As a true Caribbean border, we counted on this on to be nice and relaxing. And it was. In fact, maybe a little too relaxing. We showed up with two vehicles, our Nissan Patrol and toyotours.com’s Toyota Landcruiser, and it took us about two hours to get both vehicles through. Still, it is a nice border crossing, and it was easy to get a good overview of the area.
Arriving at the Sixaola border station, there was a person trying to signal to us that we could park along the road (left hand side), just 20 meters before the customs building (right hand side, right after the yellow arch in the pic). Ahead, it looks like the road has a closed gate. However, when we walked over (We parked along the road on the left hand side, and of course somebody wanted money for it. We didn’t pay.) We saw that you could drive past the gate on the left side, and park on a small gravel parking lot just next to the gate. We asked a customs officer if that would be okay, and he said yes. So when you see what you can see in the picture above, keep driving through the yellow arch, and then go past the gate on the left hand side and park there. This would be the gravel lot you see in the pic below.
Migracion and Aduana is in the small building behind the Patrol. To exit Costa Rica we were told to get the vehicle cancelation from Aduana first. Normally we start at Migracion. Aduana is in through the doors, and Migracion is the window to the left. Fill in a form and get a cancelation note. Nobody asked us for this when we drove across, but probably smart if you wever want to take your vehicle back into Costa Rica.
To get your exit stamp you need to fill out a tourist exit form. It looks pretty much the same as at all other Central American borders. A tip is to get this form on your way in to Aduana, so you can fill this out while you wait for the Aduana to cancel your vehicle permit. Outside we lined up in front of the Migracion window, and got the exit stamp in our passports.
The Costa Rican side took us about 20 minutes. Then drive across the narrow steel bridge built in 1908. Really cool!
On the Panamanian side it is a little cramped. Driving across the bridge, the bridge ends in a fumigation point. We paid one USD and got a receipt.
There is not really room to park in front of the Migracion and Aduana. We tried to just stop there in the middle of the street (blocked the road, but there wasn’t much traffic), but a slightly annoyed customs officer wanted us to pull off the road and onto a small field with grass and dirt. Fine for us, but the Toyota has a lifted roof and is 2 meters and 80 centimeters tall, and could not get under some power cables. After a brief inspection (they asked for animals and plants), we were then told to drive a couple of 100 meters further into Panama, turn right on to a small road that would take us almost back to the border station, and then to park the vehicles there. No problem.
Parked in the street you see to the right in the picture.
By then Malin had already got our entry stamps from Migracion. This is the first window on the left when you are over the bridge. He asked about a ticket (airtickets) out of the country, but this was okay when we showed him our car. You also need a sticker in your passport from the Aduana, but this comes later…
Three meters further is the Aduana window (signs over the doors). You will need one copy of title, registration (these two are the same paper in Norway), passport, driver license, and insurance (!). We both have insurance valid for Panama from our European insurance agents. First, the customs officers didn’t approve this, and wanted us to buy Panamanian insurance (15 usd for one month). We kept insisting that our insurances are valid, and finally they said it would be okay if the Panamanian insurance provider could confirm that our insurances were valid. Sure, we thought, like a local guy selling insurance would do something like that… We walked over (and this is where probably most of you would have to buy insurance), and the insurance office turned out to be a table in a corner of one of the local cloths shops. However, a really nice lady looked at our insurance papers, sighed, and came with us back to the Aduana office, and explained to the customs officers that European insurance is not a problem. Respect!
Insurance can be bought in this building. It is past the customs building, and then down a small stair to the left. Cross the street, and then you go up the stair you see in the centre of the picture (going up to the right). The insurance can then be ppurchased from a person next to a table in the entrance of the first shop after you get up the stair.
So the vehicle permit process begins… (Aduana window..) After a long time of typing VIN numbers and funny European names into a computer, a vehicle permit is printed for the Toyota. Which has a couple of errors… Start over. They get it right this time, and Toyotours are sent over to another customs office (I think this is the inspection guys’ office) for the final stamp on the vehicle permit, and to get the sticker in their passport.
A customs officer was as bored as us while waiting for the vehicle permit, so he wanted to try our camera..
When they print our permit, same thing happens. The VIN number is wrong. Make sure you check this properly, a wrong VIN on your permit can get you in trouble later (SHIPPING!!)! After getting this sorted out, and a correct version is printed out, we are also sent over to the next (and last) office (another 2 meters…), A sign over the door said “Instituto Panameno de Turismo”. The sticker for your passport cost 3 USD each. We heard that the price on the Pacific side was only 1 USD… Well. We also get the final stamp on the vehicle permit (vehicle permit is free), but as the officer stamps ours, he get a funny look in his face, and he runs out to call back Toyotours. He had used the wrong stamp on their permit… (saying “exit” and not “enter”). So Toyotours went back to print a new permit… We went to buy a coke. The whole thing took us about 2 hours.
Not hard, not stressful, not confusing, but a little slow…