Category Archives: Panama

Border crossing Panama-Costa Rica

I took the middle border crossing in Rio Sereno from Panama to Costa Rica. It’s not busy as the big one in the south. I was the only one leaving Panama and met just one couple on the Costa Rica side. The whole crossing took more than two hours, but most of it was just waiting for the Costa Rican insurance to be processed (details below). Without this waiting time, it would be done in less than an hour.

Make sure you drive in from the north east between the Panamanian buildings (see map below). Somehow I came from the south and was technically already out of Panama. The customs got confused why I came from the other side, but wanted to leave Panama…

Leaving Panama

The immigration office is the building north of the road and the customs (aduana) on the south. Just park the bike/car on the road between the buildings. At the immigration they take a photo of you and your fingerprints. He wanted a copy of my passport, although he had a copy machine right behind him…

Head to the aduana south of the road to give the TIP (temporary import paper) and you are free to leave.

The Panamanian side took me just 15 minutes.

Entering Costa Rica

Drive right up on the gravel road to the second and third buildings. The white containers under the roof is the immigration. This took only 5 minutes. The new building after the containers is the customs. This will take some time here.

They start the process and need passport and the vehicle papers to make copies. Meanwhile you need to complete two forms: one for the vehicle and one for importing goods (or money over 10000$).

Then she will hand you a paper with the bank account information to pay the vehicle insurance (seguro). It is 37$/20159colon for a motorcycle and has to be payed at the supermarket south of the customs. You can see the red roof of the supermarket from the customs.

Go into the supermarket and there to the back and walk up the right stairs. If there is nobody sitting at the computer, then knock on the white door. You can pay with USD also for everything else in the store.

Go back to the aduana with the payment confirmation. From here on it will take about an hour for the insurance: they send the information to an insurance company in another city, which will process and print the paper, make a photo of it and send it back to the customs. After getting the photo of the new insurance, the customs will further process the TIP. You will not get the original insurance paper, but a print of the photo, stamped by the customs. Now she asked me for copies of the passport and vehicle paper, although she already did some an hours earlier… just make sure you always have copies with you.

Another customs officer came to see the bike and check the plate and the chassis number. I didn’t need to open the luggage.

If you ride a motorcycle in Costa Rica, you must wear a reflective band! I got one for free from other bikers, but I’m sure you will get some at motorbike shops in the next town.

Two signatures later I successfully entered Costa Rica!

Container shipping from Colombia to Panama

First of all: don’t do container shipping from Colombia to Panama!

Sail your bike with the Stahlratte sailboat or maybe fly it to Panama. But don‘t ship it in a container!
There is no road between Colombia and Panama, it’s the Darien Gap. So vehicles have to be shipped to Panama somehow.
There seems to be a RoRo (Roll-On, Roll-Off) boat (no ferry!), but you cannot secure a motorcycle enough on such a boat and the workers on those steal everything possible. With a motorcycle, the best choice is the German sailboat Stahlratte. They do all the customs paperwork and are the only sailboat from Cartagena/Colombia to Panama, which can (legally) do it! From Panama to Colombia there is the Wild Card sailing, but they can‘t do it FROM Colombia TO Panama!
There is the possibility of flying the bike from Bogota for about 1200$. But I went for the container shipping, because if you can share it with other travelers it may cost around 500$. You may register on to find other travelers to share a container. Or ask on the forums/facebook/etc. I contacted different companies and agencies and the only response and offer I got was from Ana.
Ana Rodriguez used to work for the customs (aduana) in Colombia and is now a freelance agent for container shippings. And she is praised a lot in iOverlander, Horizons Unlimited, etc. She is reachable by Whatsapp: +573014146464
But I had a very bad experience with her service!
I waited almost one month around Cartagena to get on a container! Every week Ana said there will be a possibility, but everytime she had an excuse why it didn’t work out. One time she said the car on the same container didn’t want to ship anymore (so it‘s canceled), another time I was already booked but she kicked me out, because there was no more space for my bike (although I was the customer already waiting the longest time)! Later I found out that she puts cars in the containers and kickes out the single bikes, because she makes more commission with cars!
In total she booked me for four different containers and every time she had an excuse why I could not ship with them!
And when it finally happened, there were delays with the ships. I get it, this can happen. But as an agent she knows that a week beforehand, but chooses to inform her customers just one day in advance! And then I had to wait one more week in the very expensive Cartagena! Otherwise I would have camped much cheaper somewhere else. This happened to at least two other groups/containers I know off.
I was also disappointed by her paperwork! I had to go to her office four times to sign papers, as she always forgot a form or did something wrong! I mean, she does this shit every week and still doesn’t have a routine?! Also she doesn’t speak one word English, which makes everything even more complicated. And she lacks of communication skills: sometimes even her Whatsapp messages couldn’t be understood by native Spanish speakers!
Information about Ana‘s service and the procedure:
  • One car and one motorcycle is 700$ for the bike.
  • Two cars and one motorcycle is 500$ for the bike.
  • One bike alone in the container is 1800$.
  • She makes 100$ commission for a motorcycle and 200$ for a car.
  • You must pay in Colombian pesos, not USD. Payment can be done with credit cards, but it will be 2-3% fees on top, depending on card (cheapest is mastercard debit). It‘s hard to get so much cash in Colombia, as most ATMs only give about 200$ per day with 15000 pesos/5$ fees per transaction!
  • the ship to Panama takes two days. Normally it leaves on a Saturday to unload on Monday (the harbour in Colon is closed on weekends).
  • The container can stay for 3 days in Cartagena/Colombia and 7 days in Colon/Panama without storage costs. Additional days in Cartagena are 30$ per day. So if you want to load the container earlier (i.e. if you want to take the 5 day San Blas sailing), then you may need to pay for the storage. The departure day counts too! So realistically you can load the container just two days before the departure of the ship. And if the ship is delayed, you as the customer have to pay for the storage!!!
  • Getting the bike back at the harbour in Colon/Panama costs 35$, a car is 95$ (although I heard from others 50$ and 100$!)
  • You must first get an insurance in Panama for around 25$/month before you can start the paperwork in Colon!
  • In Panama you have to give your keys to the harbour personal and they will drive your vehicles out of the container! You will not be present at the container opening! Be prepared that things are broken and missing!

Sailing to Panama

After finally loading the bike into a container (that’s another story), I took a sailboat from Cartagena, Colombia through the San Blas islands to Panama!

It was a nice five days trip, but pretty rough! Two nights I barely slept, because I got thrown all over the bed as the boat made its way through the waves. Although it was a sailboat, it basically went all the way with the motor…