Overland Panama Travel
Pan American Highway > Panama
Currency to display:
- 1 Visiting Panama
- 2 Entering Panama with a Car or Motorbike
- 3 Driving in Panama
- 4 Gas and Diesel price in Panama
- 5 Safety and Security Considerations
- 6 Camping in Panama
- 7 Navigation
- 8 Special Overland Travel interests
- 9 Vehicle Maintenance
- 10 Buy or sell a car or motorbike in Panama
- 11 References
- 12 Helpful External links
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
Correct as of: March 2017
Ferry Xpress from Panama
Ferry Xpress services are suspended at least for 2 years since 2015. People ship in a container, RORO or use sailboats (for motorbikes only)
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
(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
- 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.
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/
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
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).
Permitted length of stay
90 days for people, the vehicle only receives 30 days, though.
Extension of stay
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
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
- 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
By land to Costa Rica
- The registered owner is stamped out of Panama at immigration.
- The registered owner presents the temporary import paper to customs, where it is cancelled.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org & 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
Recommended books for Overlanding in Panama
Travel insurance for Panama
Vehicle insurance requirements
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
$28 for one month for a regular sized car (August 2018)
Where to purchase vehicle insurance
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.
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
Right hand drive vehicles are permitted without problem.
Mandatory items in vehicle
General Road quality
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.
The only country in whole Central America that hardly has any road signs. Be ready to ask around or have a GPS.
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
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
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
- 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
Last updated: Jan 2015 (Diesel April 2017)
Currency and unit to display:
|Regular||$0.68 USD per Liter|
|Premium (95)||€0.55 EUR per Liter|
|Normal Diesel||€0.55 EUR per Liter|
|Diesel (low sulfur)||??|
- Price Information: gasoline-germany.com - International Gas / Petrol / Diesel prices - Panama
Gas and Diesel / Frequency
Gasoline shortages in Panama are not a problem.
Typically gas stations are not more than 100 - 200km apart.
Gas and Diesel Quality
Accepted to be good quality.
Sulfur content of diesel is unknown.
Safety and Security Considerations
Driving at night
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.
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
Security advisories and information
- Country Specific Information - U.S. Department of State
- Travel Reports and Warnings - Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
- Travel advice by country - Foreign and Commonwealth office (U.K.)
- Travel Advice for Panama - Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Camping in Panama
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
No specific book exists, though the usual backpacker guide books mention when a hostel has camping facilities.
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.
Reise Know-How are amoung the best paper maps. Purchase paper maps before arriving in Panama
Purchase maps before arriving in Panama.
GPS Maps of Panama
- Open Street Map: Appears to have good coverage.
- Cenrut: Free Open Source GPS map of Central America. Coverage is occasionally better than OSM. 
- Garmin: Apparently no map of Panama.
- TomTom: No map of Panama. 
GPS co-ordinates for camping, propane, gas, repairs, etc. in Panama
- iOverlander is a website and iPhone application designed by Overlanders, for Overlanders. It contains GPS co-ordinates and reviews for camping, hotels, propane, water, mechanics, borders and much more.
- Places in Panama - Camping Places & Sights in Panama from Pawsontour
- Panama Campgrounds and Hostels - List of campgrounds and hostels with photos, GPS co-ordinates, descriptions and amenities from 2012
- Camping and Hotels in Panama - DTA
- Camping Sites: Panama - Detailed list of campsites and propane filling with description, directions and GPS co-ordinates. Some at hotels (lists facilities and price), some roadside and free.
- Central America Camping Locations - List of campsites, with basic directions and GPS co-ordinates. Mostly free sites.
- Camping Log 1: Central America - List of campsites, shopping, fuel, propane and border crossings with excellent descriptions and GPS co-ordinates.
- White Acorn camping log page - GPS co-ordinates and excellent description of campsites]
Special Overland Travel interests
- See Crossing The Darien Gap for those details.
- Touring the Darien Jungle on foot and in boats http://trans-americas.com/blog/2014/09/darien-jungle-panama/
- Driving to the very end of the road http://trans-americas.com/blog/2014/10/end-road-yaviza-darien-panama/
4x4s / Trucks
- Toyota Global Dealer Locator
- Land Rover International Dealer Locator
- Mercedes Benz International (select country on bottom right)
- Jeep International site locator
Add known good mechanics here.
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
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:
- 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
- Original title of the vehicle and the 'rodaje' or temporary import permit that was given to you at the border by customs
- Notarized copies of the seller's passport, the buyer's passport or ID, the vehicle title and the bill of sale and the 'rodaje'
- 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.
- 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.
- You should probably arrange to receive the cash payment for the car before dropping off the car at the bond warehouse.
- 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)
- Central American Borders and dogs
- Traveling with dogs from Canada to Argentina. Experiences and Infos.
- OpenStreetMap Panama
- Cenrut Mapping Project
- TomTom Map availability
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://m.encuentra24.com/panama-en/cars-auto-trucks-used-car/