Planning to Tour South American by Motorcycle? Our Guide to Buying and Selling a Used Motorbike in Colombia
If you’re planning a long-haul motorcycle journey through South America, you’re inevitably going to want a set of wheels of your own. Provided you’re not hell bent on bringing your own wheels from home, buying a used motorcycle on arrival is generally the most cost- effective way to country-hopping through the continent.
If your first question was; “can I, as a foreign tourist, legally purchase a motorcycle in South America” we’ve already given you the answer: YES YOU CAN.
However, buying a vehicle in a South American country is a little more complicated than just answering a Craigslist ad and handing over a stack of cash.
Furthermore, legalities around non-citizens buying, registering and selling vehicles vary greatly from country to country.
So, for the purposes of this blog, we’re going to focus mainly on what we know best – buying and selling pre-owned bikes in Colombia. Fortunately, Colombia is a great place to kick off a South American adventure from a geographical standpoint, it’s also one of the easiest places to buy your own bike as a foreigner.
Things to Consider Beforehand
Whether you decide to buy a new or a used bike in Colombia or another South American country, you’ll need to do some research up-front.
Some of the most important questions to ask yourself are:
- Can I register a bike in my own name as a foreigner, without a permanent local address?
- Do I need any kind of special insurance?
- What additional paperwork will I need to allow me to legally cross international borders?
- Will I be able to sell the motorcycle relatively easily afterwards?
And, if you’re buying a used motorcycle:
- How do I make sure I’m buying a bike that’s not a complete hunk of caca?
Often it’s that last point is that turns out to be the most frustrating. As a general rule, finding pre-owned bikes in good condition can be difficult and time-consuming without the right connections. And even if you buy direct from a dealership, service standards aren’t always as stringent as what you might be used to.
Seriously. Make sure your bike is up to the task. If there’s anything troubling you, get a second opinion from a reputable mechanic even after you’ve made your purchase. A remote mountain pass in the Andes or a muddy trail in the Amazon is just about the last place on earth you want your “new” set of wheels to give out on you.
Can I Bring My Foreign Registered Bike to Colombia? Can I Sell It There Too?
Since opening Motolombia, we’ve received countless questions on importing, buying and selling motorcycles in Colombia.
Being at that halfway point between the US and the rest of South America, Colombia is sort of a chokepoint for travellers. Some are at the end of their journey and desperate to sell their US and EU registered bikes before returning home.
There’s just one problem with that:
Selling a foreign registered bike in Colombia is illegal!
Now, plenty of people do bring foreign-registered bikes to Colombia, but this is only legal if the purpose of your visit is “tourism”. If you are indeed a tourist, Customs will issue you with a TTIP (Temporary Tourism Import Permit).
As a tourist, you are allowed to operate a foreign-registered vehicle in Colombia for three months. The TTIP also lets you leave Colombia with your bike and get a renewed three month stay upon returning.
Occasionally, we do hear of the odd tourist in Colombia selling their foreign-registered bike to another foreigner. The problem with this is the original vehicle title cannot be legally transferred to a new owner.
This makes it;
- Impossible to obtain mandatory drivers’ insurance
- Extremely awkward when the new owner tries to take the bike out of Colombia (or gets checked out by police or customs at any random control point). The owner will be asked to hand over the vehicle registration card, which will of course be invalid and will usually result in the offending vehicle being immediately confiscated.
- Extremely risky and costly should you be involved in an accident with injuries occurring as you will have no 3rd party coverage, nor be covered yourself and will likely result in you taking the full blame no matter the fault and in severe cases end with jail time.
Purchasing a Pre-Owned Motorcycle in Colombia
Before You Buy
As a foreigner, you can legally purchase a Colombian registered bike, and have the vehicle title transferred into your name and acquire mandatory insurance without requiring a permanent address in Colombia.
Before you start negotiations, make sure the seller has all the motorcycle’s papers in order.
The documents required to sell a vehicle in Colombia are:
- Registration Card
- Technico Mechnica – a document from an authorised test center (valid for 12 months) verifying that the vehicle is currently roadworthy
- SOAT – Basic, third-party insurance. Compulsory for all vehicles while in Colombian territory. While the insurance is about $150 USD/year for smaller vehicles the “SOAT” is valid only in Colombia. You will have to purchase a new SOAT each time you enter a new country in South America. They can usually be purchased for one month at a time.
Then, there’s one more vital step:
RUNT (Registro Único Nacional de Tránsito) is a national database for all drivers and owners of vehicles in Colombia. Registering with RUNT is free, and essential. Valid passport and a finger for fingerprint registration required.
Transferring the Registration
Finally, it’s time for you and the seller to head to the Transport Office where the vehicle is currently registered. Bring your driver’s license and passport.
There’s quite a lot of paperwork to be filled out during this process, and it’s important you understand everything you sign.
If you purchase your bike from a dealership rather than a private party, the dealer should ensure that all procedures are followed correctly. Remember though, there aren’t too many second-hand moto dealers in Colombia used to dealing with tourists.
With Motolombia, helping tourists get on the road is all we do, so buy a bike with us and we’ll help take care of everything.
Buying a Pre-Owned Motorcycle with Motolombia
If you want to ride independently through South America, our rentals are fine should you only plan to spend a couple of weeks, up to maybe about a month or two on the road.
However, if your South American adventure is a long-term kinda thing, that per-day rental fee eventually becomes cost prohibitive and a pre-owned purchase ends up as the most sensible/affordable option.
Also, motorcycles rented in Colombia are prohibited from traversing any border, other than the Ipiales/Tulcan crossing into Ecuador.
At Motolombia, we have a small but highly maintained fleet of pre-owned motos available for sale here.
If you’re looking for something dirt cheap (and hey, there’s nothing wrong with that – provided your ‘bush mechanic’ skills are rock solid), you’ll need to search elsewhere, as we only deal in relatively late model, mid-to-high end machines.
We know you just want to start riding as fast as possible, instead of getting bogged down in paperwork. Part of our service is making sure you and your new bike are 100% road legal. Once the bike is under your name, you have the freedom to cross international borders and explore South America as you please.
Altogether, from choosing your bike, having us set it up to your liking, sorting the paperwork and wheeling the bike out of the shop and into the world, the entire process takes between two and five days.
And, at the end of it all, we can even buy your bike back! Yes, we can make the massively annoying headache of selling a used bike in a foreign country completely disappear, instead of hanging around to ruin the end of your holiday of a lifetime!
How Does Motolombia’s Buy-Back Scheme Work?
Riding from the Caribbean to Tierra del Fuego and back is awesome. What’s not awesome is your trip ending and you realising the motorcycle that brought you so much joy now needs getting rid of, and pronto.
After hearing from so many riders who ended up with issues selling their bikes before going home, we introduced the Motolombia Buy-Back Guarantee, the only motorcycle buy-back scheme of its kind in South America. We guarantee to buy the bike back from you up to six months after the initial purchase, for a pre-arranged value. There’s no obligation to return it to us in the end, however, should your bike find another buyer, or perhaps even another purpose.
Of course, there are terms and conditions:
- The buyer must return the vehicle to Motolombia in the same condition it was received in, accepting normal wear and tear
- A full before and after workshop report is issued to bring to light any damage or unauthorised modifications
- If we do discover any issues, they will be itemised and deducted from the return payment. Alternatively, the buyer has the option to fix the issues elsewhere before returning the vehicle
- The buyer is responsible for maintaining the bike in roadworthy condition and following the maintenance plan issued by the manufacturer
Sounds Pretty Solid!
What if Want to Buy a Bike Elsewhere in South America?
Anything outside of Colombia is beyond our expertise. The rules in Colombia change often enough – we simply can’t keep up with them and all the other countries!
Motorcycle travellers – Colombia is an excellent place to buy a motorcycle in South America, not just because of its strategic position, but because tourists can legally register vehicles in their own name.
In several other South American countries, the process is far more complicated, with all kinds of additional hoops to jump through, such as requiring sponsorship or acquiring a special permit.
In the case of Argentina (considered the worst country to buy a vehicle in as a foreigner in South America), any vehicle that has Argentinian papers but is registered to a foreign driver is prohibited from leaving the country at all!
If you’ve dreamt of exploring South America by motorcycle, we urge you to get out there and do it.
There are a million ways to make it happen, and the services offered at Motolombia are just a few of them. We just try to give people a bit of inspiration and a practical head start.
(extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)