Shipping your car from Panama to Columbia
This process can create a lot of anxiety for many people driving the Americas. I have heard stories of smooth travels, and very rough travels. Expect something in between, and have patience.
You can find a container buddy (to split a 40 foot container bertween 2 cars) to save money at containerbuddy.com
Start by contacting a freight forwarder. I used Tea Kalmbach. She was very responsive while I was in Panama to get the process started. I reached out to her on a Monday, and we started immediately, and I shipped out that very week. She emailed me the steps to take while in Panama, and I started the very next day, first thing Tuesday.
The first step is car inspection on Tuesday morning. This will happen in what I will call a colorful neighborhood in Panama City. But, I never felt unsafe...so don't worry. The gates open at 5:30 AM, and Tea said be there by 7:30 because they will only inspect 25 vehicles per day. (I arrived at 5:45, and I was #13 so I would arrive very early). First thing...park on the right. back in, open your hood to let the car cool. Get in line to wait for a number at the door to the left of the gate...as I said, I got #13. Then, wait. At 7:00, the inspector came out and spent 15 minutes giving inspection requirements to all gathered. Not speaking Spanish, I was worried I was missing so much. I wasn't. No reason to worry. Tea will have told you what to bring. You need your Panama car entry papers. Passport, title...copies of all. make sure the car entry papers are correct...especially the VIN, and motor ID #. My motor ID # on my paper was incorrect. But, he let me slide after a lecture. Also, make sure your car is clean, including engine. Then, inspection start. I passed. I was out of there by 8:30 AM.
2nd step is to get your approved export papers back at 2:00 the same day at the Secretary General Office. So, you have a bit of time to burn now. The Secretary General Office is actually behind and across the road from the inspection building. I arrive at 1:30. Papers were ready at 2:45.
3rd step is to pay. I did this, actually, as 2nd step while waiting for Secretary General. Tea has me on Seaboard Marine for shipping, and I pay directly to their acount at Citibank. This is where I cannot stress enough...MUST be done in US cash only. I did not find a container buddy, so I got a 20 foot container by myself. My fee here is $1155. I royally screwed up and wrote them a check (the bank took it for payment). I will explain more later why this is a royal screw up.
Then, on Wednesday morning, you go to the Manzanillo Port in Colon to drop off your car. You want to arrive at 8:00 when they open. Tea had emailed me the Bill of Lading on Tuesday. I made 4 copies, and you get them all stamped at the Seaboard office. Tea's directions to Seaboard Marine were wrong. To get to Seaboard, you actually enter the port gate, go straight ahead, and it is just about the very last office down the road on the left.
After getting the BL (Bill of Lading) stamped, go to Aduano (customs). Again, Tea's direcitons were wrong again. To get here, go back out port gate, turn right. down this road, you will see blue gates for the "Free Zone. Park on the side of the road outside the gates (you will not be allowed to enter the gates with your car). Walk in, go right, behind a trailer there will be a row of offices. Aduano is there. Get your cusoms papers approved.
Then, go to the RORO section of the port (RORO and containers are both done here.) Finally, tea's directions were correct. Park outside again, and walk in the pedestrian gate to the left of the RORO entrance. Only one person can enter per vehicle. At first window, hand your papers over. Move forward to the next window. Your papers will come back approved. tea said this was $US73...it was actually $US79. After your papers are done, you may go back and get your car, to drive into RORO. Pass gate, turn left for the inspection area. Here they will check for everything, right down to drug sniffing dogs. When all is complete, don't forget to grab your final approved papers!
You do not need to load your own car into the container. They will do that for you.
Now, I had to grab a taxi to the bus station ($8), and grab a bus back to panama City ($3.50).
Thursday - I flew to Cartagena on Wingo Air ($244) the very next day to wait for my car.
After spending a few days enjoying Cartagena, and the Old City, Monday morning is here...it is time to start car retrieval.
I arrived at Seaboard Marine office at 8:00. Tea's directions were close...but not precise. And since this office has absolutely no sign, it took the help of a landscaper outside to help me find. They are supposed to open at 8:00, but in true Latin American style, they opened at about 8:20.
First step, get the Bill of Lading from Seaboard, Then, you will go to Citibank to pay 162,000 pesos (about $US50) - all payments in Columbia will be in pesos. Then, return to Seaboard for the Bill of lading release. This is where my royal check writing screw up in Panama bit me hard in the butt! Seaboard doesn't take checks as payment, and there will now be a 3 week hold for release.
I reached out to Tea for a solution. It took all day for her to suggest that I send the cash by Western Union back to her daughter in Panama...which means I am fully paying for a 2nd time. Not wanting to wait 3 weeks, and hoping I would get a refund in the future, I did this Monday night. I have lost a day.
Tuesday morning, I return to Seaboard hoping I can start now. I wait there for 3 hours...and know nothing. I leave and return to my hotel. I get word to go back to Seaboard Tuesday afternoon, so I do. Now, I am told the Western Union doesn't work...and am asked why would I do that? I need to pay AGAIN! I refuse.
It turns out that Tea's daughter never even picked up the money from Western Union. So, I was actually able to retrieve the money from Western Union Tuesday night, minus the nearly $100 in commissions I gave to Western Union, of course. I have lost another day.
Wednesday, unfortunately, is a holiday (May 1st is Labor Day, or May Day) in Columbia. Everybody is closed. I have lost a 3rd day.
Thursday, I need to go to Western Union, again, and send Tea $US150, and go to Citibank, and pay Seaboard for freight again (plus $75 in change fees because of the check). And, hope I get the BL release on Thursday so I can start retrieval. Luckily, this worked out, and I got my BL.
The next step is to go to the Aduana office at the Dian, and fill out your permit papers with Senor Han. He is very nice and helpful, and speaks some English. Hop across the street to get copies of the application (and passport, license, title) and back to Senor Han again. He will get you set up to head over to the port.
The first visit at the port (mine was Sociedad Porteria) is for more paperwork. You may or may not get to inspect your vehicle on first visit. I did not. I had to return Friday morning at 8:00.
You will also need accidental death insurance that covers Columbia if you want to enter the port. I bought this in Old Town on Thursday afternoon and it cost me about $US20
Friday...the final day! Back at the port at 8:00 for inspection (you must wear pants and closed toe shoes). This took about an hour to get the container found and ready. You will need to take pics, especially of the VIN and license plate. My car arrived without any issues.
After inspection, back to Senor Han for the car permit (Temporary Import of Tourist Transportation means).
Once you have the permit, you can get the required insurance. I had read that this price was set and all offices charge the same...not true as far as I can tell! I had friends go to Old Town for insurance, and they paid about 200K pesos, I went to SURA for my SOAT (insurance) and I only paid 116K (about $35 for 2 months) even though my car value was higher.
Now, with permit and insurance in hand, I am able to get my car. I return to port about 11:00, fill out a couple papers, and wait for about 2 hours for processing. At 1:30, I am taken to get my car. Hit the gas station across the street, and head out!
It actually isn't a bad process (assuming you use cash in Panama, of course). A lot of red tape, and waiting. But, by now, after 7 or 8 border crossings, you should be used to red tape.
Not including costs for my screw ups, the total cost was $1725 to ship solo in a 20 foot container. If you share a 40 foot, you will save a few hundred dollars off that. So, this whole thing can be done for under $1500.
Also, budget for quite a few cab rides, and a bus (or train) from Colon, Panama to Panama City...and, as always, copies
Shipping fee, includes forwarders commission - $US1155 (less than 900 if you share a 40 foot)
Port fee in Panama - $US79
Port Fees in Cartagena - $US436 (less than 300 if you share a 40 foot)
Health Insurance - $US20
Car Insurance - $US35