I guess this is the first real crux, so to speak, in our travels. However, quite a few travelers before us have managed to cross the Darian Gap either on a Ro/Ro ship or in a container, so we thought it couldn’t be too complicated. And it isn’t! There is a little bit of work to it, of course, but when you book space with a shipping agent, they will help you with at least some of the details.
So here is the story of our second overland travel shipping. It starts with an email from www.nordsued.ch that said they got a quote from Eric Hansen in Seaboard for a 40 ft high cube container. The quote was 2210 USD for the container, and a 40 ft would easily let us fit both our Nissan Patrol and their Land Rover Defender 110. Seaboard is one of the big shipping companies, and they have a good reputation. I made sure to verify this with some friends from my time in the shipping business, so after comparing a couple of different quotes we booked the container with Seaboard. The booking gave us one document per vehicle (per cargo unit in the container), and a booking confirmation document for the container (including a description of what is inside). Note that if you i.e. take of your roof rack and want to put this in the container next to the vehicles, this requires a separate booking document (Bill of Lading) for this “cargo unit”.
And then we were off for the paper mill run! The first thing you have to take care of is to get an official paper from the Policia Nacional which proofs that you don’t have any pending traffic tickets or other issues in Panama involving your vehicle. You show up at a police inspection point at 10 in the morning (inspection on weekdays), bringing copies of passport, vehicle entry stamp in your passport, title and registration, and the Panamanian temporary vehicle permit. An officer will check that the papers are correct, check your vehicle VIN number, and then bring the copies to the Police Secretary General. Show up a little earlier and pop the hood as a signal of wanting service. Coordinates for the parking area in the end of this post.
Here are the Landcruiser of our friends, Toyotours.com, being checked. And make sure when you are crossing the border into Panama that ALL DETAILS in the vehicle permit is correct. The inspector found that two numbers in the VIN number were switched around, and tey had to go to a customs office in town to have the papers corrected. Fortunately, our vehicle permit was correct.
The Secretary General is in another office nearby (Policia Nacional, Ministerio de Gobierno y Justicia). These two offices are just across the highway from each other, but it can be a little tricky to drive from one to the other. But you have plenty of time (we went shopping) before you have to show up at this place, as the papers aren’t processed until half past two in the afternoon (the same afternoon). Bring the originals and remember to wear trousers and shoes. This is a public office and you are NOT allowed in wearing shorts or sandals. This could also be the case for the customs offices (we didn’t try it out), and it is in general considered inappropriate to visit offices in shorts and sandals. If you stay at www.panamapassage.com this office is in walking distance, and you don’t need to bring the vehicle.
Anyway, with this paper, together with the booking papers, and, of course, the “normal” pile of copies (passport, vehicle title and registration, temporary vehicle permit), we went to the customs office at the port. This was on the same day as we were loading the container. The Aduana gave us two identical stacks of papers. First page was a new vehicle permit form (looks like the import permit, but saying “salida” (leaving) on the top of the page).The stack also included the above mentioned copies, all now with a customs stamp.
Zona Franca entrance/exit. Park outside and walk in and to the right.
Customs building. Your office is the door all the way to the right. Ask for vehicle export papers.
From here we went back to the shipping agent (Seaboard’s port agent) to get the “bill” for the shipping and loading, and proceeded to the local bank to pay. We had been told to bring cash (as this is much faster than dealing with transfers and credit cards). The bank is one and a half block from the agent’s office, so that was quick and easy. With the receipt in hand, we got the rest of the papers sorted at the shipping office. For the whole day we experienced only one small hickcup, which was a printer (for a “sticker”, but it didn’t look much like a sticker when we got it) that froze and wouldn’t start again before lunch.
On our way out for lunch, a customs guy came over and had a brief inspection of the vehicles. Excellent! One more thing done! And then we went for lunch…
After a pizza at a local Pizza Hut, we went back to the office and printed the “sticker” (didn’t look like one…). For some reason this is not included in the “handling costs”, and we had to pay 5,35 USD. Then Senor Felix Cardenas from Seaboard accompanied us out the door and around a corner with all our documents. The customs office, agricultural office, and the Port Company (and Seaboard) are all conveniently located in the same building at the Christobal Port. We stopped first at Customs, then got a stamp from Agricultural, and lastly paid for “port security” at the Port Company window. The latter was apparently not included in the handling costs, and we had to pay 29 USD for two cars and one container. After this we drove into the container area of the port. Following some driving instructions from Felix, we found the loading area and our container.
Another visual inspection to check the vehicles for existing damages was performed by port staff, and we got a receipt for this. After some waiting for the lashing crew, we were allowed to drive the cars in ourselves.
The port crew lashed the cargo, locked the door, and sealed the container.
So! The process itself is not really that complicated, but DO schedule in a FULL day at the port as Things Take Time! Count on a lot of waiting, and taking out a book or something doesn’t always feel appropriate. Fold your hands, lean back in the uncomfortable chair, and think about all the adventures to come in South America…
Papers needed for shipping
2. ..with vehicle import stamp
3. Vehicle title and registration
4. Driver license (I think..)
Customs at the Panama border:
5. Temporary vehicle import document (from entering Panama) – note: when copying this, make sure to copy both sides to also get the stamp on the back.
Policia Nacional, Panama City:
6. Certificate of “no pending cases” involving your vehicle (from the Policia Nacional)
7. Booking confirmation from Shipping Agent
Shipping Agent (Panama City and/or Colon)
8. Bill of Lading Pro Forma for the cargo (your vehicle (and this is not the final Bill of Lading. That is printed in Cartagena in Colombia upon arrival.)) – note: this document need a stamp and signature from the shipping agent. It is not enough to simply print it from an email. Make sure to get at least 5 copies with stamps and signature.
9. Contract stating that it is your responsibility to claim the original Bill of Lading from the Shipping Agent in Cartagena, Colombia.
Customs at the port of shipping:
10. Vehicle exit form (similar to “temporary vehicle import permit”) – from Aduana at the port.
Shipping Agent at the port:
11. Receipt for payment (you get the “bill” from the shipping agent, and the bank gives you a receipt).
12. Receipt for payment 2. Our shipping agent has its own “cashier” that verifies your bank receipt, and give you a new receipt from the shipping agent confirming payment.
13. Copy of contract of point 9 with “paid” stamp. At our agent office we got this from the “cashier” where we got the receipt for payment.
14. “Orden de estiba”: Loading information: cargo, container id, and vessel and voyage id.
Port (when loading):
15. Inspection Report for loading (Panama Port Company). Last inspection before driving into the container or onboard.
GPS coordinates for the offices in the above text:
Policia Nacional Inspection parking lot: N8 57”59.8” W79 32’42.1”
Policia Nacional Secretary General: N8 57’56.2 W79 32’42.7”
Port Customs (entrance/exit of Zona Franca): N9 20.783 W79 52.735
Seabord Agent in Colon (also port entrance): N9 21’07.5” W79 54’11.7”
Bank at Christobal: N9 21’12.0” W79 54’18.0”
Next chapter will be written in Cartagena, Colombia, as we try to get our Patrol out of the container and through customs. More soon.