Since Brexit, traveling abroad with anything in a van is a bit of a pain in the arse. Obviously, that’s been multiplied by the pandemic, but the less said about that the better. I’m talking about the ATA carnet. I’ve been lucky enough to get over to ‘the continent’ a few times this year, for various motorcycling activities, and whilst I enjoyed myself immensely whilst there, prepping for the trips was made almost unbearable, thanks to all the new rules.
The ATA carnet, is like a temporary admission passport, but for goods, rather than for people. That doesn’t sound too confusing, does it? But it is, because only certain goods need a carnet. You see, if your bike is road registered, with tax, insurance and a green card (from your insurers, to say it’s covered abroad) you don’t need an ATA carnet… if you’re going to be in the van. If you’re not traveling with the bike, it does need to be on an ATA carnet.
However, if your bike is not road registered (not many race bikes are), it does need to be documented in an ATA carnet. Whether you’re traveling with it or not. Are you keeping up?
When you apply for an ATA carnet, you have to detail everything you want to take out of the country with you. I’ve spent hours researching online and even had a 45 minute phone call with the nice lady on the government’s own helpline to find out exactly how much detail you need to go into when filling out your carnet. And if indeed we even needed one for certain trips, and didn’t get very far indeed. Is ‘Tool box with tools inside’ sufficient, or do you have to list every spanner and every socket? Do I have to count how many socks I’m taking with me and put that down? Nobody seemed to know.
For our trip to the Andalucía Rally, we had a van with four bikes in it, four sets of riding kit, loads of tyres, tents, a bunch of tools and other general motorcycle racing paraphernalia. We were told (by the official government people) that we ‘probably’ don’t need to do an ATA carnet for that. They said it’s because all the bikes are road registered. The fact that not all of the owners would be in the van whilst it was traveling didn’t seem to matter. That was of course different to what we’d read online. We were going to take a generator on that trip with us, but were told that taking a generator might mean we’d need to apply for carnet (and pay the fee). So we just left the genny at home.
On the way out, and on the way back, we sailed through customs without any checks at all. Nobody asked for a carnet, nobody asked what was in the van and nobody asked to see inside. So I’m glad we didn’t go to the bother of doing the whole carnet thing.
My last trip abroad was to Belgium (for the Spa 6hr). That was a different story. We did need an ATA carnet for that and poor old Platty had to detail everything in the truck. Everything had to be listed and then sent off to the Chamber of Commerce in Birmingham for approval. And that wasn’t the end of it. We had to sit for hours at Dover and at Calais, on the way there and on the way back, whilst they checked the load and all the paperwork.
It was a real ball-ache. If logistics is your thing, then you might not see it that way; you might just see it as another form to fill in and another cheque to write. But when traveling abroad to go and ride bikes used to be so easy, all this extra faff feels like a proper pain in the minge. I know Brexit’s happened now, and there’s no going back. But surely that doesn’t mean we have to keep filling out carnets and applying for green cards. Surely there’s a more sensible, streamlined way of doing it. Because, quite frankly, the current system is flawed.
It’s flawed because it’s too complicated for anyone to understand. When you’ve got the government website saying one thing and the Chamber of Commerce saying another, what chance have you got? And if the port staff interpret the rules differently to you (or to the government official that explained them to you), you could quite easily end up getting turned around and sent home, or charged a fat wad in import duty.
So come on The Rt Hon Lucy Frazer QC MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, sort it out, will ya’? Let’s have a system that us non-Oxbridge educated peasants can get our heads round. And one that you don’t need a doctorate in logistics to apply for. Because I’m starting to get a bit claustrophobic in the UK and I’m ready to see some more of the world, but if I’ve got to fill in one of those stupid carnets to take my bike and all my kit out the country, I think I’ll just stay at home.