Shipping bicycles overseas

This blog aims to explain the logistical problems faced when attempting to send bicycles unaccompanied overseas, in the hope that, in the future, at least one lucky soul will avoid the same pain in the butt that we have had.
The plan was that after cycling from Ushuaia north to Bariloche, we would bus with bikes to Buenos Aires (BA) and send the bikes unaccompanied from there to Frankfurt, where they would be kindly stored by our awesome German friends Sena and Thomas, until we reunited with them 3 months later after flying from Costa Rica via Dominican Republic….Simple…or so we thought!

It turns out that there were many obstacles to our plan. The first bit went fine; and we arrived in BA with bikes and panniers in tow. We had already done a few web searches and realised that it was not going to be cheap (flying to Ushuaia the bikes had simply been included as an additional piece of hold luggage and cost no more than an extra $100 each with the excellent Air New Zealand), as only DHL and Fed Ex were quoting and the price per bike box was exceeding the value of the bikes.

As we were in no rush to receive the bikes in Frankfurt we tried an auction website for shipments overseas (UShip) but after 2 weeks the auction deadline came and went without a single bid, so we scrapped that idea.

In BA we visited local bike shops and bought 2 bike boxes. We asked them if they shipped bikes abroad but none did. We spent a day emailing and visiting the premises of most of the freight companies in BA and all advised of the same issues; which were that due to the sizes of the boxes the shipment would be extremely expensive and also that the Argentine tax laws would either prohibit the shipment of unaccompanied bicycles or tax them as if they were a commercial shipment (which they clearly aren’t).

We spent the following day online and visiting the airport to establish which airlines flew to Frankfurt. We thought we had a solution when Lufthansa advised that they used to ship unaccompanied personal effects and gave us the details of the local freight forwarders that they now use, however a visit to their office resulted in a similar quote to DHL’s but the unresolved commercial tax levy meaning they couldn’t send them. They did however give us some useful advice, which was that it was the dimensions of the bike boxes rather than the weight of the content which was pushing the price up.

During one bus trip from the airport we established we were talking to a German family flying to Frankfurt within a few days. In our desperate state we asked if they might accept payment to take them as extra hold luggage to Frankfurt for us. Unsurprisingly they declined (we’d have done the same).

Armed with this new info we decided that we could (in theory at least) pack both bikes, racks, panniers etc.etc. into the single box, thereby the price of the shipment. Back online we discovered ‘’ they gave us a price based on a single bike box, with 2 bikes, weighing somewhere between 40 & 50kg of US$900. Still very expensive but much cheaper than DHL and FedEx and no longer more than the contents were worth. They could also deliver in only a few days (not a major concern of ours) and were very informative when we rang them. The only problem (not small) was that they did not ship from Argentina, due to tax laws. However they did ship from Uraguay, which, as it turns out, is only an hour’s boat trip away from BA.

We bit the bullet and decided to book/pay but not before we did a trial run to see if we could actually fit both bikes in the same box. We figured that if we pretty much dismantled them completely they would probably fit, although we stopped short of that as we needed to cycle to the ferry first.

The next day we cycled 2km to the BA ferry with all our gear, Jon then returned to our Airbnb and walked the empty bike box (too big for bus) to the port. After some questioning from BA customs as to why we were carrying an empty bike box and a quick inspection of same, they let us on board. 1 hour later we were in Uruguay (Colonia Del Sacramento to be exact). The Uruguayan port authorities couldn’t be less bothered about us (we’ve since discovered that Uruguayan’s are pretty chilled about most things) and didn’t stop us or query why we had an empty bike box balancing upon our bikes as we exitted the ferry.

We had a fun few minutes getting the 2 bikes, all our gear and the bike box to our accomodation…extra pair of hands needed…but once there we set about dismantling the bikes for good. Many hours later we finally finished.

It was like taking apart a giant jigsaw (we hope we can fit it together again) in order that both bikes fitted and were relatively protected for the journey ahead.

Unfortunately ‘’ couldn’t collect on a Saturday so we spent more time in Colonia del Sacramento than we had hoped but its a sweet town with chilled residents so we didn’t mind too much. On Monday we waited at the allotted time (between 10am and 2pm) for our box, complete with list of contents and tracking barcode which we had printed to be collected. We had established from ‘’ that they actually used DHL but obviously get a far better rate than Joe Bloggs can manage. At 12pm we received a phone call from DHL who advised they didn’t collect from Colonia but, if we took the box to the Bus station (next to the ferry) the local agent would sign for the box and take it by bus to Montevideo, from where they would take over the shipment. This struck us as ironic, as we had planned to bus to Montevideo ourselves and had only stayed in Colonia the extra few days as that was where they were collecting from. Anyway, we called a local (big) taxi to take us with (very heavy) bike box to the bus station, where we passed the box and accompanying documents to the local agent after receiving his assurance that it would be on the next bus to DHL in Montevideo. We then said a tearful goodbye to our babies and booked our own bus.

Funnily enough as we boarded our bus to Montevideo, we watched the bikes board the neighbouring bus and head off in the same direction.

A day later we received an emailed update from ‘’ advising that the bikes had not yet been paased to DHL in Montevideo. As we were in town we visited to department and spoke to a few people to ensure that it happened. The next day ‘’ emailed that The shipment was recived and awaiting Uruguayan custom clearance. 24 hours later we were advised that Uruguayan customs had cleared them (never in doubt as Uruguay is cool with everything) and the bikes are on their way to Germany.

We would like to say that there is a happy ending and that the bike box arrived in Frankfurt in one piece, German customs had no issues and that everything was intact when we put the jigsaws together again…but that, dear readers is another story for another day…In the meantime, we will just have to cross our fingers and wait to see..

For anyone thinking of shipping bikes overseas unaccompanied, think seriously as to whether its worth it?..We love our bikes…if you aren’t too attached to yours and cant travel with them or get someone else to take them for you, you might be better off selling them and buying replacements when you reach your destination.