Travel: the dreaded carnet, do I need one?

Author: Geoff Hill Posted: 27 Aug 2013

Q: The words a biker fears most are:

a)    No fuel for next 400 miles

b)    No road for next 200 miles

c)    No beer for next 100 miles

d)    Where is your carnet, monsieur?

A: Yes, I’d have gone for c) as well, but the truth is d), since carnets cause more friction for adventure bikers than sand in their trousers.

The Carnet de Passage en Douanes, to give it its full and imperious title – well, it is a French invention, after all - is like a passport for vehicles.

Basically, you get it stamped when you ride into a country, then again when you leave to prove you haven’t sold the bike in the meantime, although you’d think the fact that you’re riding it would be proof enough.

However, common sense is not the way bureaucrats work, which is why you have to get one if you’re planning to ride your own bike in:

  • Africa (except for Tunisia and Morocco)
  • Australia and New Zealand
  • The Middle East and Far East
  • South America

If you’re hiring a bike inside one country and don’t plan to cross any borders, you don’t need one.

Opinions differ on whether you actually need one to enter South American countries such as Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. I had one when I rode a Triumph from Chile to Alaska, but it often took a lot of searching at borders to get someone to stamp it, and I know riders who’ve ridden the same route without one.

But better safe than sorry: there’s a huge car park in Egypt full of vehicles impounded at the border without one – including a new Bentley.

The good news is that it’s simpler than it used to be. In the UK, they’re issued by the RAC, here, and download the application form and insurance indemnity form.

The cost?

The actual carnet is £185-£195 depending on how many pages you want, with one page per country you plan to visit up to 25.

The insurance indemnity depends on how valuable your bike is and how risky the country is. For example, to take a £5,000 bike to most African countries, you pay £1,000 plus 6% tax and get £500 back when you return the properly stamped carnet.

You also pay the RAC a deposit of £350, and get all of that back. Which makes me wonder why they want it in the first place.

An International Driving Permit at £8 available here is also recommended, although in all my years of riding, I’ve only ever been asked for it once, in Sri Lanka.

Other useful websites:

Next time: Right, now you’re ready, let’s go adventuring.

LATEST: The Himalayan Motorcycle Experience has just announced an 11-day tour of the best-kept secrets of east Nepal instead of the north or western areas more popular to tourists.

The East Nepal Experience is from $2,900, including bike, accommodation, most meals, mechanic and experienced local guides, but not flights.

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