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Old 18 Oct 2012
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Air freighting to Argentina, the definitive guide

Air freighting to BsAs
*crossposted in ADVrider and UKgser under the same title*

So you want to ship your bike by air to BsAs and you dont know where to begin? Read on for a fairly comprehensive addition to the existing knowledge. I am adding to the information that John'The Bede' and Ela 'Pumpy' have contributed in great detail here: and here, where the Bede himself helps Pumpy through the process . Without their specific instruction and encouragement, i could not have completed this process. I hope my addition will help others as theirs did.

In this description, i will backtrack a bit and address larger concepts and address some situations and issues that they did not face.

1. What happens before your bike gets into a crate - who are the players and what's really involved.

2. When and what original documents you need and when will copies do?

3. What happens if your bike ships earlier or later than intended?

4. What are the costs involved after you have paid the shipping company and why?

5. Most importantly, photos of the crating, shipping, cargo termninals, offices, and directions.

Lets start at the beginning..

So you have decided to ship by air. There are plenty of air vs sea shipping threads such as this classic piece of distilled wisdom. My view: i dont mind paying more if i know the exact date of arrival. It costs for you to wait for the bike, and it costs to have the bike wait for you. Also, air vs sea depends heavily on destination. Shipping across the Darien is different case from shipping from Europe to Argentina.

So what does air-freighting involve? It certainly involves a trustworthy shipper. See if you can find one here You have to find one that you are comfortable dealing with. I found one in LA based on the recommendation of James Cargo folks. I used Schumacher Logistics and the guy in charge of air-freighting was Steve Haratani. Super nice guy, very attentive, soft-spoken and quite efficient. He gets the job done. I made it a point to meet him in person before making the final decision. no regrets at all.

So, you selected your shipper. Now, the shipper is not the only actor in the whole process. The shipper is also called a forwarder. Forwarders typically do only a portion of the whole process. In the case of Schumacher, they gave me an initial quote based on rough measurements that i gave them over the phone. Based on my destination, they used AeroMexico as the carrier. The quote is quite comprehensive including crating, handling, freight, fuel surcharge, security fee, dangerous goods, etc.
Why should i use a forwarder/shipper and not use the airline directly? 'Coz airlines dont want to deal with you. I called around to the cargo depts of Delta, United and American and was met with blank walls. 9/11 changed a lot of things, one lady said to me on the phone, and recommended using a forwarder.

So, back to the paperwork with Steve. Steve asked me for:
Copy of bike title, (no registration document)
Copy of first page of passport
Address at the destination and a phone number for destination ( use your BsAs hostel if you like)
Letter addressed to US customs stating the reason for the export of the bike
In this letter, i wrote up a rough itinerary of my route, bike details, rough value of bike, and truthfully stated that i fully intended to bring the bike back to the USA. I sent all of this to Steve via email.

By this time you should have a fairly clear idea of dates for you to leave and the bike. Be very involved in this process with the shipper because every day of storage at BsAs costs roughly more than $50. Yes, you read that right and it is USD. So you don't want to arrive after your bike, or have the bike arrive too early before you.

Once the dates were fixed, I took my bike from SF where i live to LA. Steve received me warmly, first thing we did was verify the dimensions of the bike to check against his original quote. I was on the margin and Steve held to his quote inspite of the higher fuel surcharges. Gas was going for $4.99 in LA that week.

The staff at Schumacher were super efficient and within minutes my bike was inspected and photographed. Steve recommended disconnecting the battery and having less than 1/4th tank of gas. However, the guys handling the bike said it never matters to anyone if you dont do that. So i left the battery connected and 2 gallons of gas in and hoped that my baby wouldn't mark her spot too noticeably ;-)

I surrendered my original Title to Steve at this point. Customs needs it. More on this later.

I wanted to stay for the crating process, but that was out of the question - it gets done when it gets done, so i returned to SF and sent in my $$ (ouch!!). within 2 days, Steve sent me photos of the bike in the process of being crated up.

Yea, i shipped my riding gear, and almost all other gear with the bike. With airfreight, it is all about volume. Unless you put in 200-300 lbs of gear in, the needle is not likely to move on the price. However, Steve omits declaring the additional baggage with the airline. The argentinian customs didnt seem to care either. I forgot to prepare a packing list and AR customs did not ask for it.

After the crating happens, a very important document has been created - the AirWay bill. This is the single most important document in the entire pile of paperwork so far. Without this, you are going nowhere. It is the passport and visa for your bike.

The airway bill shows the consignee (me), the customs agent (schumacher uses an agent), the carrying airline, motorcycle vin and engine numbers and the itemized $ involved. Stapled to this document are the copy of my title, passport and statement of intent (that i had submitted to Steve earlier).

NOTE: make sure that both engine number and VIN number correspond 100%. in my case, the engine was a transplant. On advise from Javier (dakarmotos) and the HUBB i had DMV re-issue another title to me with the new engine number. It probably saved me from untold hassles.

This airway bill then goes to a US customs officer (i got a copy emailed to me). From my understanding the customs officer inspects the paperwork and may inspect the bike vin (from a special hole made in the crate). Upon his approval, the original title is stamped with a perforation. The bike is then whisked away to the Airlines cargo terminal. The title and the original airway bill are carefully put in a pouch that accompanies the bike. At the destination, the pouch is retained by the airline cargo office and the bike crate is sent forward to the storage warehouse. All of this process from crating to shipping takes about a week-10 days during which Steve stays in touch with you. He knows exactly where the bike is at any moment.

At this point, you have already landed at Buenos Aires, settled in, have obtained insurance for the bike (photos below), and have a copy of the approved airway bill (not the original!). You get notified by the forwarder of the arrival of your bike (you knew it beforehand, but you have to be alert for delays or hiccups). You then re-read for the 10th time " The Bede's thread on how to go about claiming your bike.

Start with obtaining insurance for the bike in BsAs
The ATM insurance company headquarters is here on 969 San Martin. 9th floor. Note that there are several branch offices in the city and some of them are open on saturdays as well.

You go in, state your need, show your passport or license and they ask you to wait.

You get called, and they need just a copy of the title to generate a basic liability insurance that is good through quite a few countries. I paid AR$84. This is more of a receipt they generate that will suffice for Argentinian customs. They will ask you to return a couple of days later to pick up the real card that is this:

So you got your insurance in hand and you celebrate. You are now almost ready to go for the big one. As soon as you know that your bike has arrived, you go to the Ezeiza airport cargo terminal for the first step of the process - obtaining the ORIGINAL airway bill from the carrying airline (aeromexic in my case). All the cargo offices of all airlines are in one building that is right next to the general departures and arrivals building. Looks soviet block on the outside.

Inside the building, locate your airline. Aeromexico and a few other airlines are handled by one agency called CMS.
I paid AR$700 to get the original airway bill. Why it is so expensive i dont know.

You are now ready for the main process. A few photos to situate you.

This is the entrance to the cargo terminal for aduana area. just a little walk from where you got the airway bill.

At the end of this is the little security office where they give you an entrance ticket into the aduana facility.

You now ask for the particulares office that is just a short walk from the entrance gate, right by the warehouse area.

The Office Space. would make a great sitcom right here. Oficina 1 is actually at the end of the corridor, through a door on the right.

In The Bede and others' descriptions of the extrication process, you can see a common workflow. Let's project you into the picture as you go through roughly what i did. Basically it goes very much like this: -> go to airline cargo terminal and pay to get the ORIGINAL airway bill -> go to the Particulares office that is in the aduana building (nestled inside the large warehouse, easily visible from the outside) -> go to oficina 2, walk in and take a ticket and wait for your number to be called in. Lady will greet you very warmly and closely inspect the ORIGINAL airway bill that you produce and she fills in a form based on the airway bill info. Copy of passport and bike documents are made as you wait. Lady tries pronouncing my name and laughingly gives up. She charmingly sees me out to oficina 1 -> Oficina 1 dude looks up papers, checks on something, calls up the warehouse boys to pull your crate out ->

Exactly, there is no way you are going to open that up with a swiss knife or screwdriver. Couple guys do it for you with power tools, crowbar, hammer and drills. You watch anxiously as they uncrate the bike for you

-> wait around some, told to go to oficina 3 -> customs official from oficina 3 eventually steps out and bends his rear end slowly to inspect the VIN and engine numbers, pokes around the luggage, tells you go to wait outside his office while he has lunch -> you go back out to have the guys pull the bike completely out of the crate and get busy strapping on your riding gear and making motorcycle noises in your head -> customs official returns from lunch, makes mincemeat of the papers from triplicates to duplicates, gets your autographs here and there, tells you to go to officina 1 -> in Oficina 1, you are in front of a gorgeous latina who breathlessly enquires about your ride plans and just as you are climaxing on the list of countries, she sweetly rings you up for USD$250 for the privilege of handling and storing the bike for a little more than 24 hrs; shocked, you pay up with a credit card and she lovingly stamps your papers and scribbles something (her facebook ID?) and hands you a receipt for the same -> back to oficina 3 for the dude to verify that you indeed paid, more tearing of sheets ensues, he hands you a form that he says very carefully you need to hand over to the argentine border official when u exit the country, reminds you have only 90 days to get out of the country -> back to oficina 1 to get the bike exit papers prepared, the latina is still smiling sweetly, just at someone else now. Fattie starts to prepare your exit papers but stops suddenly. Wait, something is wrong now, says "go to oficina 2 dos lady and get the lady to fill that box in" -> oficina 2 dos lady is a bit ticked off at being reminded to tick some box off and hustles in to oficina 1 to tell fattie so. Latina is nowhere to be seen. Fattie and lady come to an agreement, though both shake their respective heads once they turn their backs to each other -> Back to oficina 3 guy who does something you cannot recall anymore and sends you back to oficina 1 for the final step -> fattie signs off with a flourish, and latina is beaming at you. Fattie shakes your hand, congratulates you with a 'completo' and wishes you a safe ride and to watch out for the Bolivians - they are a murderous lot. Latina smiles sweetly from behind a glass counter and you leave with an aching heart and wallet, both of which you forget about instantly when you step outside and see your bike waiting for you - > you make the last adjustments, set up the GPS/maps, warm her up. Just as you are about to roar off with a wheelie, you are stopped short by the security guy who tears out yet another sheet you didn't know you had left, points you to the gate, where yet another guard manages to find a last shred of paper, leaves you with a final scrap. He points you to the autopiste and lifts the gate. Your ride now officially begins with 20 or so miles back to BsAs. You may find your hostel and down a well-earned .

What was it like for me?

my process was not as smooth as Pumpy,the Bede's and a few others. First, as soon as i landed and got the insurance papers, i got a shock that the bike had accidentally shipped before the customs officer approved the document - which meant that the all-important original title to the bike was not in the document pouch along with the original airway bill.
Second, the title had to now be sent to me separately via fedex, on a friday evening ;-) Steve sent it in the nick of time, but fedex got delayed somewhere in the pipeline in Memphis. i spent the weekend watching the page re-refresh back to "shipment exception occured -delay beyond our control".

From every account recounted on advrider and HorizonsUnlimited site, it appears that the inmates went with their original bike titles to reclaim the bike. And here i was without the original. If i waited for the original title to arrive, the bike storage fees would rack up very very very steeply. To the tune of $400 total for up to 4 days. Wait for title ($$$) or rush to aduana and try to get the bike out the next day with a copy of the title? I franctically emailed and called Javier of dakarmotos up and asked 2 simple questions:
1. Can i get the bike out with just a copy of the title?
2. What kind of grace period is there for the bike pickup - i have heard varying accounts of 24 hours, 2 days before they wring you...

Surprisingly, the answers were not forthcoming on the phone. What to me were fairly simple data points were (in an email i got from them a few minutes later) apparently information reserved only for paying customers. Surprised and angered, I decided to find out on my own. At worse, i would make a fruitless trip to the aduana, but with a minor miracle..who knows? It was an anxiety-ridden afternoon as i fretted and watched the fedex package stuck in Memphis. Given my handicap with spanish, i prepared a statement in english stating why i was there without an original title to claim my bike. I translated it through google into spanish,and printed it out. I was quite miserable. Should i eat humble pie and pay up for professional services - after all i'd spent $2700 on shipping, what was $250 more? Or just remind myself that i had handily survived all the Central American border crossings up and down, and that this can't really be any worse? "It's the principle of it, etc...."

Luckily for me, my brazilian hostel-mate - Marcio, a super nice guy who spoke good spanish, offered to accompany me to the aduana to translate. i jumped on his offer. I had a sleepless night of worry. We went to Ezeiza airport first thing in the morning. With his silky portugese-laced spanish, Marcio charmed us through Oficina 2,1,3 and back through. I played the dumb tourist clutching the documents and he was Don Juan to the lady customs officers. Even without his help, it would have been pretty straightforward to do the process on my own with my non-existent spanish. Unlike central america, there are no touts, and the fees are standardized and fixed.

Did customs ask for the original title? Ofcourse not! They didnt even ask for the copy! In fact i gave them only a copy of the bike's registration card and that was sufficient. They looked pleased that i had the insurance drawn up beforehand. Within a few minutes of clearing the Oficina 2 hurdle, i knew i would be picking up my baby. And i did. It was a beautiful ride in the wet rain back to the hostel. Marcio earned my eternal gratitude for his genial presence and confident charm.

As i write this, the fedex package arrived in BsAs this morning, but was not delivered to my hostel. They promise to deliver it tomorrow.
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Old 19 Oct 2012
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Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: Ketchum, Idaho Tucson, Az
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Great info, thanks for the detailed write up.

So what was the total amount you spent on shipping ?

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Old 20 Oct 2012
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I think this calls for a sticky. Lots of great info to glean.
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