Ride foreign motorcycles & vehicles into China

Riding or driving foreign registered vehicles and motorcycles over land borders into China is now possible once again. updated latest current border permit information for 2023.

There are a few procedures to follow, but by working with the correct authorities, it is easily managed. Due to the time and complexity, it does have higher costs than most other international borders, which is why people usually look to link up with a small group or for longer durations overlanding through China, it’s often best to travel with an organised tour group which helps share the costs of the required permits from an approved, licensed moto tour company.

There is no need to be put off by transiting overland China, just work with trusted agents, follow the correct procedures, you will get your provisional Chinese drivers license, just like mine! and once you gain access to cross the borders, everything becomes a pleasurable adventure. You will be allowed to travel relitively freely day to day, throughout China, within the routes.

Chinese border customs checking motorcycles
Chinese border customs checks for motorcycle permits

We are often asked if it is possible to take motorcycles across the border into China, or is it possible to put the motorbike on a truck and then start riding once you’ve crossed into China?

Can you take foreign vehicles into China?
Yes, it is possible to take foreign vehicles into China, but the process can be complicated and requires advance planning and paperwork. Here are some key things to know:

Chinese regulations – China has specific regulations regarding the importation of foreign vehicles. These regulations are subject to change, so it’s important to check the latest information before importing a vehicle or arriving at an overland border.
Documentation – You will need to provide various usual documents to import a foreign vehicle into China, including a valid driver’s license, passport, and registration papers to show proof of ownership of the vehicle. You will also need to obtain a temporary license plate and insurance in China.
Customs clearance – Your vehicle will need to go through customs clearance when entering China, and you will need to pay any import duties and taxes. For temporary import, i.e. vehicles or motorcycles which are intended to re-depart China from a different border, there will be a customs bond, which can be refunded on exit. Generally, we will arrange for this to be paid and ledged for you by the local customs agent.
Driving restrictions – There may be driving restrictions for foreign vehicles in China, including limitations on where and when you can drive. These restrictions vary depending on the region and can change at any time, so it’s important to check local regulations before planning a trip.
Age restriction – is usually age 60 years for foreign drivers. This may be increased, for a temporary driving license and is subject to an additional fee.

Overall, while it is possible to take a foreign vehicle into China, the process can be complicated and time-consuming. It’s important to do your research and consult with a customs broker or transportation specialist to ensure you have all the necessary paperwork and meet all the requirements for importing a vehicle into China. These are all proceedures that our own travel partners in China are very familiar with and would complete for you, well ahead of your vehicles arrival at the border.

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 in order to cross their land borders with our foreign owned vehicles and motorcycles.

Organising all of the required permits and procedures had become fairly routine for us. Now from mid 2023, we are slowly making our way back to the Silk Roads and trans-China will be possible again.

bmw UK GS adventure motorcycle permitted riding across china

The Chinese driving and border permit 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

Are Carnets required to take motorcycles and vehicles into China?

No, China does not use the Carnet system. Instead, they have their own correct procedures to follow, as detailed below;

Working with our trusted partners in China, we have successfully organised and obtained the required travel permits, as well as fully co-ordinated each proceedure to follow once you arrive at the border.

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

  • Collating the correct rider and motorbike travel documents which must be in the registered name of the person accompanying the bike or vehicle.
  • Submission of travel and vehicle paperwork in the correct format
  • Licensed Beijing agents in China, handling the Beijing Ministry of Tourism clearances
  • Local approved travel agents for processing local provincial travel applications, for each Chinese Province
  • Police and army clearance, which forms part of the permit process for each Chinese province you intend to travel through overland 
  • Specialist customs brokers to organise the customs clearance & Motorcycle and vehicle Bond (Chinese equivalent of a Carnet de Passage) 
  • 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.

You will be issued with your own Motoexplorer Provisional Chinese drivers license, to ride in China.

provisional driving license permit china
Driving license permit for China

We can obtain a temporary vehicle registration document from the local traffic department and then you are free to go travelling overland China, complying with the local Moto exploring rules.

motorcycle riding in china

The UK specialists for Motorcycle overlanding China

Scouting, exploring, inspiring and sharing – we support the true spirit of long distance adventure motorcycling.

Travel the Silk Road 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. 

With over a decade of experience 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.

What’s the fuel quality like in China?

Petrol and diesel fuel quality is good, to the same western standards. Regular high octance petrol is rediliy available. Although at gas stations in the westerm province, you may have a slightly quirky way to fill the motorcycles petrol tank! see below –

Is fuel available within easy range for motorcycles?

Yes, there are ample, modern petrol stations. On some of the longer riding days, certain bikes may be close to their fuel range, we can arrange to carry spare fuel on these days.

Are there service and repair facilities for motorcycles in China?

Yes, nowadays there are much more modern bikes in China, although the main agents are restricted to the larger cities. Our moto guide is the expert for motorcycling in China, they will know the places to obtain parts and any repairs if it’s required. Of-course there are more smaller motorcycles in China, than the population of Belgium! You will find a puncture repair guy on every street corner!

fueling a bmw gs motorcycle in china

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! Once you ride further east within China, you should discover that the petrol stations will be more plentiful and open for motorcyclists.

Hows the driving in China?

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 and a local driving pace which suits your own riding style and is far nicer than all riding in one long motorcycle-convoy!

Can we travel without a guide?

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.

Is it dangerous to drive in China?

A short answer is; Yes, sure it is, you probably wouldn’t want to ride to China without some danger! may as well stick to an office job!!, so yes it can be danger, but really not so different to many other places you’d ride motorcycles through. China does have a highway code, there are plenty of police check-points and most vehicles must have at least some third party Chinese moto insurance. Generally, expect to see every style of driving and weird type of vehicle throughout China. The buses can be particualy crazy! they drive to their own schedule – fast as possible! so best just get out of their way.
You’ll see tractors and carts comming up the expressways the wrong way, or making sudden U-turns to get to their local farm land. Just ride as you expect to see sudden changes of directions and all is fine, you quickly become used to the quirky local driving ways!

Does GPS sat-nav work in China?

Yes it does, although some sytems may be slighly off from their true co-ordinate. We will provide more specific advice and information for expedtion riders.

How busy are the roads and cities in China?

Cities are vast and busy, but if you can avoid the busiest rush times, just like the west, you’ll be able to pass through and navigate just fine by GPS. Out in the more rural regions, you can ride without much traffic at all, especially off the beaton track, it can be amazing to think you’re all alone in the middle of China some times! That’s when it can feel re-assuring to know that you still have access to a local guide, just a phone call away! Yes – mobile phones also have good coverage throughout China and we can help you get a local sim card to make it nice and easy + low costs to keep in touch whilst you travel.

Are the traffic Police a problem and how’s best to deal with roadside checks?

By having all of your Chinese driving and travel documents in order, you will not have any difficulties. The Police will be aware that you have complied with the correct regulations, that’s really all they’re looking for. We will of-course provide more advice, on the expeditions.

Police have check points for travel permits and driver licenses

China motorcycle riders police permits
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.

china motorcycle touring road trip
Xinjiang Torugart Pass Border permits for crossings into Western China

We recommend the Torugart Pass from Kyrgyzstan 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 obtaining the correct permits and permissions for crossing this border and travelling into Kashgar where they will assist you completing the remaining formalities at the vehicle transport department in China.  

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 much more free-spirited the further inland you travel.  

BMW GS Adventure motorcycle on silk road china
My own GS800 first scouting through China in 2009
Traveling freely by my own motorcycle throughout China

With all of the correct documents and paperwork in order, you will be free to travel overland by motorcycle in China, riding your own bike, at your own pace. You will be free to stop when you like and interact with the friendly local people who will usually be curious and excited to see you and your motorcycle, where-ever you stop.

Here’s a few extra overlanding road trip tips – to help you prepare.

If I can help further, please don’t hesitiate to get in touch.
Steve Hotson – Motoexplorer UK