Did you ever think about buying a motorbike in India? And riding it across to South East Asia? But you are struggling to find the information that you need, to embark on such an epic adventure?
I have been there. I’ve spend countless hours on the internet, trying to figure out what kind of paperworks I needed and how to get around to get them. To spare you these precious hours, I will tell you exactly what you need to know (and do).
The below requirement lists may look daunting at first, and I admit: IT IS NOT EASY! But the important thing is: it can be done. So let’s get started.
Buying an Indian motorbike
Your grand motorcycle adventure can only really kick off once you’ve got the bike, right? I’ve met quite a few travellers who were pondering whether to go for a new or second-hand motorbike. Let me lay out the pro’s and cons for you.
The most important advantage of buying a second-hand motorbike is that it’s fast. You can literally go to a shop and get one. It’s faster than buying a pack of cookies at the local convenience store.
Disadvantages: you’ll need to haggle and know the market price OR -especially as a foreigner- you are going to pay too much. An obvious disadvantage of buying any second-hand bike is that you don’t know the history. And if you aren’t a mechanic yourself, you run the risk of buying a complete wreck!
So have it checked with a (trusted) mechanic before you buy anything.
When you buy a new motorbike in India, keep in mind that this process takes time. This is probably the biggest disadvantage of buying a new motorcycle. Getting the Registration Card (RC-card) may take up to 60 days. Mine took about a month, including 10 wasted days of laying around at a post office. All forgotten.
To me, the advantages outnumber the time-issue. The price is fixed and catalogued so you can’t be scammed buying the bike. You are sure everything is brand-new and it won’t fall apart (just yet). My new Royal Enfield Himalayan came with a 24 months warranty or 30,000 km - whichever comes first. Additionally, it came with 4 free services, so up until 9000 kilometers I don’t have to pay the man hours during the services.
Royal Enfield or ?
Besides deciding on new or second-hand, you’ll have to figure out what kind of bike you want. At this moment, Royal Enfield is still king of the motorcycle industry in India. They control the main market and there are workshops and spare parts all over the country. The Bullet is by far the most popular bike and the easiest model to get fixed or find spare parts for.
The Himalayan, which I bought, is a bit trickier and spare parts are more difficult to get in remote parts. So bring them with you! In November 2018, the Jawa was launched in India. So far, it looks like it will become very big in India and a large competitor for Royal Enfield. But until they’ve really conquered the market, Royal Enfield is your safest bet for now.
Registration of the motorbike
When you buy an Indian motorbike as a foreigner, keep in mind that the motorbike cannot be registered in your own name. This means that the person you’ll buy the bike from, needs to be willing to have the bike registered in his/her name. What you should do next is arrange a notarised document which states that you are in fact the owner of the vehicle and responsible for the vehicle. For an example of such document, click here.
I heard of some people that managed to find a way around this and got their bikes registered in their own name. I don’t know how they did it and assume it is not entirely legal.
Note that you will have to arrange an insurance for the motorbike before you can start riding. The Royal Enfield shop can help you with that as they have a Royal Enfield Insurance Program. I got my motorbike insured through this program with Aditya Birla Insurance Brokers Limited for one year.
There is quite a long list of countries which require a Carnet-de-Passage to pass with your vehicle. On the India-Myanmar-Thailand-Malaysia stretch, my Carnet got stamped in Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. So yes, each country on this stretch!
A Carnet-de-Passage for an Indian vehicle needs to be arranged via the WIAA (West Indian Automotive Authority). They are based in Mumbai, but I actually met up with the chairman twice when he visited Delhi to give him the paperworks and money. Read more about how that went here.
Documents required for applying for an Indian Carnet-de-Passage
1. Application letter for Carnet with total detail of travelling - see example.
2. Two next of kin contacts
3. Driving Licence copy of applicant.
4. Registration copy of Vehicle Owner.
5. Passport scan colour copy of Carnet applicant.
6. Vehicle Photographs. (Left, Right, Front & Back)
7. Alternative photo id proof of applicant.
8. 2 passport size photo's.
9. Valid Insurance copy of the vehicle.
10. Membership of WIAA. - (Rs. 2065/- inclusive all taxes) - apply online.
11. A list of spare parts/tools and their value.
12. If vehicle is registered on some other name then NOC letter required on Letter head with respective photo id Proof and self attested documents (this is the affidavit - see example)
Costs of Carnet-de-Passage
The fee to get the Carnet-de-Passage is a steep 1 lakh rupees (100,000 rupees which amounts to about USD 1400). On top of that, you need to deposit a large sum of money as a security deposit. This amount depends on the value of your bike, but in my case, it was 200,000 rupees (!). This money will be returned to you once you come back into India with the vehicle.
The Carnet is valid for 1 year, so if you are not planning to return it back to India within that time, you’ll need to extend it (which can be done through the WIAA), or you’ll lose your deposit.
Important: Make sure that they put both the name of the ‘official’ owner (on who’s name the bike is registered) as well as your own name on the Carnet. That will avoid a lot of difficult questions at border crossings (or even being denied at the border. I understood from other travellers that they were denied at the Egypt border because their Carnet was not in their name).
I received a Carnet-de-Passage with 10 pages. This means I can enter 10 countries where the Carnet is required. I quickly started to regret this limited number of pages when my travel plans expanded. Don’t make the same mistake and ask for 20 pages. Just in case your trip is turning out to be a bit bigger than you originally thought!
Arrangements to cross Myanmar
It is currently not allowed to drive your own vehicle through Myanmar independently. You are required an escort by a guide and government official. To reduce the incredibly high cost of such an operation, it’s best to join a group and share the costs.
I have been in contact with two agencies who can arrange the crossing through Myanmar: Asia Senses Travel and Osuga Myanmar Travels. Both companies are equally reliable, but I went with Osuga Myanmar Travels because timing wise it was a better match with my planning. I can highly recommend going with this agent as everything was arranged perfectly.
Generally speaking, the agent form groups doing the crossing 1-2 times per month, so make sure you’ll make the contact with Osuga well in advance. They need to start making arrangements for your permit 2 weeks in advance so don’t leave this to the very last moment.
To arrange your permit for the crossing, you need to supply to the travel agent (Osuga in my case) scanned copies of the following documents:
International Driving License
Photos of the four sides of your vehicle
2 Photos of you traveling with your vehicle
List of the countries that you have been and the ones you will visit
Costs of crossing Myanmar
The costs of crossing through Myanmar depends on the number of people joining the group and the number of days in which the crossing takes place. Their price list of 2018 can be downloaded here. To give you a rough idea - crossing Myanmar in 6 days with a group of 9 people costs 510 USD per person.
Included in this price are:
5 nights accommodation at hotels and breakfast;
Escort English speaking guide & driver
Pilot car, liaison officer from the Ministry of Hotels & Tourism
Permission documents and permission fees (as per the requirements mentioned in previous paragraph)
Border Pass Process Fees
SIM cards with internet
Road fees (Toll gate fees)
Excluded in this price are:
Meals (lunch + dinner)
Personal Travel Insurance
Food in Myanmar is very cheap, so you are not likely to spend more than 100 USD for the 6 days crossing. That means that your total cost for crossing Myanmar in a group this size is about 600 USD, amounting to 100 UDS per day. It is not cheap (and definitely above my budget) but won’t break the bank either.
You can opt to get the visa for Myanmar at an embassy (either in your own country or in India) or arrange it online. Since I was in Delhi, I chose to go via the embassy - but the online application is a bit easier.
Embassy in Delhi
The visa procedure in Delhi is relatively fast. You can drop your passport and the below documents at the Myanmar Embassy and you can pick it up the next working day.
Fill in the application form (download it here)
Write a cover letter (download example here)
1 passport sized photograph
Pay the visa fee (amount depends on nationality - it will be around 2000-3000 rupees) by bank deposit.
Hotel reservation confirmation of first night in Myanmar.
Your visa will be ready in your passport the next working day and is valid for 28 days. You’ll have to enter and leave the country within 3 months of issue of the visa.
You can also apply online for the visa.
When asked for a hotel address, you can use the following: Hotel Majesty, No. 8/6, Bogyoke Road, Thazin, Quarter, Kale, Myanmar.
Select the Tamu land border crossing.
Fill in the details of the travel agency you are using (by the time you are going through this process, you should be talking to Osuga already, and they can advise you about how to do the online application).
Border crossing India - Myanmar
The border crossing at Moreh-Tamu with your own vehicle is as follows:
India side of border
Riding out of Moreh, you will pass the last police checkpoint. The officers here want to see your passport and know some details about your trip. They will write down where you’ve been in India and where you are heading to in their logbook. After that, you’ll ride to the customs & immigration office which is just a few hundred meters uphill from the India-Myanmar friendship bridge.
First you’ll pass through immigration, where they will give you an exit-stamp in your passport. Behind the immigration desk you will find the customs desk. If you are riding a foreign bike, you’ll have to get your Carnet-de-Passage stamped. When you are riding an Indian motorbike, then this is obviously not the case and you can skip this desk.
They will do a very brief visual check of the motorbike and then you are ready to cross the bridge into Myanmar!
Myanmar side of border
On the Myanmar side, the guide will be waiting for you. There is a small immigration office with friendly officers who will quickly stamp you into Myanmar (remember that you need the visa in advance, either already in your passport or as e-visa).
A few hundred meters down the road, you’ll find the customs office of Myanmar on the left side of the road and here they will stamp your Carnet-de-Passage and provide you with temporary licenses for your vehicle. The licenses are A4 format, but you won’t have to carry them on the bike. The agency will keep them for you.
Osaga travels handed out local SIM-cards with 1GB internet which worked very well across the entire route through Myanmar. They can also help you to change your Indian money into Myanmar kyat here or get cash out of the ATM.
Riding through Myanmar
I joined a group doing the crossing through Myanmar in 6 days. If you want to see more of the country, I would suggest to try and find a group which is doing a longer crossing. Doing it in 6 days means that you’ll ride every day and some days are very long (9-10 hours of riding).
The official rules state that the guide has to ride in front and the motorcyclists have to follow in a group behind the car. How Osuga arranged it worked much better in my opinion. The guide was riding behind the last rider, so in case of any troubles, the guide would always be behind you. Using the sim-cards with internet that were handed out at the first day, each rider was sending his/her live location to the Whatsapp group so the guide could make sure you weren’t taking a wrong turn.
Every morning the location of the hotel you had to reach in the evening was shared in the Whatsapp group. Using your own navigation system, you could then ride independently to that location. This allowed everyone to ride on their own pace and stop for food/photos/rest whenever was convenient.
Read more about my experiences of crossing through Myanmar by motorbike - here.
Border crossing Myanmar - Thailand
Officially speaking, Thailand has the same rule as Myanmar: you can only cross the country with an escort. This is the case when you try and enter Thailand in any of the borders in Southern Myanmar. But, for now, it is possible to cross into Thailand without having a escort!
The border crossing where this is possible is the Tachileik - Mae Sae border. There have been a few groups of riders who’ve successfully passed here now. The officials are still inexperienced with the Carnet-de-Passage and it’s a very chaotic border crossing, but in general, they are friendly and will let you pass.
However, it is probably a matter of time before this border will also be ‘closed’ for independent travellers. If you have updated information about it, please let me know in the comments below. But until that happens, it is possible! So enquire with Osaga to check whether you can still do it.
Border crossing process Myanmar side
Park your bike on the Myanmar side of the bridge and first go to the customs office. They will sign and stamp your Carnet. After that, proceed to the immigration office on the opposite side of the road and get your Myanmar exit-stamp in your passport. The entire process only takes about 15 minutes.
Border crossing process Thailand side
On the Thai side of the border, things are a bit more complicated and definitely more chaotic. Here’s what you need to do:
Fill in the Entry card (the exit part of this card will be stapled inside your passport)
Fill in 2 copies of a form describing your trip (officers will provide it to you)
Go through the immigration and get your entry-stamp in your passport. Europeans get visa-exempt stay in Thailand for 30 days so no need to arrange anything upfront.
Across the street of the immigration office, there is a copy-shop, where you will need to make 1 copy of:
Your Thailand entry-stamp in your passport
Your motorbike registration card (or papers)
With these papers, you go to the customs office and hand-over these three copies together with your passport and the Carnet.
Wait until they’ve processed your papers.
An officer will check your chassis and engine numbers with your registration papers.
You’ll receive your stamped Carnet & passport back. Welcome to Thailand!
Important: They give you a 30-day limit on your Carnet stamp, so you’ll need to exit Thailand with your vehicle within 30 days or have it extended.
Riding through Thailand
Riding through Thailand by motorbike (independently!) is a fantastic experience. The main roads are of the wide, perfect tarmac type, but there are plenty opportunities to go offroad too if you want to! Read more about off-roading in Thailand - here.
Make sure you always have your international driving license at hand. Especially the police in Chiang Mai are known to check foreigners for your international license. I was doing a day-ride around Chiang Mai and left mine in the hotel, which resulted in a fine of 300 Baht (USD 9,50).
But other than that, despite the many police check points I saw along the way, I didn’t get stopped anywhere else.
Keep in mind that the motorway leading up to Bangkok is prohibited for motorcyclists. I was following my navigation system and ended up riding this road (obviously). I passed two toll gates where the people panicked a little bit when they saw me coming by motorbike but they let me through anyway without any repercussion. From what I’ve heard, you’lll not be the first foreigner motorcyclist accidentally riding on the motorway and you surely won’t be the last!
Border crossing Thailand - Malaysia
I took the border crossing at Sa Dao (Thailand) - Kedah (Malaysia). The reason for this was that I had filled this border crossing on one of the forms when I entered Thailand. According to the border official at the Myanmar - Thailand border, I had now obliged myself to actually use this border. I had done no prior research on which border crossing was best/fastest/easiest/convenient and I only filled in this one because I peeked at the form of another motorcyclist and copied whatever he wrote.
It turned out to be an excellent choice. I could not believe how easy this border crossing was and it only took me about 45 minutes in total!
Border crossing process Thailand side
First you’ll ride to the immigration office which is a large office on the left-hand side when you ride towards the border. The officials stamped me out of Thailand within 1 minute. After the immigration building, the road makes a U-turn and you’ll make a stop at the customs office.
It took them a little time to find the right stamps, but after they got them, my Carnet-de-Passage got stamped and I was ready to cross to the Malaysian side! Total process took perhaps 15 minutes.
Border crossing process Malaysia side
Follow the motorbike lane to the Malaysia side of the border and you will ride past immigration (while still sitting on your motorbike, which feels a bit strange). They’ll take your fingerprints, ask you a bit about your trip and whether you have Malaysian motorbike insurance (I said yes) and stamp your passport. With my Dutch passport I got a 90 days visa-exempt stay in Malaysia.
Next, you’ll ride past customs but these guys are only interested in whether you bought goods in Thailand that you are bringing into Malaysia (I said no). To get your Carnet-de-Passage stamped, park your bike just after this customs check and walk into the big building (the officials can give you directions on where to go). The same procedure as on the Thailand side of the border: most time was spent searching for the correct stamps, but other than that: no difficult questions and I was out before I knew it.
And that’s how you buy an Indian motorbike and ride it to Malaysia! If you are interested in more road stories, check out the Adventure Motorbike Series here!