As a British international rider, the high-octane journey of buying a motorcycle in the U.S. isn’t just about acquiring your dream bike. It’s an adventure in itself.
Over my own experience, I unveiled the intricacies, best-kept secrets, and labor-saving strategies that turn the buying and legalizing processes from a complex maze into a satisfying ride. And while you’re at it, you’ll save a fortune and bypass the logistical acrobatics of intercontinental shipping.
So, grab your helmets and let’s buy you an American bike!
Where to Find Your Dream Bike in the US
Here are the main arenas where you can legitimately buy a motorcycle in the U.S., together with the advantages of each platform.
Local Motorcycle Dealership
- Reliable Source: Trustworthy dealerships have established track records, fostering confidence in the legitimacy and reliability of the motorcycles they sell.
- Quality Assurance: Dealerships typically inspect and recondition their used motorcycles to meet quality standards. This reduces the risk of buying a bike with undisclosed issues.
- Wide Selection: Dealerships offer a diverse inventory of new and pre-owned motos, providing options to suit your preferences and requirements.
- Transparent Transactions: Dealers adhere to professional standards, transactions are often more transparent, and the purchase process is typically clearer.
- Financing Options: Many dealerships offer financing options, making purchasing two wheels through installments easier if needed.
- Warranty Coverage: New motorcycles often come with manufacturer warranties and the better dealerships offer extended warranty options for used bikes, adding an extra layer of protection.
- Professional Advice: Dealership staff are usually knowledgeable about the motorcycles they sell. They can share the latest news, answer questions, and offer guidance based on your wants.
- Title and Documentation Assistance: Dealerships handle the paperwork associated with the sale, including title transfers and other documentation, to ensure a smooth and legal transaction.
- Test Rides and Inspections: Good dealerships often allow test rides, and their motorcycles undergo thorough inspections before being offered for sale.
- After-Sales Support: After-sales support, including maintenance services, spare parts, and assistance with any issues that may arise post-purchase, are usually available.
- International Shipping Assistance: Some dealerships have experience with international sales and can assist with shipping arrangements to your location.
How to Buy a Motorcycle in the US as a Foreigner
- Wide Selection: Cycle Trader is a popular online marketplace for motorcycles, giving access to a diverse bike range from sellers country-wide, so you can likely find your heart’s desire.
- Detailed Listings: Facilitates some informed decision-making as the sellers list their bikes’ specifications, condition, and maintenance history.
- Comparative Shopping: Compares the condition, prices, and features of your weapon of choice to locate the deals that best suit your nice-to-haves, needs, and budget.
- Contact with Sellers: Allows buyers and sellers to communicate with each other through direct messages. As a foreign buyer, this feature can be crucial for asking questions, negotiating prices, and obtaining information.
- Transparent Transactions: Provides transparency in the transaction process, enabling you to check the seller’s ratings and buyer’s reviews to gauge credibility.
- Secure Payment: Offers secure payment options, adding a layer of safety to transacting.
- Shipping Assistance: Connects you with shipping services, e.g., UShip, HaulBikes, Keyboard Motorcycle Shipping, Motorcycle Shippers, and Federal Motorcycle Transport.
- Access to Private Sellers and Dealerships: Choose between buying from an individual or a more established business, depending on your comfort level.
- Local Market Insights: Facebook Marketplace allows you to explore the local market, giving you insights into the types of motorcycles available, pricing trends, and popular models in your area.
- Direct Communication: Directly messaging the seller lets you to ask questions, negotiate prices, and gather additional information about the motorcycle.
- Detailed Listings: Sellers often furnish listings to help make initial sound judgments.
- Transparent Transactions: Review the seller’s profile, check for mutual friends or connections, and assess reliability based on their online presence.
- Ease of use: The user-friendly interface makes browsing listings, filtering search results, and finding bikes that meet your criteria easy.
- Community Feedback: Some sellers have reviews or ratings based on past transactions, giving you an idea of their reputation.
- Local Pickup: As Facebook Marketplace often involves local transactions, you may have the option for in-person inspections and local pickup, which can help you verify the motorcycle’s condition before finalizing the purchase.
- Negotiation Flexibility: Since you can communicate directly with the seller, you could negotiate the price and other terms to reach a mutually agreeable deal.
ADVrider.com is a popular online community and forum dedicated to adventure motorcycling. While it primarily serves as a space for motorcycle enthusiasts to share information and experiences, it also has a marketplace section where users can buy and sell motorcycles.
- Specialized Community: ADVrider.com focuses on adventure motorcycling, which means you’re more likely to find motorcycles suited for off-road or long-distance travel. If you have specific requirements for your motorcycle, this community can be a valuable resource.
- Knowledgeable Community: The community members are often experienced motorcycle riders and enthusiasts, amking it easy to tap into their collective knowledge for advice.
- Detailed Listings: Sellers often impart in-depth information about the motorcycles they are selling to help buyers make more informed decisions about the investment.
- Community Reviews and Feedback: The forum format allows for user reviews and discussions. You may find reviews or comments from other members who have interacted with the seller or purchased a motorcycle from them, offering insights into the seller’s reputation.
- Direct Communication: The platform facilitates direct communication between buyers and sellers through the forum’s private messaging system. Ask questions, negotiate terms, and gather intel directly from the seller about the motorcycle.
- Community Verification: The community itself can act as a form of verification. While not foolproof, the fact that someone is an active member of an established community can make them more trustworthy.
- Potential for Shared Rides or Inspections: You may find fellow riders willing to assist with local inspections or test rides on your behalf.
- Global Marketplace: eBay is an international platform providing access to a vast global marketplace. As a foreign buyer, this allows you to explore a diverse range of motorcycles and potentially find the exact model you desire.
- Secure Payment Options: eBay facilitates secure transactions through various payment methods, including PayPal and credit cards. These payment options often come with buyer protection, yielding security in your purchase.
- Seller Ratings and Feedback: eBay’s feedback system allows buyers to rate and leave feedback for sellers based on their transactions, helping you make more informed decisions.
- Detailed Listings: Sellers on eBay are typically required to produce detailed information about the motorcycles they’re selling, which can aid in your decision-making process.
- Buyer Protection Program: eBay has a Buyer Protection Program that may offer coverage in case of fraud or when an item received doesn’t match the seller’s description, which is particularly welcome for international buyers.
- Shipping Assistance: Many sellers offer shipping services and the platform has tools to estimate shipping costs to your location.
- Direct Communication: eBay’s messaging feature allows direct communication between buyers and sellers. Ask away, negotiate a price, and learn more about the motorcycle.
- Return Policies: eBay often has a structured return process in case the motorcycle doesn’t meet your expectations or there are transaction issues.
How to Avoid Scams and Dishonest Sellers
While the benefits of each option I listed above are significant, exercising caution is essential. Do your due diligence around the potential risks of buying a motorcycle internationally.
Research the dealership/seller’s reputation and understand the sale’s terms and conditions. If buying a bike “blind,” involve a trusted third party or inspection service to verify the motorcycle’s condition before finalizing the purchase. Consider factors such as state regulations, shipping costs, and international banking fees.
You should also heed the need for thorough documentation. Be aware of common scams and fraud attempts in online marketplaces, and always the seller’s and moto’s legitimacy.
Ask for additional pictures, information, and video. Review the seller’s ratings and feedback, and find out the extent of buyer protection services.
As excited as you may be about the bike of your dreams, refrain from transferring funds without listening to your gut for any alarm bells, such as new sellers without history, offers that are simply too good to be true, or suspicious activity.
What Documents Do You Need to Legally Claim a US Motorcycle?
Sourcing a motorcycle stateside as a foreigner involves specific paperwork to ensure legal ownership. While requirements vary by state, here are the most common standard documents you may need:
Bill of Sale
A written agreement documenting the sale.
Title or Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin (MCO)
The title is a legal document proving ownership. If buying a new bike, the MCO serves a similar purpose until the title is issued. The seller fills in the appropriate details on the title, as do you, the buyer. Enter the agreed-upon price for tax purposes. Both parties must sign the document (ensure signatures match printed names). The seller gives the buyer the title and a Bill of Sale, if needed.
Application of Title and Registration
Titling establishes ownership and registering ensures that the motorcycle is legally allowed on public roads.
A government-issued ID, such as a passport, is typically required for identification.
In certain states, having the Title or Bill of Sale notarized by a notary public, such as the City Hall or local bank, is required.
A U.S. address
Seek permission from a friend to use a U.S. home address to post the new title and registration and secure road insurance.
Some states may require an Inspection Certification/Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) inspection to ensure the motorcycle’s identity matches the paperwork.
Sales Tax Payment
Be prepared to pay sales tax on the purchase. The rate varies by state.
Proof of Insurance
Some states require proof of insurance (e.g. Progressive) before allowing registration.
Odometer Disclosure Statement (ODS)
Some states mandate an ODS to record the motorcycle’s mileage at the time of sale.
Complete a liability release form if applicable.
Local DMV Requirements
Adhere to the local DMV’s state-specific requirements, such as surrendering the license plate. Submit a notice of sale or transfer to the DMV for a legal and smooth ownership transfer.
Which Documents Should You Have After Motorcycle Registration?
After registering your motorcycle in the U.S., you’ll receive several documents and items. Remember that these specifics differ by state, so check with the local DMV.
However, typically expect the following:
Certificate of Title
The document that proves your legal ownership of the motorcycle.
To be displayed on the front and/or the rear of the bike, depending on state regulations.
Contains essential motorcycle details.
Stickers or Decals
Stickers/decals showing the registration status to be affixed to the license plate and/or forks.
A temporary document that proves your registration while waiting for the permanent registration documents to be delivered.
The DMV will promptly require insurance if you didn’t acquire any during registration. Have your driving license handy to obtain coverage.
Vehicle Inspection Report
This indicates that the bike has passed its safety and emissions inspections.
Receipts and Proof of Payment
You may receive receipts for any fees paid during the registration process.
Letter of Confirmation
Some states provide a confirmation letter indicating that your motorcycle has been registered.
Must-Know Tips After Sealing the Deal
Check that the VIN on your motorcycle documentation matches the VIN etched onto your motorcycle.
Where I Bought My Stateside Steed
The thrill of scoring a pre-owned, low-mileage KTMs in the U.S. initially sparked immense joy, especially compared to the more cost-prohibitive U.K. market. However, the reality is that each U.S. state operates like its own country, with distinct tax rates, title and registration fees, and processes.
Take North Carolina, for example, where motorcycle registration hinges on possessing a U.S. driver’s license—which I didn’t have. Eventually, I secured my ride in Virginia, which ended up being my only course of action.
Virginia has a relatively painless process for non-U.S. residents to purchase and title vehicles from a dealership, but there are still a couple of avenues available to you. Arranged in terms of overall simplicity and promptness, these options include:
Purchase a new or used motorcycle directly from Moto Richmond. Let the dealership owner work their paperwork wizardry to ensure legal ownership effortlessly.
Hunt down a new or preloved motorcycle from anywhere in Virginia and consult the oracle of Moto Richmond, Chelsea Lahmers, for invaluable advice on legal ownership.
Beyond VA Boundaries
There may be another way for the intrepid souls to chart their own course. Yet, wrestling with its bureaucracy of your chosen state’s DMV may not be worth your time. You may hit a snag if your two-wheeled love beckons from outside Virginia. Seek the sage counsel of Chelsea Lahmers, the sorceress behind Moto Richmond, for guidance on titling complexities. According to a reliable source in the motorcycle import-export industry, foreigners can apparently purchase a motorcycle in Florida, too, where they can easily complete the titling and registration process.
Hit American Roads with Your Own Motorcycle
Purchasing a motorcycle in the U.S. as a non-U.S. resident requires careful consideration. For me, the process became notably smoother when opting to take ownership of bikes in Virginia (thank you, Moto Richmond).
Despite the initial expenditure associated with the sales tax, registration, electronic titling, and state inspection fees (less than $500 per bike based on the purchase price), the time and cost savings realized in the long run made the venture convenient and an economic no-brainer. With my tips, you’re now ready to start looking for the American stallion of your dreams.