Buying Abroad & Importing

Information Sheet on Buying and Importing a bike from the U.K or Mainland Europe

Did you ever look through the small adverts In Motorcycle News, see a bike on offer that over here would be thought of as a bargain and think, “Wow! I wish I could get my hands on that!” Well with a bit of planning it’s actually easy to do. Not all bikes will be worth the trouble – in many cases the prices over there are as bad as here these days! But if you do some research, will settle for a bike that’s a few years old and you’re willing to put a bit of effort into the plot you can return here with a bargain.

The Research

Target the type of bike you’re after some models just aren’t worth the trouble. But the U.K. market is a fickle one and subject to changes in fashion as far as bikes go. This is to the ‘Economists’ (read as tightwads) advantage.
Recent changes (Spring 2009) in new Bike prices has seen a sharp increase in exports from the U.K. to the rest of Europe, so bear in mind there are many Riders considering doing just what you are. The benefit is that Dealers will be well used to enquiries from abroad / the downside is there’s more buyers than there used to be so the market is doing a brisk trade.

The Internet is a brilliant research tool too. There’s a few online publications that will literally search out bikes for you (see web addresses at the end of this article). Others review many Bikes, their good points and more useful, their bad ones too. Club magazines and specialist bike groups are useful, though some think the prices higher among a group who already value a specific bike, you often find that any quirks on a Bike will be sorted before you buy it by an enthusiastic owner. A few Bikes spring to mind straight away here; BMW’s , Moto Guzzi’s, Yamaha FJ’s, Bandits, V.Maxes, Fireblades to mention a few. After a few weeks you begin to get an idea of the right price for the bike. Source all the information you can on the model; road test re-prints, and magazine reviews. Personal web pages and discussion boards on the Internet are a mine of info. Talking to owners of the same bike is a help. Shop mechanics can tell you what it’s like to work on and if it’s got ‘any bad habits’ – by which I mean known bad points in its design. Certain Japanese bikes, for example, are known to have developed problems as the age and mileage rises; suspect charging systems, rear damper linkages prone to rapid wear, or brakes seizing over Winter. European bikes have their own foibles too; paint, chrome and electrics are the first that come to mind, though drive-shaft failure has happened to some unlucky owners. Even asking a breaker’s yard which parts they are most often asked for is useful. This can be crucial in getting a good ‘un or a bad ‘un. A little detective work pays off.

Once you’ve got all the relevant information then you can now actually pin it done to individual bikes. You’ve done all the homework now, so it’s time to put money where mouth is. This is when your calculations must be 100% accurate, one false move makes the whole plan pointless! But don’t panic, it’s easy if you plan your budget and work out all the expenditure before you go.

Plan “B”

You should always have a plan “B”! Never go with only one machine in mind to buy. Look around the area you target. Unlike here the sheer density of Bikes in a given area is huge. So, even if you reckon you will buy the first bike you look at, it keeps the seller on his toes if you turn up with a dog eared copy of M.C.N – complete with heavy ball point pen marks around adverts for alternative bikes.

Cash is king!

Firstly, once a bike is no longer “Flavour of the Month” in the U.K., the second hand value drops and the availability soars. We sometimes lag behind so it may still be regarded as desirable here. (Look at all the second hand imports sold in shops if you need evidence). Not so much in the rest of Europe – but often the best place for the “niche market” – e.g; the BMW GS’s / Deauvilles / Goldwings.


Secondly, they just don’t put up the mileage over there that we do here. It’s reckoned by some pundits that a yearly average for a modern machine (whatever that means) is a mere 3,000 miles. So, you may be surprised at the condition of the target bike and, the accessories on it (though they can detract from its value as much as add to it). Check out the price of the ‘Target bike’ in as many different places as possible. Magazines, papers, auctions, shops, private sales and even the internet. Some bikes even get a price difference depending if you look in the north or south of the U.K. In the rest of Europe, many countries are not even worth researching – their prices or the purchase and resulting cost of export/import/travel costs make it pointless. The best results I’ve had are in Germany for BMW or Italy for Italian Bikes.

The Trip

The exchange rate and travel costs;
While it will fluctuate, it rarely makes dramatic jumps between deciding and arriving in the destination country. Check out the best routes to the bike you’ve chosen and consider all options, boat/train, boat/coach, or ‘Plane / train.


This must be absolutely squeaky clean! No big deal – just look at the engine / frame numbers. The frame is the more important, it is crucial to registering it over here. But if the engine number does not read as it is supposed to the seller should have paperwork to explain why this is so. Personally I would rather walk away and even come home without a bike at all than take the chance of having it confiscated from me at point of entry here as being a suspected stolen or written off and rebuilt bike. If buying in Germany the process is pretty much idiot proof. The usual method is to buy or sell using an “ADAC” contract, which is even available in English. ADAC is the trade organisation of the motor industry over there and maintains extremely high standards of business practise. This makes it a severe offence to misrepresent a vehicle by e.g. falsifying the mileage or condition etc. Also the T.U.V. (German version of an N.C.T. test) is incredibly tough – if you so much as change a shock absorber for an aftermarket one – the vehicle must be resubmitted for scrutiny / test at a local T.U.V centre. However – take care to sort your insurance at the time of purchase.


It is illegal to ride in Germany, even for a short time without German insurance. (I have a feeling this must contravene some EU law – but am not prepared to take on the German Government for the sake of a few Euro!) This is in the form of an export reg. plate stating how long the insurance is valid for. This is usually a week or a month. It may sound like a right pain, but wherever Bikes are sold there will be a local equivalent of a Tax office where details are exchanged and insurance sold – included the stamped metal plate to put on your new Bike. When I last did this, it cost approximately €110 for a months cover. Obviously a week will cost a lot less. It took less than an hour and was hassle free. Bring all relevant documentation with you to ensure you’ll be Insured!

On the topic of insurance, I have heard some unsubstantiated rumours of Riders buying in the U.K. and having been stopped by the U.K. Police enroute home and having their Bikes confiscated and themselves arrested. Please note; this is unconfirmed rumour but the reasoning is thus;
The U.K. Police forces rely on an electronic database of vehicles insurance. Though this has proven to be unreliable. So if you are on a Bike that has recently been through a ‘Change of Ownership’ it obviously will not show up on the database. The onus is on you to prove that it is insured.

The “Log Book”, M.O.T certificates, service record receipts:
In the U.K it is far more common for a Bike to have all of these kept up to date by the seller. It can be of great reassurance to buy a machine with these if they can be reasonably expected to be accurate. Many machines there classed as “Tourer, Off Roader, Learner, Classic” etc. actually are solely used for their designated purpose. This means that you are more likely to obtain a Bike with less mileage, in better condition and professionally maintained than here, where we are far more pragmatic and less likely to part with money when we think we can do the work ourselves and let’s be honest here – we often use and abuse our Bikes, giving them stress they were never designed for on roads and in conditions the manufacturer could never have imagined in his worst nightmare!

Shop Bought or Private Sale

Both are feasible if you do your homework. But it does take a bit of ‘Horse Trading’ skill to get the best deal. Shops can be persuaded by phone / fax/ E.Mail to do lots of things to ensure you will be happy with your purchase. Not the least of which is to give the Bike a fresh M.O.T for example. Why you might ask is that any help over here?

Well, it means that all consumables will be in fairly good order at least. Tyres, chains, sprockets, wheel, head-race swing arm bearings and bushes, lights, indicators – anything that you would consider in a “P.O.W.D.E.R” check. There’s nothing worse than buying a new Bike and then discovering you need to spend yet more money on it. Shop bought means you do have some legal standing in the event of the Bike not being “of merchantable quality” – a term straight from Consumer Law, guaranteed to worry most shop keepers, but a boon to the second-hand bike buyer.

Dealers and private sellers alike are worried about getting lumbered with a Bike than no longer is looked upon as a ‘Trendy’ Bike. They will discount the price, add on sweeteners to get you to buy. It’s not unusual for a private seller in the north of England to be prepared to bring the Bike to Holyhead for you to view, if you at least offer to pay their expenses in the event that you don’t buy.


(Click here for MAG Ireland’s Information Sheet “Procedure for VRT”)

The dreaded Vehicle Registration Tax. It’s not as bad as it is thought to be – especially if you plan this properly. (This paragraph is a brief summary. See “Procedure for VRT” information sheet for the full details on paying VRT).

Do pay the V.R.T as soon as you reach this side of the water. The Revenue get really peeved if you don’t. They can confiscate the bike if they think you’re avoiding them. But in my experience they are very reasonable to deal with – all they are concerned with is that you pay your dues “by the end of the next working day” of you having declared your entry into the State. You will know how much this is in advance, so you’ve no excuse. They have even been known to ‘come to an arrangement’ if you for some reason cannot pay up in full straightaway, but its better all round if you budget this figure in to the pre-trip planning. When you purchase the Bike – keep the U.K. Logbbook! (V5 document) This makes the paperwork easier at this end, although it might baffle the seller in the U.K as he is supposed to send it to the U.K authorities in Swansea – but it makes no difference to the seller really.

Lastly, this whole experience can be a real buzz – there is nothing better than the sheer adventure of going over there, pitting your wits and your wallet against the marketplace and coming home a winner! The risk is minimal if you put the preparation into the scheme. But having said all that – you pays yer money and you takes yer chances! Good Luck!

Irish V.R.T Charges on secondhand bikes:
Note that secondhand is defined as a vehicle with over 6000 kilometres on it. Less than this figure is deemed to be ‘new’ and you will be charged a lot more to import it!
Two Euro per c.c. up to 350c.c. then One Euro per c.c. above 350c.c.
A sliding scale is worked – dependent on the age of the Bike. If, for example you brought
in a 600c.c. bike that is 5 years old, this is what you pay:
Two Euro per c.c. up to 350c.c. = 700 Euro.
One Euro per c.c. above 350c.c.= 250 Euro.
Total = 950 Euro
Minus the age deduction of 70% = 285 Euro V.R.T to pay

Scale of reducing V.R.T Rate:
Years old:
1 – 2 year old = minus 20%
2 – 3 year old = minus 40%
3 – 4 year old = minus 50%
4 – 5 year old = minus 60%
5 – 7 year old = minus 70%
7 – 10 year old = minus 80%
10 years to 30 years old = minus 90%

Some useful web addresses: – The largest UK sales site. and – two German websites.

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