Importing a Motorcycle

tl;dr – Don’t bother. Just buy one here.

When we suddenly found out we were moving to the other side of the world, one of the first things I looked into was how good (or bad) the riding would be in New Caledonia. I love my motorcycle and would ride it to work most of the year back in DC. When I did a little research and talked to some friends that had friends in NC (thanks, Reggie!), it turns out that NC is a perfect place to ride. The roads are in (relatively) great shape, there are huge stretches of paved and unpaved roads, and the weather is beautiful the majority of the year. What more could you ask for?

Since our employer covered the cost of shipping all of our stuff in a 20-foot shipping container, we were able to fit in my bike as well (for a nominal crating fee of course). Awesome, I thought! I don’t have to sell my bike and go bike shopping again since I can just bring along my old one! Piece of cake!

Now, we knew that it wouldn’t be as easy as uncrating the thing and riding off into the sunset, but we had no idea how many steps would be involved to get it registered, licensed, insured, and so forth. It has been more than a month since our stuff arrived and just recently I was able to hit the road

The process is sort-of explained on the DITTT website (DITTT is like the US DMV except it is nationalized instead of by state) but it’s in French and a little convoluted… So, without further adieu, here’s what you’ll have to do to register an imported vehicle. This is for a motorcycle, but it should be similar for any vehicle…

1. Get an RTI

In NC, an RTI is “Réception à Titre Isolé”. It is a document that, as far as I can understand, says what your vehicle is (make, model, weight, fuel type, etc.). The stamp of the approving authority is what makes it official (they really like their stamping here in NC).These should be available from a dealership, but in our case, since the bike is from the North American market, The Suzuki shop here refused to give us any paperwork about it even though it is the same bike found in the rest of the world other than the speedometer having both miles and kilometers. For this part, we had to hire a 3rd party’s services to come look at the bike (and go on the internet) to get it’s specs. After paying some money (a common theme here), you get a shiny, stamped, RTI paper describing your vehicle-as-imported.

We were recommended Alain Services (ass@lagoon.nc) (heh) and Alain was very helpful throughout the process (and speaks a bit of English as well).

This process took a few days – Alain put together a dossier with all of the info I provided and added the RTI to it. You’ll need to provide:

  • Import Certificate (provided by NC customs)
  • The Title for the vehicle (or some other document proving ownership)
  • A bill of sale for when you bought the vehicle
  • Proof of previous insurance
  • A document describing any insurance claims you may have made or stating you didn’t make any
  • Driver’s License
  • Passport
  • Proof of residence (electric bill, etc.)

2. Get the Technical Book

This is another part that should be available from the dealership which provides the manufacturers specifications of the vehicle like its weight, how loud it is, regulations it conforms to, top speed info, etc. etc.. Again, we couldn’t get Suzuki to give us one so the same company that helped with the RTI also provided this book. Great. Seems really official.

3. Visit “Control Technique”

This was a fun one. At this point, you need to make an appointment with and bring along the RTI, tech book, and other documents to the Contrôl Technique center. This involved driving through town (without plates or insurance – nobody will insure an unregistered bike), having some official-looking individuals look at the VIN, see that the turn signals work, and that’s about it. That’ll be 3000XPF, s’il vous plaît.

This was pretty easy and just took one morning. Alain set up an appointment for us and walked us through the process.

Side-note: Some of our friends that are leaving soon discovered that, depending on the age of your vehicle, you may need to go to Contrôl Technique before you sell a car so the sucker buying it gets a good deal. Now I like the idea of making sure the buyer doesn’t get ripped off in theory, but what ever happened to buyer-beware? Surely the buyer of a vehicle who knows to at least check that the brakes work and the lights turn on?! Or if he can’t then it should be on him to do the research and make sure he’s getting a good deal. Mandatory, seller-provided, faux safety checks for the perceived benefit of the buyer… Ooh la la…


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4. Carte Grise

Ok, your vehicle has passed the rigorous safety checks. It has brake lights. It has a horn. It tells you your speed in Km/H (even if the numbers are tiny compared to the MPH gauge…). Now you get to apply for the Carte Grise (grey card). This is the French version of a Title and Registration all in one. This is the sheet of paper that signifies victory. With this baby you can prove to anyone in the French Republic that you own the vehicle. So… Take all your documents from the previous steps plus a copy of your passport, the completed grey card form, and some cash/check (my bike was on the low end at 10600XPF – the price depends on the power of the engine) to the office.


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This office is a standard take-a-ticket-and-wait-your-turn ordeal. Easy enough – just drop off your paperwork and come back tomorrow (of course – we can’t be giving you your grey piece of paper today, can we? That wouldn’t be very Nouméa-y at all… Gotta have at least 2 trips!). The next afternoon you can come back and claim your card, fork over the fees, and be on your way! – to the license plate printing shop…

5. License Plate

I find it odd that every other part of the process seems pretty regulated and bureaucratic, but the issuing of the actual license plate that gets bolted to your ride comes from any old graphics/signage/printing/key-copying/watch-repair/engraving shop of your choice. At least this way you get to pick out your colors and font, pay about 2500XPF, and come back in a few days (a reoccurring theme). I ended up going to Kiscal which is right pretty close to the Grey Card office just at the roundabout next door to Meca Moto. In retrospect, I could probably have hand-painted my numbers on an old piece of metal myself and saved the money. I just assumed it would be some official looking thing, but it really is just a square of metal with numbers printed on it.

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6. Insurance

Like the US, insurance is mandatory here (and you’d be crazy not to get it with the way people drive around here – sure to have a post about that soon). Some friends and the NC motorcycle forum all recommend Assurance Mutuelle des Motards which is located downtown near the city market. They seem to have the best coverage specifically for motorcycles (although you need to have insurance coverage for something from their parent company AGPM – same office). This was easy enough – just bring your grey card, drivers license, and some documentation stating if you had any claims on your previous moto/auto insurance (a phone call back to our old ensurer in the states was all it took to get these emailed to me), and your bank account info. Moto insurance is a bit pricey here – in the neighborhood of $1K per year for full coverage… It was about $700 for the lesser coverage – both a bit more than back in the states… C’est la vie… Some other riders got better pricing but I think this has to do with them having a French license as opposed to an “agreement” that the US license is valid here. Thankfully, the insurance company provides you a 30-day temporary policy until your real sticker arrives in the mail (from France) so as long as you have your plates, you can, finally, cruise off over the horizon!

So if I knew then what I know now would I have imported my bike? HECK NO! (Sorry, bike) I thought bikes here would be really expensive but they are pretty comparable to prices in the states and there are plenty of them (and lots of nice ones that are pretty pricey back home – KTM, BMWs, sweet adventure bikes, …). By buying here you’d avoid all the RTI, control technique, etc. etc. and just have to do a standard grey card sign-over and get some insurance.

Maybe it was worth it after all

Maybe it was worth it after all…

Ride reports soon to come…

3 thoughts on “Importing a Motorcycle

  1. Adam

    Hi – great blog! I’m considering bringing a car w me to Noumea from the states – it’s a 2004 Volvo, big enough to fit my family of 5. Do you think it will be a miserable hassle? Any advice?
    Thanks!!

    Reply
    1. josh Post author

      Honestly? Probably not worth it. I’m sure you could work through the process if you wanted, but buying something here would probably be much easier and less expensive. They will look for things like European emission standards, make sure the speedo is in km/h, etc., and you’ll have to wait for your container to actually get here and clear customs (took at least 3 months for us).

      Most of the main brands are available here although I don’t recall seeing any Volvo dealerships or volvos for that matter (which means service will likely be more pricey and parts may take a looong time to get here if needed). There are a few classifieds websites the main one is automobiles.nc. Maybe check some prices there and see what is available…

      Hope this helps!

      Reply

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