Make no mistake- Guyane (French Guiana) IS in France. It is not a colony, protectorate, or any other such thing; it is a department of France, just like Paris, and enjoys full EU membership. What it isn’t a part of is The Schengen Area of the EU which, among other things, regulates vehicle insurance. This means that the normal European green card insurance is not valid there, but like any other EU country, valid insurance is a requirement of entry for a vehicle….
In Venezuela I’d met a rider who ended up turning back because he couldn’t find insurance for less than a year in Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni where I was entering, and online I’d heard that the only place to buy insurance was in Cayenne, the capital and a six hour bus ride from the northern border. Since I speak decent french I though I might able to do better than the American who didn’t, but in the back of my mind I think I knew that wouldn’t be the case.
Riding off the ferry I was greeted by a customs agent with a sad smile who was slowly shaking his head- looking more like a parent watching a child licking a frozen metal pole for the 10th time than a government official intent on following the regulations to the letter. His sad smile deepened when he heard me speak french- he would still do his duty, but turning away a rare french speaking overland tourist certainly wouldn’t be making his day.
“Can I see the insurance for your motorcyle, please.”
“Ah, I don’t have any- I tried to buy some in Suriname, but no one sold it for bikes in Guyane, so I thought I’d buy it here.”
“Until you get insurance your bike cannot leave the custom compound. There are a few agents in town, but I don’t think they sell insurance for less than one year. You might have to take the bus to Cayenne to buy it and then return tomorrow.”
“Oh, well, can I leave my bike here and try in town?”
“Sure- just be sure to lock everything since we will not be responsible for lost or stolen items.”
Win! The American who was turned away had a much harsher experience since he didn’t speak french. At least I could check out the insurance companies without having to carry all my gear around with me!
As it turns out, while I might have had an easier walk around, it wasn’t any more productive. The best I found was 1 year insurance for around 700Euro- a bit steep for a 1 week stay. Returning to the customs compound I approached the agent and informed him of the situation. Unlike for the American, he gave me the option of leaving my bike and taking a bus to Cayenne to see if I could get insurance. But, also unlike the American, I had been forewarned about the problem…
“I’ve got some insurance that’s good for France, except that it’s expired. If I get it renewed can I use it?”
“Of course, this is France so there wouldn’t be problem. As long as it isn’t only valid in the Schengen region you’ll be set.”
“Great- here’s the expired one, if I can get it renewed for tomorrow and have an updated copy e-mailed to me would that be okay?”
He examines my old green card insurance that strangely no longer has any mention of the Schengen region and was simply out of date.
“Yes, since you have a valid original, you could provide electronic proof that it had been renewed for entry.”
“Great! I’ll leave my bike here tonight and come back tomorrow just as soon as I get an updated copy. Thanks.”
“No problem- good luck. See you tomorrow.”
So, off I went, found a hotel, and got to work (I didn’t want to try and enter with fake insurance until I was sure they would accept it; by showing them the expired copy I could test the waters without really putting myself at risk)…
It wasn’t the most comfortable experience forging insurance papers for presentation to French officials a mere block away from the infamous Camp de la Transportation and only a few from Camp de la Relégation- both homes at various times to Henri Charrière (Papillion), not to mention a legion of other prisoners over the years. Even closed and converted to museums you can feel their weight around you; the memory and experiences of the prisoners seems hover in the background, reminding you of the price to be paid for flouting french law…