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Shipping Across the Darien Gap: Panama to Colombia Part 2

Written by Jessica on July 3, 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...


General Advice

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.

If you are shipping with Seaboard Marine, check out the article at unUrban and this page at Drive the Americas. They will likely provide more accurate information than this account.

no-shorts-and-no-sandlasPantalones 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.

Maddening Differences

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.

Online Tracking

You can track the location of your boat on this website: If you ship with Evergreen you can track the location of your container using the bill of lading number on this website:

The Steps

  1. Get the papers from your shipping agents office in Cartagena. (Usually just copies).
  2. Pay the shipping company’s fee (if required). You may need to pay fees at a bank. Fees range wildly, ours were COP $323,000 (about $180 USD) for the entire 40’ container.
  3. Take the papers from your agent to the Servico al Cliente office in the Sociedad Portuaria. Fill out more papers and arrange for your container to be moved to a storage place where it can be unloaded. The official will tell you the earliest time the container will be moved. (If you do this step before 10:30 am the container will be moved the same day, if not you have to wait until the next morning.)
  4. Also at the Sociedad Portuaria the same agent will give you invoices (facturas) for port fees. (COP $556,423, or $313 USD, per 40’ container).  
  5. Also at the Sociedad Portuaria the agent will verify that the vehicle owners have life insurance (rather, accidental death insurance). A travel or health insurance policy will work. A fake piece of paper with some legal looking info will probably also work. If you don’t have it you can buy in the old town. You have to have proof of coverage before step 8.
  6. Go to DIAN (aduana) in Manga (N10 24.555 W75 32.022). Make an appointment for a customs inspection. Your container must be moved and unloaded before they can do the inspection. Inspections are only done at 7am or 8am, and 2pm.
  7. At DIAN fill out the papers for your vehicle permit. They will need original and one copy of: vehicle title, driver’s passport photo page, driver’s passport vehicle exit stamp from Panama, driver’s passport entry stamp into Colombia, and the Colombian bill of lading (copy only). They will keep all of the permit papers.
  8. Return to the Sociedad Portuaria when the official said your container would be moved. Meet the official out front and walk through the port to the container. Only vehicle owners can enter here.
  9. At the container one official with a bolt cutter will open the container, and another official with paperwork will verify that the seal on the container is correct.
  10. Drive the cars out of the container and park in another lot.
  11. A inspector form the shipping company will inspect the container to make sure it is empty. Sometimes these guys ask for bribes to clean the container, don’t pay anything! He will sign a form and give it to you.
  12. Return to your recieving companies office. Hand over the paper the inspector of the container signed. They will give you receipts for any money you paid along with the original bill of lading.
  13. Take the original bill of lading back to the Servico al Cliente office in the Sociedad Portuaria. Fill out more papers. You will get a paper that the customs inspector will fill out.
  14. Return to the port when the customs agent agreed to meet you can go to the container. The customs agent will inspect your cars briefly. He or she will give you a piece of paper that you need to sign and fingerprint and will tell you what time to return to DIAN to pick up your paperwork. Could be immediately, could be the next day. Also you will need to take photos of the cars, license plates and the VIN number, print them and bring them with when you return to aduana.
  15. Return to the Portuaria Sociedad to print your photos of the VIN and cars, show the official your papers from the inspector. He may need your bill of lading to do some other work. He will not give you any other papers except print outs of your photos.
  16. Go to DIAN/Aduana at the time your inspector directed. Turn in the photos, fill out the papers. She will give you a temporary import permit.
  17. Return to the Portuaria Socieded and hand in your temporary import permit. He will issue a magical release permit.
  18. Go back into the port, where the scales are, and hand in your release form. The scales opperator will keep the original release form and give you another one. They will print on it and give it back to you.
  19. Then you go the storage area where your car was originally. Someone will sign the release paper.
  20. Go get the car and return with it to the storage area. Sign all four copies of the release form, add your fingerprint and passport number. The official will give you back all of the copies.
  21. Return to the scales and wait in line. Drive onto the scales.
  22. Get out of your car and give the official the release form. He takes one copy and leaves you with the other three.
  23. Stop at security and hand in one more copy of the release form.
  24. Drive to freedom. Kiss you car, your spouse and possibly the security guard. And good luck finding parking in the old town.
  25. Buy mandatory vehicle insurance. HBL Seguros (SOAT) in old town: N10 25’30.6” W75 32’52.8”. Cost is approximately COP $150,000 for a 6 cylinder car, less for a 4 cylinder. You can NOT buy this insurance until you have your temporary import permit from DIAN/Aduana.

Our Experience

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.

port-authoroty-entranceWe 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.

customs-officeWe 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.

cutting-the-boltThe 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.

ready-umm-yaWe 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.

driving-outI 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):
Shipping Company Fees: COP$323,000
Port Fees: COP$556,423
Taxi Rides: COP$35,000
Hotel room for 5 nights: COP$450,000
Vehicle Insurance: COP$154,000


Jessica Mans
#11 Jessica Mans 2013-09-10 16:22
Thanks Ian,
I'm glad to know the article was useful. I did see your write up on traveling with dogs as well. If you haven't already, make sure you post a link to that article on Drive the Americas, and wikioverland.or g. Lots of others have asked us about shipping with pets, and we have almost no knowledge.

For others reading this, article on crossing the Darien with dogs here:

Ian Kietzman
#10 Ian Kietzman 2013-09-10 02:32

Just want to say thanks for this write-up. We just finished the process ourselves (with the added excitement of flying our two dogs across the Gap with us). I printed this entire article and carried it with us through the whole thing.

Ship car to St. Thom
#9 Ship car to St. Thom 2013-06-27 02:53
Panama has its finest and its bad points, but overall I was overall a great place, especially if you. Factor in the development of cost of living During the development of the cost of living in Panama has increased dramatically over the past two years ... is still relatively cheaper than in the U.S.
#8 Helenjerry 2013-06-12 03:26
Panama to Columbia!!!??My head out of brain.
#7 Mark 2013-02-20 19:12
Jessica - thanks VERY much for the write-up. I'm looking to ship a full-sized pickup, maybe late August 2013, and am just starting the research process. It might not be all that much of a process, though, as you seem to have included everything!
#6 Dillon 2012-10-12 19:19
Hey Jessica and team life remotely. Thanks for this post and your email with directions for the inspection office in Panama. We got our cars safely onto the ship yesterday and so I've just been reading this before we offload next week! Thanks again and maybe catch you guys somewhere down the road.
#5 jessicam 2012-09-09 19:01
Hi Clayton. Ok fine, I'll try to do the math :)
Total USD cost for the ENTIRE 40' container. Note that all these costs were split, we paid half of USD$2667. This was $522 in Colombia and the rest in Panama.
Vehicle insurance for our car was an additional USD$88.
Hotels and the Train in Panama for the three of us cost an additional USD$512. And the three plane tickets to Colombia another $1068.

So, our half of the shipping plus everything else means that we spent a whopping $3001.50.
#4 clayton 2012-09-08 13:50
hello guys we are having a hard time figuring out your cost for shiping in total can you please let us know what the total is in usd? That is what you payed after sharing, posably include comombia insurance, and any aditional fees to drive in colombia?? It would help us all out so very much you have the best site by far and are helping alot of people out, many many thanks!!!

Total costs in Cartagena (shared by 2 cars):
Shipping Company Fees: COP$323,000
Port Fees: COP$556,423
Taxi Rides: COP$35,000
Hotel room for 5 nights: COP$450,000
Vehicle Insurance: COP$154,000
Total costs:

$1050 for a shared 40' container
$5 for photocopies
$75 for three train tickets back to Panama City
$40 for taxis from the train station and to the airport
$1068 for three one-way tickets to Cartagena
$180 for four nights in a hotel in Colon
#3 Kevin 2012-08-06 14:29
Thanks for the write-up! We are still in Panama but our container comes in tomorrow and we're flying to Cartagena tomorrow as well. The first part of the write-up was very helpful. We found a container to put our two bikes in and are sharing with 2 cars in a 40 foot box.
We were notifified by Tea there was a box going Thursday last week... we were in Costa Rica still Monday, rode all day Tuesday (plus border) to get to Panama city and did police inspection Wed morning. A crazy few days ... luckily our container mates are South Americans so language was not an issue. Some pics here:

Bip  Bip  Americas
#2 Bip Bip Americas 2012-07-10 00:12
erm, me too
#1 Cesar 2012-07-09 03:12
Your writing is not in vain... I have been studying your shipping posts intently hoping to be able to make our car magically appear in Cartagena...

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