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Buying bikes abroad

For those readers who stumbled across this document on the web, please note that 'abroad' here refers to locations that aren't in the UK, in other words, continental Europe, the US and all that...

Why bother buying abroad in the first place? Well, maybe you're after a bike that wasn't sold in large numbers, or maybe it was never sold in the UK. Or maybe you'd prefer to restore something that's not a big blob of rust but instead has been better preserved in a more begnin climate. But buying abroad can hold its own challenges and that's not improved in any way by the seller knowning that you're unlikely to return to his doorstep waving a 2x4 about in case he sold you a duffer.

So, first order of the day is to have a good look at the UKRM and UKRMC FAQ and digest the advice for buying bikes there. Nothing there has changed, in fact you probably want to be even more vigilant then you would be when buying a bike in the UK.

That said, the most important point that I can make is that you should try to buy somewhere where either yourself or a friend speaks the local lingo. That's especially true when buying privately but it's not unkown that unscrupulous dealers are happy to quote 'special prices' for foreigners. If it's not that obvious that you're foreign, it's easier to avoid said individuals. And how are you going to communicate with the farmer who's wheeled that single surviving prototype into his chicken shed thirty years ago?

Anyway, here are some hints and tips either collected by myself or by other UKRM/UKRMC readers (in which case they are credited to them). Any mistakes are entirely our own, but please do your own research - we're not responsible for screwups based on the information herein.

Thanks to chrisu who pointed out that when he recently imported another bike from Holland, I've got a few updates here as well.

It looks like the DVLA also needs a customs form filling in that I didn't mention in the original version of this article. Also, it appears that a vehicle insured on the frame number now needs to be registered in the UK within 14 days so keep that in mind if you want to pick up your bike from the docks and ride it home (which would be legal even without a number plate given my experience with how Japanese grey import cars come into the country). Of course that would mean you would've bought a runner in the first place and no important parts went missing during the journey. I'd take a trailer...


Let's start with Germany, seeing that I've lived there long enough and bought more than a few vehicles there...

The paperwork for the vehicle

In contrast to the UK where we only have one document for any given vehicle, a vehicle that is registered ('angemeldet') should have two. One is 'pocketable' and basically a piece of paper listing all the vehicles data. It also shows the vehicle's registration on and the owners address on the front page. This is called the 'Fahrzeugschein' and every keeper gets a new one (actually, you also get a new one when you move). You're supposed to carry this with you when you're out and about in the vehicle and local plod will fine you and give you a producer if they stop you and you don't.

The other document is called the Fahrzeugbrief and is more or less the equivalent to the UK's V5. That said, this document doubles as a proof of ownership. The assumption is that if you've got the Fahrzeugbrief, you are the legal owner of the heap even if you name isn't on it. So if you buy a car or bike on finance in Germany, the lender often holds onto the Fahrzeugbrief while the poor hapless owner is renting out their firstborn to meet the repayments. If the seller of the vehicle can't show you the Fahrzeugbrief and doesn't volunteer the fact that it's with the finance company or his local bank, be very wary, it may not be his to sell. Ask him where it is and gauge his trustworthiness by his response.

Never, ever buy a vehicle without a Fahrzeugbrief! If the owner insists that he "just lost it", get him to apply for a duplicate. If s/he is already the registered owner this should take too long but will cost them some money. If they aren't, they can still apply for a duplicate but it'll take some time as the vehicle's details have to be checked to verify that it hasn't been recorded as stolen.

The last document is the numberplate. Yes indeed, numberplates count as documents in Germany. If the vehicle is registered, the back number plate will have two stickers, the top one is the seal of the issuing authority, the bottom one (which looks a bit like a compass rose, but is marked 1 to 12 on the outside) is the TUEV stamp and shows when it's next test (equivalent to the UK MOT) is due. The double-digit year in the centre gives you the year and the number at the top of the rose, the month.  If the vehicle is deregistered (abgemeldet, equivalent to the UK SORN), the top stamp will have been removed from the numberplate.

The process

Once you're happy that both paperwork and vehicle are in order and you've coughed up the cash, it's time to re-register the vehicle. Chances are that the seller will drag you to the local Zulassungsstelle (VRO) anyway as they're liable for the tax until the vehicle is reregistered and don't want you to disappear into foreign lands while still paying their vehicle tax (which tends to be higher in Germany). In addition to the paperwork, you also need proof of insurance. If your insurer in the UK obliges you can try it with their paperwork and hope for the best, otherwise a local insurance agent, they should be able to help. Mind you, you probably have to cough up the cash straight away.

Once you've got your proof of insurance, go to the Zulassungstelle and re-register the vehicle in your name. You should get a special export number plate (Exportkennzeichen). Once the registration process is complete and you've got the new number plate and all the paperwork, bolt the registration plate to the vehicle and set sails for England. Just make sure you breakdown cover is up to scratch...

Export restrictions

As far as I know, none.

Norway and Denmark

Probably not the best place to buy a used bike due to their registration tax roughly doubling the cost of a vehicle. This keeps secondhand values much higher, too. Thanks for TS to point this out.


The process

The information was kindly supplied by Luigi Rotta on de.rec.motorrad.

Exporting a bike is fairly simple, the recommendation is to chuck it on a trailer. As long as you've got the grey registration document you should be OK, even if it doesn't have your name on it.

One noteworthy potential snag is that in Switzerland the number plate belongs to the owner and not to vehicle. So you'll be purchasing a vehicle without a registration plate. If you intend to ride it back to the UK (or whereever), you can apply for a temporary export license plate, which is valid until the end of the month you purchase it in.

Export restrictions



The process

The recommendations I got on de.rec.motorrad suggest that the best way is to export the bike after it was deregistered. In that case, chuck it on a trailer and carry the paperwork with you.

Export restrictions

Can't export vehicles older than 50 years.


The process

As Wicked Uncle Nigel recently imported a vehicle from there, here's his take on it:

In the Netherlands, the seller needs to visit their local vehicle wossname office, and get an export registration plate (which will be a piece of laminated paper, you or they will need a board of some sort to attach it to. They give you a couple of other bits of paper (Mike? What were they?). If the bike is less than 10 years old it needs a "Certificate of Conformity" which the seller can get. There's a charge for this, but I can't remember how much (Mike?).

In the UK, you're not supposed to ride the thing until you've registered it (unless you're going for the MOT). So, obviously, you'll be met at the port with a trailer. Obviously...

You then get it MOTd (the certificate will be marked "No Registration"). Next you're off to the local DVLA office with the MOT, the Cloggie paperwork, your insurance cert (showing the Cloggie export registration) and a cheque for 90-odd quid, being the 30 quid registration fee and 60 for the tax.

You then get a printed tax disk and a certificate of entitlement to the registration mark (which means you can get a plate made up), together with your MOT cert, stamped with the reg no) through the post a few days later. The V5 comes through the post a little later.

It was actually pretty painless.

mb (who sold the bike to WUN) provided the following additional information:

I thought exporting the bike out of NL was pretty easy to do; Owner goes to the nearest RDW office (RijksDienst voor Wegverkeer) with all the paperwork and says "I want to export this bike".

Paperwork = "deel 1, deel 2 and deel 3" (registration docs).

You have to surrender the original numberplate! Don't forget to take it.

They give you a duplicate sheet of paper to fill in with all the details. If you want to ride the thing, you have to ask for an export registration "plate", which is a nice floppy piece of plastic, totally unsuitable for bikes...

After they feed all the info into their computer, they give you both copies of the sheet of paper. the top copy is for the new owner and the green copy for the exporter (can be the same person). All this was fairly cheap, about 23 Euros altogether. If you don't need the "plate", then it's half this price.

You also get back the original registration documents, stamped with "uitvoer" (export).

Only certain countries want a "certificate of conformance"; eg. Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece. France used to be on this list, but now apparently want something else...

I don't think the age of the vehicle matters on this side, maybe on the other side.

Anyway, cost = 68 Euros:

All the above applies only to EU countries. If you want to export to non-EU, then you also have to speak to the Douane (customs).

Export restrictions

Not aware of any


The process

M. Brunberg supplied the following information and links regarding exporting vehicles from Finland:

For Finland[1], as noted by the Finnish Vehicle Administration officials ( - left menu Registration - "The right way to purchase a vehicle", all in english) direct link:

[1] Finnish vechile prices and taxes is only surpassed by that of the danish so I wouldn't exactly recommend anyone to buy any vehicle here, unless you buy it tax-free and are exporting it outside the EU.


The process

Information below was supplied by Mark Olson and is definitely applicable to his home state of Minnesota. As the whole process is slightly different from state to state please check if it applies to wherever you intend to buy a vehicle:

I'd have no problem selling a bike to someone outside the US. There's no legal requirement on the seller in my state, as far as I know, to do anything official if the bike isn't going to be registered here. The certificate of title does have sections for the buyer and seller to fill out of course, and in order for the buyer to (easily) register the vehicle here there are definitely some things the buyer has to do when transferring the title certificate. The same would apply if I sold my bike to an overseas buyer, I sign the title cert saying I've sold it, the buyer signs the tear-off bit and puts his address on it, so I've got some comeback if he gets a zillion parking tickets. That's it. What the buyer does with the certificate of title after he takes possession of it isn't my worry.

However, I've still got certificates of title to a couple of cars that I sold to junkyards, and the state has no comeback against me for not transferring those titles in an official manner. Bikes wouldn't be any different. In other words there's no central repository of vehicle ownership the state can use to force me to pay tax, etc. if they can't point their finger at a physical vehicle in my possession.

The sticking point as I see it in an export sale situation, is what documentation the buyer's home country might require, which is not something I can adress. Of course the buyer will want as much documentation of ownership and proper transfer of same when they go to register their purchase.

Note from the KOF: The process of exporting classic iron from the US has been covered several times in the classic car rags in the UK over the past ten-odd years. Track down one of those mags and it should hopefully contain more info than you ever need.

Export restrictions

No idea, please check yourself although I don't think there are any