We recently shipped our bike from Argentina to the States, and that process was fairly painless, but shipping to Africa has turned out to be a completely other beast. That is not to say that Africa won't be worth all the trouble. I think the moment we take our first picture with our bike and a giraffe standing behind it, all these difficulties will feel a million miles behind us.
But the process has not been easy.
So to help anyone out there who wants to one day overland in Africa with a vehicle brought from home, I'm going to lay out everything I've learned about doing so. If that's not you, the following information may not be of interest, but stay tuned for our next blog post because it will be from South Africa, hopefully with a motorcycle all in one piece!
What is a Carnet de Passage?
Think of it like a passport for your vehicle, and you have to get it from your country of residence's automotive association before you hit the road. And the kicker: you'll have to pay them a several thousand dollar deposit that equals the worth of your vehicle (plus a $980 fee for processing the paperwork). Once you're all done with your Carnet with every border stamp in its proper place, you'll get your deposit back. Fingers crossed.
Though many countries will accept a Carnet, most don't require it anymore. Currently, only some countries in Africa and Asia require a Carnet for vehicle entry, including Egypt, Libya, Iran, India, and Pakistan, though the rules are always changing and becoming more and more lax.
Check out this great website (overlandingassociation.org) for the latest information.
Step 1 - Apply for your Carnet
To get the Carnet, first go to their website and fill out their inquiry form, and they'll guide you through the process from there. Make sure you're on their vehicle passport page, not their freight and goods site which looks similar. If you're from the US and Canada, use this link. Afterwards, you'll have to send them scanned copies of your vehicle registration, your passport, two passport-sized photos of you, two pictures of your vehicle from the front right and rear left, and a signed and completed application form. You'll have to know mileage, weight, dimensions, and all the countries you plan on going to.
Step 2 - Research How You'll Ship Your Vehicle
We had just flown our bike from Argentina to Chicago with relative ease, so we figured that the process would be similar for Africa.
Ha! Not exactly.
If you have a motorcycle, I would still recommend flying instead of shipping to Africa, but the price was way higher to get our bike to South Africa than from South America, about 3 times as much! AirCanada has the best deals for motorcycles flying out of North America, but they don't fly to Sub-Saharan Africa (and be aware that they only fly motorcycles from May 1st to September 30th), and so paying a customs official to transfer the bike in Europe to get it to Cape Town was an extra expense.
Step 3 - Research Cheap Flights for You
Once you have a few good dates in mind for yourself to fly, then you can confirm with your freight forwarder to ship your bike on the same day. Don't book your personal flight before talking with them first because they will tell you which dates work for them and which days have no availability.
Step 4 - Finalize Your Carnet
The actual Carnet is a big yellow form with a packet inside, and every Carnet country you go to must fill out one of these sheets (it's very important you make sure it's exact). They will stamp in your vehicle upon entry and exit, and you must have all your stamps and signatures in order or else there is a chance you will not get your deposit back at the end.
You will also receive two more important documents, the Certificate of Disposition (COD) and the Certificate of Location (COL), and at the end you'll use one of these along with your Carnet to get your deposit back. If you'll be returning to your home country with your vehicle, have the customs officer fill out the COD for you (this is for the US only, I know it's different for other countries). If you won't be coming back home with your vehicle, you'll simply have an official in whichever country you're at fill out the COL instead of the COD, which basically just proves you are no longer in a Carnet country.
Whew, that's complicated! It took us a long time and several phone calls to figure this all out.
Obviously, Carnets are no fun and require a lot of stress and money. But for us and many others out there, the elephants and lions of the serengeti are worth it.
Step 5 - Book your Vehicle Shipment, then your own Flight
Though motorcycles do fly in the cargo area of regular airlines, you don't need to fly on the same plane as your bike, and you don't even need to use the same airlines (AirCanada will give you a discount if you do though). That being said, you need to align your flight to take place just after dropping off your bike and hopefully you'll be at your destination before it arrives, otherwise you will be charged daily storage fees.
Step 6 - Crate it up!
Here were the rules for flying our motorcycle:
- Have no more than a 1/4 tank of gas in it (less is better)
- No tire repair kits of glue or CO2
- Any GPS radio or laptops must be removed from the bike and from helmets
- No aerosol allowed
- No spare gas tank on the bike
- Alarm systems must be turned off and disconnected
To get the bike ready to ship, you will most likely have to take off your windshield, bend in or remove your side mirrors, and disconnect your battery. You can usually leave your helmet and boots in a pannier. Everything will be shrink-wrapped, and only the owner of the motorcycle is allowed into the customs area of the airport (last time, I was forced to wait outside for hours as Tim did everything).
You will pay at the time of shipment, probably via credit card, and then that's it. Cross your fingers and toes and get ready to fly out and meet your bike at its destination!
My next blog post will be from South Africa, and hopefully I'll have some good news about arriving safely and retrieving our motorcycle with no problems. So wish us luck (we're leaving September 9th), and stay tuned for the first part of our adventure in Africa!