Shipping Across the Darien Gap: Panama to Colombia Part 2
|Written by Jessica on July 03, 2012|
Here we go again. As if you didn't have enough fun reading the last 3,500 work article I wrote about part 1 of the shipping process, here is another 3,500 word post on part 2. I hope that someone out there finds this helpful, otherwise I'll be sad about all the time I wasted when I could have been drinking cheap Aquilas and prefecting my chocolate banana pancake recipe. Here we go...
The Benefits of Seaboard Marine
We did NOT ship with Seaboard Marine, we shipped with Evergreen whose port company in Colon is Everlogistics, and recieving company in Cartagena is Global Shipping Agencies. Seaboard Marine is easier because you are dealing with the same company in both ports. You will know all of the fees upfront because the two offices actually communicate. You will likely have to do the entire process yourself, which may sound daunting, but it really isn’t. Plenty of people have done it this way.
We shipped with Evergreen/Everlogistics because the agent in Colon found us a shipping partner. We estimate we paid an additional $50 for this service in Colon, but also had to pay an additional $185 in Cartagena (compared to those who shipped with Seaboard). This is because we paid extra fees to the different company in Cartagena. If you ship with Seaboard these fees are all included in the original payment in Panama.
Pantalones y Zapatos Cerrado
To enter the port (where your car is), you must wear long pants and closed-toed shoes. There are multiple ports in Cartagena, you may be required to wear pants and shoes for the entire process. For us, only the owners of the cars could enter the port area. So everyone didn’t need to bother wearing long pants and sweating to death, just the owners. Most waiting areas are air conditioned, thankfully. I would recommend bringing long pants and closed toed shoes with to every office. You never know what’s going to happen.
The problem with this article is that it will be completely different for you. I read at least 7 accounts of others who shipped before us, and I can say that the general advice helped, but our steps were in a completely different order and included a few things I never read about. For the record, here are the other travelers accounts: From A to B, The Road Chose Me, unUrban, DrivetheAmericas, PanAm Notes, Random PDF on DTA, Rambling the Americas ebook.
Brokers / Agents in Catagena
If you want the help of an agent in Cartagena, you can hire one. It costs about $170 per vehicle. Another two couples who shipped on the same boat opted to hire an agent. Their process was much less stressful (and mostly involved sitting in air con rooms waiting for papers to sign), but it did NOT take any less time. We both received our cars on the same day, less than 10 minutes apart.
After the ship arrived and we could start with the paperwork. This process took two days. We arrived in Cartagena Saturday night, our boat arrived Tuesday morning and our paperwork was ready at the shipping company’s office on Tuesday night. We went to the port Wednesday, and had to wait until Thursday for the container to be moved. We unloaded the cars Thursday morning, did the customs inspection at 2pm on Thursday and drove out of the port at 7pm.
When you book a hotel in Cartagena tell them you are waiting for your car on a container ship and you will be staying several days. Ask for a discount, we saved more than a $100K pesos because of this. Also, we recommend the Hotel San Roque. It is walking distance to the city center, close to a lot of cheap restaurants, has a kitchen, and air con triple room run about COP$90K. Also the staff is nice and there is secure parking just around the corner once you have your car back.
You can track the location of your boat on this website: www.marine-traffic.com. If you ship with Evergreen you can track the location of your container using the bill of lading number on this website: http://www.evergreen-marine.com/
We arrived in Cartagena late Saturday after a maddening day of flight delays. It took us more than 12 hours to make the short distance from Panama City to Cartagena. We enjoyed the city Sunday and Monday as we waited for more info from our agent in Panama.
Monday morning, Tea, our agent with Everlogistics, confirmed that our container had changed ships and would only arrive Tuesday. (The original vessel was scheduled to arrive Monday). She emailed again late on Tuesday to confirm that the shipping agent in Cartagena had our paperwork. She said we should proceed with the unloading process, but did not give us any other info. She did email our bill of lading for the Cartagena process, but failed to mention that it was different than the bill of lading we received in Panama. Nor did she mention this was the first piece of paper we would need in the process.
We took a Taxi (COP $7000) to the port where the Global Shipping Agencies (GSA) office was located at 9am on Wednesday morning. First, we went into the Sociedad Portuaria (N10 24.390 W75 31.707) to the Servico de Cliente office. Here, a very helpful official took our bill of lading from Panama. He looked up a few things and said we had to go to the GSA office to get the other bill of lading. He also said that we only had until 10:30 to submit the papers, or our container would not be moved until tomorrow. It was currently 9:45.
We went quickly to the GSA office, which involved checking in at another office and the vehicle owners getting another pass to enter the port. At the GSA office we were told that we needed to pay the GSA fee before the bill could be released. The fee had to be paid at the bank. We ran to the bank. Paid the fee. Now 10:30, we realized we were too late.
For the record, we made two separate payments. One in the amount of COP $116,882 we paid to Global Shipping Agencies which was a delivery charge. The second was paid to the cargo operator Serteport S.A. in the amount of COP $207,509. This was an administrative or terminal handling fee. Total in USD, about $180. This was the combined total for both cars.
The vehicle owners returned to the GSA office, where we were told that in fact we did not need to pay the fee, because the only paper that we needed to have the container moved was a COPY of the bill of lading. We got a copy and ran back to the Sociedad Portuaria. But, it was now 11am.
We all sat in this office and the official helped us fill out a bunch of papers. We paid a combined total of COP$556,423. This covers the normal port fee of COP$230K, a fee to move the empty container COP$200K, and a fee to move the loaded container COP$113K. Note that to my knowledge, if you ship with Seaboard Marine, the ONLY fee you pay in Cartagena is the COP$230K port fee. We went just outside this office to pay the fees and returned to the Servico de Cliente office and did more paperwork.
The official asked to see proof of life insurance. I handed a copy of my health insurance card. The official wanted to see more documentation, so we went online using a computer in the office and pulled up the medical plan benefits. In fact we probably could have pulled up any plan benefits, but we did legitimately have accidental death insurance. Good to know. The official told our shipping partners they would need to have the insurance before entering the area of the port where the cars were stored.
After an hour or so of paying fees and filling out papers, the official said we were done. Because we missed the 10:30 deadline we would have to wait to unload the container until 8am the next day... super. He told us to go to the aduana and make an appointment for the customs inspection for tomorrow afternoon.
We walked the hot few blocks to the DIAN (aduana) office N10 24.555 W75 32.022. It was lunch time, (between 12-2pm), but we asked nicely and the officials agreed to see us. The official here took originals and copies of: vehicle title, driver’s passport photo page, driver’s passport vehicle exit stamp from Panama, driver’s passport entry stamp into Colombia, and a copy of the Colombian bill of lading. There is a copy shop across the street.
The aduana officials filled out a temporary permit, but did not give it to us. They kept it and said they would send it with the inspector tomorrow. We made the appointment for 8am because we were told that if the container was moved quickly we could possibly have the inspection done in the morning.
We left the aduana and our shipping partners and went to the old town to start drinking.
The next morning we returned to the Sociedad Portuaria at 8am. The official from the Servicio de Clients office met us at the check-in area and brought hard hats and bright orange vests for the vehicle owners. Stylish. He went with the owners to the container.
We waited together for a few minutes for two guys to show up. The first guy had the bolt cutters and the second had a clipboard to read the seal number. The clipboard guy verified the number on the seal and sat down on a golf cart.
We posed for a photo, and then he cut the bolt, untied the cars and I drove the cars out and to a nearby parking lot.
We went back to the GSA office and told them the container was empty. They immediately sent an inspector out. Note that this is NOT the customs inspector, this is the container inspector. He doesn’t care about your cars, he just wants to make sure the container isn’t damaged or filled with trash or oil leaks.
The official from Sociedad Portuaria told us that container inspectors sometimes want bribes to clean the inside of the container, and that we should not pay them anything. Our inspector took a quick walk inside then signed a form and gave it to me.
We took the form and went back to the GSA office. Here I turned in the form and the GSA people gave us receipts for the money we paid the previous day and also finally handed over our original bill of lading. We returned to the port entrance where Jessica and Sebastian waited. But we were not finished yet. We returned to the Servicio de Clientes office again. The same official looked at the original bill of lading and then more paperwork was done.
At the end of another stack of paperwork, we received a new form that we were told the customs inspection agent would need. It was now 11am, no chance of having aduana inspect the car until 2pm.
We took a taxi back to the hotel and then tried to go to old town and buy vehicle insurance. They refused to issue it without the temporary import permit. We drank more coffee and pasteles and waited until 2pm.
At 2pm we arrived back at the Sociedad Portuaria. The vehicle owners entered the port to wait for the customs inspector wearing long pants, closed toed shoes, orange vests and hard hats. Jessica sat in the air conditioned entry room and wrote this article up until this point (from the perspective of Kobus, just to make your life easier). She considered just making the rest up and including more interesting things like zombies and unicorns, but we digress…
After the customs inspector looked at the car (or didn’t, as in our case), she handed over a piece of paper that I had to sign and fingerprint. She didn’t bother to look at the VIN numbers, but told us to take a photo of them and print out the photos and bring them to aduana at 4pm, where we could get the rest of the paperwork. This photo thing is apparently a new rule, even our friends’ broker agent had not heard of it.
We left the secure area and returned to the waiting area where our spouses snapped cheeky photos of us in orange vests, then we went back into the Sociedad Portuaria / Servicio de Cliente office to hand in the paper given to us by the customs inspector.
The official we had been working with offered to print the photos of the VIN numbers if we could email them to him. We found an open wifi network and emailed them. Thank goodness for laptops and unsecured networks. Then the same guy realized he forgot to do some paperwork and asked for the bill of lading again. He did a few more things then sent us back to DIAN/aduana.
At the DIAN office we waited at least 20 minutes for our customs inspector to return. Thankfully there is a cafeteria and a TV in this building. Yay for both! The customs official took the photos of the cars, did a bunch more paperwork and finally issued us a temporary vehicle import permit for Colombia. Shockingly, it didn’t cost anything.
Permit in hand we walked back to the Sociedad Portuaria an even stopped to buy some delicious sweet corn and ice cold coke on the way. It was now nearly 6pm and we were starving.
Back at the the Servico de Cliente office within the Sociedad Portuaria we turned in the temporary vehicle import permit and were finally issued a release form. The magical piece of paper that lets you take the cars out of the port. Because my name was the only name on the bill of lading, I was the only one allowed to drive the card out of the port.
I went back into the port, near where the scales are, and handed an official the release form for our shipping partner’s vehicle. The official kept this release form and printed a new form that had 4 copies attached.
Then I went to the storage area where we had waited for the customs inspectors earlier. An official signed the release paper and sent me off to get the car. I picked up the car and drove it back to the storage area. I had to sign all for copies of the release, add my passport number and fingerprint them. The official checked the info and returned all of the copies.
I drove the car to the scales and waited in line with the rest of the trucks. I drove the car on to the scales and handed over the release form. The official here took one copy of the form and returned to me the other three. Just after the scales was a security checkpoint. The guard here took another copy of the release form.
Out of jail I dropped off the first car to our shipping partners and then repeated this process again for our car. It was just before 7pm when we were finally out. We turned in our security badges at the front desk and went back to the old town to find parking and celebrate.
The next morning we went into the old town to buy insurance at HBL Seguros (SOAT) N10 25’30.6” W75 32’52.8”. It cost a whopping COP$154,000 for 3 months insurance. The cost is based on the engine size of your car.
Total costs in Cartagena (shared by 2 cars):