare cash.

We now have to complete the vehicle transit paperwork. This includes a transit document, that has a map of Turkmenistan and on it is annotated our route and expected mileage to be travelled. We get motor insurance and make a fuel adjustment payment, in all US$63 each. Back to the bank to pay and get the appropriate ‘PAID’ stamp and a small US$3 charge each for processing. A number of stamps are applied to these documents by two people and entries made in large ledgers, that will probably be stored and never referred to again. I did note a stamp missing from one set of vehicle documentation, which was rectified, but could have been an issue on exiting Turkmenistan. If you have two vehicles for processing then you can compare the paperwork.

We now need to have the motorbikes inspected, drive them around to the vehicle inspection pits and parking carefully between them. We proceed to another office, where a customs officer completes four forms, two per motorbike and again enters our names, registration numbers etc in a large ledger. We get one copy of the document, duly signed and stamped. As we are now approaching six pm, interest in checking our bikes further wains. After a cursory inspection, we have to hand our passports and motorbike customs form to a young soldier as everyone else disappears along with our customs goods form, which had no details of goods entered on it anyway. The young soldier makes us ride about 10 meters for us to get our passports and motorbike customs form back. The first really officious action we have seen on border crossings. We retrieve our passports and ride out, the gate guard has gone home.

Ashgabat – Iran border crossing at Bajgiran. 23 August 2014

The Turkmenistan customs and immigration buildings are signposted up a road to the right as you reach the top. There are a number of lanes separated by trees, we are directed by a soldier to park the motorbikes on the left hand side of the building. The soldier takes us up to a closed bank office, so not sure if we are meant to pay anything. Then through a metal detector, which is working, but everyone ignores the resultant beeping as we go through. The first time we have seen one of these in operation. Our passports join a pile of Iranian passports at window of a deserted office, must be lunchtime. When the office is manned, other people try to push their passports through first. One woman is particularly persistent, gets her two passports and other document in first. There is something wrong with the paperwork and I think she hopes because she is holding everyone up they will let her through, no luck for her as she is taken the another window to plead her case. One needs to keep one’s place in the queue, else you will be at the back of the queue in no time. Processing takes two people and checking various computer screens.

Passport checked and stamped. We leave the building, we are approached by a customs officer who takes the large white customs vehicle form we got on entry to the country. Completed that easily enough. Next stop is to hand in the transit route map, then we go and show the route map which he keeps, move bikes in for inspection – he is happy to find we have followed the route and not at a different exit point. Go into customs office for goods. We have no document as the single copy was retained on entry. The customs officer fills out similar form to single one at entry. He completes with basic info and we sign. That easy. Next is the customs inspection team. They have one of those sets of tools you see in workshops used by mechanics that could dismantle a truck. The inspection team leader looks at our bikes for 2 seconds and waives us through, much to the disappointment of his underlings who looked keen with anticipation at dismantling our motorbikes. We set off through the single gate, with of course a last passport check then into Iran customs and immigration. The Turkmenistan side has been some of the simplest processing to date, both in time and amount of paperwork. What will Iran’s process be like?

For some reason, probably manpower, only the exit road from the Iranian side to the Turkmenistan side is open, so we need to negotiate the oncoming traffic, something we will realise all to soon is natural in Iran.

We hand our passports in at the police post at the gate, are told to find parking somewhere ahead for our bikes and proceed to the immigration and customs building. After all our quiet and deserted crossings we had encountered previously, this one is positively teeming with people travelling in both directions. No separation of inward or outward bound persons and goods which could make for confusion but seems to work out OK. About 20 people, mostly women, sit waiting. We work out that the police checkpoint brings passports from one direction and the people leaving Iran bring their passports from the other. All are deposited on a single immigration officers counter, who processes each batch while we all wait around. Names are called and somehow all the women seated know when theirs is called. I have to stand near the counter to make sure I can hear when my name is called, the locals seem to be able to decipher there names being called from 10 meters away. While people come and go, porters bring trolleys of goods, bags, carpets and other assorted goods, mostly coming into Turkmenistan.

Our names are called, passports stamped, then we go back to a small window where some additional data is collected. The guys working there interrupted their lunch on the floor for us. Onto Customs: as all our equipment is on the bike, we are passed through straight away and directed to the carnet office. Go out the Customs exit, turn right across the vehicle entrance/exit! between the garden and building! up the stairs and first on the left. Then back to customs, they had forgotten to give us a white from while passing through and the carnet process cannot begin without it. Carnet process is straight forward, except instead of filling the details of their location on the exit form, as suggested on the carnet document, they just use a stamp on the back of the exit form. Achieves the same result.

Then carnet officer then contacted a local insurance agent, who came up from the village of Bajgiran. We then bring the bikes through from the other side of the gate. No inspection required. This was the first border where we had no paperwork to complete and has been the simplest and easiest so far. White customs document is taken further down the hill at the exit gate into Bajgiran, following our vehicle insurance salesman.

Iran Bandar Abbas departure for Sharjah 17 September 2014

I hesitate as I start writing this section, we left the Bandar Abbas port of Shahid Bahonar with 9 pieces of paper in our possession from the motorbike departure process. Three days later a fellow traveller with motorbike left with none, go figure that one out! Your experience will likely be different again. I will attempt to provide an outline of the phases you will follow, but be sure that your experiences will differ in some way. What I can state with some certainty is that the process will take a good portion of the day as many of the processes are manual, but I suspect that you will get the ferry even if roadblocks appear in your path. The documents are primarily in Farsi so unless you read the language or have a translator, you will not understand their meaning.

You will need to deal primarily with Customs, as well as the Port Authorities and the Shipping Company during the day. Unlike an overland border crossing with the Carnet de Passage, which is relatively simple here you will find a defined stream of paper providing a nexus linking all three organisations, with multiple possible paths. The best analogy I can think of, is that my comments are waypoints on your GPS, the route you take between waypoints may vary.

The customs building is on the second building on the left as you enter the port gate. You can save a little time by getting photocopies of picture page of passports, Iranian visas and the outside and inside covers and the current country’s page of the carnet de passage before you arrive. Alternately to the right of the customs building entrance is a small photocopying office. Payment is required. At this office you can also buy the orange cardboard folder that will hold your documents, customs do not provide these.

The person dealing with Carnets for us was situated straight ahead as you enter the customs building and to the left of the central pillar. They started work between 08:30 and 09:00. While the port is not as busy as the main shipping port, you need to keep your place in any queue as other locals may try to expedite their own work. We found the staff would deal with people in sequence, but it is best to wait at the counter rather than sit, wait to be called and forgotten as the day progresses.

At some stage you will be asked to go to the port authorities for a document. We were told to take the bikes. We move them all of 50 meters for no real reason, just leave them outside the customs building. Port authorities building is behind the customs building, exit the customs building turn left go to tend of the building and left again between the customs building and the immigration building where you will depart from. Enter the port authority building and go to the counters on the right to get the appropriate document to take back customs.

Two handwritten letters in Farsi are written by the carnet customs officer: they are taken for signing by a senior customs officer. When this is done they are sent for typing, the typing section will not type without a signature as we found out. This was eventually resolved and six copies of the letters, in two different formats are typed and taken back to the original carnet customs officer for checking.

Document distribution is a precise process: the appropriate recipients on the distribution list are carefully marked by typing section. First copy is taken by another desk in the customs hall, but they take our copy, so much for distribution lists. A return to the port authorities to give them their copy is now needed to obtain two A4 forms, one red one yellow. Finally in the same building we found a senior customs officer who completed the carnet documentation and scrutinised the port authority paperwork. Everything was ok.

Now you need permission to enter the docks to deliver the bikes to the ship loading area, so yes you guessed it back to the customs building, but enter the first office as you round the corner from the road between customs and immigration. Here your passport will be exchanged for a port pass. Ride the bikes in to the dock area, after passing the security check, go straight ahead to the second large shed on the left past the first open sided shed. Not onto the boat as we did to be turfed off. A small portable cabin outside the the second shed on the left processes more paperwork, then a trip into the shed and upstairs will relieve you of the yellow copy from the port authorities. You should then park the bikes next to the port authority building opposite the ramp to the ship. The ship should be visible from the second shed. Bike loading will take place last after you have cleared immigration. Return out through the port gate, retrieve your passports and then wait for immigration to open a couple of hours before the boats departure. Good luck.

– Anthony

Sharjah arrival from Bandar Abbas 18 September 2014

When the ship has docked in Sharjah you will be directed to the vehicle deck to take your bikes ashore. Timing will depend on the other vehicles and the location of your bikes on the cargo deck. You will be met by the shipping company agent who has a list he will give with the steps you need to undertake to clear the bikes which is very helpful. His portacabin office is a short distance from where the boat normally docks. You will need to pay cash for all the port, customs and shipping services in Dirhams. Note if the time it takes to complete the process goes past 12:30 you will be charged overtime fees.

First stop is immigration which you will either follow a police car or the foot passenger bus on your bikes as you will need to return to the shipping agents office after completing immigration facilities. Take note of the roundabout near the port exit as you will return here later. Immigration is straightforward and we were taken to the front of the queue. Back to the Agents portacabin handling fees are then playable including the cost of delivering the bikes. Hang on didn’t you just do that yourself?

Next step after receiving the appropriate paperwork from the shipping agent is to go to the Customs building which is situated just outside the Port entrance on the right. Back to the roundabout near immigration and park to the left of Customs/ Port Entrance kiosk that splits the inbound and outbound lanes to the port. Note a new building marked ‘Customs’ where you park. This was not open when we passed through but probably is now – it may have a function in the process when you read this, you will need to check. Initial paperwork received and yes payment made will see you back at the Customs/Port Entrance kiosk. They will check and confirm the serial numbers etc, then back to the Customs building and more paperwork, the carnet is stamped.

Ride the bikes back to the small cabin next to Shed 6 for your port exit papers, back to the Customs/Port Entrance kiosk and on your way. Took us about four hours all up and yes we got hit with overtime.

– Anthony

UAE Dubai to Delhi : motorcycle airfreight, 30 September 2014.

We had decided to go with self managed shipping and use Emirates SkyCargo to ship the motorbikes by air to Delhi. This would allow us to apply for Myanmar visas in Delhi while we waited for the motorbikes to be delivered. We had negotiated a price for the transport of two bikes in crates with Emirates. Note that this cost will be based on either weight or volumetric space converted to weight whichever is larger. In our case the volumetric weight was over twice the actual weight, so do not get too excited when they quote a price per kilos and you multiply it by the bikes weight, the volume calculation will come into play and you will be up for, in our experience, at least twice the weight of your bike. Note that we shipped all the panniers, spare tyre and motorcycle clothing which along with the crate which added about 100kg each to the shipping weight.

We arranged with BMW AMC in Dubai to pack the motorbikes in two used BMW motorcycle delivery crates. This cost us 500 dirhams per bike for packing. Noel and his team in the service department did a great job. He even cut hatches for the airport officials to see the motorbike serial numbers without opening the crate completely. Noel also arranged for a vehicle recovery truck to deliver the crates to Emirates SkyCargo which we paid for separately in cash.

Entry permits are required to get to the Emirates SkyCargo main building at Dubai (DXB) airport, note: if your shipment is on a freighter flight it will likely depart from Dubai World Central (DWC) airport. Do check this. We had been told we needed dangerous goods clearance. This can be arranged on the day as Emirates have the contact numbers of various companies at the airport in an adjacent building that do the work. The process took about an hour to complete and you pay cash. I forget the amount but not too expensive.

Depending on the crate size, I believe anything over 2.2 meters in length cannot be accepted at the Emirates SkyCargo main building, you may need as we did, take the motorbikes to the old cargo building which you would have passed on the same side as the Emirates SkyCargo building when you came in. In our case it was not only oversize but too big for the X-ray machine which required some opening up of the crates to check the cargo by the police. The police approval is needed before Emirates can accept the cargo, although by this time the crates have now disappeared from our view. Customs may also want to conduct an inspection, and this is where using an agent, for some cost, may be beneficial. In our case the people carrying out the dangerous good inspection had worked free of charge to help us through some of the steps to obtain the piece of paper needed by Emirates knowing how time consuming they were. A big thank you to them.

With the dangerous goods paperwork and the paper accepting the bikes for shipping after the inspections, we pay Emirates, get our receipts and then undertake the Carnet process to leaving in the Emirates building. With the help of the Emirates business cargo staff this is quickly done. That’s it, not cheap to ship by air, but you know when it will arrive if time is a key factor as it was in our case.

– Anthony

Delhi Customs India : 5 to 8 October 2014.

Having spent four days at the New Customs House (Bonds Section) near Delhi Airport (DEL) there must be easier alternatives to Delhi airport as an import destination for motorbikes into India under a Carnet de Passage (Carnet), by road for instance.

We took four working days to process the paperwork, due primarily to the incomplete information we had gathered prior to our arrival. This included a document http://delhicustoms.gov.in/Export2012/PublicNoticNo_33_2012.pdf , dated 2012, found online, provided by Delhi Customs covering requirements for temporary importation of motor vehicles using a Carnet. We had six of the seven requirements that Customs (Bond Section) stated they needed on our arrival.
They were:

1. Original Carnet de Passage
2. Valid visa for India
3. Copy of Passport
4. Copy of valid International drivers licence
5. Copy of Air Way Bill(AWB)/Bill of Lading (Delivery Order)
6. Authorisation letter in favour of customs house agent (CHA) (except self clearance)

The missing additional requirement was a letter from the local Indian Automobile Association stating they have no objections to the importation of our vehicles and the Indian Automobile Association will stand guarantor for our UK carnets. We had even been provided with letter from the RAC, the Carnet issuing authority in the UK, to Indian customs requesting their assistance in the import process, so I presume this was a known issue which we did not understand fully.

Over the course of the day I had meetings with the Superintendent of Bonds and the Deputy Commissioner (Bonds) over this requirement which was not in their online documentation. Following calls to the Commissioner of Customs and the Ministry we were told we need the local motoring association guarantee document because Customs say they cannot deal with organisations outside India, so they need a guarantor in the country, hence the requirement. They agreed that their online information needed to be amended.

A trip across town to the Automobile Association of Upper India (AAUI), we found out that, for a significant fee and a minimum of two days of our time, the AAUI would contact the issuer of the Carnet to secure a letter from the issuer of the Carnet confirming they will honour the Carnet (which is what the Carnet is anyway!). They provided a letter for us for Customs the following day only after a call from one of our Embassies to push the process along on our behalf. We are able to return to Delhi Airport Customs and continue the process.

When all the paperwork is completed, every signature and stamp scrutinised many times we get our bikes out. A couple of hours removing then disposing of the crates, reassemble the motorbikes and we ride out into the New Delhi night.

– Anthony

India – Myanmar (Burma) Moreh / Nampolong 30 Oct 2014

The immigration office is in town and not at the border gate where a barrier and guard hut is situated. As were were travelling in a group of motorcycles for our trip through Myanmar (Burma) one kind person in the group, Joe, volunteered to take all our passports back for processing to save taking all the motorbikes back. Processing was slow as each passport had to be photocopied and each copy inspected to ensure it was not too light or dark. A time consuming process.

Customs processing of the Carnet is in a white building on the right side a short distance beyond the barrier, Carnets stamped with little formality and we travelled on.

Myanmar (Burma) side, all paperwork is undertaken by our tour guide, so cannot comment on the process. Seemed very easy, not sure if by now single bike entries are possible, I hope so.

Myanmar (Burma) – Thailand. Maywaddy / Mae Sot. 9 Oct 2014

Our Myanmar paperwork was handled by our guide and our tourist ministry official. We cannot provide any more detail, but I am sure that independent motorcycle travel to Myanmar is not far off if it has not already happened.

I am writing this some 6 months later, things are a little hazy. Entry into Thailand requires the usual passport formalities, but note that immigration start the paperwork for the temporary importation of the motorcycle. The carnet does not apply here. This will require photocopies which can be obtained past the immigration and customs in a business office on the ground floor of a building on the left hand side of the road about 150 meters away. After payment to immigration officers, you will progress to customs for further temporary vehicle import paperwork. The value of your motorbike recorded seems arbitrary.

Thailand – Laos at Thungchang / Namngeun. 22 November 2014

One of the most straight forward border crossing processes, we managed both sides in about one hour for all the paperwork. This must be a record for us. First port of call is Thai Customs if you have a vehicle. Thai Customs are situated at farthest end of the last building on the right, before the shops at the top of the hill before the descent to the Thai border gate. The building sign refers to it as a Government building, not specifically customs. If you miss it just ride to the bottom of the hill, past the exit barrier as we did and walk back. The customs officials want the green temporary import copy you should have in your possession. Sign in the appropriate place and you are done. Immigration will require the other white document you were issued with on entry into Thailand with your vehicle. They stamp the passport and you are on your way to the Laos side. Do remember to change to driving on the right.

A barrier will greet you as you arrive at the Laos Customs and Immigration Post. Your passports will be inspected and then you need to go to the second building on the right, first door. Here you will purchase your visa on arrival. You will need a photo for this application. Cost of most countries is US $30 or 1,200 Thai Baht. You then need to complete entry forms, similar to those into Thailand and you are stamped into Laos. Customs is back in the first building. Your vehicle registration document, not a carnet, is needed along with your passport. A customs temporary import document is produced and costs 200 Thai Baht or approx US $5. Show these documents at the second barrier on the way out and you are into Laos.

-Anthony

Laos – Thailand at Vientiane / Nong Kai 30 November 2014

The departure from Laos is quite straightforward. We are leaving on a Sunday so there is significant weekend traffic of locals travelling to Thailand for a day out. The border crossing is a few kilometres out of town and easy half hour drive from Vientiane. We ride passed queues of cars and find parking near the covered area where cars are waiting to pass through customs and immigration procedures. The process is fairly straightforward and involves queuing at windows along with locals, start at the window furthest from the border and in approx. 10 minutes in our case and a small receipted payment for weekend working, which the locals also seemed to pay, we are on our way. The bridge is a combined road / rail so you may need to wait for the odd train to travel over.

The Thai side is well organised, but does require the movement between a number of small offices dotted between the roadways where the cars pass. We parked in the VIP area, but had no problems with this. The sequence of offices was by number was window 7a, then 6a and finally 4d. Payment was a couple of hundred Baht as part of the process. I have to confess that the passage of time since we crossed has dimmed my recollection of the cost, other details are correct as I noted them down at the time.

– Anthony

Thailand – Malaysia Khuan Don / Wang Kelian 13 December 2014

Simple departure process from Thailand, you will need to have the copy of the motorcycle import paper, carnets are not used in Thailand, which appear to be a personal guarantee you give for payment of import duty should your motorbike remain in Thailand. This document will have received and paid for on entry to Thailand. The border crossing is small and there is a single office for this process.

Malaysia uses the carnet system and the process was simple. We completed passport entry, then moved the bikes to the other end of the building where customs are located. We waited with the bikes while the customs officer processed the carnets. Simple and on our way.

Entry and exit from Singapore – Dec 2014/Jan 2015

As we used an agent to ship the motorbikes from Singapore to Santiago and did not travel with the motorbikes on this part of journey I can offer not more than the carnet was used for entry (on a truck) and exit (on an aircraft). We were kept informed of the status and the helpful agent did email copies of the completed carnet pages to us. Carnet documents were also couriered to us back in Brisbane to take to Santiago with us if required.

Chile – Peru Arica / Tacna 27 March 2015

The border is only 20 minutes drive from Arica. Follow the vehicle signs and park, space permitting, in the parking area in front of the right hand set of windows which are for car/motorbike passengers to process immigration documents. As part of the border processing on both sides you need four copies of the ‘RELACION DEL VEHICULO Y PASSAJEROD’ (RVP) each of the copies is used in sequence on both the Chilean and Peruvian sides of the border as a method of ensuring that you have not missed a stage at either customs or immigration. We noticed that prior to arriving at the border, some locals seemed to have typed copies already completed. Maybe you can get this Arica? You can buy the RVP at the border for 1,000 chile pesos or USD $2. You go to the right of the immigration windows cross the road up the stairs into the cafe area which runs across the width of the customs and immigration building. Go to the cafe cashier and pay for your carbon copy set of the RVP . Complete the RVP using information in your white ‘SALASA Y ADMISION TEMPORAL DE VEHICULOS’ (SATV) document provided for your vehicle on entry to Chile. Then take it back to the immigration officer at the first set of windows. He will take the top RVP copy and stamp the next copy and process your passport. Take the remaining RVP copies and the SATV document to the customs windows just beyond the immigration windows. Here the SATV will be taken as will the top copy of the RVP, the next copy of the RVP is stamped to show you have completed Chilean customs. Take the remaining two RVP copies and leave Chile.

A short drive brings you to the Peruvian side, park in the car park then go into immigration office, complete the Peruvian entry form and get that and your passport processed, immigration will stamp the next RVP copy. Then ride past the kiosks up to the customs inspection officer who will undertake a food check. Continue on to the car park beyond the building, park there and go to the first office on the right of the building for vehicle customs. Take your two RVP copies and your vehicle registration documents, in our case a V5 for the UK. You will be asked the vehicle’s value and sign a form for duty payment if the vehicle remains in Peru, similar to Chile. Your last RVP copy is stamped and then handed in at the exit gate as you leave the administration area.

Getting Seguro Obligatorio Automóviles Transito (SOAT) insurance is easy and compulsory, about 500 meters from the exit from Peruvian customs and immigration on the right is a new, we think, office for La Positiva. It took us about 10 minutes to obtain one month’s insurance for both motorcycles about US$92. It may be cheaper for longer periods or at other locations but the queue of Chilean vehicles mean that locals use it as well and it is done. The whole border crossing and insurance process took about two and a half hours. It really depends on the number of people crossing at the time and their requirements. We had a pretty quick crossing and I even adjusted my motorcycle chain at one point.

This border crossing has become fairly easy to cross just follow the processes and we found the officials on both sides were very helpful. Hope this is useful.

– Anthony

Peru – Ecuador Tumbes / Huaquillas (Aguas Verdes) 15 April 2015

The Peru-Ecuador border has two identical building complexes on either side which carry out the entry/exit procedures depending on your direction of travel, but we have met people using either side! Coming from the Peruvian side, travel past the Peruvian complex and continue on to the Ecuadorian side. Drive past the first building and park on the left hand side just before the cafes opposite the second building in the complex. Do cross at the pedestrian crossings to avoid the shrill whistle from the officious officer on duty.

Start by returning to the first building you passed on the right on the way in, where you will find an Peruvian customs officer who will process the paperwork you received on entry to Peru for your vehicle. He will leave you with half the temporary import permit, proving you have completed this process. Walk back past the second building and at the end of the third building you will find Peruvian and Ecuadorian immigration side by side. Very convenient and if the queues are short a quick process.

For the temporary import into Ecuador return down the side of the second building to the first door. Here you will find the Ecuador customs import process. The usual passport and vehicle registration documents are required. You will also need to bring your vehicle over to the office in the latter stages of the process to be photographed. You will receive a temporary import document. We enquired about the SOAT, but were advised that this was not needed. We understand from another source that this will change in June/July 2015 when some administrative issues for visitors have been resolved.

– Anthony

Ecuador – Columbia.  Rumichaca.  16 April 2015

When entering the border crossing area, there is a taxi park on the right, we parked at the side of the road leading towards the Columbian border post just past the taxi park beyond the food stalls. You can head up the road a short way and loop back back to the white building on the left as you passed the taxi park. This Ecuadorian building contains immigration and customs offices.

Immigration office which is situated in the centre of the Ecuadorian building handles both ingoing and outgoing processing, which can lead to long delays. Most people seem to go in the side of the building facing Columbia and the ‘door keeper’ may try to give you a Ecuadorian entry form to fill out, you do not need one. When you get to the counter, the processing is fairly quick. The office for handling the temporary vehicle imports/exports is on the side of the building facing Columbia opposite the car parking. There are three windows, not all are manned. Here your Ecuadorian Temporary Import permit will be processed and cancelled.

As you ride the 100 meters or so towards Columbia, there is a car park directly in front of the immigration building. Park here, where you have the opportunity to change money with the money changers. Immigration is up the stairs at the end of car park, go to the windows on the left. Only your passport is needed.

In order prepare for the Columbian temporary importation permit, you will need photocopies of your passport information page, Columbian stamp in your passport, driving license and the registration document for bikes. This can be done at small office/hotel complex opposite the car park behind the line of trucks. The photocopy office is just inside the entrance of a restaurant. Quick and easy.
Take your copies to the Customs office, which is in the building beyond the immigration building. When the paperwork is complete, you will need to sign, then the customs officer want to take a print of your vehicle identification number (VIN). This is done using carbon paper and sticky clear tape. Make sure you have a raised VIN or you will need a photo. SOAT insurance should be available at a small office a couple of hundred meters up the road on the left. Their computer was down when we came through, so we had to buy our SOAT insurance in Ipiales in a supermarket. This was noted by the customs officer on our temporary import form, presumably in case we got stopped by police on the road and couldn’t produce our mandatory SOAT.

– Anthony

Airfreight from Columbia to Panama   May 2015

We had decided to airfreight after considering the options and contacted Dora Cardona at Master Logistic. Dora had shipped our friend Kristjan’s motorbike over the same route a few days earlier.

Since we were in Bogota to expedite the shipping process, we provided electronic copies of our Passports, Vehicle Registration Documents, Driving Licences and Columbian Temporary Vehicle Import documents in advance of our arrival in Medellin. This allowed all our shipping paperwork to be prepared by Master Logistic in advance.

The office GPS location is 06.10’46.48″N 75.26’09.79″W or 6.179579 – 75.436053 The office is situated on the fourth floor, room 403, in a building inside a gated complex of freight and shipping offices with the entrance just off the main road from the airport to Medellin. The entrance is right next to the Terpel petrol station.

Master Logistic is a family run business, Dora’s son Julian is the English speaker in the office.

As in much of Columbia, as we have found, the business deals in cash only. When you have a price you will need to have the appropriate amount of dollars or pesos to pay after the bikes have been processed for shipping and are at the warehouse. You are then given a copy of the Airway Bill and a receipt for the cash.

We found Dora, despite our lack of Spanish, straightforward to deal with and are happy with the results. We didn’t always get responses to our emails after our initial communication and her receiving all the documentation she requested. A little disconcerting, but she had everything organised for us as per her initial email.

Her contact details: ventas@mastersas.com.co
Dora Cardona
Master Logistic
Centro Ciudad Karga Fase 1,
Oficina 403.
Phone: +57 315 229 2465

Had we had more time, we would have liked to have used Luis Ernesto La Rota from Enlace Caribe and sent our bikes by container which would have been cheaper. He was extremely responsive, helpful and spoke English.

His contact details: gerencia@enlacecaribe.com
Luis Ernesto La Rota R.
Enlace Caribe Ltda.
Manga, Calle 28  No. 26-47, Of. 103
Cartagena, Colombia
Ph +57 (5) 660 8960
Mob + 57 315 758 5872
http://www.enlacecaribe.com

We stayed at the El Hangar hostal which is very conveniently located between Dora’s office and the airport. It is behind the Zeuss petrol station.

Panama City Tocumen Airport Cargo –  bike release – 11th  May 2015

Despite my limited Spanish, I had gathered there had been a mix up with our shipping, not realising that Anthony and my bikes were part of the same order. French passports always show the maiden name, and mine is nothing like “Speed”. So we are married Dora asked us at one point? I asked Dora both at her office and by email if there were any problems, but she refused to answer – all is ok. Don’t worry. Even though I had to re-sign one set of documents Dora had prepared, then after delivering the bikes to the cargo area and getting our AirwayBill, Dora’s office got us both to re-sign yet another set of documents.

So when we went to the airline cargo area with our AirwayBill to collect our bikes, I find out they have been shipped with another airline. Maybe Dora had to organise with another airline so that both bikes traveled together?? So I am at the wrong place. I am shown to the Girag office. There are 2 people behind a glass window and I am told to wait a moment. 10′ later, a young man arrives with a huge pile of AirwayBills – he’s handed a notebook by the lady who doesn’t even look up and he sits down and enters each AWB number. I look over his list, mine isn’t there yet. After about 30′, the guy who told me to wait looks through the remaining AWB to be entered. Mine is the last one in the pile.

I hand over my passport which gets photocopied and pay US$35, get a receipt, the original AWB documents with one stamp and signature. Now I must collect 3 more sets of stamps and signatures and return. I go over to a set of 3 portacabins just before the roundabout which house the Aduana, Mida and AUSPA. Each one stamps the AWB, without checking or asking anything, except noticing the previous signature and stamp is there. So I move from one office to the next.

Back to the airline office for a final stamp, a photocopy of the now fully stamped AWB and a new small piece of paper. I pay US$0.25 for the photocopy and am free to go to the warehouse next door and collect the bikes.

There I have to hand over my passport and the new piece of paper. The bikes are delivered eventually and that’s it.  All very painless and quick.

To get the Temporary Import document which is apparently requested at the Costa Rica border (or you can get detained for 3 days by the Panamanian police for failing to have the required paperwork as happened to a friend of ours), go to a small office to the right of the set of Aduana/Mida and AUSPA (which is in fact the first building on your right as you enter the cargo area, under a red corrugated roof over the road). Ask for an “Autoridad Nacional de Aduanas – Formulario de Control Vehicular – Vehiculo Extranjero – Entrada/Salida. You will be asked for your passport and your motorcycle documents. This final process took longer than should have for 2 reasons: impossible to find France in the computer list of countries (we came across Indigenous Australian, Baltic German and Boer!). France was under Ciudadano Frances (French Citizen). Then I noticed that Anthony’s form was incorrect as it had our entry post as Paso Canoas (the Costa Rican border) instead of Tocumen Airport. The form could not be updated online but re-entered from scratch. That took another 20′.

The complete process took us 4 hours, including reconnecting the batteries and pumping up the tyres.

See precious post for details on Dora’s shipping company.

– Anne

Panama – Costa Rica. Paso Canoas. 15 May 2015

We had heard the border crossing was very slow with many large trucks and coaches who make the journey overnight to arrive by 06:00 to wait for the official opening at 07:00. We still prefer to cross at the start of the day so we arrived around 07:00.

The Panamanian Immigration/Customs is situated in an island building between two, three lane roadways, all covered by a large galvanised roof. Inbound lanes on the left and outbound lanes on the right. Pull up behind any vehicle the outbound lanes on the right. The building appears divided into three pods, first contains immigration, the second admin offices and the last houses ‘Aduanas’ or Customs.

We were approached by a ‘facilitator’ or ‘fixer’ and decided to use him. It worked for us as we completed all the Panamanian processing in about 15 minutes. It could have been a lot longer without his assistance.

The ‘facilitator’ takes us to the furthest building, marked ‘Aduanas’, asks us for our (vehicle temporary import) document, leans down into the little window opening and calls the 3 women sitting at back of their office. One gets up – not sure she wants to assist, but she stamps one of the forms on the back. He has to ask her to stamp the 2nd one too which she does reluctantly. Now this when a facilitator comes in very handy: he then took the forms and found the man who was authorised to sign the stamps!! He was busy with a truck outside. He too seemed reluctant to assist but he signed both. First step done.

Next immigration, which is in the first building on the left when we arrived. Not the long line of travellers who have come off one of the coaches, but the window to the far left as you walk back left marked ‘solo transportitas’. Our facilitator tells us to hand the temporary vehicle import document and our passports. A photograph is taken and we an exit stamp in our passport and get both documents back.

We return to the Aduana window where our temporary vehicle stamp in our passport is stamped too and cancelled and the temporary vehicle import document is taken.

The next challenge is to get past the parked vehicles, three lanes are blocked with buses and trucks. One of the buses reverses to help make space for us to pass. We are through in exactly 27′ total!!

It is a short distance to the Costa Rica border building. This is situated on the right just past the Truck/Bus disinfectant spray facility. We park the motorbikes where the drinks sellers are, just past the ‘No Parking’ signs. We saw no facilitators, but had no problem in being directed to where we needed to be by locals.

Immigration windows are on the left hand side of the building as you face it from the road. We used the farthest window, number 4. The immigration form is obtained from the immigration windows. It seems OK to go to the head of the queue to get the form and complete as you queue.

Next step, before going to customs, you need to obtain vehicle insurance. This is obtained from the insurance office which is a couple of paces from the immigration office. You will need your vehicle registration and passport. Cost is US$25.00 per bike for the time we wanted, three weeks.
Next step is to obtain photocopies of your passport, entry stamp, vehicle registration document and insurance. This is done directly across the road at a small business.

Take all the copies to the Aduanas office, which is next door to the Insurance office on the right as you face the insurance office. Here the temporary vehicle import permit will be issued. We took about an hour to complete the whole immigration, insurance and customs process, but it was not too busy.

– Anthony

Central American Observations

It is interesting that in all our travels on this trip, the Central American countries are the only places we have encountered ‘fixers’ or facilitators. In Central Asia, locals or officials would always point out the next place to go in the process, similarly in South America. In Central America however it has become a business which, given the amount of queuing and running around that can take place, they can be useful to expedite the process. We used them on two of the five border crossings, the others we took care of ourselves.

We have deduced from the number of land crossings we have made that the paperwork process, in our experience should, but probably will not, go along these lines:

Country Exit – cancel ‘Vehicle Temporary Import Permit’, process Passport for exit ……..
Country Entry – complete immigration and customs form, process Passport, obtain Vehicle Insurance, obtain ‘Vehicle Temporary Import Permit’

Photocopies are the order of the day at most borders, some you can do in advance such as Passport, Vehicle Registration and Driving Licence. Photocopies of your just stamped passport page, or document just issued means unless you have a portable photocopier, you will need fresh copies and it always seems there is a business setup to provide such services handy.

Please accept in advance my apologies for any inaccuracies in the next few entries. We did all these borders in such a short space of time that even trying to take notes as we passed through I may have been somewhat confused an unable to separate out one process from another as they are fairly similar.

– Anthony

Costa Rica – Nicaragua Sapoa 19 May 2015

After passing underneath an archway ignore the first dirt turnoff, Take the second turn off onto a concrete road. The Customs building is on the right about 300-400 meters along the road which curves to the right. Ignore the queue at the window outside, you will need to go into the building via the door at the end to have the temporary vehicle import paperwork cancelled.

Immigration is further down the same road between the many trucks parked around Customs. When you reconnect with the main road, go to the right hand side of the Immigration building which sits between the inbound and outbound lanes. Before you complete immigration facilities you need to pay a tax, either via the ATM in the corner of the Immigration office with a credit card which we did or go to another office to pay with cash.

Entry into Nicaragua, this border crossing seems to have the most number of steps and processes we have found in Central America, we used a facilitator here to speed up the process and provide the sequential process. Approaching the border, you will pass a line of trucks, under an arch, and there is a small canvas awning on the right. We are requested to stop here. The only reason seems to be to select a facilitator. We are directed behind the awning to a covered area where details of our nationality are recorded and we are given small seemingly unimportant square of paper and told not to loose it. Next step is fumigation, the trucks line up to go through an automatic truck fumigation process, not recommended for motorbikes. To the right of the truck fumigation process are a couple of hand held units. Park there and go back to the small kiosk situated just before and on the left of the fumigation facility. Here you pay and receive an impressive receipt for such a small payment, I forget how much, but think around US$3 each. We also get a blank form signed by the man who undertook the fumigation.

Our facilitator walks while we ride down the road to the right past the fumigation facility and park between two buildings on the left hand side. The further building contains immigration and vehicle insurance the nearer one has the police and Customs / Aduana. We first go to Immigration which is on the far side of the farther building. Here you will pay a municipal tax at a small table setup near immigration. Just another fee

Immigration was straightforward then the next step is to get the vehicle insurance. This is around the back of the immigration building. This cost us US$12 for insurance. We then go with our facilitator to find a customs officer to undertake a customs inspection. This only took us a couple of minutes but was required and needed a sign off before we could apply for a temporary import permit. This takes place at one of two windows in the first building we had parked next too before we went to the immigration and insurance building.

After securing the temporary import documentation, we are required to get a police clearance. Our facilitator arranges this quickly, but then advises that payment of US$ 20 is required to pay the policeman to facilitate a quick signature rather than taking the usual 2 hours. Best to check about any ‘extra’ payments in advance to decide if you want the the fast or slow process.

After all the paperwork and signatures we rode to the exit gate into Nicaragua where our temporary import documentation was checked. Possibly for the police and customs signatures to ensure we had done the process, and therefore paid any ‘fees’.

This was the longest Central American border crossing process we encountered with numerous steps, time consuming rather than difficult.

– Anthony

Nicaragua – Honduras NIC-24 / CA-3 22 May 2015

This crossing was the hardest to remember and may contain some inaccuracies or omissions since I am writing a few months after the event. We park outside the combined Customs and Immigration building on the right hand side in direction of travel. Passports are handled first at a window just inside the entrance. Passports were returned a couple of windows along. Further round to the left along an internal passage is the customs area where Vehicle temporary import processing for exiting Nicaragua is processed. I cannot recall if any processing fees were required, but probably were.

Honduras passport control was chaotic, multiple lines, bus drivers with handful of passports made for slow processing. A form to fill in, information then keyed in and we were done with Immigration, with the aid of a facilitator.

Customs is in the same building around the far side of where Immigration is located. Our facilitator took no part in this process. Temporary Vehicle Import paperwork is completed without reference to the motorbike, just the motorbikes documentation, no checking of VIN numbers on the motorbikes in our case. We needed to pay for this in US dollars cash as we had no local currency. I cannot remember the exact amount, but I think US$20 to 30.

What was interesting to learn from the Honduras Customs officials is that they ask us not to pay money to fixers for services, we will tip the facilitators for their help but not to pay any additional money for ‘officials’ services’. They are trying to do something about corruption which is great.

– Anthony

Honduras – El Salvador El Amatillo 22 May 2015

Honduras exit was reasonably simple. As usual lines of trucks will indicate when we you are close to the border. There are two crossings, one for commercial trucks to the left, take the right fork. The Customs building sits between the inbound and outbound lanes. One can ride past to the right and park on the far side of the Customs building next to a concrete barrier. The Customs building is in two parts, with a roof over the middle, Customs office is on the left hand side when entering the covered area from where you park your vehicle.

Immigration is further to the left and the first port of call to get an exit stamp. As usual photocopies of the exit stamp and other documents are needed for Customs. A facilitator can expedite this process.

El Salvador Immigration is ahead across the bridge over the river. Two lanes exist to the right of the Immigration building you can park in left hand one. Passport control is the first set of windows on the right hand side of the building. Passports are stamped in here.

Customs and the temporary import permit are obtained some 3 kilometres away. Follow the road past where it rejoins the commercial truck road and turn left just before you reach a checkpoint. Ride about 300 meters just past a small customs building which handles the paperwork, turn left then right up to a large covered loading bay. Here you will have to complete a very detailed temporary vehicle import form, which the Customs officers then checked and completed the parts we were unable too due to our lack of Spanish. They also wanted the vehicle registration document and driving licence.

Our motorcycles were inspected for VIN and numberplate. My VIN number sticker was damaged when my steering head bearings were replaced in Costa Rica and a 4 was scrapped off now looking like a 0. I had to insist that the customs officer look at the embossed VIN number on the front fork. He was finally convinced, but as he was showing trainees the process, he went by the book.

The paperwork is then taken back to the small customs building for processing. They will take the vehicle documents, passports and the handwritten temporary import permits to produce a printed version. This took half and hour per vehicle for some reason. The longest time we have seen for a document processing in Central America. We needed to get the original Customs officer involved to move forward. You will need to sign the temporary vehicle import paperwork.

Return to the the checkpoint, yes another copy of the new documentation is needed, and yes a coping machine is available to pay for a copy for the police at the checkpoint.

– Anthony

El Salvador – Guatemala CA8 24 May 2015

This is a crossing we undertook on a Sunday, we were stopped at checkpoint before Immigration and Customs. A check of El Salvador temporary vehicle import original to copy of undertaken, both copies signed. Not sure if this was really required based on later requirements but someone doing their job on the Sunday. Proceeded to Immigration, which is on the right before bridge, turn off stop, immigration checked passports, did not stamp them, but provided a piece of paper needed later to cross the bridge out of El Salvador.

Go round other side of the building, Customs are located here at the end nearest the bridge. You will need copies of vehicle registration and passport, they will want to see originals. An exit sticker is added to the temporary vehicle importation document. Drive up hill to the start of the bridge where a police team will require you to show your passport and piece of paper provided by El Salvador immigration to cross the bridge.

On the Guatemalan side, we are directed to park on the right in the sun, not undercover in the two lanes next to Customs and Immigration. We had no forms to complete at Immigration, which is the first set of offices in the building between the inbound and outbound lanes only an entry stamp in our passports. You then need to get a copy of the stamp in the passport for Customs. The is a shop that does photocopies is situated across the outbound lane from Guatemala, on the far left as you park. The temporary vehicle import process required original and copies of passport, vehicle document and driving licence. Payment for the temporary import paperwork is made at a bank office across from the Customs window. They require 160 Guatemalan quetzals. They only deal in cash, credit cards could not be used. We had been told by some crossing midweek that an extra copy of the temporary import paperwork, back to the good old photocopying office was needed by police based further up the road. We got a copy, but perhaps because it was Sunday no one was there.

– Anthony

Guatemala – Mexico Ciudad Hidalgo 25 May 2015

Approach the centre of town, there is a car park on the right hand side of the customs building. Enter the building from the car park, watch out for the bicycles coming in from Mexico. The Customs counters are on the right hand side. Cancellation of the Guatemalan temporary import permit takes place there. Immigration is the building on the left hand side as you approach bridge and security checkpoint. We left the motorbikes in the car park and walked to immigration, had the passports stamped and returned to the motorbikes. The car park links directly to the bridge. Police had seen us enter immigration and we were waived through after paying the bridge toll which is collected at the security checkpoint.

On the Mexican side of the river stay to the right and follow the road around 180 degrees to a car park. Immigration is on the right and customs on the left. Complete the Mexican Immigration form. Part of the immigration form will be retained for your departure. Then ride around to one of the Customs gates. They may check your baggage. Temporary vehicle import paperwork will be processed some 80 km up the highway just past Huixtla on road MEX 200 where there is a large Customs facility where all vehicles are checked. Here you will pay a refundable vehicle deposit, US$400 in our case, and some other admin. and tourist fees. You will require usual copies of vehicle registration, passport etc.

– Anthony

Mexico – USA Laredo 9 June 2015

We ended up a little confused by the various signs on the Mexican side pointing to Exit numbers 1,2 & 3 so we ended up in the VIP lane, which alas we could not continue down so we were diverted out of by the removal of a couple segments of the barrier separating us from the regular drivers.
Back on track, we go to a vehicle gate where the temporary vehicle import in cancelled and we are told that the US$ 400 deposit we paid on entry to Mexico will be refunded to tomorrow. The Customs officer did have a problem photographing the VIN numbers on our bikes due to light and location of the number. Try and keep the VIN number clean for easy photographing. We are then directed to park our motorbikes on the left and proceed to a small building also on the left where we process or passport exit. Simple and only took a few minutes to complete.

Over the bridge and into the USA. First is a vehicle queue where our passports are checked. We now need to take our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vehicle approval to get a temporary vehicle import. We are directed to go to the Homeland office further on where we expect to get this completed. We are told by the Customs/Immigration officer that there is no need for any approval as we are bringing the vehicle in as tourists, travelling around and leaving. So the EPA approval was not needed. Passport processed, entry stamp on a separate piece of paper, a first for us. I think this is probably because people driving back and forward would quickly fill up their passports.

– Anthony

USA – Canada Rouses Point / Lacolle 6 September 2015

Easiest border crossing of the trip, no stopping on the USA side, give USA visa waiver cards to the Canadian Immigration officer. Explained we were departing on Air Canada with our motorbikes from Montreal at the of the week. Passports stamped and on our way.

– Anthony

Air Canada shipping from Montreal (YUL) 8 September 2015

We have chosen Air Canada for shipping our motorbikes back to England for two reasons, price and convenience. Air Canada have been offering a special service for motorbikes that does not require crating and seems very competitive on paper for 2015. We have been quoted CAD$ 1650 for shipping both BMW F700GS motorbikes from Montreal to London Heathrow if we fly with Air Canada, which we do, saving CAD $250 per motorcycle. This is by far the cheapest we have been quoted on what is our fourth airfreight exercise on this RTW trip. Dangerous Goods (DG) cost is a separate CAD$160 for both motorbikes as they are on a single airway bill.

We arrive at Air Canada Cargo at 2200 Avenue Reverchon, which is on the north west side of the airport. We are met by helpful and friendly Air Canada Cargo staff. The bikes are weighed and each comes in at 270kg, balanced packing there!

DG services are provided by Air Ocean Logistiks. http://www.airoceanlogistiks.com. We have removed all flammable marked items to leave behind, tar cleaners, solvents and glues as this is the end of the trip. Other items may need to be checked against some DG register, but we decide as this is the end of the trip, we will leave anything that they are unsure of. We even remove our blue tooth headsets as they have batteries. This was not an issue with other shipping we have done, but maybe the DG rules are interpreted slightly differently from place to place. Air Ocean Logistiks only take Canadian dollars cash, CAD $160 per airways bill. Payment by credit card is accepted by Air Canada.

Security check follows, not conducted by Air Canada I must emphasise, which had us very unhappy at the careless repacking that took place of the first pannier. Because we had soft luggage we were able to remove the panniers and tent bag and have them x-rayed for the security check. Ok, paid the bills and were on our way back to our hotel within an hour, note you will need a taxi.

We not sure if this motorcycle shipping service will be repeated in 2016, but we understand that the number of motorbikes shipped had met, if not exceeded, Air Canada’s expectations. Support this service if you want this to continue. Check with Air Canada Cargo website for further details.

– Anthony

Air Canada Cargo Arrival at London Heathrow (LHR) 11 September 2015

Our motorbikes are due to arrive 3 hours before we do at London Heathrow from Montreal on a direct wide-body flight.We travelled on Air Canada via Halifax, so hopefully the motorbikes will be available to us shortly after we have cleared Immigration and Customs. We shipped same day to avoid potential storage fees as we would have arrived 27 hours after the motorbikes if we shipped the day before. Storage charges can apply after 24 hours.

Go to Air Canada Cargo which is located at Shoreham Road East, situated on the SW side of Heathrow, mid-way between Terminals 4 & 5. Take a taxi, cost us £20 to the door, the public transport alternatives appear slow and cumbersome and likely still involve much walking.

Air Canada Cargo were aware of our motorbikes and had alerted a Customs clearance company who handled the process of clearing Customs, which is required for all goods that come as Cargo, even suitcases! This cost an additional £270, we knew we would have to pay Customs clearance fees as we have done at each airport we have shipped the motorbikes to, just not how much. We presume the cost is by airway bill, but we are still waiting for the receipt. Electronic Customs clearance took half an hour in our case. If you have a carnet de passage (Carnet) and want it stamped back into the UK, the Carnet will need to be taken to Customs for processing which will take couple of hours.

Motorbikes delivered to us in the Air Canada Cargo area, we rode them out and a quick repack on our way. Couple of points to note: 1. Be aware that you only have 24 hours free storage, then you are charged at a rate in UK£ per kilo! This can be expensive so make sure your flights and the cargo shipping are co-ordinated. 2. Air Canada Cargo prices on the website are ex Canada only I was advised in London. Each Air Canada Cargo station outside Canada have their own local pricing, you will need to check with your departure point for the correct cost. (information correct as 11 September 2015)

– Anthony

2 comments on “Visas and borders

  1. Any future travellers to these countries will surely be grateful to you for letting them know what to expect, along with addresses and phone numbers. Bravo. xx

    Like

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