Motorcycle travel rules to ride China

How to ride your own motorcycle in China

We are often asked if it is possible to take motorcycles across the border into China, or is it possible to put the bike on a truck and then start riding once you’ve crossed into China?  Whilst freedom to ride around the World is something as motorcyclists we all dream of, many Countries including China have their own unique rules and laws to govern how we must comply to cross their borders with our foreign owned vehicles and motorcycles.

ride bmw gs motorbike in china

China is amongst the strictest Countries when it comes to access for foreign registered motorcycles. Although once you’ve passed their frontier and started riding inland, you’ll soon be travelling un-hindered, like a local! Chinese motoring comes in all shapes and sizes! generally there’s not a lot of respect to western style codes of the highway!  The best approach is to ride like a local and focus on making progress with the natural flow of traffic.   Although at time it might not be apparent, they do have traffic rules and a highway code in China! Even odd English road signs!  

Travelling overland through you will experience almost every type of creative traffic motion you’ve ever experienced, including some strange luggage carrying techniques!

motorbike tour riding through China

The Chinese driving rules

China highway laws state that it is a legal requirement that you must have motor travel permits from each Province that you wish to ride through.

All your motorcycling overland China travel questions answered

  1. Do I need to travel with a guide in China? You need to have an accompanying guide/fixer travelling overland within China, but you do not need to be in permanent close convoy as you ride. The fixer is there to assist you if needed as well as complying with the legal requirements to get the overland travel permissions.
  2. What is the hotel accommodation like in China?  Hotels are generally good standards, often westernised facilities, along with some more interesting smaller hotels/lodgings in southern China.  There is always reasonably good facilities and plenty of great variety for dining – especially if you like Chinese food!
  3. What’s the fuel grade and available motorcycle facilities for things like oil and tyre changes whilst traveling through mainland China? Generally fuel stations are modern with 95 octane fuel, tyres can be changed almost everywhere throughout China, Laos, Thailand – our supporting fixers will always find a local place to assist you.  Generally one set of duel purpose road tyres will suffice for the expedition now that the majority of roads are well surfaced.Read on for lots more of your overland China and Thailand motorcycling information – (also read our FAQ’s on the home page)
  4. Does China require a Carnet to travel with your own vehicle or motorcycle? Although you do not require a carnet de passage for your motorcycle to enter for China, it is still necessary to organise a customs bond – payment of a deposit based on the motorcycles value.  
    At MOTOEXPLORERS we take care of all of these formalities for you, well in advance of your arrival into China.  Since China has its own procedures for the temporary import of motorcycles all your documents need to be submitted to us 3 months ahead of arrival into China so that we can lodge them with the relevant Chinese authorities to prepare for your entry into China. 
  5. Do I need to obtain a Chinese driving license to ride my own motorcycle in China?  YES, 
  6. How do you obtain a Chinese driving license to ride motorcycles in China?  MOTOEXPLORERS can organise the necessary license for you to legally ride your motorcycle through China.  It also makes a great souvenir to take home with you!
  7. Can motorcycles travel on the highways (motorways) in China? Officially not, but where there’s a will there’s a way! and our experienced support crew will help you get to know when and how to get access to the Chinese highways. They will advise when it’s the best way to cover some of the larger mileage sections, especially across western regions, freeing up more time to get to your destination as well as enjoying the nicer rural stages of the ride. 
  8. Do we need to do any customs formalities for importing and re-exporting our own motorcycles or vehicles into China? Yes, it is necessary to lodge a customs bond and use the services of a specialist customs broker to complete the relevant China overland import/export documents. Motoexplorers will take care of all of these procedures for you and it is always fully included in our expedition tour pricing.
chinese motorcycle riders

The UK Experts for overland China – 11 years of riding UK to China

Scouting, exploring, inspiring and sharing – we support the true spirit of adventure motorcycling Ride freely at your own pace, paying fair local prices, enjoy the support of a ride team & professional, experienced local guides and fixers, without over pampering, or over-charging! 

We first rode overland China in 2009, on a mission to scout out the MotoExplorers expeditions, riding across Country to Beijing, West to Eastern China. There has always been a lengthy process to follow, which does tend to fluctuate year to year, just to add to the challenges!  The bottom line is; you need to co-work your travel plans, with local licensed Chinese travel agents, government approved tour operators who hold the correct qualifications and operators license. 

china overland motor vehicle driving

With over ten years experience of organising the MotoExplorers China Expeditions; we have built excellent relationships with our Chinese partners, having worked with reliable Chinese motorcycle tour agents since 2009.  Our Chinese travel partners are familiar with the correct procedures and are well connected with additional ‘local contacts’, in the western Xinjiang province, which is the best border for western travellers to enter China from.

The whole overland permit process takes aprox three months to organise before your date of arrival into China and the correct procedures include;

A/ Collating the correct rider and motorbike travel documents
B/ Submission of travel and vehicle paperwork in the correct format
C/ Licensed Beijing agents in China, handling the Beijing Ministry of Tourism clearances
D/ Local approved travel agents for processing local provincial travel applications, for each Chinese Province
E/ Police and army clearance for each Chinese province you intend to travel through overland 
F/ Specialist customs brokers to organise the customs clearance & Motorcycle and vehicle Bond (Chinese equivalent of a Carnet de Passage) 
G/ Traffic department inspection;  A Chinese form of MOT.  Our MotoExplorers guide will organise this inspection and the application of the temporary Chinese driver license issued by the Chinese Traffic Police, which takes 1 to 2 days after arrival into China.

Family group riding their motorcycle in China

With all of the correct documents and paperwork in order, you will be free to travel overland China, riding your own bike.
MotoExplorers friendly English speaking Chinese guide will not interrupt your own freedom and pleasure to travel independently day by day. Many people are sometimes hesitant at the prospect of travelling with a local guide, but they are not there as minders! & our own local guides are relaxed, friendly and understanding of your desire to enjoy the riding adventures and freedom from the saddle.

So long as you stay roughy in line with our filed route plans, you are free to stop-start and travel at your own pace in China. Generally once you are on the right route, you will soon gain an understanding of where other riders & the local guides vehicle are in relation to yourself – you’ll soon get into a comfortable ride pace which suits your own riding style and is far nicer than all riding in one long motorcycle-convoy!

Crossing China overland riding foreign registered motorcycles

Chinese travel permit motorcycle license plate

Documents required:  3 months prior to travel / as scanned copies.
1. IDL
2. National drivers license
3. Chinese Drivers license:  Motoexplorer will obtain this for you
4. Passport – valid 6 months after date of travel, with 10 blank pages available
5. Photos of bike, rider, no. plate
6. Copy of motorcycle registration documents – must be in travellers own or business name & show;
VIN no. (chassis number) & Engine number.  The chassis number must also be clear and accessible on the motorcycle, because they will be checked when you arrive in China.
7. Chinese entry visa, This is the last & easier process; The China visa is just for your own entry, it does not relate to the motorcycle in any way.  Chinese agents will issue a LOI (Letter of invitation) often required for the visa application, which is best obtained in your home Country of residence.

Since 2017 China has been issuing a 1 year multiple entry travel visa as standard, we guess to help encourage tourism. 2018 riders were also issued 1 year multiple entry – we’re anticipating 2019 visa procedures will be the same for overlanding in China.

Chinese police riding motorcycle in China
China motorcycle outriders © MotoExplorers

With all of your paperwork in correct order, you will not be chased by the Chinese traffic Police!

At toll booths = you can safely proceed around the outside barriers without need to pay road tolls.

At highway inspection points = you will have the correct licenses, permits and documents, for legal permission to motorcycle through China.

MotoExplorer is here to help and assist, guide you through guide regulations and travel rules for Motorcycle touring in China.

Xinjiang Border crossings into Western China

We recommend the Torugart Pass for entering China at a land crossing border with your own vehicle or motorcycle.  MotoExplorers Chinese partners have local agents who are government licensed and fully familiar with the regulations and correct procedures  for crossing into China using your own motorcycle.  

Western China is seldom in the press, it’s a part of China that very few westerners get to travel overland, especially using your own motorcycle! Media often focuses the restrictive aspects of China, of which there are increasingly more rules and check-points, but once you’re travelling away from the major cities things do become more free-spirited the further inland you travel.  

Filling motorcycles using the China Kettle system is just one of the many cultural quirks you’ll soon get used to! apparently it’s to help keep your motorcycle safe from combustion from filling a dangerous vehicle with a real pump! It’s not a practice I’ve seen anywhere in Europe, just yet!  It will be interesting to see how this system evolves once we all switch to electric motorcycles!

Petrol stations fuel China
Chinese fuel pump

We are assisting motorcycles to cross into China again in 2019, entering at the Torugart Pass late August.
Riders can join any of our flexible ride stages, meeting up anywhere along the route up to the Chinese border. See Ride China 2019 for details.

If you have any questions regarding travelling overland through China using your own motorcycle, I am always pleased to hear from you and give you my advice.  Steve Hotson, founder – MotoExplorers UK
You can contact me by email using the site contact form.