In order for us to get to Nepal from Turkey we needed to airfreight the bikes. For US-citizens Iranian visas can be difficult and a legal US-issued carnet almost impossible. We had earlier decided against doing a northern route through Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China but winter was upon us and that window has closed. This was the first time we had sent our bikes via airfreight so it was a learning experience and we hope to share the process for those coming behind us. The procedure below is not specific to Turkey-Nepal but is the standard process between most large cities in the world. Note: there are unique circumstances and special offers sometimes offered by carries but we were unable to utilize any special motorcycle shipping deals going from Istanbul to Kathmandu.
Unless you are going from North America to Europe you are very likely going to need to put your bike in a crate and it won’t be a flat fee and as simple as driving up and walking away. Some of the air cargo deals between North America and Europe are this easy.
Where do you even start? That was what we wanted to know. We picked our start location and end location. Not realizing at the time that actually the price per kilo for air cargo in Turkey is definitely higher than other places, like Greece or Eastern Europe. But our time was short to hit the good weather in Nepal and we bit the bullet and shipped from Istanbul.
Step one. Find an agent. We had received information that we should work with Turkish Air Cargo and after contacting them directly they told us that we required an agent (also known as customs broker or freight forwarder). I asked if they had suggestions and they sent me a long excel list of names and email addresses. We sent a request for quote to all contacts on the list. Only a third of the people contacted bothered to reply. We have provided our request email below for information (actually this is one that we have since updated to reflect lessons learned and what we will do on our second shipping).
What are all the costs that might go into the final fee? And, what do you want to make sure you see on the quotes?
• DGR (dangerous goods certification) fee and certification: Dangerous goods certification because motorcycles are considered dangerous goods (class 9) since they have fuel, batteries, oil, etc.
• Airway bill; terminal and handling charges; fuel surcharge; security surcharge; customs clearance; airline clearance document; storage fees; customs brokerage; registration; transportation from crate location to shipping location; value-added tax
• Crate: If you make your own crate you must make sure that you have the specified type of wood that is hard to purchase on your own. This is fumigated wood and is stamped as such.
• Price per kilo: This is the most important piece of the equation
Volumetric weight versus actual weight – what is this?
You will pay based on whichever is higher the actual weight or the volumetric weight. Volumetric weight is calculated by height x width x length in centimeters divided by 6,000.
We knew that our volumetric weight would always be higher than our actual though after the bikes were weighed in their crate the weights were closer than we thought they would be (we do question the validity of the actual weight which was done with the bikes crated and on a truck rather than just the crated bikes). The key to getting your volumetric weight as low as possible is to get your bikes as small as possible.
Our final external crate dimensions with both bikes in one crate (two Suzuki DR 650 motorcycles and all our gear): 136cm (height) x 113cm (width) x 244cm (length) that equals 625 kilos using the volumetric formula.
We packed all our luggage and gear in the crate with the motorcycles including helmets, riding gear, etc. On our flight we only packed some clothes, all electronics, and any other items we deemed of high value.
Preparing your motorcycle for shipping
We arrived at our crating location with some fuel still in the tanks (about four liters each). The person doing the dangerous goods certification approved this amount of fuel. We both have large fuel tanks (Mike’s is 8 gallons/30 liters and Shannon’s is 5 gallons/19 liters) and they deemed that that was only a small amount of fuel. Some certifiers will require you to completely empty your tanks. We were allowed to keep the oil in the bikes as well. We have heard of other people being required to dump their oil. You are required to disengage the battery and tape the terminals with electrical tape. The certifier took photographs of each of the disengaged batteries.
Making the bikes as small as possible for shipping in one crate was a priority to keep our costs as low as possible. By shipping in one crate we lessened fees for airway bill, transport, dangerous goods certification, etc.
Mike took the following items off the bikes: windscreens; sidebags (hard and soft), mirrors, and handlebars were unbolted from the clamps with all cables and wires still in place. The handlebars could then be turned and laid flat, this reduced width mostly and a little height.
We decided to leave the front wheels on the bikes because we were concerned about fitting the luggage (especially the hard cases) in the crate along with bikes. For future shipping we will likely take the front wheels off which will make the bikes shorter. After finally viewing the bikes in a crate we realized there would have still been enough room for the hard luggage with the wheels off. We had mocked up the crating in a campground putting the bikes together, measuring multiple times (measure twice and cut once), and arranging the gear around as well. Our mockup measurements were almost perfect as internal measurements but we had to estimate the external size of the actual crate because we didn’t know the thickness of the crate walls.
Final costs of airfreight
Our final bill broke down as follows (in US$):
*Warehouse fee: 75
*Airway bill: 100
*Procedures at Istanbul airport: 65
*DGR fee: 55
*Issuing DG declaration/form: 40
*Transport from crate location to airport: 100
*Airfreight at 4.5 per kilo times 625 kilos: 2,813
Additional costs included:
*Agent in Kathmandu to receive motorcycles: 220
*Two flights for ourselves from Turkey to Nepal: 623.80
*Luggage purchased to carry our stuff on the plane to Nepal: 54.61
*Hotel Abu Dhabi (our travel times was 24 hours): 61.27
*Misc (photocopies, etc): 35.19
Summary of costs
*Airfreight in Turkey: 4,020 (they round the bill down to this from 4,028)
*Agent in Nepal: 220
*Flights, etc: 774.87
Total Cost: 5,014.87
By shipping in one crate it was overall less expensive because all the fees except the crate itself were only charged once (if two crates then two airway bills, two DGR, etc) and the one crate was also less expensive then the cost of two crates. The volumetric size was also less as one crate then it would have been with two. On the actual shipping fees, less crate, the fees were very comparable to our friend’s shipping costs that we reviewed. For example our fees (less crate) were 450 while theirs was 540 (less crate) but overall their shipping was cheaper because their price per kilo was 4.35 while ours was 4.50 and our crate was larger.
We used Solmaz Transport and Trade in Turkey to ship our bikes and they were excellent. They were with us every step of the way, in fast and easy communication, didn’t let any detail slide, and everything went smoothly. They can also be reached by emailed our main agent (she has an entire team and they were all great), Dilek Oktay at email@example.com. We would highly recommend their services. Based on the quotes we received all prices were very comparable with the same price per kilo and some small variances in the other fees so we chose the company that had more experience and from the beginning was very professional and provided good customer service. They totally delivered.
Turkish Air Cargo required that we either have an agent on the receiving end or that we were available when our crate arrived in Nepal. As we also needed to be in Istanbul the day of shipping we arranged an agent in Nepal. We used Eagle Export and they were also very good.
Due to some holidays in Turkey we returned to Istanbul on a Tuesday, met our agent at the crating location on Thursday, and delivered our crate and cleared customs the same day. As none of us were sure about how long it would take to crate and clear customs we had Friday as our buffer day to clear customs (prices go up to clear customs at night or on the weekends). The crate stayed in customs over the weekend and flew to Nepal on Monday. We flew on Tuesday. We stayed in Turkey until the crate flew out in case there were any issues with customs. We didn’t fly on the same flight as our crate because that flight was cost prohibitive (around 700 per person instead of the our slow-boat flight via U.A.E. at half the price).
We arrived in Nepal on Wednesday late afternoon and met with our agent. Then on Thursday morning we went with our local agent to the airport and customs in Nepal to collect our crate. It took about four hours to get our crate and then Mike assembled the bikes at the loading dock. Reassembling the bikes took about two hours.
For our experience leaving Turkey and entering Nepal see the border crossing report.
Request for quote letter
We are looking to airfreight two private motorcycles from PLACE to PLACE and need a turnkey service to complete this task.
It is our hope you can help us arrange the crating, customs clearance, and shipping of our cargo. We understand motorcycles are considered ‘dangerous goods’ and additional steps are required to ship as airfreight:
We are kindly requesting an estimated shipping quote to airfreight two motorcycles. The line items of the quote should have the following:
• Airway bill
• Airfreight (price per kilo)
• Additional airways freight charges, if applicable
• Handling, forklift and storage fee at airline cargo area
• Dangerous goods certification
• Agent and carrier fees
• Ground transportation and forklift
• Palletizing/crating and ground transport to airport
• Export customs formalities
We would like to airfreight any of the dates from DATE to DATE.
Motorcycle specifications as follows:
Bike 1 – TYPE:
• Volumetric weight is estimated at ## kilos
• Maximum crate dimensions: Length (#cm), width (#cm), height (#cm), I will remove front wheel, front fender, windscreen, mirrors, and top box and side panniers to reduce volume. Crate may be as small as #x#x#cm.
• Estimated actual weight of motorcycle including luggage systems and gear, #kg
Repeat bike information or put in bike information for one crate.
NAME and contact information
Additional questions you might ask based on quotes
Is VAT included?
Do you anticipate any other charges?
Is this a direct flight?
Will we be able to track our shipment online?
How do you accept payment?
How long are these prices valid?
Can we be involved in the crating process?
An airfreight checklist – we adapted this from another traveler (Hackneys)
*Get a detailed quote that includes all the line items listed
*Get a schedule that shows which flights the bike is scheduled to fly on
*You might need to provide tie downs for the crate. Use quality tie downs. Protect all painted surfaces and plastic the tie downs contact using layers of cardboard or towels.
*When you tie the bike down, compress the suspension and use four quality tie downs. The crate is going to be tossed around by forklifts; the bike needs to be more secure than when you carry it into your pickup.
*Ensure all items on the bike are securely strapped in place or secured. Our bikes after being tied down were shrink-wrapped that kept all items in place.
*Do not ship any detachable electronics (GPS, iPod, etc.) on the bike.
*Do not ship the keys in or on the bike.
*Do not forget your title and Carnet when you deliver the bike for shipment, they are required.
*Do not forget your keys when you pick up the bike.
*Provide a detailed list of the contents of the crate. Don’t forget things packed in the luggage or the tools.
*Take pictures of all sides of the bike strapped to the pallet before the crate sides and top are attached.
*Take pictures of all sides of the crate once it is assembled.
*Remove or cover any old airway bill stickers or shipment destination stickers.
*Take a picture of the airway bill sticker on the crate and make sure the number is legible.
*Ensure the crate is well marked with “this side up,” “fragile,” “do not stack,” etc.
It helps if the crate can be forked both from the side and lengthways. This allows easy insertion into pickup beds, onto trailers, etc. when you pick it up.
*Don’t count on being able to take the bike out of the crate at the point of entry. It may be a very busy airfreight dock and you may need to get the crate onto your truck or trailer quickly to clear the dock for other shipments. You will need to enlist a friendly motorcycle dealer or other business that has a forklift to remove it. You may need a forklift with long forks if you are removing the crate lengthwise.
*If you are riding the bike away from the receiving dock, make sure you arrange to have a hammer and prybar at the dock in order to take apart the crate.
*Ensure that there is a house airway bill prepared for the shipment (allows the bike to be received by you for customs purposes, this usually requires you to use a freight forwarder/customs broker).
*Get a copy of all invoices, waybills, etc. from the shipper on both ends of the transaction, especially on the foreign end.
*Plan on one full day to pick up the bike at the foreign destination. Most of this time will be spent in clearing customs. If you have a good customs broker, they will save you at least six hours in this process.
*Ensure your shipper has 24/7 online shipment tracking capability.
*If you are picking up the bike and riding it away, don’t forget to bring riding gear and your helmet to the pickup point.
*Keep a close eye on your tools and gear around the shipping and receiving areas. Keep your tools separate from dockworkers and shipping agents. It’s another good reason to tag all of your tools with colored tape.
*Inspect the receiving area closely before you ride away. In the excitement and hustle/bustle of opening the crate and assembling the bike it’s easy to leave tools, parts, gear, etc. behind.
*Make double sure you have your title and Carnet before you ride away from the foreign destination receiving dock.