It will be easy right? I can ride my bike down to Cape Town South Africa and export it from there to South America? The two are close enough. How hard can it be? Not as easy as we thought!
Recently we decided to export our two BMW motorcycles from South Africa to Buenos Aires Argentina to start the trip of a lifetime. After months of planning this process never became any less confusing or daunting. This is what I learned:
- Do plenty of research – stating the obvious, but it can take a long time and you don’t want to add that into the total time you spend waiting to transport. I found that most of what is out there is written in general and often doesn’t apply to South Africa – some good advice can be found on Horizons Unlimited.
- Decide how you will be transporting the bikes
- By plane is faster, but more expensive and as of January 2014 there are no more flights flying directly to Buenos Aires from South Africa. However, the costs in Buenos Aires are much less if you send by air. All flights fly through Brazil first.
- By Ship can take anything from 14 days to 3 months from SA. It is the cheaper option, but you run the risk of waiting a long time for your bike in Argentina and the port costs in Buenos Aires are hugely expensive. This brings the total cost up to almost the equivalent of a flight.
- The bikes must be transported in separate crates with separate paperwork. This is because customs in Argentina will not recognise two bikes in one crate without adding exponentially to your costs.
- Get the dimensions of your cargo – if you will be crating get the crate dimensions and bike weight- you will need these for the quotes. There are innumerable crating companies in SA, but you can also get crates from the motorcycle dealers ( the ones their bikes were delivered in). Note that some dealers charge for the crates, and unless you are desperate, try somewhere else, as most dealers will give them away for free. Let the dealer know ahead of time, as they usually dispose of the crates same day as delivery.
- Find a freight agent – In South Africa you are not allowed to book your cargo/dangerous goods directly onto a flight or ship. You will need to do this through a freight/forwarding company. There are plenty and most are very helpfull, however their quotes can vary significantly. So Google as many as you can and ask them all for a quote. They ranged from R85 000 (about $8000) to R12 000 (shipping over 3 months)
- Melanie van der Westhuizen at Rollex – I highly recommend. The quote was one of the best we received for airfreight. email@example.com / +27 (011) 571 9722
- Vino Ruthman at Aviocean, Natal – was exceptionally helpful and got us the best quote. firstname.lastname@example.org / +27 (031) 465 5906
- African Overlanders – Duncan – highly recommended with the most experience and great advice. He also has the right connections in Buenos Aires. You can camp on his grounds in Cape Town while sorting out your freight. He can get you great prices on shipping if there are enough bikes/cars to transport across. www.africanoverlanders.com /email@example.com
- Pick your quote and a date for freight
- Check that all your engine numbers, VIN numbers, and license plates match the numbers on the ownership documents.
- Get police clearance in South Africa – I am not sure about imported bikes, but local bikes need to be microdotted and cleared by the police. The process can take a whole day and is only done by a few police stations. In Johannesburg the police station is situated in Langlaagte. The clearance happens from 7am to 11 am weekdays, and the microdotting must be done prior. There is a dealer that does the dotting from 6am across the street from the police station.
- Remember to take:
- Microdotting certificate
- Ownership documents
- 3 copies of all of the above
- (A useful website: http://www.policeclearance.co.za/vehicleexportclearance.html )
- Remember to take:
- Ensure you know how you will be getting the bikes and crates to their destinations. Some NB info to ask:
- To what address must the bikes be delivered
- Can we crate them there (at the warehouse) or do they need to be pre-crated
- Let them know if you will be adding luggage/panniers/tyres to the crate
- Ensure you emphasize the need for a Master Airway Bills (MAWB) for EACH bike in the name of the owners- to avoid complications in Buenos Aires
- How many days prior to flight do they need to be delivered to the freighting company
- What modifications need to be done to the bikes? Most will require the fuel tank to be drained and battery disconnected with taped up terminals – no one generally worries about the oil, just keep it hush hush.
- Will the company handle all the paperwork for you for customs clearance, and what exactly do they need (usually your owner registration papers and passport)
- Will they provide insurance on the value of the bikes for the trip?
- Book your flights or your own transport for directly after the bikes have left – it is generally good advice not to leave the country before your bike does, but also remember that the storage costs in Buenos Aires are expensive for each day the bikes wait for you.
- Contact the freight company in Buenos Aires or other port of arrival – find out what paperwork they need (usually the MAWB, ownership documents and passport copies). Your bike can also not leave the port without 3rd party insurance, so find out if your agent can organise it for you.
- For all transport into Buenos Aires I highly recommend: Dakarmotos: Javier and Sandra. They run a small workshop from their home in Buenos Aires and are the local experts on motorcycle importation. They know the important people in customs, and what needs to be done at what time. They will also organise your insurance, and track the bikes until their arrival in BA. The costs for air importation is less than that for shipping, This is because the shipping consists of 3 days of customs clearance, whereas the airfreight can be cleared in one day. You can also sleep on their premises for a small fee.
- Their details: firstname.lastname@example.org / +54 11 4730 0586 / www.dakarmotos.com
- Pack all your crap and get the hell on the road!
Some extra advice:
- Consider importing your bikes to Montevideo, Uruguy. There is tonnes of bureaucracy and corruption with importation to Brazil or Argentina, and many people are now taking the Montevideo option. I don’t have connections to recommend there unfortunately.
- Relax…the process will take a few days/weeks, there are usually unforeseen strikes, important cargo which takes precedence over your bike, or myriad other customs problems.
- It is advised that you own the motorcycle, but if not ensure that you get a letter from the owner with permission for you to export the bike.
- Make copies off all your documents and highlight the VIN numbers on the ownership documents.
- There has been advice to make realistic copies of your drivers licence – many cops in South America will confiscate your drivers and you will have to pay a bribe to get it back.
- We have loaded copies of everything onto Dropbox, so we can access our vital info from anywhere in the world and don’t have to bug family.
- Leave copies of your ID with a family member and sign written permission for them to do things such as update your license, renew your drivers etc. Therefore if you loose any of these there is a family member who can legally get you a new one.
- It is also good advice to give a family member you trust power of attorney – so banking etc can be done when you are not able.
Paperwork generally required:
- Ownership documents on the vehicles in your own name or with a letter from the owner
- Police clearance certificate – for which you will need a microdotting certificate
- MAWB in the name of the owner for each bike
- International drivers
- Drivers license
- Vaccination certificate for Yellow fever (we will write a post later on vaccines)
- Up-to-date motor-vehicle license (Paste the original under the motorcycle seat and put a copy into the disc holder. This is because these holders regularly fall off, and then you won’t loose the original.)
Dangerous Goods vs non-dangerous goods
Most of the time motorcycles are considered dangerous goods, and the costs of transporting them triples just on that fact. This is due to fuel, electrical systems and batteries that may spark. For airfreight, almost all companies send them as dangerous goods. We have experience with one company that sent them as non-dangerous goods for a lower price, but this required certificates from the motorcycle dealer certifying that the fuel had been drained, the engine flushed and the batteries disconnected at no risk of sparking. It is therefore possible, but has to be OK’d by the airline. Shipping is cheaper because often the bikes can be sent as non-dangerous goods, however this is currently being reviewed and many policies are changing.
I hope this post will assist adventurers using this popular route and make the process a little less confusing. Good luck and travel safe!