Dear Readers, This is a technical article for fellow overlander travels. Its full of GPS coords, instructions, and other boring stuff you probably do not care about.
There are plenty of write-ups on the internet on the Panama to Colombia shipping process. Inevitably the process changes and all these guides become irrelevant as I am sure mine will in time. BUT! For now… This is the down and dirty method on how you too can ship your car around the infamous “DARIEN GAP” via shipping container all by yourself with some basic spanish skills and a boatload of patience. The whole process is quite a pain in the ass but I promise you, you will get through it. Get the best car transport service and most reliable vehicle shipping company.
NOTE: This info is specific for “SEABOARD MARINE” other nationwide auto transport routes companies have their own processes/locations.
UPDATE: When entering Panama from Costa Rica, Ensure that your VIN Number is written in both “VIN Number” and “Motor Number”. Also confirm your VEHICLE TYPE is “CAMIONETA” if you are driving a truck/SUV. Ensure the customs people at the border get these right, even if they argue with you.
UPDATE #2: Do yourself a favor and make 20 copies of your import permit, passport, passport page with Panama stamp, vehicle title, vehicle registration, prelim bill of lading, and drivers license. Even if you don’t need them it all it’s better to have and not need, than need and not have.
Step #1 Find another vehicle to share a shipping container with.
This will save you around ~$200 and you will have a friend to suffer through the pain. There are plenty of people looking to share on sites like http://www.drivetheamericas.com. Check the forums.
Step #2 Register with Seaboard Marine
Seaboard Marine Office in Panama City – N9 0.364 W79 32.303
Phone: 507 360-5909
The Seaboard Marine office is hidden on the 2nd floor of a stripmall off of Ave. Miguel Brostella. There is a large casino next door with some giant golden lions and a sign that says Schmitts Live Casino Games outside if you need a landmark.
Let Seaboard know you would like to ship your vehicle via container to Cartagena, Colombia with a friend. They should provide you with 2 preliminary bills of lading, one for each of your trucks, along with some other various paperwork. They will also give you the date that your ship should sail and what day you can load up your trucks into the container. (usually load Thursday and ship leaves Saturday/Sunday)
My boys from Adventure the Americas wheelin’ and dealin’ with the lady from Seaboard Marine.
Step #3 Police inspection
Policia Tecnical Judicial- N8 57.970 W79 32.690
On a weekday drive your trucks to the inspection lot around 8:30-9AM. For some reason this lot is located in the sketchiest neighborhood possible.
Back your truck into the lot and pop your hood.
Eventually an inspector should come out and verify your import permit paperwork with the VIN # on your truck. He will need copies of your import permit, vehicle registration, vehicle title, passport and passport page with Panama stamp/vehicle import stamp. If for some reason you need some last minute copies the tienda on the corner has a copy machine in back.
Step #4 Receive clearance to cancel import permit for Secretaria General.
Secretaria General: N8 57.947 W79 32.719
After inspection you are free to leave and do whatever for the afternoon. Come back around 3PM or so and park back in the inspection lot. Play a game of frogger running across the street to the DIJ building. You will see a kiosk with a security guard taking IDs.
Give the lady your ID and tell her you are going to see the Secretaria General. You will receive a badge, proceed up the path to the main building in front of you. Enter and register with the lady at the front desk. Wait your turn to talk to the Secretaria. Once you get to the Secretaria General she should have received your paperwork from the DIJ lot. She will again need a copy of your Title, Import permit, Passport, Passport stamp, etc. She will confirm all your paperwork is (hopefully!) correct and give you a clearance form that confirms you have no outstanding traffic tickets/warrants in Panama. You have been a good boy haven’t you?
OPTIONAL STEP: Panama City Aduana: N 8 58.410 W79 32.826
If any issue is found with your paperwork (very likely) and you need to get it corrected. The Aduana office is located about 5 minutes away from the DIJ.
Step #5 Cancel your vehicle import permit.
Colon Aduana- N9 20.783 W79 52.735
Most people wait till the day they are loading the container to do this step. You could do it earlier but that would involve driving back/forth to Colon twice. We also attempted to complete this step at the Panama City aduana but they had no idea how to cancel the permit.
The Colon Aduana office is located inside of the Zona Libre just past the gates on the right hand side.
It is located in the last door on the right side of the building.
Aduana is hidden behind all these trucks and gates.
Last door on the right of this building.
Once in the Aduana office, ask around for Maria. Tell her you are canceling your import permit, she knows what to do from there. Give her copies of everything you got. She will type a bunch of stuff in the computer and give you 2 new vehicle import permits, except these are marked SALIDA (Exiting) with a bunch of fancy stamps.
The very official Aduana office… You can see Maria’s head behind mine. Shes a lifesaver.
Step #6 Show your canceled import permit and paperwork to Seaboard Marine office in at the port.
Seabord Marine in Colon (also port entrance): N9 21.07 W79 54.11
With your new paperwork you want to head to the actual port itself. The Panama Port Company and Seaboard Marines office are located in the same building.
You will first go upstairs and show your import permit and temporary bill of lading to the guys in the Seaboard office. They will sign a bunch of stuff and give you a bunch more stamps.
Step #7 Show completed paperwork to Port Customs downstairs
Go back downstairs to the Panama Port Company and talk to the Aduana lady there. They are in the first set of windows as you come back down from the Seaboard office. They will give you a bunch more stamps and tell you to go outside and find some guys in orange jackets who need to inspect your truck and confirm VIN/contents/damages.
Step #8 Go in front of Seaboard/Port office and find dudes in shack.
They are hiding out in this little shack doin’ their best to avoid you. Convince them to their damn job and inspect your vehicle.
Step #9 Pay Port Fees
After inspection is complete, orange jacket guys will guide you back inside the building with your paperwork to the CASHIER. Here you will need to pay port fees which for us was $36 total for both vehicles. Once that is done you will be given a bunch more paperwork and more stamps.
Step #10 Drive into the actual port and park in loading building
At this point you are ready to drive into the port for loading into the container. Queue up in the big entrance line with all your paperwork, a final check and they will wave you into a giant Fumigation chamber that sprays your truck, just drive on through. As you drive through keep straight ahead until you see a bunch of trucks queued up and a large building with entrance ramp on your left. Drive up the ramp and park.
Drive up the ramp into the large building seen here on the left.
Step #11 Find the bossman and let him know your here.
Walk around the to the front of the building where you are parked. You need to talk to a man inside one of the windows, ask around and someone will point you in the right direction. This guy sends another guy to inspect your vehicle for damages/contents and has you sign a few more papers.
Step #12 LOAD THAT B’ UP!
NOW! You are ready to put your truck into the actual container, wait around for a bit until eventually someone tells you its go time. They wanted us to just leave our keys and told us they would load it later for us. We told them we wanted to stuff the containers ourselves, they went and got the bossman who agreed to let us load them ourselves.
Step #13 Say Goodbye and relax with some victory drinks on the train!
Well this is optional but right next to the port is the Panama Railway train which will take you back to Panama City and has $2 beers! The train runs every weekday at 5:15PM. Tickets are $25 and you buy them on the train itself. Its a beautiful ride and great way to relax after what is guaranteed to be a hectic day.
Step #14 Back in Panama City, You need to pay the shipping company. There is a CitiBank down the block from the Seaboard Marine office where you must go and deposit cash into their bank account. You are given a receipt for your deposit. Return to Seaboard with your receipt where you will sign some final paperwork. Seaboard will send you the final bill of lading by email or you can pick it up in Colombia. Don’t stress about it. You won’t need it until it is time to pick up your truck.
Step #15 Get your butt to Cartagena, Colombia
2 options, You can either sail through the San Blas islands or fly. We chose to fly which came out to around $350 per/person with Avianca airlines.
Costs in Panama:
$950 for 1/2 of the container.
$17 for 1/2 of the port fees.
$350 per/person for plane ticket from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia.
Extra fee for transportation equipment (optional): check with Rentco.
If your business can benefit from the use of efficient refrigerated unit rental, learn more about shipping container freezer.