How To Ship Your Motorcycle to Foreign Destinations

Two forms of shipping are common for motorcycle travel: ocean and air.

 Ocean Shipping

Ocean shipping is done by placing the bike into a freight container. If traveling with a group, the bikes are consolidated at a port location and loaded together into a freight container. If you are traveling alone, the bike is given to a freight consolidator/forwarder, who adds your bike to a freight container headed to  your destination.

Ocean freight is slower and cheaper than air freight, and notably less reliable. It has been my direct experience and the experience of other riders that ocean freight is often at least two weeks late, and sometimes up to four weeks later than the initial promised date. In addition, motorcycle tour operators are likely to choose the lowest cost service possible in order to maximize their profit margins. By choosing the cheapest service they ensure that the freight container with your bike inside is at the bottom of the priority list for the shipping company. If you've ever visited a port and seen tens of thousands of freight containers slowly rusting away waiting for shipment, this is not an encouraging prospect.

If cost is the major factor and it doesn’t matter if it takes two months for your bike to get there and two months for it to get home (our experience on one tour), then ocean shipping may be your best choice.

If you ship by ocean, seek out a shipping company that offers 24/7 online container tracking and guaranteed delivery with late delivery penalties (they do exist, even though motorcycle tour operators apparently haven't discovered that fact yet). Avoid tour operators who ship by ocean and breezily assure you that “the bikes will be there, no problem.”  


Air Freight

Air freight is done by placing your bike into a custom fabricated crate (in the case of bikes shipping from the U.S.) (See the How To Prepare Your Bike section for details on crating.) or placing the bike on a special roll on/roll off pallet (in the case of bikes shipping on Lufthansa outside the U.S.).

Air freight is delivery-date reliable and comparatively much more expensive than ocean shipping.

If you are on a tight schedule and/or want to be assured that your bike will be there when your “trip of a lifetime” tour is scheduled to start, then air freight is the best choice.

Although it is technically possible to contract directly with the airlines for the air freight service, it is much more likely you will have a less daunting experience if you use a freight forwarder / customs broker company that specializes in shipping by air and getting things through the customs process both into your destination country and back into the U.S. After many years of international shipping for business, I would never attempt to ship across borders without retaining a customs broker. In my experience, they are the best money you will ever spend.



If you are air freighting your bike to Europe, there are great deals available. There is so much motorcycle shipping between American and Europe that volume competition exists, and you can ship your bike from the U.S. to a major European destination for as little as $1,100 (as of Spring 2004).

For more exotic destinations, you’ll be relegated to standard hazardous air cargo rates. For a rough estimate of what it would cost to ship your bike, find out the cost for you to travel on a full fare (no restrictions, Y class) round trip coach ticket to your destination on a major U.S. airline. That cost will usually be in the general range of what air freighting the bike will cost to the same destination.

As an example, the cost to ship our BMW R1150GS Adventure round trip from Los Angeles (LAX) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST) was $5,368.95 USD. A full fare (Y class) coach ticket on United for that round trip ranges from ~$3k to $6k depending on the schedule and the number of flight legs. Note that without the cost of the re-usable crate the airfreight bill would have been about $4,800.

 The price to ship the bike included:

Costs for air freighting a motorcycle is determined by a combination of the weight and the dimensions, with the total volume of the crate being a large factor in the cost.

 Final configuration, dimensions and weights for our bike and crate were:


2004 BMW R1150GS (for options and configuration see this list )

Crate dimensions:






















Crate volume:


cubic meters


cubic feet







 Note: We shipped the locked pannier boxes on the bike stuffed with our riding gear and what we usually carry in the bottoms of them, i.e. tubes, tire irons, spare bolts, nuts & washers, etc. I remove the windshield, backrest and rear cargo rack and strap them to the seat. The mirrors are removed and layered in with our riding gear in the pannier boxes.


Shipment Duration

On the way to IST the bike was delayed one day in Frankfurt due to its size and available space on the wide body airfreight aircraft Lufthansa flies on the FRA/IST route.

On the return leg the bike took two days to clear U.S. customs at LAX. 

I delivered the bike to the crate fabricator’s shop in Los Angeles about two weeks before I picked it up in Istanbul. I delivered the bike to the export dock in Istanbul one week before it was available for pickup at LAX. It could have been available in LAX in as few as four days, but we scheduled a delay in IST to allow a direct connection in Frankfurt vs. having to be trucked from Cologne to Frankfurt due to Lufthansa’s flight patterns.

Our air freight / customs brokerage company was:

Murat Ayhan


Istanbul Dünya Ticaret Merkezi, IDTM

A2 Blok  Kat 6  No.227 Yesilköy

34149  Istanbul, Turkey

+90 (212) 465 63 06 voice

+90 (212) 465 63 11 fax


Murat is a motorcyclist and provides outstanding professional service. His company is highly recommended.

Their LAX agent was Norman Krieger, Inc. (bearable, but not highly recommended)


Air Freight Checklist:

If you ship by air freight:



If you have questions or comments please contact Douglas Hackney


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