In Colon there is the Cristobal Port near the bus station.
There are many shipping agents scattered throughout the myriad of buildings and banking establishments.
Ask around, the going price is around $1000—we found one for $750 but it didn’t include a container, not recommended unless you don’t mind risking the interior of the vehicle and all its contents.
At the entrance to the port is the office of Seaboard Marine and we found they could do it for $950, they seemed the most knowledgeable and trustworthy.
For your $950 you get the following:-
- $700—20 foot container, big enough for a large SUV
- $75—place vehicle in the container, strap it down and seal it
- $150—load the container onto the ship
- $25—paperwork (only pertaining to the shipping, not customs etc)
Note that this covers all costs at the Panama side. Once it arrives in Colombia there is more to pay, as usual.
We had to go and arrange the shipping reservation at their offices in Panama City. They’re on Via Espana, on the 12 floor of a tower block called Plaza Regency.
The Bill of Lading was soon drawn up and the vehicle was booked on a ship called Curacao, sailing the following Thursday.
We could either pay in Panama City or in Colon. We’d recommend paying in PC, there is an ATM at the bottom of the Regency Tower block.
For the Bill of Lading (BOL) they need a consignee address which is your address in Colombia.
We didn’t have any hotel in mind so we just picked a hotel from our guide. For the shippers address residential home addresses is suitable.
Make sure the BOL specifies pier-to-pier shipping and not ‘door-to-door. Also ensure the BOL states that the car is used.
Once the shipping is sorted it was up to us to do the customs side of things.
This is all done on the outskirts of Panama City and is easy.
However, we mistakenly thought that we could do this in Colon so we had to use an agent the day before shipping which cost us $35.
She was good though and worth it if you can’t be bothered to do it yourself but it’s no different to a land border paper chase and easy if you know how—always best to use the local talent for this sort of thing.
First go to the office of the Policia Tecnica Judicial (PTJ) with the car. A guy looks at the vehicle document and checks the chassis number against that of the vehicle. They also check in their files that the vehicle isn’t stolen. You get a document, valid for 8 days, which certifies that all is correct. This costs nothing and is fairly quick.
Next step is the customs, which is about a mile away.
When we entered Panama they asked us by which border we’d be leaving the country and for which destination.
Obviously we said we’d be leaving by sea for Colombia.
This is written on the document ‘Control de Vehiculos’ you get at the border and aids the paperwork at customs when leaving the country.
Here you get a document called ‘Permiso 130’ and the vehicle is stamped out of the owners passport. This costs $8 and is also straightforward.
At The Docks
One of the benefits of using Seaboard is that their Colon offices are right beside the customs offices at the Cristobal port entrance.
All the people working there know each other and we soon had the usual cursory vehicle inspection and all our papers stamped before driving into the maze of containers to find our little empty one waiting for us with a couple of port workers ready to help out. We took off the roof racks and put it on the so the vehicle could fit into the container.
Then it was tied down, the seal put in place and its number and the container number noted down.
We left the port with just a bag of clothes each and got the bus back to Panama City for $2. Taxis to the airport, 20kms outside the city at Tocumen, cost about $20 so we got the bus which dropped us off at the entrance for 25 cents each!
Getting to Colombia
Unfortunately it wasn’t possible for us to go on the ship with the vehicle so we had to fly.It was actually cheaper to fly via Bogota with Avianca instead of going direct to Cartagena with Copa airlines.
We used this to have an afternoon and night in Bogota to see what it was like. It was wicked. Flight cost $158 one-way.
Arriving in Cartagena we phoned the Seaboard office there and they confirmed the ship would arrive the following day and we arranged to meet at the office.
We arrived and the Seaboard people ascertained which port the container was in and printed us off the original BOL.
They also wrote a letter to the Socieadad Portuario (the Cartagena port authorities) to say that the container is only pier to pier and not door to door shipping which was wrongly specified on the BOL.
Go to the ground floor of the port offices at the Socieadad Portuario and fill in a form to get registered on their database (you get a ‘NIT’ number). Then you will be given 2 bills to pay pertaining to unloading the container and having it opened. One was for 170,000 pesos and the other for 193,000 pesos, about $150 dollars. Customs cost nothing.
There is a cirrus (not visa) cash machine in the office and two bank windows to pay at where they accept Colombian cash only. Once the bills are paid they give you a white piece of paper which says which warehouse the container will be at.
Next go upstairs and see Hernando Tovar who is very helpful and arranges a time for unloading the container. It’s best to arrange this for the next morning if possible.
Next go to the DIAN offices which are a five minute walk down the main road and around the corner.
Give them the Carnet which they photocopy along with your passport.
Try and arrange for a customs inspector to be there at the time the container is opened.
They should talk to Hernando at the port and arrange things but it didn’t work out for us.
You really don’t need to pay the ‘tramites’ guys, who wait around outside the offices, $60 to do this part for you.
Get a magnetic security pass from the downstairs port office (have to swap ID for it, try and use some other ID, not passport as you will need it later) and enter the port area through the revolving gate.
Go to the warehouse office where they give you a paper with the authorization to leave the port with your vehicle.
One of the guys dressed in blue will open the container.
While waiting you can watch the teams of police who search almost everything which is being exported very thoroughly. Once the container is opened you have to drive the car to a secure car park full of expensive new cars and wait for the customs guy to turn up.
When the customs guy arrives (we had to go and get him from the DIAN offices) he checks the chassis number against the Carnet, has a quick look in the back and then signs the Carnet, tears off his piece and writes the car details into your passport (no stamp for it).
That’s it as far as customs is concerned but getting the car out of the port involves a bit more hassle.
Getting out of the Port
Go back to the warehouse and ask for someone to release the goods. If no one will do it go and see Hernando and he’ll sort it.
The authorization paper gets stamped and you have to sign it and put your fingerprint on it too.
That’s it. Drive out into the streets of Cartagena and point your GPS south.