So you’ve decided that it’s a great idea to ship your motorbike from northern Australia to South-East Asia and ride it around like a crazy, internationally motorcycling homeless person. First, I commend you on having made good life choices. Now, here’s how you do it. It’s really easy.
First, you need a carnet de passages en douane – we’ll just call it a CPD for short. It’s a little yellow booklet that will allow you to temporarily import the bike into a bunch of countries without paying import duties, as well as clearing the way for you to reimport the bike into Australia. Timor Leste doesn’t technically require a CPD but without one, you might have to find another way to convince Timorese Customs that you don’t need to pay import duty; Indonesia does require a CPD and I’m guessing that’s where you’re going next. So, if you don’t already have one, get in touch with the AAA and follow their instructions. It’s pretty standard paperwork, lots of photocopying, then you pay them their money and they’ll issue you a CPD. Standard processing time is 10 days but give them time to mail it from Canberra.
Second, you need to book your bike on a boat. There’s only one cargo ferry running out of Darwin to Timor: it’s operated by ANL who have two ships plying a route from Darwin to Dili to Singapore and back to Darwin again. There’s supposed to be about 10 days between voyages, but delays can be weeks long if you’re unlucky. Now is a good time to start practicing your zen-like patience; if you’re the kind of person who expects everyone to show up on time and bureaucratic procedures to make sense, you’re going to be a very angry person in South East Asia. So let go of that now.
You can either book your bike onto the boat by contacting ANL directly for grudging but functional service, or shipping agents Bollore for more cheerful service. Your bike will go on the same boat but your experience will differ in a couple of ways depending on whether you go ANL or Bollore.
With ANL, you can almost always get your bike on the next ship that’s going; Bollore might want you to wait until they can fill a shipping container with other bits and pieces. With ANL, they’ll measure your bike’s dimensions and weight precisely, and charge you accordingly; word is that Bollore can sometimes be a little more relaxed about dimensions (anecdotally, they might round a loaded DR650 down to two cubic metres) and are often a little cheaper overall. If you ship with ANL, all charges will be included on the invoice they send you. With Bollore, you will have the option to pay the Dili port charges on collection from SDV Logistics in Dili, so make sure you ask what those charges are going to be: depending on how the shipping container is packed, you could be up for anything from $70 to $250 USD.
You can choose to ship your bike uncrated, crated, or even hire your own shipping container if the fancy takes you. Charges obviously vary accordingly; shipping a large bike uncrated, with gear, is going to set you back somewhere between $900 and $1200 AUD.
Once you’ve hooked it all up with either ANL or Bollore, you need to strap your gear to your bike and deliver it to the loading dock before the cut off date for the relevant voyage. You don’t need to do anything much to prepare your bike for shipment; just make sure the fuel tank is pretty much empty when you get to the depot. Some will say that you need to drain the fuel tank, but in practice the bloke at the depot just asked me if the fuel was ‘below 10%’. Disconnect your battery; retain your key. Get the nice bloke at the loading dock to take a photo of you looking really sweaty with your motorbike.
Once the bike’s been weighed and processed, you’ll get a shipping confirmation (and a bill) from the shipping agents. Take the confirmation down to the Australian customs office in downtown Darwin; they’ll fill in and stamp the export confirmation page in your CPD.
Now go home and wait for word that your bike has actually made it to Dili and is about to be unloaded. This may take a while, and I hear that sitting around in Dili waiting three weeks for your bike while your 30 day visa runs out is not as much fun as it sounds. On the other hand, if you get lucky like me, your bike could be ready for collection just six days after you dropped off at the docks.
Now book a flight to Dili, get on it, get off it. Make sure you have US$30 in cash for your visa on arrival, because there’s no ATM.
Retrieving Your Bike From Customs
Now take your CPD down to Dili port; just wander in the gate past the guard house where nobody’s guarding anything. To the right you’ll see a little demountable opposite a building with a ticket window, and that’s where your Customs officials will be found. Lunch will be observed for several hours during the middle of the day, so manage your expectations. Get your CPD stamped and signed via sign language, unless your Tetum is better than mine. Now go to either SDV Logistics (near the port) or the ANL depot (on the other side of Dili, $2 USD taxi ride) and give your paperwork to the main office and then another onsite customs guy. Again, manage your expectations: if the onsite customs guy or the guy with the key to the shipping container have gone home early – or maybe they just never came back from lunch – then you’ll have to come back tomorrow. But eventually the right people will show up and they’ll unlock the shipping container and there will be your overladen moto in all its overlanding glory!
Hook up the battery, ride away into the beautiful symphony that is Dili traffic. Try not to die.
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Disclaimer: This summary is based on my own experience shipping my bike from Darwin to Dili in September 2017, as well as a lot of online and pub-induced conversations with a bunch of people who’ve done the same thing. Experiences vary and things change over time.
Update: As of August 2022 this cargo ferry is reportedly still running, with costs having gone up to $1600 AUD.