Overland Panama Travel

From WikiOverland, the encyclopedia of Overland travel
Jump to: navigation, search

Pan American Highway > Panama Currency to display:

Visiting Panama[edit]

Give a brief overview of what it's like to visit. How easy is the border, how safe is the country, are there great things to see and do, etc.

Entering Panama with a Car or Motorbike[edit]

Where indicated, certain sections correct as of: 2023

Ferry Xpress from Panama[edit]

Ferry Xpress services are suspended at least for 2 years since 2015. People ship in a container, RORO or use sailboats (for motorbikes only)

For all the details and price for entering Panama from Colombia using the Ferry Xpress ferry, see the Panama to colombia car ferry xpress page.

Update 2015 - New Ferry Service San Blas

In August 2015 the San Blas Ferry will restart their service, providing a RORO vehicle service between Panama & Colombia.

Details of the service, prices & schedule can be found here San Blas Ferry Information

Overland Sphere, has made an arrangement with the owner to provide an exclusive discount of up to 30% to overlanders who make a group booking through them, to take advantage of this discount and to join one of the group bookings please see the San Blas Ferry thread in their FB Group

Required Paperwork[edit]

(To check if you need a travel Visa for Panama, application instructions and fees see: Panama Visa online application at VisaHQ.com)

  • Passport of registered owner (original and 2 copies).
  • Drivers license of registered owner (original and 1 copy).
  • Vehicle registration (original and 1 copy).
  • Copy of Vehicle insurance (required for both Immigration & Customs)

Process at border[edit]

  • The owner of the vehicle gains entry at immigration (migración), including a stamp in their Passport.
  • Insurance for the vehicle must be purchased. (see below)
  • The owner must show the new passport stamp, the original vehicle registration and vehicle insurance to customs (aduana).
  • The owner is issued a temporary import permit for the vehicle.

Entering From The Rio Sereno Border[edit]

The Rio Sereno border crossing is a lot quieter than the busy Paso Canoas border crossing. It is easiest to cross this border during weekday working hours. There are at least four different building to visit and this website contains a detailed map of the different buildings: https://www.imoff.to/category/panama/

(Updated 2023)

STEP 1: Pay the $8 USD land exit tax which can be done by a few options:

  • Online at the Banco BCR website (www.bancobcr.com) and click on "departure tax payment" or "Pago Impuesto De Salida."
  • At the Agroquimicos store on the right as you come into the border area, after the government buildings and next to the grocery store
  • At BCR Bank in person

STEP 2: Go to the Costra Rica Migration office and get the exit stamp

STEP 3: Go to the next window to the right to cancel or pause your TIP. I was told that the TIP can be paused in case you would like to return to Costa Rica and after a certain period of time if you do not return to Costa Rica the TIP will automatically get cancelled. So if there is a chance that you will return to Costa Rica, just getting the TIP paused is a good option.

STEP 4: You will need to show proof of having a Panamanian Vehicle Insurance Policy to get a vehicle TIP. Buy your Panamanian Insurance Policy at the nearby insurance broker. If you are crossing on the weekend, then the insurance broker will likely be closed and it is still possible to buy insurance by working with the people in the pharmacy to complete the insurance documents, but this takes some time to do and definitely requires a high level of Spanish fluency. Insurance cost was $30 USD for a motorcycle for 1 month.

STEP 5: Go to the Panamanian Immigration building and get stamped into the country.

STEP 6: Go to the little Panamanian Customs/Aduanas building behind a chain link fence and get the TIP. Make sure the official knows exactly which number is your VIN so that they enter it correctly into the system. In my experience they entered the wrong number into the system and could not change it to correct it. This did not turn out to be a problem when I later flew my motorcycle to Colombia.

Entering From The Paso Canoas Border[edit]

A detailed border process has been written up which includes the Costa Rica exit, Panama Entry, GPS coordinates and an overview map etc http://myoverlandadventure.com/costa-rica-panama-border-cossing-paso-canoas-quebrada-grande/

Additional Notes[edit]

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you plan to ship your vehicle out of Panama, make absolutely certain that everything written on your temporary import permit is correct. A single digit wrong in your VIN number or date of vehicle manufacture will be a problem later when you try to ship the vehicle. DO NOT let the customs people convince you it will be OK. It won't.

NOTE: You may encounter locals offering to help you with paperwork to get across the border. See Border Crossing Helpers for advice.

UPDATE 7th September 2016 - Crossing from Costa Rica, Sixaola to Panama, Guabito with a motorcycle. I've published a full account including process, costs, photos and GPS coordinates of our experience in crossing this border on 7th September 2016. Full details can be found at http://www.tiger800rtw.com/?p=1719

Cost of entry[edit]


Fumigation cost: 3 USD for a campervan (as of April 2017)

Fumigation cost 1 USD for a car as of August 2018 (Pasos Canoas border).

Insurance cost: $30 USD for motorcycles

Permitted length of stay[edit]

90 days for people, the vehicle only receives 30 days, though.

Extension of stay[edit]

You need your to get insurance for the additional days you plan on staying in Panama. Bring your proof of insurance and your passport to the aduanas office in David, Changuinola, Divisa or Panama City. The process only takes 30 min.
Extension adds 30 days, and can be done a total of two times.
A full write up of the process is here: Renew Vehicle Papers in Panama City

Storing a vehicle and temporarily leaving the country[edit]

Vehicles can be stored in a government bonded facility while the owner leaves the country. The import papers are suspended while the vehicle is stored for as long as you like. When you return, the import papers simply resume. Options include

  • If you plan to fly or ship your vehicle to Colombia, the shipping agent can arrange long term vehicle storage in a government bonded facility.
  • Panama City at the Panama Central Terminal. Ave. Ascanio Villalaz, Curundu. Apdo. 0843-00405 Panama, Rep. de Panama Tel: (507)232-6915 http://www.pct.com.pa for approx $8.00 USD per day.
  • Chiriqui, David for approx $1.00 USD per day first month and $2.00 USD per day following, 6 month maximum

If you leave and return prior to the expiration of your temporary import permit you do not need to suspend your paperwork.

Exiting with a vehicle[edit]

By land to Costa Rica[edit]

  • The registered owner is stamped out of Panama at immigration.
  • The registered owner presents the temporary import paper to customs, where it is cancelled.

By Ship, probably to Colombia[edit]

See Crossing The Darien Gap for details

Panapass did not seem to apply to tourists. Several times we found ourselves at the unmanned toll gate. We sat there for a few minutes (cars honking) and finally the arm lifted and we drove on. No consequences. Someone must be monitoring the gates from camera.

Road from Panama City to Colon (also very diff. to find info): Panapass is only for the coredor norte, not for the road to Colon. If you get out of the city without the Coredor norte (no problem really), then you will get to a "cuota" road to colon at some point. Here you pay $2.50 USD cash and off you ride. We started driving at 6:30 on a weekday from the Yacht Club and got to the Terminal in Colon at 8:15.

If you are considering to ship with container, you can contact Boris Jaramillo. We shipped with his company EVER LOGISTICS. 2 vehicles & 2 motorbikes in a 40 container. We paid total 2270 USD all-in (April 2017). No hidden charges, no bad surprises. His email is: boris_jaramillo@hotmail.com & Phone: (507) 431-0390 / 431-0391 / 431-0392 / 431-0393 / 431-0394

You can also ship with IVSSUK (Martin McGowan) and his assigned helpers. Many choices to be made based on size of vehicle, type of shipping, dates, speed, insurance, etc. But once it is all sorted then things move along efficiently.

To fly from Panama City to Cartagena, check the airfares at Wingo, VivaColombia & AirPanama. We paid 95 USD pp one way from Panamá to Cartagena with Wingo (booked 3 weeks before shipping).

We flew with Copa because we were shipping a dog on Copa Cargo. Be sure to check which airport your flight leaves from (there are two)We were NOT asked for round trip flight or yellow fever vaccine (June 2018) but this varies according to lore. If you are flying with a dog, please feel free to contact me through www.slowcarfasthouse.com for tips.

Driving in Panama[edit]

Recommended books for Overlanding in Panama[edit]

Lonely Planet Panama (travel Guide)
Lonely Planet Panama (travel Guide)
by Lonely Planet, Carolyn McCarthy, Steve Fallon
From $14.36 on Amazon
Work Less To Live Your Dreams: A Practical Guide To Sa...
Work Less To Live Your Dreams: A Practical Guide To Sa...
by Dan Grec
From $click on Amazon
Don't Go There. It's Not Safe. You'll Die. And Other M...
Don't Go There. It's Not Safe. You'll Die. And Other M...
by LifeRemotely.com
From $click on Amazon
Americas Overland - The Driving Handbook
Americas Overland - The Driving Handbook
by Donald Greene
From $29.95 on Amazon
99 Days To Panama: An Exploration Of Central America B...
99 Days To Panama: An Exploration Of Central America B...
by John Halkyard, Harriet Halkyard
From $20.96 on Amazon
Overlanders' Handbook: Worldwide Route And Planning Gu...
Overlanders' Handbook: Worldwide Route And Planning Gu...
by Chris Scott
From $22.49 on Amazon
Adventure Motorcycling Handbook: A Route & Planning Gu...
Adventure Motorcycling Handbook: A Route & Planning Gu...
by Chris Scott
From $click on Amazon
Panama Handbook (footprint - Handbooks)
Panama Handbook (footprint - Handbooks)
by Richard Arghiris
From $10.00 on Amazon
TRAVELIVING - a romantic & practical guide

TRAVELIVING - a romantic & practical guide
by The Pin Project

at 10$ on thepinproject.eu

Travel insurance for Panama[edit]

World Nomads offer the most flexible Travel Insurance at the best prices for multi-country / multi-year trips. You can buy, extend and claim online, even after you've left home.

Vehicle insurance requirements[edit]

Insurance is mandatory in Panama and you will be forced to buy it at the border before you are allowed to enter. There are always agents at the border to buy from.

Cost of vehicle insurance[edit]

$28 for one month for a regular sized car (August 2018)

Where to purchase vehicle insurance[edit]

Right at the border. The customs guys will tell you exactly where to go. If you have the Spanish to ask, check to make sure the system can accept the number of digits in your vehicle license plate. After messing around for two hours we learned that one system can only accept plates with 6 digits and we had to go elsewhere.

Driving license[edit]

Technically an International Driving Permit is required.
In reality, showing a license from anywhere in the world seems to be good enough.

Driving side of road[edit]

Right hand drive vehicles are permitted without problem.

Mandatory items in vehicle[edit]



General Road quality[edit]

Roads in Panama are generally of good quality, except in some of the smaller towns where the pavement is cracked and broken. Lesser roads are gravel and can be mud pits in the rainy season.

Road signs[edit]

The only country in whole Central America that hardly has any road signs. Be ready to ask around or have a GPS. Use Waze it works very good here in panam!

Toll roads[edit]

The major highway from Panama City to Colón is tolled. Also the major highways around Panama City are toll roads and you need to buy the toll road card, you can't just pay cash. You still can try, but be prepared for some discussions with them!

Bribery in Panama[edit]

Police bribery is not common in Panama, but it certainly does happen.
See the bribery tips page for advice.


Police checkpoints are not common in Panama, though you may encounter them. You'll be asked to show your Passport, Vehicle registration, drivers license, vehicle insurance and the temporary import permit you were issued at the border.

Traveling with pets[edit]

June 2018- slowcarfasthouse criss-crossed from Costa Rica to Panama in order to tour with family and then proceed with trip. Here is what we learned: - crossing at Paso Canoas from Costa Rica to Panama we had to pay $136 to the border vet after presenting health certificate, vaccination records, and event the official Costa Rica export form that we chased around San Jose to secure. The man told us we would pay this again when we crossed in two weeks. We did not tell him where we planned to recross. - crossing at Sixaola from Panama to Costa Rica we didn't pay any fees and simply had to show the Panama and Costa Rica paperwork. -crossing at Sixaola from Costa Rica to Panama we showed all the previous paperwork. All staff gathered to take photos of the receipt and laugh at the $100 fee we were charged at Paso Canoas. They felt that their coworker was being unfair to the tune of $100. We paid just $36 and got new Panama import papers. These were important when we started the shipping/flying procedures to get to Colombia. Please contact me if you have questions at www.slowcarfasthouse.com

According to travelers in 2012, you need: [1]
Travelers in 2013 wrote this when traveling from Costa Rica to Panama: [2]

  • A Health Certificate for the animal in Spanish (updated at least every four months)
  • An up to date vaccination record (the European Pet Passport works well)
  • You will likely have to pay around $15.00 USD

Gas and Diesel price in Panama[edit]

Last updated: Jan 2015 (Diesel April 2017)

Currency and unit to display:

Gasoline Grade Price
Regular $0.68 USD per Liter
Super (90)  ??
Premium (95) €0.55 EUR per Liter
Ultra (97)  ??
Normal Diesel €0.55 EUR per Liter
Diesel (low sulfur)  ??

Gas and Diesel / Frequency[edit]

Gasoline shortages in Panama are not a problem.
Typically gas stations are not more than 100 - 200km apart.

Gas and Diesel Quality[edit]

Accepted to be good quality.
Sulfur content of diesel is unknown.

Safety and Security Considerations[edit]

Driving at night[edit]

Driving at night is not considered a huge problem in Panama, though it's not recommended due to road hazards that can not be seen in the dark.

Vehicle parking[edit]

Parking vehicles on the street in smaller towns during the day is typically OK. Find a secure parking lot in big cities and at night.

Special driving considerations[edit]


Security advisories and information[edit]

Camping in Panama[edit]

Camping is becoming more popular with local Panamanians and hostels in touristy areas have camping to cater for backpackers.

Being far away from major roads is preferable for wild camping.

Camping guide books[edit]

No specific book exists, though the usual backpacker guide books mention when a hostel has camping facilities.

Drinking water[edit]

Tap water in most of Panama is safe to drink. Panama has some of the best water quality in Central America. Every corner store sells 1 and 2 liter bottles, and 20 liter bottles can be bought at most large grocery stores.


Paper maps[edit]

Reise Know-How are amoung the best paper maps. Purchase paper maps before arriving in Panama

Costa Rica, Panama
Costa Rica, Panama
by Reise Know-How Verlag
From $10.27 on Amazon
Panama (national Geographic Adventure Map)
Panama (national Geographic Adventure Map)
by National Geographic Maps - Adventure
From $8.24 on Amazon
Panama (national Geographic Adventure Map)
Panama (national Geographic Adventure Map)
by National Geographic Maps - Adventure
From $8.24 on Amazon
Fodor's Florida 2016 (full-color Travel Guide)
Fodor's Florida 2016 (full-color Travel Guide)
by Fodor's Travel Guides
From $41.59 on Amazon

Purchase maps before arriving in Panama.

GPS Maps of Panama[edit]

  • Open Street Map: Appears to have good coverage.[3]
  • Cenrut: Free Open Source GPS map of Central America. Coverage is occasionally better than OSM. [4]
  • Garmin: Apparently no map of Panama.
  • TomTom: No map of Panama. [5]

GPS co-ordinates for camping, propane, gas, repairs, etc. in Panama[edit]

Special Overland Travel interests[edit]

Vehicle Maintenance[edit]


4x4s / Trucks


Local Garages[edit]

Add known good mechanics here.

You can visit The Overland Embassy for help, shipping logistic support, mechanic issues, parts, route planning, etc. (www.overlandembassy.com) Alejandro and Ana are very helpful and fellow travelers. They offer overnight parking and long term storage indoors. One stop shop for overlanders

For helpful information while in Panama, ask on Club 4x4 Panama forum. They can recommend good mechanics, places to find parts, and even places to camp or find camping supplies. They have been known to help out overland travelers.

Buy or sell a car or motorbike in Panama[edit]

Describe how a foreigner can buy a vehicle. List any difficulties or limitations on where the vehicle can be driven.

Selling a car in Panama is relatively easy assuming you can find a buyer.
We were able to conclude the sale in a day.
You will need:

  1. A bill of sale or transfer of the car, (you can type one up yourself). It should include the make, model, year of the car, the VIN and the buyer and seller's full name and address and ID numbers
  2. Original title of the vehicle and the 'rodaje' or temporary import permit that was given to you at the border by customs
  3. Notarized copies of the seller's passport, the buyer's passport or ID, the vehicle title and the bill of sale and the 'rodaje'
  4. Once you have agreed on a price and gotten all the documents written up and notarized you then drop the car off at a bond warehouse where it awaits customs valuation. They will keep the car title at the bond warehouse and give you a document stating that the car has been consigned to the bond.
  5. You then go to the customs office where the Gerencia or Administration department will review your paperwork to make sure it is all in order before directing you to the Vehicular Control department where you can get your passport stamped allowing you to leave the country.
  6. You should probably arrange to receive the cash payment for the car before dropping off the car at the bond warehouse.
  7. The buyer of the car then has to work with a corredor de aduana to get the customs paperwork and legalize it in Panama. This can take up to 20 days. The buyer assumes all responsibility for paying the customs duties and taxes which will be a minimum of $1,500.00 USD no matter the value of the car (as of 2012)


  1. Central American Borders and dogs
  2. Traveling with dogs from Canada to Argentina. Experiences and Infos.
  3. OpenStreetMap Panama
  4. Cenrut Mapping Project
  5. TomTom Map availability

Helpful External links[edit]

Google Maps Locations for Car Sale in Panama City: - Notary (Bill of Sale Stamp): https://goo.gl/maps/EKLrvKUwLno - Customs Compound (Car drop-off): https://goo.gl/maps/Csrg5kiTUks - Customs (Passport Stamp): https://goo.gl/maps/k5jYLJWeXd22

Car sale: - Panama Classifieds: https://ventadeautospanama.com/autos-usados/ https://m.encuentra24.com/panama-en/cars-auto-trucks-used-car/