Category Archives: bureaucracy

Border crossing El Salvador – Guatemala

I crossed at Las Chinamas/Valle Nuevo, as I don’t like the big crossings on the Pan Americana.

Make sure you have at least to copies of the TIP of El Salvador (and all your other important papers, as usual).

Exiting El Salvador (20min)

At the first checkpoint an officer want to see just the TIP (Temporary Import Paper), no passport or anything.

Then you drive down to the right before the bridge and enter the immigration. They don’t give you a stamp in the passport, but a small printed note which you have to keep. I had an issue with my stamp of Nicaragua: they didn’t write how many days I was allowed to stay (usually 90 days). And as this is the CA-4 area (Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala), the first country defines it for all four countries. Nicaragua didn‘t write anything on their stamp and El Salvador doesn’t give you a stamp, so they said, I have to get it ‚fixed‘ with the Guatemalan stamp (which they did).

The aduana is in the same building on the other side (drive around the back of the building), but they sent me by foot up to the bridge first to get me registered and stamped the TIP and a copy of it.

Then back to te aduana to check your vehicle out of the country. they keep the copy, you get back the original.

Free to go over the bridge to Guatemala.

Enter Guatemala (1h)

Immigration comes first, normally no issues there. They also fixed my issue with the 90 days since Nicaragua, they wrote the remaining days to their stamp and I was ‚legal‘ again.

But then aduana wanted a copy of the new stamp. There is a copy shop about 100m to the south on the left (direction to El Salvador) in the orange building (1q per copy).

Back at the aduana I gave copies of all the usual papers and the new stamp.

You have to sign three copies and they give you a slip to pay 160 quetzales (about 20$) at the bank, which is just another counter right there. They don’t accept USD, but there are plenty of money changers around.

Give back the payed bill to the aduana (they do a copy of it! But they didn’t want to make the copy of my passport!) and you‘ll get your Guatemalan TIP.

Welcome to Guatemala!

The road to Guatemala City is good, but I suggest to drive directly to Antigua.

Border crossings Nicaragua-Honduras-El Salvador

Exiting Guatemala at El Espino (20min)

When entering the area you get the customs declaration form.

Proceed to the blueish building, immigration and aduana are both in there.

Pay 2$ at the immigration, no cordobas accepted!

A woman of the aduana came to check my papers and my bike outside, then signed the TIP (Temporary Import Paper for the motorcycle). After that I had to go back to the aduana counter inside, where they kept the TIP and stamped my customs declaration form.

You have to hand out the declaration form at the boom gate when driving to the Honduras side.

Entering Honduras (1h)

It’s all in the one building on the right (except the copy shop).

You have to pay 2$ for immigration. They take fingerprints and a photo, then print a ‘stamp’ into the passport with a matrix printer. They want to check your yellow fever vaccine, so have it ready!

The aduana is also right there, but nobody was at the counter.

One of those shady helpers signaled me to come to the side entrance, where a woman then started to process my papers.

She printed the TIP and stamped my passport with the motorcycle information (huge stamp!)

Now you have to make two copies of the TIP and the stamped passport. I suggest to make three, as you may need a copy when entering El Salvador.

The copy shop is at the border exit on the right, about 200m away, it’s 1.5 Lempiras per copy (~7 US cents).

The TIP includes the insurance and costs 40$.

She didn’t give me a receipt, as the jefe/boss was not there. He just came back when I was already at my bike, but he then made the receipt (took another 10min).

In Honduras there were some road blocks and burning tyres in Choluteca due to demonstrations, but I could get through without issues.

Later I got stuck south of El Comercio. But the road block fortunately dissolved at noon.

I spent one night in hotel sunset in Nacaome. The next morning I left at 8am, hoping to be earlier than the road blocks.

There was one 1km before the border, but they let motorcycles through.

Exit Honduras (10min)

Again fingerprints at the immigration and then give back the TIP a counter to the right. They do another big stamp in the passport for the bike.

Entering El Salvador (2h)

This border looked easy at first, but it took way longer than expected.

At the Immigration, three officers inspected my stamps for about 15 minutes. But then they let me go without any explanation (I later found out when leaving El Salvador, see update below). You don’t even get a stamp in El Salvador.

Just when it was my turn at the aduana the officer took his coffee break. 20min later he started to process the papers. He even gave me an English form for the motorcycle (chassis number, brand, model, etc). But then he wanted a copy of the TIP of Honduras! Which I didn’t have. I had a photo, so he wanted me to print it somehow. I suggested to mail it, but he couldn’t receive emails. In the end he copied the stamps of Honduras from my passport. It took him another 30min to enter the information into the computer and print. But instead of Switzerland he selected Sweden! When I pointed it out to him, he said, Switzerland was not in his computer. But I insisted and showed him that the country code is CH and he needs to scroll way up to find it.

After I finally got this paper I needed to drive about 5km to another aduana, where I had to get my new papers stamped. There were hundreds of trucks there waiting for their paperwork to be processed! But they let me right through to the counter. Then the computer system was down, so I waited for another half an hour… but finally I made it to San Miguel.


When I left El Salvador, they again discussed my passport for about 15min! But this time I got an explanation:

It’s about the CA-4 (like Schengen, but in Central America). When I entered Nicaragua, I came into the CA-4 area. I got the stamp, but they forgot to write how many days I was allowed to stay (usually 90 days for the whole CA-4 area, not per country!). So basically the stamp was incomplete and officially I would be allowed only 30 days (or even less). And as El Salvador does not do stamps, they could not ‘fix’ it. They told me that the immigration in Guatemala should fix it with their stamp and indicate the remaining days (of those 90), and that’s what they did. I’m kind of proud of myself that I was able to explain my problem in Spanish to the Guatemalan immigration officer 😁

Border crossing Costa Rica-Nicaragua

There’s a lot of bureaucracy to enter Nicaragua, but it surprisingly didn’t take much time, just 1.5 hours for both crossings (including 15min waiting for the Costa Rican customs to open at 9am). Interestingly I didn’t need any copies, as they had copy machines this time!

An online form has to be done one week before entering Nicaragua: Without that form, you may be stuck at the border for some hours until it get approved.

I took the smaller border crossing at San Pancho.

Leaving Costa Rica

There’s a big parking lot on the back where you must park. I didn’t really like it because I couldn’t see my motorcycle back there while doing the paperwork. But as it was early in the morning (8:45), there were not many people around.

You have to walk all around the fenced area, as there is no entry from the parking lot. All the buildings are just white containers with the offices in there. The descriptions below (right/left containers) are referring to the entrance of this area from the West.

Go to the first container on the left and pay the 7$ or 5000 colones exit fee. You’ll get a ticket, which is needed for the immigration. Alternatively you can pay at the provided ATM, but I didn’t try it. At this office they also made me a copy of the TIP (Temporary Import Paper) for the customs.

Go to the second container on the left side to the immigration to get the exit stamp. They open at 7am, but the customs (aduana) opens at 9am! I had to wait 15 minutes for the customs to open.

The customs is in the last container on the right. They stamp the original TIP and the copy, which you keep.

Took me half an hour, including 15 minutes waiting for the customs to open.

Back on the main road there’s a police check point on the left and you have to show your stamped passport and TIP before you are allowed to proceed to Nicaragua.

Entering Nicaragua

When I got to the Nicaraguan side I got approached by two officials, both wanted to see my passport and vehicle registration. One guy seemed to be responsible to write down the information of all persons which enter this border crossing area. The other handed me the immigration declaration form and wrote my motorcycle number plate onto it.

Then I had to proceed to the fumigation a few meters further, where a guy sprayed my tyres. After that I could go to the parking on the left side on the road.

There you are supposed to go to the police officers to get your declaration form stamped. They are just sitting there at a small table in front of the immigration office and are looking bored. Not sure what this stamp is for, but without it the customs won’t accept your declaration form later…

Now you have to pay 4$ for the fumigation process. The caja for this is on the left side of the immigration (I needed to ask, didn’t see it at first). You get a ticket, which is needed for the customs.

I got approached by another official (outside of the immigration building) and he started to ask me the same questions as the online form. So I showed him my email with the online confirmation number and he was very happy! He then sent me inside to the immigration. This costs another 12$ (2$ bureaucracy fee and 10$ tourist tax), you get your stamp in the passport and two receipts.

Go back outside to the round building, that’s the customs. You need to give all the papers and tickets to the lady there and she will do copies and give you the TIP. At the same place but at a different lady you’ll get the insurance, it’s 12$.

Finally go back to the police desk to get the TIP stamped. This seems to count as an ‘all done, free to go’ stamp.

When driving out of the border crossing area, there are two other guys which want to see your passport and paperwork again. One guy is the opposite of the very first one and ‘signs you out’ of the area and the second one seems just to be there to feel important.

My luggage never got searched or scanned nor have I been asked if I carry a drone with me (which I did).

There are no shady ‘helpers’ on this border, just officials. And they always help you out when you are looking lost and don’t know where to go and what to do next. So although it’s more complicated than other borders, it was no issue at all and everyone was friendly and helpful.

Border crossing Panama-Costa Rica

I took the middle border crossing in Rio Sereno from Panama to Costa Rica. It’s not busy as the big one in the south. I was the only one leaving Panama and met just one couple on the Costa Rica side. The whole crossing took more than two hours, but most of it was just waiting for the Costa Rican insurance to be processed (details below). Without this waiting time, it would be done in less than an hour.

Make sure you drive in from the north east between the Panamanian buildings (see map below). Somehow I came from the south and was technically already out of Panama. The customs got confused why I came from the other side, but wanted to leave Panama…

Leaving Panama

The immigration office is the building north of the road and the customs (aduana) on the south. Just park the bike/car on the road between the buildings. At the immigration they take a photo of you and your fingerprints. He wanted a copy of my passport, although he had a copy machine right behind him…

Head to the aduana south of the road to give the TIP (temporary import paper) and you are free to leave.

The Panamanian side took me just 15 minutes.

Entering Costa Rica

Drive right up on the gravel road to the second and third buildings. The white containers under the roof is the immigration. This took only 5 minutes. The new building after the containers is the customs. This will take some time here.

They start the process and need passport and the vehicle papers to make copies. Meanwhile you need to complete two forms: one for the vehicle and one for importing goods (or money over 10000$).

Then she will hand you a paper with the bank account information to pay the vehicle insurance (seguro). It is 37$/20159colon for a motorcycle and has to be payed at the supermarket south of the customs. You can see the red roof of the supermarket from the customs.

Go into the supermarket and there to the back and walk up the right stairs. If there is nobody sitting at the computer, then knock on the white door. You can pay with USD also for everything else in the store.

Go back to the aduana with the payment confirmation. From here on it will take about an hour for the insurance: they send the information to an insurance company in another city, which will process and print the paper, make a photo of it and send it back to the customs. After getting the photo of the new insurance, the customs will further process the TIP. You will not get the original insurance paper, but a print of the photo, stamped by the customs. Now she asked me for copies of the passport and vehicle paper, although she already did some an hours earlier… just make sure you always have copies with you.

Another customs officer came to see the bike and check the plate and the chassis number. I didn’t need to open the luggage.

If you ride a motorcycle in Costa Rica, you must wear a reflective band! I got one for free from other bikers, but I’m sure you will get some at motorbike shops in the next town.

Two signatures later I successfully entered Costa Rica!

Shipping from Dili, Timor-Leste to Darwin, Australia

I shipped from Dili in Timor Leste to Darwin in Australia.
As nobody was nearby, I needed to take a whole container. it’s much more expensive as I thought, especially in Darwin!

-Shipping costs in Dili: 1800US$
-Unload & Inspection costs in Darwin: 1700AU$
-3 days of cleaning the bike in Dili
-one week waiting for inspection in Darwin
-the inspection in Darwin was not as hard as expected

I stayed in Dili Central Backpackers, which seams to be the cheapest you can get (10$ in a 6 dorm, fan only). Nice backpacker community, an Australian owner, good food, but sometimes a bit dirty…

In Dili there is the Entreposto Ford dealership, where you can go and clean your bike. They have a high water pressure cleaning station and you can use their tools. You can leave the bike overnight, as the cleaning will take you some days (I cleaned for three days!). They even helped me to transport the bike to the container, on the back of a Ford pickup!
The manager there just requests some photos to hang in his office.
For the first quick cleaning I went to this car wash, it was 3$ for a pretty good first cleanup.

I found three shipping agencies in Dili: Bollore/SDV, Crossland (also known as and ANL (they bought Perkins. Australia’s Tollgroup also ships with them).
All of them don‘t really respond to emails in a timely manner. And if you finally get an answer, the quote will be wrong anyways…
In my experience you have to go to Dili and walk into their offices to ask for a reliable quote.
For Bollore/SDV, the quote in Dili was 1000$ cheaper than per email, ANL was 500$ more expensive than per email.
All of them will fuck you over, at latest in Darwin.

Bollore/SDV (
SDV has been renamed to Bollore two years ago. But nobody seems to care, all offices are still labeled as SDV. Even in Darwin. From Darwin to Dili this company seems to be the most reliable and easiest way to go. From Dili to Darwin it‘s not going that smooth… at least they have the fastest ship, it only takes two days to Darwin. They go about once a month.
But you have to buy a whole container, they don‘t want to do LCL (they may do it if you really insist, but they did not want to give me a quote). They will get the empty container to their office, so you can load it basically in the middle of Dili, near the hostels and cleaning stations.
They also do the stamping of the Carnet for you, as the customs officer will come to their office to inspect the container and seal it.

They made a good quote in just 10 minutes when I was at their office. It was 500$ cheaper than Bollore. But they forgot to list the BAF of about 500$…
So they are almost exactly the same price as bollore. But their ship goes to Surabaya on Java first and will take about 25-30 days to Darwin. Goes about once a month.

ANL (former Perkins):
The most unreliable company. But the cheapest, as they do LCL: you pay only the space in the container which you are actually using. My quote was about 1300$. But they will not ship the container until it‘s full! This easily can take a month or two. Then it will take almost another month until the ship arrives in Darwin (normally 22 days, but they may move your bike into another container in Singapur, which can add another week). They claim to have two boats and go every 10 days, but one boat seems to be broken since more than half a year now.
With ANL, you have to go to the customs with your bike first and get your Carnet stamped. They won‘t handle the customs for you.

What you should see on your quote from the shipping agencies (if you go for a whole container):
Container, 950-1000 US$ per container
Tax, 2.64% per container = 26.40 US$
BAF (bunker adjustment factor), ca 500 US$, this depends on the current oil price.
Customs clearance, 50 US$ per shipment
Bill of Lading fees, 30 US$ per bill of lading
Customs inspection fees, 55 US$ per shipment
Terminal handling charges, 50 US$ per container
Trucking, 60-120 US$ per container

When asking for the quote, tell them you will load and strap the bike by yourself! This will save you about 500 US$. They try to charge 350 US$ just for the straps and 150$ for labour! I bought 4 straps in Malaysia for 25 US$.
And they want it in cash! only ANZ ATMs give up to 500$ in 50$ bills, all others may just give 200$ in 20$ bills.

I loaded the container on a Tuesday, the ship was supposed to leave on Friday.
Unfortunately, the SDV office was closed on Wednesday and Friday, but nobody told me! The customs inspection and Carnet stamping was done on Thursday, so I got a bit nervous. Especially when the container was still sitting there on Friday at 1pm! I got no response from the office in Dili anymore, so I didn‘t know if the container has been loaded or not.

On Monday I’ve been already in Darwin and I‘ve got an invoice from a Chinese shipping company called Swire Shipping. So I went to their office in Darwin, which was closed. Called them up and finally got Jacky on the phone. She cannot do anything, as it’s just a small office and does not have access to the company’s computer system. I had to call the Sydney office, where you have to speak to a tape and nobody calls back, ever.
So I payed the invoice (1100AUD!) to get my Bill of Lading. Because without that, it’s not possible to get anything done at the customs.
The invoice was like this:
MISC AGENT CHARGES: 450 AU$ <— these charges were false. got it back after one week!

it seems that you must have an agency in Darwin to communicate with the customs and get the inspection appointment.
the following fees did apply through the agency:
Local Handling (Agent fees?): 275 AU$
Customs Clearance: 145 AU$
Biosecurity Inspection Booking: 25 AU$
Biosecurity Attendence: 95 AU$
Quarantine Direction (2x?): 160 AU$
Container transport (harbour to warehouse): 300 AU$

I did all this through Bollore/SDV in Darwin as I thought they already have all the information about my shipping.
 But the office in Darwin does not communicate with Dili, so they did not know anything about my container! And they didn‘t even try to ask them, I had to relay all the emails by myself and went to their office (taxi is 35 AU$, no public busses are going there) to give them my carnet.
Finally on Friday, after five days waiting in Darwin, I got an email from Bollore, that the inspection will be on Monday at 2pm.

Bollore stated at first, the container can stay at the harbour for the inspection. On Friday they suddenly needed to move the container to their warehouse, which costs additional 300 AU$!
If the inspection fails, it has to go back to the cleaning station, which would be another 300 AU$ for transport…
She could not really explain why they moved the container. Once she said something about storage costs, another time she said the customs wanted this…

On Monday at 10am she called me that I need to bring the bike key immediately (I locked the steering on my bike), although the appointment was scheduled for 2pm!
They wanted to move the bike to the quarantine area. So they tried to get my stuff out of the container without me being present! is this even legal??
the quarantine inspection lady came at 2:30pm…

I passed the inspection on the first try! it took about an hour and it was not as bad as all the horror stories told me.
Only needed to open the panniers and the seat. She mainly looked for dirt, soil and sand. She had a good look at the motor, center stand and radiator grill.
 She found some dirt between the rear wheel and the motor, but she said that’s not much and cleaned it with a small brush.
I’m glad I cleaned the bike thoroughly! Make sure to degrease everything (like chain, sprocket, brakes) and clean/replace the airfilters (in my case I didn’t need to show, but I told her that I cleaned them).
The luggage was even easier to pass. I just needed to show the tent, sleeping bag, camping chair and motorcycle boots. Everything else of my luggage she basically just had a small glance or even completely ignored.
After the inspection you have to wait about one hour for the clearance, then you are allowed to take the bike with you.

Total costs: 3150 US$
consisting of these bills:
Loading in Dili & shipping (Bollore/SDV): 1800 US$
Unloading in Darwin (Swire): 700 AU$
Customs & Inspection (Bollore/SDV): 1000 AU$

Border crossing from Indonesia to East Timor

I crossed the border from Indonesia to East Timor/Timor Leste!
My Indonesian visa expires in two days, so this was a close one with the ferry!

On the Indonesian side they are building a complete new border crossing area. It’s all still under construction, but already in use.
The entrance to the area is here, it’s not on OpenStreetMap yet.

The first building is the immigration. You have to go in there, they won’t stamp the passport in the boothes outside. It was pretty quick, as I was the only one there (Wednesday morning at 8:30).
Then I had to look for the customs. It’s the building on the right side, take the third exit of the roundabout. It looks just like a construction site than an active building, but the customs office is in there.
It took only about 10 minutes to stamp my carnet.

And off I went to the Timor Leste border!

Directly at the booth they stamped my carnet, quick and easy!
Then I needed to put my bike on the parking lot and walk back to the immigration, which is the building on the left.
I had to fill out the usual form and customs declaration, which they give right at the entrance at a small table.

The customs officer asked if Switzerland is in the European Union and I said it is 🙂
Because citizens of the European Union can get into Timor Leste without a visa and fees. Switzerland and Iceland do have the same agreement, but he only knew about the EU and I didn’t want to complicate things…

I read so much about issues to enter Timor Leste on the landborder from Indonesia and the required Visa permission in Kupang or online, that I was not sure if I really can go in without it.

But the whole process on both sides took less than one hour!