When I travel with my bike to different parts of the world, a lot of people usually ask me; how did you get your bicycle here? Did it cost you much money?
But I understand them, flying with a bike seems to be an expensive and stressful undertaking.
See, when I started doing long-distance cycle touring, I never thought I would actually be able to fly with my bicycle to faraway places.
For most cyclists who wish to ride their quality bikes in a different country or continent, flying with a bike is always a big concern.
But guess what? It’s possible and totally safe to fly with your bike. And it doesn’t have to be expensive as many people perceive it.
Over the past few years, I have traveled with my bike overseas many times, and I’m not going to lie, it was always a worry during my first few trips.
I made every possible mistake one can make when trying to bring my touring bike to another country.
Packing a bike for flights was quite a daunting task for me for the first few times. I wasn’t really sure of what I was doing, but I tried so hard to ensure that everything went right.
Luckily, with some research and experience, I’ve learned a few things that make the whole process fairly easy.
Are you wondering how much it will cost you to get your bicycle from one continent to another. No need to worry! Just relax and keep reading.
In this article, we will talk about everything you need to know about traveling with your bike overseas, from packing to the costs involved.
Cycling internationally is an incredible way to explore the world, especially if you are using your beloved bike. But the question is, how do you get it to another continent, really?
Here are some top tips to guide you and help you fly with your mountain bike, road bike, or touring cycle easily:
Shop Around for Lower Baggage Fees
If you are like me, always looking for ways to stretch your bucks further, you may want to use Skyscanner or Momondo to find cheap flights.
In general, you have two alternatives when it comes to travelling with your bike. You can fly with your bike and pay for the extra luggage or ship it to a bike shipping company.
You can expect to pay about $150 to $200 for flying a bike internationally in most US carriers like Delta, American, or United.
However, the price will be much lower for domestic flights, especially with carriers like Alaska airlines. You can pay as low as $25.
If you are traveling locally and realize that the baggage fees are way high, you can still use BikeFlights or ShipBikes. It will eliminate the checking stress entirely.
But this may not work for international carriers as the cost will probably be more. Your bike could also get stuck in customs and cost you lots of money.
A delay of your bike’s checking could also ruin your trip, especially if you were traveling to participate in a cycling race or organized bicycle tour.
Personally, I prefer flying with my bicycle and paying the extra fees. This way, I’m confident that I won’t have to wait for the bike a couple of days after arriving at my destination.
Understand the Airline’s Policies
Before you pay for your flight, it’s essential to research and understand the airline’s policies.
Keep in mind that each airline has different policies when it comes to baggage fees and requirements.
You can search the policies on the airline’s website for ‘oversize luggage,’ ‘sports equipment,’ or ‘special baggage’ to see their baggage allowance maximum weight and size.
Then read the policies and understand them well to ensure that you can handle any issues you face during your bike charging process.
When reading the policies, be sure to check the oversize and overweight limits and charges, just so you don’t get caught by surprises during the process.
The standard baggage allowance maximum weight for most Airlines in the US is about 50 lbs. and 62 inches in size (all dimensions combined).
But you need to double-check the policies in your preferred airline as international airlines may have different limits.
If your bike bag is within this weight and dimension, you won’t have to pay for oversize or overweight fees.
Unfortunately, most bike bags surpass these dimensions, and yours too will probably exceed. Other bike boxes packed with heavy steel bikes will top even the weight limit too.
If you are dealing with an airline that offers an overweight and oversize exception for bikes, that’s even better! Your packed bike counts in baggage allowance, so you won’t incur extra costs to have your bike on the plane.
Pack Your Bike Properly
Packing a bike for overseas travel can be quite a terrifying task for any beginner. You are not sure if you’ll do it well, but you still want to be the one doing it.
Then the assembling part, when you arrive at your final destination for mountain biking or bicycle touring hits your mind, and you become even more terrified.
I’ll be honest, this also terrified me the first time I flew with my bike. So, I wanted to disassemble the bike and pack it myself to ensure that I also practiced how to put it together.
But it wasn’t really a cup of coffee. I almost gave up during the process and wanted to go to my local bike shop and pay them to do the packing for me.
Luckily, I managed to put the bike into pieces, and the next worry was now about where to pack it.
I had to hassle for a cardboard box as it was the only viable option at that moment.
Speaking of cardboard boxes, let’s talk about the best packing methods for touring cyclists who want to fly with their bikes.
Bike bags are a great way to pack up your bike for flights, especially if you travel often with your bicycle.
It will do a good job of keeping your bike safe and save you the hassle of having to visit or call every local bike shop begging for a cardboard box.
The only downside of bicycle cases is that they are a bit expensive compared to other methods. You also need to attach the case to your bike when cycling.
While the bicycle case will not add any significant weight to your bike, having to stash it when riding can be quite an inconvenience if there is no extra space for it.
Cardboard Bicycle Box from a Local Bike Shop
This is the most popular packing method for most cyclist enthusiasts. It’s also my favorite way to carry my bike when riding point-to-point.
Cardboard bike boxes are the kind of boxes that new bikes come in. But how do you get a cardboard bike box?
It’s simple, just call a nearby bike store and ask them if they have any mountain bike box to spare. Most bike store owners will give you a bike box for free.
Try to look for a mountain bike box as they are usually the biggest, and they are plenty. The bicycle shop owner will find it easy to give it freely.
After all, they put them out for recycling once they remove the new mountain bikes packed in them.
If you can’t find a cardboard box in the nearby bike shops or just don’t want to go through the hassle, you can order one from BikeFlights or buy from UPS and FedEx locations.
DIY Bike Box
If you don’t have a bicycle case and can’t get any cardboard box, you can still make your own bike box. This happened to me when cycle touring in Sudan, Africa.
I didn’t have a bike case or bag, so I had to look for big and thick pieces of cardboard and roll packing tape to make a box.
Now, if you don’t come up with something perfect, like an actual cardboard box or bike case, will the airline accept it?
I’d say that most non-US airlines will be a bit lenient, and you won’t have much trouble flying with your bicycle.
However, most airlines in the US will ask you to get your bike in a hard-sided box for the safety of your bicycle.
So, where do you find the cardboard? You just ask around in stores that sell big appliances that come packed in cardboard.
For example, stores that sell refrigerators, big screens, washing machines, or even furniture can give you free cardboard.
If you don’t manage to find big cardboard that will fit your bike, no need to worry, you can make something with small scraps, scissors, and lots of tape.
Choose an Appropriate Transport Means to the Airport
Getting your bike to the airport is another tricky part when it comes to travelling overseas with your beloved bicycle.
Here are a few options that will work, depending on where you live:
- Use UberXL if you are in an area where Uber is available. The UberXL driver will fold the car seats down and make room for your packed bike.
- Catch an SUV taxi or minivan and see whether they can bend down the seats for your bike box to fit.
- Ask your hotel if they can make transport arrangements to the airport in a bigger vehicle. For this method, though, be ready to pay some extra bucks.
- If you are in a busy area near the airport, you can easily find an airport shuttle. Some of these shuttles can fit bike boxes, but be sure to ask beforehand to avoid any terrible surprises a few hours before your flight.
- Ride your bike to the airport and bring all the supplies you need to pack the bike. If you settle for this method, leave early to ensure that you have enough time to pack your bicycle.
Whichever transport method you choose, it’s always a good thing to leave extra hours in case you need to switch to a different method.
You also need more time to navigate the airport for the check-in process with your big bike box.
I wouldn’t recommend relying on public transport as your bike box won’t fit in all vehicles.
If possible, spend your last night of the trip in a hotel and pack your cycle the night before. This way, you’ll be ready to take an UberXL or a minivan taxi to the airport.
Be Nice at the Airline Check-In Counter
Once you arrive at the airport, you have to get your big box or bike bag to the baggage check counter.
Major airlines will have rolling luggage carts to help users get their loads to the counter.
If you don’t find a rolling cart, carry your bike bag or drag it by the handles. Some employees are good-hearted and willing to help. If you find one, they’ll help you, probably for a tip in most cases.
When you manage to get your bike at the airline check-in counter, be nice and friendly to the person behind the counter as they are in charge of enforcing the airline’s luggage policy.
Remember, size and weight limits can be enforced strictly, leniently, or not at all, depending on the person’s mood.
However, being friendly doesn’t mean you have to push this person too much and put them in a tough position by asking for favors.
You just have to be friendly and avoid giving them any reason to be hard and strict on you.
If you think that the employee is somewhat misinterpreting the airline’s policy, you can politely ask for clarification or have a supervisor interpret if necessary.
In some cases, newer employees may be unaware that their airline offers an overweight or oversize exception. But they’ll gladly waive the excess baggage fees once they know it’s allowed.
Then drop off your checked luggage exactly where they tell you, which is usually right there at the counter.
For excess baggage, though, you may have to drag the bike to some special place where they direct you.
Also, don’t be surprised when they open and re-tape your box. This is a common practice in the major airlines in the United States. I’ve also experienced it in other countries like Canada.
The airport guys simply want to ensure that you don’t carry any contraband or prohibited items in your checked luggage.
But the good thing is that they re-tape the box well to keep your bike protected.
Stay Calm When Picking Up Your Bike Bags
Many cyclists tell me that they usually panic for the first time at the baggage claim. And I’ve been there too.
Waiting in suspense for your favorite bike to appear, but it doesn’t. Then you start to panic, wondering where it is.
But there is no need to worry yet. Big boxes are often put in a separate oversize baggage area, so you should check there instead.
Sometimes the box can also show up on the regular baggage carousel, so it’s prudent to check both before concluding that your bike didn’t make it to the other side. It’s actually hard to lose such a huge box.
Once you get your bike, look for a van or a larger taxi to take you to a hotel. You must be tired after a long flight. Then you can assemble your bike peacefully in a hotel room.
Alternatively, you can assemble the bike right at the airport and ride away to your happy trails, especially if you are not dead tired.
Hopefully, all the parts of your bicycle are still intact, and it rides well as you expected. Then you are set to cycle tour and explore your dream country.
How to Pack Your Bicycle in a Bike Box
Some airlines have specific requirements when it comes to travelling with your bike. They may require you to use bike boxes, which may be available for sale in the airport.
For such airlines, you won’t have to pull your bike apart before leaving home. This saves you the hassle of having to carry a packed bicycle as you can simply ride to the airport where you’ll do all your packing work.
If the airline doesn’t provide specific information on how to pack your bike for the flight, you can use these general guidelines:
- Remove the front wheel and attach your axle to avoid damaging the forks.
- Remove the pedals and the rear derailleur.
- Turn the handlebar around to ensure that it’s parallel to the bike’s frame.
- Remove any other detachable part of the bike that could be damaged during the flight, including disc brakes rotors, seat, and racks.
- For hydraulic brakes, put a blockage between the brake pads to ensure that they are not forced together during transportation.
- Sometimes you may have to remove the rear wheel, especially when working with a small box.
- Deflate the two wheels.
- Cover your bike’s frame with bubble wrap or any similar protective material you can find to prevent damage. If you need more protection for your bike’s frame tubes, you can also use pool noodles.
- Cover any vulnerable parts with padding before putting your bicycle into the box. If you don’t have any padding, you can use your soft gear.
- Take all the small parts that could get lost and put them in a larger container that won’t fall out of the box during transportation or pack them in your travel bag. The small items include pedals, quick-release skewers, bottle cages, and lights.
- For mountain bikers whose bikes have dropper posts, packing the bicycle with the post down is more convenient than removing it.
- Put everything into the box carefully to ensure that you don’t leave any part. Keep in mind that leaving some important bike parts means that you won’t be able to put your bicycle together when you arrive at your destination.
- Once you pack your bike and nothing is left on the floor, it’s time to tape the box.
When packing your bicycle, make sure that you use only the tools you’ll carry on your trip and remember to pack them. Otherwise, you might find it difficult to put your bike together.
Another thing that usually saves me from unnecessary trouble and stress is packing my derailleurs separately.
I have heard some dismay stories from other mountain bikers about bent derailleurs, and I can only imagine the disappointment.
Cleaning the bike first is also an excellent way to make the packing process easier and less messy.
Can I Fly with an Unpacked Bike?
Yes, you can fly with your unpacked bicycle. However, most airlines insist on enclosed bikes.
I have never done this, but I know of some Australian and Canadian cyclists who have cycled across the world and traveled with their unpacked bikes.
They claimed to have used huge plastic bags, and not one airline ever turned them away. It’s easier to do this in smaller airports in places where you can’t find a bike box.
I think using a plastic bag makes your bicycle visible, and everyone can see what it is, so they can handle it with more care to avoid damaging it.
Checked baggage handlers will also not put any weight hard-edged bags on your bicycle. They will also carry one bicycle at a time to avoid causing any crashes.
Unlike when your bike is in a big box, and the checked baggage handlers can’t really tell what it is unless you’ve labeled it. The package may be treated roughly, and your bicycle could get damaged.
Now, if you want to travel with your unpacked bicycle, my advice is that you remove the pedals, deflate the tires, and adjust the handlebars to be parallel to the bike frame.
It would also help if you remove any small parts that may fall off and get lost, such as water bottles and bike lights, and pack them in your travel bag or cycle touring panniers.
Q: Can You Take Your Bicycle to Another Country?
A: Absolutely! You can take your bicycle to another country as checked baggage or cargo. You just need to ensure that your bicycle is well packed in a bike bag, case, or box.
For most people, taking a bicycle to another country is a tiring and stressful business. Although it doesn’t have to be!
There is no need to worry about taking your bicycle to another country as you can simply pack it and bring it as luggage. Most airports allow cyclists to do this, and some of them don’t add any extra bike fees.
The best thing to do is to check for an affordable airline and understand their baggage policies before bringing your bicycle.
Then look for an effective way to pack your bicycle for long travel. You can use a cardboard box, like the one they use to ship new mountain bikes, buy a bike bag, or make your own box.
If all these alternatives don’t seem to work for you, use a clear plastic bag and tape your bicycle.
As mentioned earlier, some airlines won’t have any problem with cyclists who pack their bikes in plastic bags.
When packing your mountain bike or road bike for your travel to another country, be sure to remove any detachable and fragile parts and pack them separately.
Pack the bicycle well and ensure that nothing is rattling inside or sliding loosely. I’d also advise taking your bicycle to a nearby bicycle store for packing if you are not sure of how to dismantle and pack it.
Now, if you don’t want to go through the hassle of having to pack the bicycle yourself or think that it will be a real downer on your travels, you can still use bike shipping services.
They’ll come and pick your bicycle from home and take it to your desired destination at a fee.
Q: Can We Carry Bicycle in International Flight?
A: Yes, we can carry a bicycle on an international flight. Many international airlines allow people to carry sports equipment like bikes as a checked bag or box.
In many airlines, bikes are treated like any other luggage, and such airlines require you to pay excess baggage fees as overweight or oversize fee.
However, if your bicycle is within the size and weight limit, you won’t have to pay any extra luggage fees.
Now, when flying with your bicycle overseas, the way you pack your it matters a lot. It determines whether your bike will arrive intact or you’ll have to replace some parts.
In general, there are three main packing methods, including bicycle boxes, bags or cases, and cardboard boxes. Most cyclists prefer cardboard boxes to other methods for many reasons.
Cardboard boxes are cheap, and you can get one for free from a nearby bicycle shop. They are also easy to dispose of after the flight.
Whichever method you prefer, the most important thing is to ensure that you disassemble the bicycle by removing the front wheel and any other detachable and fragile part before packing it.
Then use other protective materials like bubble wrap and other padding foam to keep the frame tubes and other sensitive parts safe.
If you do not want any part of your bike to get lost during the flight, pack the small removable pieces in a different bag. This includes the quick-release skewers, rear derailleur, lights and pedals.
Once you are done packing your bike, label the box clearly and include details like name, contact, and probably the address of your destination.
When carrying a bicycle on a flight, it’s also important to read the airline’s policies and understand them well to ensure that you can handle any issues that arise.
Q: How Much Does It Cost to Fly a Bike Overseas?
A: Different airlines will charge varying amounts of bicycle fee, with some treating bikes as a part of regular baggage allowance while others requiring cyclists to pay for the bikes on top of their flight cost
Depending on your destination, size, and weight of your bicycle, the bike fee can range between $30 to $300 each way.
Some airlines will charge absolutely no bike fee, as long as the packed bicycle is within the size and weight limit. Others will waive any oversize or overweight fee for sports equipment like bicycles.
Today, some budget airlines do not include any checked bags in the cheapest tickets.
If your ticket doesn’t include a checked baggage allowance, you’ll have to pay for your checked bags regardless of their weight and size.
So, it’s crucial to do a quick Google search and see which international airline is appropriate for your bicycle.
Sometimes the airlines charging slightly higher airline fees are better than others that charge more on the checked baggage.
In some cases, you may find that it’s actually cheaper to upgrade from business class to first class. You’ll pay less for your checked luggage, save a few bucks, and enjoy having extra leg room.
Travelling with a bike overseas can be quite a daunting task when doing it for the first time.
The good news is that you’ve learned some top tips for flying with a bicycle. Hopefully, you’ll apply them to avoid problems and get ready for any unexpected issues.
Be sure to pack your bicycle well and do some online search to find more affordable flights.
And when you arrive at your final destination and are finished with the bike boxes, fold them up and put them into a reclining bin to keep the environment clean.
Once you fly with your mountain bike several times, it will become another fun part of your bicycle travel.
If you haven’t bought the bike yet and want to travel regularly, I recommend that you look for flight-friendly bikes. A foldable road bike that fits within the baggage allowance limit will save you a few bucks as you won’t have to pay oversize fees.