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Buying a Motorcycle Abroad and Crossing Borders Tips

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The following question is for VJT’s motorcycle travel correspondent, Bob L, and comes from a couple of readers who are planning a motorcycle trip in South America.


My friend and I just graduated college and are planning a 4 month motorcycle trip to South America.  We have some limited experience on motorcycles and have done a one week moto-trip in Vietnam.We are worried about the legal issues of getting the bikes across borders.  Our plan is to buy the bikes down in South America in maybe Chile or Ecuador and then sell them back at the end of the trip.  We have heard and read of a lot of problems of cross-border travel and was wondering if you had any advice about the best country to buy motorcycles.  We’re trying to go through Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay (we are willing to start in any of these countries).

Any advice or pointers you could give us about purchase location, documentation issues, or border crossings would be much appreciated.

Bob’s response:

I do not have direct experience in the sort of travelling you intend.

The closest I have come to this was a bike I bought in Argentina.  I registered the bike in my home country, as it is possible where I live to do this without showing the bike to anyone. There were some documents that were unavailable for the bike due to odd laws in my state, such as the Title of Ownership. These I made myself. Frankly, the counterfit documents looked better than the real thing.

There was also some illegality due to the bike having been in Argentina too long, and not listed under my name and no entry documents. When I picked up the bike, I immediately crossed into Uruguay, bluffing my way out of Argentina.  Once there, I was perfectly legal and could then come back into Argentina the same day (through another border crossing). At that point I could have just continued on but ended up just staying in Argentina and a bit of Chile. This is getting harder and harder to do as most borders now have computers, and the penalty for having a vehicle too long in the country is severe. I would not try this today in Argentina.

It is best to do things legally. Trying to find out what IS legal is difficult as the rules change and what works for one person may not work for another. Heck, I got conflicting information on what I could do in my home state. Plus, there are a lot of people that consider themselves experts, who may not really know anything, so be careful.

If you are just sticking to South America, you should not have to worry about getting a Carnet, but I would confirm this as things may have changed. I have heard a few stories of people that did the exchange in between borders. The owner can sell you the bike, providing you with whatever documents you need to register in your home country (not always possible). Then, you meet the owner and get on the back of the bike at a border. After leaving the first country using the previous owners paperwork and licence plate, you now use your papers and plate showing that you are the owner. Everything is now legal. Of course, it is best if you find a border where each country’s buildings are not within hearing distance of one another. Some borders the two countries offices are actually next to each other. Again, I have never done this, and finding an owner that is willing to do this could be tricky. If the bike was on record in the second country under the other owners name in the past there is a chance that there could be complications, but I would be surprised if this happened.

When I was in Argentina, I was told that if I bought a bike that was registered in Argentina, that I would have to wait a year before I could drive it out of the country without paying some kind of tax. I really don’t know if this was true or not. The Fog of Travel.

Each country has rules and procedures for entering with a vehicle. You may be required to get insurance from special insurance agents.   These may not be open at the same time as the borders. You may need inspections. You may be able to get multiple entry paperwork, or not. Do your research and double check the facts before you actually leave. Have multiple copies of your documents and passport photo’s and such as getting them at the border can be a pain and costly. They may not always accept your copies, but it may save you a lot of time and a small bit of money.

A couple of good sources of info are:

There was a Honda Pan European Bike, which is the same as my ST1300 at home. This is a BIG bike for this area.

Bob L has taken long distance motorcycle trips through Central and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and across the USA and Canada more times than I assume he cares to remember. To ask Bob a motorcycle travel question that will be answered here on this site, fill out the form on Ask Motorcycle Travel Questions.

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Filed under: Argentina, Motorcycle Travel, South America

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