Can I put my bike on a trailer or in a van and drive it into France like I used to or will I need more paperwork?


The answer is not a happy one or even, a consistent one. If you ride your own bike on and off the ferry, you need your V5, your insurance (there is currently a move to jettison the Green Card but you still require one) and a photocard licence.

I am not convinced the green card can be got rid of just yet as I have seen my first policies come through that exclude riding and driving outside the UK, which was legally impossible pre-Brexit.

The simple truth is the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement are a mess. The motorcyclist trailering his motorcycle into the EU was simply forgotten about. Each member state of the EU can decide how it will allow third-party nationals’ goods into their own country. Of all the EU nations, as at July 2021 the French seem to be taking the hardest line, turning back, fining, or even pulling over vehicles that have cleared customs if they have vehicies on board or towed, street-legal or not.

I keep my ear close to the ground on these matters, not least as I have taken my road-legal off-road bikes all over Europe in the back of my van. There is no consistency between nations or even ports.

There is an international arrangement called the carnet which allows goods to be temporarily brought into a country so long as the goods (and motorcycles are goods within the meaning of the ATA Carnet Convention) leave the country – you do not need a carnet to ride a bike into the EU.

Anecdotal reports are that Spain, Belgium and Holland are not requiring carnets if a road-registered motorcycle is in a van with a V5 but the French take a different – and legally justifiable view – which is that it requires a carnet unless the driver of the carrying vehicle can demonstrate it is not “goods in transit’. The UK Government’s advice (which has no force or value in France) is that you do not need a carnet to trailer a road-legal vehicle into the EU but the actual convention does not say this.

French laws are based on the principle that everything is forbidden until it is allowed and as we are now out of the EU single market, UK residents are not allowed to bring goods into the EU. Contrast this with English and Welsh law which is that until forbidden, everything is lawful. The presumption is an item not usually used by a tourist being transported into a country may well be intended to stay there and hence, import taxes are due and it is your responsibility to show that it is not. Customs officers the world over have close to complete discretion to stop goods entering their country.

So, if you are carrying a bike into the EU, should you take out a carnet? I would do so, and especially so for France. You may never be asked to present it. You could be waved through Calais, Zeebrugge or Santander. Or you could be stopped, asked for your carnet or customs declaration and if you have neither, your goods seized or be hit with a fine or assessment of customs duty.

The cost of carnet paperwork is about £300-£350 and the carnet insurance for a motorcycle worth £8,000 is about £130 or a refundable carnet deposit of 40% of the value of the goods being temporarily imported. So the question is: do you want to chance a potential world of frustration and expense or cough-up for a carnet until there is some consistency as to how temporary, non-commercial imports of road-legal vehicles are going to be treated by the EU or individual EU member states?

Unless you can afford to have it seized, get a carnet and hope things improve, I am sad to say the excellent UK to France and Geneva motorcycle transport service, used by me – Bikeshuttle – has been halted precisely because of these import issues.

Andrew Dalton

RiDE Magazine September 2021