Visas, Carnets, Paperwork and Officialdom

Many days I feel like we are participating in a Round the World version of The Amazing Race. You reach one checkpoint, only to be handed a new hidden challenge.

My view of one, long extended relaxing holiday was just a dream!

When people ask us where our destination is, I  am a bit uncomfortable as we really don’t know. It began as a Melbourne to London adventure, but  despite lots of research, that goal was made with little real understanding of the challenges we would face in making that happen. Not to mention, the other places we have discovered that we would also love to visit.

Route planning, visa requirements, paperwork and officialdom form the framework of our trip. It forms a constant background noise in our everyday living.

I have noticed many Overlanders publish their intended route before they leave, but most often their actual route looks quite different. Having been on the ground for 5 months now, I realise that there are many, many reasons why routes change, seemingly on a whim. Rarely has whim anything to do with the decisions on the ground, more often the practicalities take precedence over the “dreams”.

Hailing from Australia, a country that is an island, we are not accustomed to living with land borders. Australians, who fly in and out to OS holiday destinations, usually pay little notice to the visa time they receive. Applying for visas prior to departure is often just a necessary annoyance. Not so for Overland travellers.

In planning an overland trip across a number of countries, correct paperwork or lack of, can determine: the route you take, whether or not you visit the places you really want to visit, how much  you spend and also the timeliness of your progress. The lack of a visa can mean: an expensive flight home to obtain one, maybe an expensive flight for you and your bike across a country, success or failure in using the small window of opportunity to ride a particular road and, in some cases, may even bring your trip to a premature end. Yes, all of the above are reality.

Crossing land borders means that we must understand the requirements of the country we are entering well before the border. One cannot just ride up to a land border of the next country and expect to be allowed entry. Also, just because you may be able to fly into a particular country and receive a Visa on Arrival, (VOA) does not mean you can enter the same country via a land border and receive the same visa. In fact, most often the rules are completely different. Oh and not to mention that the rules change, yes even whilst you are IN the relevant country! Hence, our first border run was to Singapore from Bali. Then the final obstacle could be that particular land border official can use his/her discretion! So when it comes to border crossings, nothing is for certain. A successful crossing always brings a sense of relief.

An added complication is that countries view foreign people with their own transport very differently to those travelling via public transport or even walking across the border. So in travelling with our own motorcycles, the Customs Departments and Immigration departments must be navigated. Sometimes, the rules of each are quite different as we found out on entering Thailand. We had pre-organised a 60 day Thai visa whilst in Penang, Malaysia as we knew the VOAs  (at the land border) for Aussies are only 15 days. However, when we actually came to the border crossing, we found that our motorcycles are only given 30days! So on that day we were issued with our next challenge of determining if, and how, our bike papers could be extended to match our visas. (They can be at a Customs Office)

So in effect, Overlanders need to deal with two departments, Immigration for themselves and Customs for their vehicles and that is for each country. Imagine this for 22 countries!

In the lead up to our trip, I had spent many many hours reading other Overlander blogs, trying to gather information, glean advice  and avoid their mistakes. They all say, just start the trip because you will never be 100% ready.  How true this is. So start we did.

Here is how we began our logistical journey and what we would do differently next time.


Apart from the obvious of having a current passport and driver licence that is not going to expire whilst you are away, The Carnet De Passage is often the mystery to be solved first up.


A carnet is paperwork which identifies the vehicle and which is required to temporarily import a vehicle into a country, in fact many (but not all) countries. It is an international agreement for payment of government duties and taxes should the vehicle not be re-exported from that country. It is as precious as your passport and is something you would not want to lose!

Our carnet in Australia was straightforward, but not without pitfalls. The Automobile Association of Australia issues CPDs in each state. In our case, it was RACV. Forms are downloadable and a phone number was available for queries. We dealt with Melbourne and Darwin staff and found them helpful, thorough and meticulous in ensuring every aspect of these documents were accurate. In brief, a CPD means we leave a deposit with RACV which ensures we will not export our bikes to a country where it is not legal to do so. The cost is determined by the value of the bike and accessories. You can elect to leave a deposit based on a formula which is determined by the bikes’s value or you can choose the Insurance Indemnity option which involves a lesser deposit. The information is available on the RACV site. We chose the indemnity option which was the cheaper option.

The key for planning  Carnets is their validity time which is 12 months from date of issue.  Now if you are travelling for 12 months you do not want to squander any of that 12 months Carnet in your home country.

So you need to work backwards from your intended departure date and use the processing time quoted by RACV as a guide.  The processing time used by RACV is only a guide. On the form they ask for your departure date and they use that date as a flag to begin processing. Don’t assume they begin processing your application as soon as they receive it. They don’t. They process it so you receive the Carnet as close to departure date as possible.(Yes an organisation that has the customer’s needs as a focus!)

We were nervous putting faith in the belief that the advertised processing time would actually be 10-12.days We had a date of departure from Melbourne which was October 6th, but we did not yet have a confirmed shipping date, partly because we wanted to have the carnets in our hands before we confirmed the shipments. Without a carnet there is no shipping and without a shipment date you cannot plan the carnets.

We also had around 5,000 kms of Australian travel to complete prior to shipping and so we did not want to be wasting the carnet time during that travel.

We sent our paperwork into Melbourne via Express Post approximately 14 days prior to our preferred date of departure from Australia. We requested via phone and email that our Carnets be sent to Darwin and not Melbourne, where they were submitted. RACV and AANT and AAT all assured us this would be no problem. We left Melbourne with some trepidation as the Carnets have to be picked up in person. In the event of an error here, we would be in Darwin and our Carnets could be in Melbourne.

However, true to their promise our Carnets were received in Melbourne, processed in Canberra and sent to Darwin for pick up. We also received a phone message advising us of their arrival in Darwin whilst we were on the road.

Arriving in Darwin on the 14th October, we picked up our Carnets at the AANT in Darwin along with our International Driver’s Licences on the 15th October.

We then walked to the Customs House in Darwin where they knew exactly what needed to be done. Our first stamp out of a country was in our Carnet.

We were really pleased with the timing we used for gaining our carnets and the various Automobile Associations involved were incredibly professional and the whole application process worked really well.


Next was shipping. Shipping is the bane of many Overlanders’ lives. Dates change and costs seem very fluid.

Now we had our Carnets we had a window of opportunity to reach a shipping date.

We had a tight schedule to reach Darwin for the cut off time for shipping.  Whilst en route the dates changed by 2 days and had been brought forward from Oct 15th to Oct 13 @ 2pm. On top of that, we were told that ANL who had just taken over the shipping now required the bikes to be crated! For years, the process was just roll on and roll off and now we had a red herring thrown at us. There was no way we could meet that schedule.

We did roll into Darwin on the 13th October, but we had a lot to do. The next day we researched the purchase of crates and the only ones available were Harley crates which were expensive and too large. Shipping  Less Than A Container Load (LCL) means that you pay for either weight or volume, whichever is the lesser amount. With bikes you aim to reduce the volume by as much as possible as hundreds of dollars can be saved.  A large  Harley crate was not the way to do it. We spent a few hours contemplating and researching  wood sources to build our own, but the Darwin heat and lack of resources meant that was just too overwhelming.

Finally, through our local contact and host family, we managed to find out who the local shipping agent (PJ Customs) was and contacted them directly. “Na mate. ANL says they want them crated, we don’t. Just bring the bikes down and we will roll them on.” So by the end of the day on the 14th Oct. we found we could just roll our bikes into the container and that we did. If we had known we crates weren’t necessary we could have made the original cut off date and not had to spend an entire day in the heat trying to source crates. By the time, we got to this point we had run out of energy to worry too much about compacting our bikes. We were just glad to be rid of them!

The lesson here is speak directly with the Shipping agents, meet them if you can and speak to the boys on the ground. Perkins Shipping were easy to deal with and “no fuss” was their approach.

Also, supplying your own tie-downs saves you having to purchase them from Perkins and they are handy for the ferry crossings in Indo.

At the other end of the shipping in Dili, Timor, there were some complications as well. The boat sat out in the bay for quite a few days waiting to be allowed to dock and also because of two religious holidays. There is no use fighting this system. It is shipping and I do not believe any fault of the agents in Darwin nor Dili. TOLL still manages the Dili end for ANL and we found them to be friendly and helpful. Again, take a ride out there in a taxi to make yourself known and grab some local phone numbers. Bypass ANL where you can.

Prior to collecting your freight, you must pay the Bill of Lading. There are always added costs you haven’t accounted for, but we received the shock to see that they had measured our bikes, both of them at 6 cubic metres each. There were other bikes in the same container and all measured smaller than ours and particularly mine, which is the smallest bike of all of them. They had clearly made an error in measurement or weren’t sure which bikes were ours. So began a war with ANL. I requested them to remeasure the bikes in Dili. Of course, you can’t  take the bikes unless the direct deposit had been made, so we paid, but continued the fight. The locals did not have a tape measure, nor did they know how to measure the bikes so we provided the equipment and the know-how. Yes, you guessed it, we got a ‘fair’ price in the end. ANL refunded the overpayment into our accounts. 

Lesson: Make friends with the “on the ground staff” as soon as practicable. Find out from them what the requirements are. (This also applies to visas) Also, it goes without saying compact the bikes as much as possible as it can save you a lot of money. Oh and always carry a tape measure!


VISAS are our headache.You  need to understand visa requirements for people travelling on the same passport as you. Reading the travel blog of someone travelling on a Malaysian or English passport will give you a completely different set of rules to someone on an Aussie passport, as we found when a group of Malaysian bikers had planned to take us across the border for lunch! It is frustratingly difficult to understand why some people can walk into a Pakistan Embassy in Bangkok and receive a tourist visa, yet most of the world has to be in their country of origin to even qualify to apply. It is frustrating to read of a friend in India waiting weeks for an Iranian visa whilst another receives one within days in Bangkok. It is also frustrating to wait for a visa in a capital city whilst the rest of the world is waiting for you. For us it meant spending Xmas day on a ferry eating noodles from a take away cardboard container.

Patience is of course the number one requisite, but pre-planning is the second requisite.

Visa mistakes end up costing more money and money is what we are all trying to make last as long as possible.

Visa issues can be a constant cause of anxiety if you don’t understand how and where to extend them, whether they are actually available to you and whether you will need to make a visa run to another distant border or airport!

The trips that work like clockwork are usually where most of the visas are obtained prior to leaving. You can sometimes request a longer lead up time until start date. It is much easier to get the visas by using reliable post in your own country as opposed to spending a week or two in expensive capital cities overseas. Keep in mind though that some consulates can issue visas and so you mightn’t have to go to a capital city.

Not getting all our visas prior to departure is our greatest regret. Our second is not investing in a concurrent passport. Australians can run two passports concurrently. The requirements are primarily for business purposes, but a RTW trip is also a valid reason. With a concurrent passport you can leave one in Australia for those hard to get visas OR you can post it home. If we had one of these passports, we could have a Pakistani visa in our hands now, but we don’t unfortunately. Concurrent visas are valid for three years only and cost the same as a full passport. However, that cost is much less than a return flight home just to obtain an elusive visa.

It felt like we were just spending money everywhere before we left and so when it came to spending extra on another passport we just decided we would deal with visas on the road. What a costly decision that has been.

There are some problem visa for Australians- namely, Pakistan, Iranian, Russia and probably others.

If paperwork is not your thing, then I recommend you overland The Americas or just tour Europe.

PLEASE NOTE: the regulations and rules around visas and other documentation commonly change. Please be responsible for ensuring you have the most current information.


We have a two pronged approach here. We have a SPOT Messenger which sends out “I am OK” messages and also has an insurance option for remote evacuations. And of course, we also have comprehensive travel insurance which covers motorbiking.


Some Offices and borders are easier to cross/deal with  than others. Some are notorious. Talk to locals, consult  blogs and join local Face Book Expat  groups and biking communities to stay abreast of which are more friendly and to stay abreast of documentation requirements. In SE Asia the expats are abreast of many of the pitfalls. North Thailand has a very active biking community. Find them on and of course there is Horizons Unlimited. Search on FB for the place you are visiting and find a local group of “farangs”.

Local riders will know which borders are less officious than others. Take their advice! Some borders are for local traffic and others are used to dealing with “farangs”. Find out about insurance needs. In Thailand third party is compulsory. After our incident, I wouldn’t ride without it and Thai drivers/riders are very dangerous. If we had taken heed of which border to cross from Malaysia to Thailand, we would not have been left without insurance, we wouldn’t have spent a hot day trying to find it at another border post and we would have avoided the avenue of Thai soldiers we were greeted with at the Yala territory of Sth Thailand.

Know how the carnet works before you begin your trip. Understand the in and out procedures as chances are the border officials won’t know and they like to save face! Make sure you actively seek out Customs after seeing Immigration.

Arrive at border crossings in the morning.

Carry spare passport photos and photocopies of your paperwork.

Have copies of your paperwork on your phone as a back up.

Finally, remember to always smile at officials and look like you are having fun.

DILI, TIMOR LESTE Visa On Arrival at Dili airport        VOA@airport       30 DAYS               CARNET REQUIRED

INDONESIAN VISA- Check blog entry on the process!-

  • 30 DAY VISA @ Dili, Indonesian embassy (Can you traverse Indonesia in 30 days? Yes at a tight pinch.)
  • Roads are unpredictable, traffic is unpredictable. Java & Sumatra are particularly slow going.
  • 30 DAYS Extendable only by leaving the country. We flew Bali-Singapore-Bali in a day. A VOA @ airport was then 30 days. A fly-in VOA is extendable within the country and so our third Indonesian visa was extended in Jakarta. Immigrasie offices are found in many places in Indonesia. Google ‘Immigrasie
  • Carnet required

MALAYSIA VOA at Penang airport, 90 DAYS. Not sure what you would do in Malaysia for 90 days!  



  • VISA – in Penang (2 days processing)
  • IMPORTANT: VOA for Australians at borders are only 15 days! Arrange your visa at an Embassy prior to entry, 60 days
  •  TEMPORARY IMPORT/EXPORT paper for bike– available @ Customs at border.(30 days extendable for free @ any Customs office) A daily fine for overstaying bike import.
  • INSURANCE- 3 month, 3rd Party is best bought @ the border towns. Compulsory! They are sold by people in little booths. Try the larger border crossings where other motorbikes cross regularly, otherwise….


Shipping Contacts:

Darwin-Dili     PJ Customs, Darwin

1/3302 Export Dve

Darwin Business Park

Berrimah, NT 0828

PH: +61889472575



Mr Lim (Penang) (very reliable!) He has an agent in Medan, Mr Adnan who organises everything. You just have to find the office, which is way out of Medan. Locals took us to & back to Medan on their motorbikes. Great airport rail system in Medan to take you to the airport.


Toll Marine Logisitics Nu-u Laran

Kampung Merdeka, Comoro-Dili, TL

PH: +6703310183



ANL- Darwin

(Sandy Shen)- for schedules and booking

2 thoughts on “Visas, Carnets, Paperwork and Officialdom

  1. Hey Liz, this is extremely well written,well done.
    We have been lucky, not as many hassles with Visa, just other things like getting the White paper for your bikes in Thailand etc. Visas on arrival has worked for us so far, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and India.
    Have you thought about posting this info to the HU Site, would help so many people


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