Note that this information is for people who are traveling with their private vehicle (not a rented or borrowed vehicle; additional paperwork may be required but I don’t have that information).
What is a Carnet de Passage
To put it simply: the Carnet de Passage is a passport for your car/motorcycle. It entitles you to enter countries by car without paying import taxes.
You can’t use it as an import document (e.g. when bringing your car in case of emigrating); the Carnet de Passage is specifically designed for travelers, like a transit/temporary import document.
Important: Geneva vs Vienna Convention
By the way, whether you can take your car to a country also depends on the nationality of the car’s license plate.
Most countries have signed the Geneva Convention. However, a couple of other countries such as Germany and Brazil signed the Vienna Convention. The latter prohibits them from taking their vehicles to South Korea and may cause problems in a couple of other countries too.
How Does a Carnet de Passage Work?
- You go to your Automobile Association (AA) and apply for the Carnet de Passage.
- Depending on your vehicle (size/value) and the countries you want to visit, the AA calculates a deposit (which may vary from 1,000 to 10,000 US dollars). The AA keeps the deposit for the duration of your journey. Some AAs work with a bank guarantee as well.
- Each entry into a country uses one page. On entering and exiting the customs sign and stamp the document. It is your own responsibility to collect these stamps. Some customs have never seen this document before and you’ll have to guide them through the procedure.
- When you return to your country with your car and Carnet de Carnet with all stamps, the AA will return your deposit. It is as simple as that and as far as we are concerned the system works just fine.
Validity & Fees
- The Carnet de Passage is valid for 1 year, and depending on your AA it can be used for either 10 or 25 countries.
- If you are still traveling a year later, you will have to buy a new Carnet de Passage.
- The fee for the Carnet de Passage depends per country (per AA).
The Automobile Association
The Automobile Association in Germany (ADAC) has lots of info in English on the Carnet de Passage. The ADAC gives a different vision on the need of Carnet for South American countries than I present in this blog (see below). You could say that:
- The ADAC supplies the official regulations on the subject.
- In this blog post we share our experiences.
China & Thailand
An important exception is China. Thus far it has not been possible to enter China with a vehicle independently. You need a travel agency to organize this for you in advance and expect to pay a lot of money.
Think about at least 150-200 US dollars per day (yes, per day!), just to obtain the proper papers to enter China.
Late 2016 or early 2017, Thailand has sharpened its rules for foreign vehicles. The official version is that, here too, you need to get a guide to overland travel in Thailand with your own vehicle – you better check the status on this before arriving on the border!
Also Thailand these days has strict regulations, although experiences still vary much per person.
Sources for additional information on China Travel:
- Facebook pages such as Overland to Asia.
- Overlandsite has a lowdown on their trip to China and the post includes an overview with costs charged by different companies (2018).
1. Carnet de Passage for Europe to Asia (2003-2006)
What we experienced during our 3,5-year Europe-Southeast Asia journey:
- Iran, Pakistan, India, Singapore demanded a Carnet de Passage. Don’t be fooled by stories that you can enter India without this Carnet de Passage; you can’t.
- In other countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam our Carnet de Passage facilitated the border procedures but the Carnet was not required.
2. Carnet de Passage for South America (2007-2016)
During our 9-year travel on the continent, we didn’t need a Carnet in any of South America’s 13 countries. See more about the Temporary Import Document, which you do need in all of them and will get at the border.
The exception is French Guiana for owners of a European car. Because French Guiana is Europe, no papers required at all.
3. Carnet de Passage for the Far East (2016-2017)
- Japan (Nov. ’16): You don’t need a Carnet when you ferry from South Korea; you’ll get the Temporary Import Document on arrival. Read about the procedure here. We understand that you do need a Carnet when you ship your vehicle to Japan in a container or RoRo. In other words, if you are not traveling with the vehicle. More on shipping and paperwork for Japan here.
- Japan (Edited to Add Jul ’19): As mentioned earlier, German license cars fall under the Vienna convention. As such the story was that they couldn’t enter Japan. This blog post tells a different story (doesn’t mean it works for everybody, it may depend on the port or official but this is definitely worth looking into).
- South Korea (Sep ’17): You don’t need a Carnet de Passage; you will get a Temporary Import Document (TID) on arrival. Read about the shipping and paper procedures here. Germany and Brazil signed the Geneva Convention (they signed the Vienna Convention) and, as a result, these vehicles are not allowed to drive in South Korea. To check if anything has changed, contact Wendy Choi (more on her below; wendychoi2 [at] Gmail [dot] com).
4. Carnet de Passage for North East (2018-2022)
- Russia (March ’18): You don’t need a Carnet but get a TID on arrival.
- Mongolia (June ’18): You don’t need a Carnet but get a TID on arrival.
- Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan/Uzbekistan (Sep ’22): You don’t need a Carnet but get a TID on arrival.
5. Carnet de Passage for the Caucasus (2022-2023)
- Georgia / Armenia / Azerbadjan (Nov ’22): You don’t need a Carnet but get a TID on arrival.
We haven’t used a Carnet de Passage in ages, and things change all the time. There are a couple of places where you can find the latest status and updates:
- Facebook pages: Panam Travelers & Overlandsphere.
- The Overlanding Association has an interactive map with up to date information shared by fellow overlanders.
This information may be outdated. What are your experiences? Please share them with us in the comments below so other travelers can benefit from them. Thanks.
Originally published in 2012 / updated in February 2023
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