This article is part of our Border Crossing Report series.
Border Name: Paso Canoas
Closest Major Cities: Ciudad Neily, Costa Rica and David, Panama
Cost for Visas: $1 per person for Panama entry
Cost for Vehicle: $15 for insurance, $1.60 for copies
Total Time: 1.25 hours
Date Crossed: Monday May 28, 2012
We left our hotel in Puerto Jimenez around 8am and arrived at the border at 10 am. The Costa Rican side took all of 15 minutes. We parked right outside of immigration and went to the salida (exit) window.
There were quite a few people in line and we noticed they all had exit forms. Kobus went to a vacant window and asked the official for the exit forms. They promptly handed over three for us to fill out.
Back in line we filled out the forms, then handed our passports and the forms to the official. She swiped the passports, stamped them and kept the exit form. Done.
Around the corner we found the aduana (customs) office easily. The official gave Kobus a piece of paper to fill out. It essentially asked for your name, vehicle numbers and if you intended to come back to Costa Rica in the next 3 months. We turned the vehicle permit and this new paper back to the official who then asked to see our car.
We led him outside where he checked our VIN number and then went back to the office. He entered some things in the computer, then handed us back the form we filled out with a stamp on it. That’s it, “nada mas”.
The Panama offices are equally as easy to spot. The only thing worth mentioning is that if you need to change money go to the BCR bank on the left side of the road between the Costa Rica and Panama immigration centers. They give better rates than the booths on the street. We didn’t take the time to change money at the border and almost ended up going to the Panama airport because no one wanted to change our colones to dollars.
On the Panama side, things were suspiciously quiet. We counted our blessings and parked against the curb, just near the migracion windows.
We went to the entrada window, and just as we were about to hand over our passports a lady approached us and asked to see them. She gave us each a sticker in our passports and asked for $1 each. We paid in colones and the cost was C$1650.
Next we gave our passports over to the official, dreading what they were going to do with a South African passport. Reports were unclear if Kobus needed a visa or not. Consulate said no, the official Panama website said yes. Thankfully the official stamped our passports, took our photos with a digital camera and handed everything back. No fees, no hassle.
The lady who sold us the stickers was nice enough to explain the vehicle import process as well. First she sent us across the street to by insurance. There is only one small place to do this, and yes, it is obligatory. The cost was $15 plus photocopies of the title and drivers passport. We went ahead and made a few extra copies since we were running out.
Insurance papers in hand, our sticker lady friend pointed up the stairs and told us to go to the transito office. Ok lady, you’re the boss. Up the spiral staircase and into the transit office, we handed over the insurance papers and the driver’s passport. Stamp. Stamp. They return the papers and the passport.
Back downstairs we head to the window marked “aduana”. They send us back to the other side of the building to the “other” aduana window. This window said in blue letters “Captura y Manifesto”. We saw a taped up sign that said “turismo”. Sweet, that’s us. We waited a few minutes until an official showed up. He took the driver’s passport, title, insurance papers, and copies of both the title and drivers passport.
We waited there for about 20 minutes while he typed away. Then he returned to the window and handed us back all the originals and one copy of the insurance. Also he asked for Kobus’ signature on several copies of the permit, one of which he gave to us. The official told us to go talk to the man in the black shirt.
We found an official looking guy milling around the area who had a black shirt with the Panama Aduana logo on it. We handed him our permit and he asked to see the car. We walked over, showed him the VIN and opened the trunk. He made some joke about our half drunk bottles of Costa Rican guaro, then stamped our papers and said “Adios.”
Back in the car we drove straight ahead through the automatic fumigation area. No one stopped us to ask for a payment, so we didn't bother to look around. About a kilometer to a military checkpoint.
One official in a military uniform asked to see everyone’s passport. Another official in the typical aduana shirt asked to see our permit. They looked over the documents, handed everything back and sent us on our merry way.
Now for the fun part. We drove out to Boquete that day, determined to chill in the fresh mountain air for a few days. Our first stop was David (second largest town in Panama) to buy a new camping stove and change money. Three banks refused to change our money and said the border is the only place to change it. With nearly $200 in colones we thought we were screwed. Oh well, onwards to Boquete.
We arrived in Boquete to a facebook message from our friends Home on the Highway attempting to container ship their car in Panama City. They said that the inspectors refused to issue the exit paperwork because the engine number was not written on their vehicle permit. It simply said N/R. (FYI for most vehicles the engine number, chassis number and VIN number are all the same.) We checked our paperwork. Doh. Same problem.
The next day we headed from Boquete back to the border to have the paperwork fixed. Thankfully all it took was a little explaining and a lot of por favor’s and gracias’s and we had an updated permit with all the right stamps. Also, we walked out to the BCR bank in no-mans-land and successfully changed our pile of colones in dollars. Whew.
Worst part about this border: Triple check your paperwork or you’re going to be coming back.
Best part about this border: 15 minutes to clear the Costa Rican side. Sweet!