As well as mastering the roads, and the very different driving styles of other nations, overland motorcycle travellers need to be pretty adept at mastering the art of border crossing.
One pair of motorcycle adventure riders who know everything there is to know about border crossings are Kevin and Julia Sanders, of leading motorcycle expedition company GlobeBusters, who use Continental adventure tyres on their fleet of BMW bikes.
In the December 2014 issue of RiDE Magazine, Julia helps to guide you through the myriad of things you need to be aware of if you are planning a far flung trip with the bike.
On paper, says Julia, passing from one country to the next should involve just four simple steps.
- Enter yourself at immigration
- Enter your bike at customs
- Upon leaving, get stamped out at immigration
- Get customs to exit your bike
However, when you get outside of the European Union, it can involve much more than that, a real “this is how we do it here” kind of approach, ready to catch you out.
Julia says not to worry about queuing behind the long lines of trucks you often encounter at border crossings, and instead to head straight for the front. As soon as you get off the bike, you are likely to meet plenty of enterprising youths, who are happy to offer their services as a guide, for a price of course. As Julia states:
“Using professional fixers can be a more efficient way of getting through borders. They will charge, and it is a leap of faith handing your documents to them, but if you gain hours and avoid stress, it can be worth it.”
One person who knows how it feels to spend endless hours at a border crossing is the couples son Rhys Lawrey (pictured), who is currently on a record breaking trip of his own right now. Rhys spent hours in the burning sun of Central Asia as he waited to get into Turkmenistan, taking the only available shade, under his panniers.
One thing you will probably have to accept is the need for the odd under-the-table payment, and refusing to play the game often means a somewhat prolonged and more tedious experience for you. Julia suggests that the best way is to stay calm, smile and try to communicate in their language. An offer of a cigarette or a drink will often lead to things running a lot smoother.
Immigration is usually the easy bit, unless, like Julia, you try to enter the USA with an Iranian stamp in your current passport. She suggests that a fresh passport is always a good idea before making your next long overland journey.
Vehicles, however, can be much more difficult and you will need to ensure you have a sufficient number of copies of the relevant documents for both entry and exit. Although not strictly above board, the general rule of thumb is that the further from home you are, the more you can get away with, so often a good colour copy of a V5 document will be enough to satisfy a guard somewhere like Iran. Check that a country does not require a carnet de passage too before traveling.
Before leaving home, Julia advises that you check your documents all match. The chassis number on the V5 needs to match your bike, and the name on the V5 needs to match your passport. Taking a bike that belongs to a friend, or a company vehicle, can often land you in hot water.
A search of your panniers may also be in order to search, but this can be discouraged by keeping your smelly laundry at the very top. After that, bikes are often fumigated to prevent insects and bugs moving from one country to the next, and often to the bemusement of the rider. Be aware, this costs money too..
Once you have been fumigated, a final police check of your documents, and another by the man at the barrier, and you are free…
Follow some of these top tips from Julia to keep things in order, and you might get through quicker than you think.