Shipping our vehicle from Panama to Columbia

We shipped our vehicle per RoRo from Colon (Puerto de Manzanillo) to Cartagena using the SC-Line shipping company. We didn’t use any help from agents, and all the following descriptions are based on our experiences in doing it by ourselves, so we don’t know if they might apply unconditionally for other companies. Basically valid for the entire process is that anywhere you need copies, you also have to have the originals with you, of course. GPS coordinates for the contact points can be downloaded here. In advance, we had very constructive contacts with the SC-Line office in Panama City after we had made a booking request on the online form of their homepage Onlineformular . Just one hour after sending in the form, we received the offer and, right after we had agreed to it, the booking confirmation was in our mailbox. We received offers for two ships and were able to make a very short-term decision for a date. Five e-mails at the most were all we needed, and it was only so many because the dimensions of the vehicle were wrong in the beginning.

Delivery in Colon

In Panama City, you have to go to the police department (D.I.J.) There is no preparation necessary for this, and you only need to know the port of destination and the shipping company. You have to appear there at 9 a.m. for the papers and the vehicle identification number and then again in the afternoon to pick up the new papers. It is pretty difficult to find the parking lot for the check, and it is not in the best area, which is why we have listed the GPS coordinates (N8 57.995 W79 32.701). In order to register, you go around the building to the entrance. Then you are free to go back to your vehicle, and nothing happens for a while until an official appears to check the vehicle. It is probably important to open the hood of the vehicle when you arrive, so that the motor can cool down. In addition, all the papers have to be correct, especially the vehicle identification number. Upon successful completion of the check, the kind sir takes one each of the following copies:

  • the driver’s passport and the owner’s passport, if they are different
  • the registration papers
  • the temporary import confirmation

From 2 p.m. on, you go to the office on the other side of the main street and pick up your new paper. There are a lot of parking spots in front of the building (N8 57.947 W79 32.719). You don’t need to wait in line, but can go directly to the glass construction to exchange a visitor pass for an I.D. (not the passport – you still need that). To get the paper, one each of the following copies is necessary once again:

  • the driver’s passport and the vehicle owner’s passport, if they are different
  • the registration papers
  • the temporary import confirmation

The inspection confirmation is valid for one week, so you can have the vehicle inspected at the earliest one week before you hand it over at the harbor.
The next day, I drove to the shipping company to pay and received a provisional BOL (Bill Of Lading). It is recommended to pay the bill in Panama since no VAT tax has to be paid there – but it does in Columbia. This can also be taken care of on the same day as the police inspection. The office of the SC-Line is located in the city district of Costa del Este, which taxi drivers are not very familiar with. It is best to take along a map and show the driver where you want to go. If you drive there yourself, avoid the “Coredor Sur“ since you need to buy a rechargeable card which costs $10, in addition to the highway toll. For that reason alone, it is worth it to take a taxi.
In Colon, you first have to go to the customs office outside of the harbor (Aduana), then to the customs office in the harbor (Aduana de Puerto). The first customs office is located next to a large entranceway which you are not allowed to drive through, so you have to park on the right side of the street. For us, there was a construction zone there, so it was pretty chaotic. If you don’t find the office right away, ask the guards at the big gate, and they will show you the way. For customs, you need three copies of each of the following documents:

  • the driver’s passport and the vehicle owner’s passport, if they are different
  • the registration papers
  • the temporary import confirmation
  • the provisional Bill Of Lading
  • the documents from the police inspection

With these, you get your export certificate. Here, it is important to have the vehicle stamped out of your passport.
The office for harbor customs is near the big harbor entrance in the harbor of Manzanillo. Simply drive to the gate and ask the guard to show you where to go. Have the documents stamped at customs, then pay the parking and security charges at the window directly next door (“Almacenaje“). You get a receipt, which you will need later. Then you go to the shipping agent’s office (for us, it was Panama Agencies, first staircase near the cash machine, second floor) and get more stamps on the BOL. The building with the agencies is next to the customs building, and a canteen is downstairs in it. Now you have all the papers and can deliver the vehicle.
Drive to the RoRo terminal, park in front of the fence, and announce that you would like to deliver the vehicle. You have to be sure to make it clear that you only want to go to the counter and not into the security area of the harbor – otherwise you need safety boots. At the counter, the papers are checked, and then one person is allowed to move the vehicle to the other side of the fence. No more of the luggage in the vehicle is allowed to leave the harbor! Wait next to the vehicle because there is possibly a short check of the vehicle for drugs in it (for us, there was even a dog), and the condition of the vehicle is documented. Then you hand over the keys, and the vehicle is driven away. This was the only place where we had to wait a bit. Then you have to go back to the counter and wait there until you receive the confirmation of the vehicle check. You get two papers, and that is it – now you have earned one bottle (or maybe a lot of bottles) of cool Panama beer. The whole process took us about three hours, so it is manageable. The harbor closes at 3:30 p.m., so you should arrive there in the morning in any case.
Before we handed over our vehicle, we took out everything that wasn’t nailed or screwed down (radio, children’s car seats, etc.) and stored it in the back cabin. When we picked up the vehicle, we noticed that someone had looked under the rear seat, but since there was nothing to take, nothing was missing.
Then we took a taxi to the bus terminal ($7). After a nice conversation with our taxi driver, he offered to drive us to our hotel in Panama City for $50. Since this was a very fair price, that is just what we did. The train, for example, would have cost more, and then we would still have had the drive to the terminal and to the hotel.
Costs in Panama:

  • shipping: US$ 860
  • harbor fees RoRo terminal: US$ 58
  • taxi transfers (Colon, airport, miscellaneous): US$100
  • hotel for two nights in Panama City: US$ 125
  • flight to Cartagena with Copa Airlines for two adults and two children: US$ 1460

Pick-up in Cartagena

Upon arrival in Cartagena, the first place to go is the office of Jans Mar in Manga since this is where you get the final Bill of Lading. Moreover, you are informed of the arrival date of the ship. It should be noted for here and for all the other places that there is always a two-hour lunch break from 12 noon to 2 p.m. during which no work at all is done. Afterwards, you go to Sociedad Portuario with the new BOL and head for the little, modern-looking glass construction somewhat in front of the big entrance gate. Tell the receptionist that you would like to go to “Atencione al Cliente“ to pick up a vehicle, show her your passport, and get an entry pass. After that, go through the turnstile and through the first door to the right. Then turn right immediately, go past the lines of people waiting, and walk through the little door, so you can present what you are there for. You are directed to a very competent, English-speaking man who explains the next steps and prepares the first papers. You need the following papers here: – the passport of the person listed as the shipper on the BOL and the passport of the owner of the vehicle, if this isn’t the same person

  • proof of life insurance or accidental death insurance with minimum coverage of US$25‘000!
  • The Bill of Lading
  • The vehicle papers
  • If the owner of the vehicle and the shipper are two different persons (for example, husband/wife), you need a power of attorney to pick up the vehicle. You have to write this yourself (in Spanish, of course) and then sign it in front of a notary in the old town and have it stamped by him (about. 3500COP and the passport of the person who wrote the power of attorney and his physical presence are also necessary).

Next, you have to wait until the ship has arrived and has been unloaded, which takes about half a working day. We were still at customs to register our vehicle, which we could have spared ourselves since customs subsequently misplaced our copied documents. During the waiting time, you can visit Cartagena (and get life insurance for three days, if necessary) before returning to Atencione al Cliente at the pre-arranged time. This is where all the papers are finished, the harbor fees (dependent on the vehicle) are paid, and notification of the time for customs inspection (6.30 a.m. or 2 p.m.) is given. Then you go to DIAN (which closes at 5 p.m.!), right around the corner from the harbor and ask how to get to customs (Aduana), where you state what you are there for. Once again, you need the following copies:

  • the vehicle owner’s passport and entry stamp
  • the Bill of Lading
  • the vehicle papers
  • power of attorney to pick up the car, if necessary

You get a form, fill it out, and make several copies of it in the copy shop across the street. You can make one copy for yourself in order to get vehicle insurance more quickly. Then take the copies back and say which inspection time you want. Once it is confirmed, the first part is done. Now anyone with the remaining copy of the customs paper can go to a vehicle insurance agency in the old town (for example, Seguro de Estado, Edifico Banco de Bogota, Centro, Cra. 8, 8 Piso) and take out a policy for the number of months desired.
At the pre-arranged time for the customs inspection, you go to the harbor Contecar (first entrance) and always keep to the left. At the end, near a white building with a turnstile, you go left to a small building (Control de Acseso), where you receive your entry pass. For this, you need the clearance paper which you got at the other harbor and also identification (not your passport). Then you go to Atencione al Cliente and follow the directions given to you. There are a lot of security personnel here who are very helpful. After the inspection (the vehicle identification number is checked, and they look into the vehicle briefly), you hand in your entry pass, return to DIAN, and wait for the inspector there. As soon as he turns up (it can take some time), you get two documents – a proof of inspection and the document which you had to copy during your first visit. Check carefully to see whether all the documents have been signed on the lines provided!
With these two papers, you now go back to Sociedad Portuario and the familiar counter, where you receive your pick-up papers for Contecar after waiting a bit. With these, you drive to Contecar, this time to the big entrance and exit. Report there with your papers and identification at hand. You are picked up and driven to your vehicle, where you follow the dockworker’s instructions. On the way out, you drive past diverse check-points before you are finally allowed to drive your vehicle along Columbian streets and in the city traffic of Cartagena (have fun!), where we were very happy we had already taken out the obligatory insurance.
Here are a few more tips for Cartagena. For transportation from and to the harbor, there are various possibilities. If your hotel is in the city district of Getsemani, you can walk to the office of Jans Mar (10 minutes) and to the harbor in another 20-25 minutes. Customs is about 10 minutes away from the harbor. Contecar is a half-hour drive from Getsemani. The fastest means of transportation is by mototaxi – recognizable because the driver has a second helmet with him for his passenger and keeps on honking his horn as he drives by. Mototaxis are cheap, but the ride can be adventurous. If you have to get back and forth from customs to the harbor, this is the way to go. To get from the harbor back to the city, you can take a bus across from the harbor (1‘800COP); they all go towards the city center. Another alternative is to rent a bike for the day you take care of all the paperwork (our hostel had some to rent out). There are usually masses of taxis available, and a ride from the center to Contecar costs about 18‘000COP and between Sociedad Portuario and Contecar about 12‘000. The prices are usually negotiable.
It is recommendable for the vehicle owner and the shipper to be the same person – this simplifies the customs process tremendously and saves having a notary. The life insurance needed at the harbor can be taken out with any agency, and the proof of insurance in paper form is accepted without any further checking.
Costs in Cartagena:

  • notarized power of attorney: 3‘500COP
  • harbor fees: 214‘480COP (calculation basis of US$104)
  • transfers: approx. 40‘000COP
  • four nights in a family room: 280‘000COP

Looking back on it, shipping the vehicle and the preparation for it was time-consuming, but manageable. In Panama, the process is fast and trouble-free, whereas, in Cartagena, you have to change stations often, so it all takes longer. Everyone we had to do with was very helpful and was willing to explain each step again if anything was unclear. The bureaucracy for picking up the vehicle consists of customs and harbor regulations whose processing is connected with some time expenditure. The only thing that often helps is remaining calm and waiting. In any case, you will get your vehicle at some time. If not today, then mañana! For questions, just send an e-mail to Max.

6 Thoughts on “Shipping our vehicle from Panama to Columbia

  1. Top Anleitung – war somit auch für uns kein Problem ohne Agenten zu verschiffen.
    Vielen, vielen Dank!

  2. sehr schöne Anleitung, würde das in die andere Richtung von Kolumbien nach Panama genauso funktionieren?

    Gruß Tom

  3. Hola, Nos encontramos en Minca y admiramos mucho a tu familia, tu aventura y tu camion!!! Tengo una foto que nos gustaria enviarte!!!

  4. Klingt ja abenteuerlich… Kann man nicht einfach mit dem Auto auf dem Schiff mitfahren, so wie bei einer Fähre?

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