Sending a motorcycle from the USA to Europe can be anything: It can be an easy and affordable idea, or it can be a hell of bureaucracy and expense, or anything in between. The many possible combinations of shipping methods, personal preferences, timing constraints, associated costs, byzantine rules and regulations, all contribute to make this task difficult, mysterious, and stressful. So… let’s get to it!
First decision: Air or sea
Air shipping the motorcycle is a possibility, with it’s own peculiar challenges and advantages.
It is expensive in comparison with sea shipping. I got a quote recently from Motorcycle Express of $1995 each way. On top of that you have to go on the same flight as your motorcycle, so forget about buying cheap tickets online, you will have to book through a travel agent and pay higher rates.
It is also inconvenient if you are in the South as the USA airlines stopped doing it at all after 2001 due to security concerns. So you can only ship your motorcycle by air to and from Canada (or also from Mexico I presume, but good luck with that).
The upside of air shipping is if you are actually doing a motorcycle tour in which you can’t just interrupt for several weeks while your motorcycle reaches the other side. If that is the case I think air shipping is the only good solution.
Second decision: Roll-on/roll-off, crating, or container
At first I liked the idea of using RO-RO (Roll-on/roll-off) because there are major operators that you can easily find lots of reviews about. Customer service is generally good and I was happy talking to Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics. They operate in several ports around the world, their ships follow a tight and very predictable schedule, and the estimated cost was going to be around half of that of air shipping.
But when it came time to close the deal I called them and was having some difficulty finding an agent in Savannah or Brunswick that would handle a single motorcycle. These guys handle shipping for car manufacturers, major constructions companies, racing teams, etc. Few agents will actually deal with your just one motorcycle and many questions. So I guess what I learned about it is this: The RO-RO shipping company is easy to choose and I liked Wallenius quite a bit, but you must take your time first finding a freight forward agent that will give you the attention you need, especially if this is your first time doing it.
While I was trying to choose such an agent, I came across Juliana Keene over the phone. She is VP of Miami Freight and Shipping, and once I explained what I wanted to do she transferred my case to Axel Wojnar, of Kestrel Liner Agencies. I told him this was my first time shipping a motorcycle overseas and that I would have dozens of questions. He didn’t seem to me intimidated by that and went out of his way to answer all my questions, returned all emails promptly, and offered me a couple of options. Axel is a biker himself, and has done this before on his own trips, plus he works on this business so I guess that makes him the ideal person to help.
As I said that I wanted to send my motorcycle to London the solution would be to crate it and ship from Miami, which would cost around $1200 total. But talking about it with me he told that if I shipped to Rotterdam instead, he could place the motorcycle in a container along with other vehicles and the cost of it would drop significantly.
There are companies that ship vehicles in quantities, old and new, for dealers, shows, race teams, collectors, individuals, adventurers, etc. They accumulate those vehicles in warehouses for a few days, they place them in containers in a process they call “consolidation” and this way your motorcycle enjoys the most affordable system (container). Your vehicle is handled by people that are used to it, those warehouses are loaded with hundreds of them every week.
So if your travel plans allow some flexibility always consider changing the destination so you won’t have to crate the motorcycle (a $300-$400 cost, each way). The crate is also a pain in the ass because you can’t take the bike out of the crate at the port and leave it behind. You would have to get the entire crate delivered at someone’s home or a bike shop or whatever, dismantle the crate, dispose of it, or store it for the trip back. In my case I am planning to leave Europe from the South, probably Spain, so crating would be twice the pain!
To be more comfortable with the arrival dates and because I keep hearing these horror stories about cargo being late, I decided to send the motorcycle a full month before I am to arrive in Europe. I may end up paying some storage fees on the other side, and the bike will be dusty, but that is better than waiting there while the bike is still in the ocean somewhere. They say the transit is about 16 days, plus a few days in the port here, some days in the port there, customs clearance, plus a snafu margin, I would estimate the bike will arrive there 4 or 5 days before I do, unless something goes wrong…
Prepare the motorcycle for shipping
If your motorcycle has hard saddlebags that can be locked, you can put some stuff in them. It will be less stuff to carry with you on the airplane and pay excess baggage fees. Just make sure you compile a precise list of everything you are included, have them check the list with you at the warehouse, and keep a copy of it.
You must clean the motorcycle very well. I spent two afternoons detailing it.
Finally, before bring the motorcycle for shipping, make sure you leave very little gas in the tank. On the other side you can get out of the port and head to the nearest gas station to refuel.
You need the title in your name, without any liens on it.
And you need your passport.
You need an address at the country of arrival. I am using the address of my CouchSurfing host there, but I guess you can use your hotel address, or a friend’s address.
Tracking your shipment:
It is not like FedEx or UPS, which would give you a tracking number and you can follow your cargo step by step. In this case you will have to be patient and not stress about it. The freight forward agent will probably be able to tell you the name of the ship where your motorcycle end up and in this case you can locate the ship in real time using this web site. Once it arrives on the other side you can presume it will be unloaded in 24 hours or less because ports do it as fast as possible, and your agent on that port will be able to keep you informed about how and when to get your motorcycle.
In the American side:
$ 600 for the shipping
$ 50 for insurance (1.2% of the value of the vehicle plus the shipping cost plus 10%)
On the receiving side:
$488 for unloading the bike from container
$107 for handling at destination
$72 for customs clearence
$25 for administration fees
Grand total: $1342
All values are in US dollars.
Would I do it again?
Definitely yes. I will do it again. However, there were some delays and a little bit of stress associated with it. My recommendation would be to ship the bike 6 full weeks before your arrival date. Another recommendation is to remind the agent at the receiving side to prepare the papers having in mind that you are a tourist in transit and not importing the bike. If they send it wrong you will be billed with import taxes + VAT, which doesn’t make any sense. If later you decide to sell the bike in Europe (hint, hint) you or the buyer can pay the taxes and fees at that time.