Traveling from Panama to Costa Rica by Car Updated Information As of Novermber 2014

By: Elise van Enoo

Some time ago my husband and I had the opportunity to drive our own car across the border from Panama to Costa Rica.   At the time, I wrote an article that was as accurate as I was able to be at the time.   Having just driven the same road last month, the experience was similar, but now that there was familiarity to the process, I was able to take very accurate and specific notes and want to share them with you.   There are 2 places where one can cross the border.  I have done them both, and definitely find them both a bit daunting.  Also, you may only drive your own car – rentals may not cross.

Rio Sereno is high in the mountains North of Boquete and definitely handy if you are in the area.  But the caveat is that you need to plan way in advance of finding yourself at the border because they will require a $.50 “timbre fiscal “from a bank that isnt there.  The closest one I know of is in David, which is about 1 1/2 -2 hours away.   So, if you have to go to David for this procedural event, you may as well cross at Paso Canoas, the other crossing point.

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First thing I recommend you do is go to Banco Universal in David and there is a form at the desk where you might pick up a deposit slip if you were making a deposit, for example.   The form is called:  Timbre Fiscal.     You fill out the information and go to the teller and pay $.50.   Yes, that is 50 cents.    The bank opens at 8 and closes at 3, so plan your arrival.

Second:  In the morning, preferably, go to the aduana ( Customs office) which is located off the highway very nearby the airport, in a totally obscure building without any sign and looks like an industrial building.   Best thing to do is enter the following coordinates into your GPS and go through the guarded gate and up a few rickety stairs to the main entrance.      This office is located at GPS setting coordinates N 08 24.443 W082 25.835  (very easy to miss.)  We were told that they close at 1:30, so go early.

You must take original document of :

1. Registration (Registro Unico de Propiedad Vehicular)

2. Your last inspection certificate (Revisado)

3. Your most recent license plate receipt (Recibo de Placa)

You will also need copies of the same

Also, you will need your passport ( even if you have a cedula- take the passport) and take your cedula if you have one. If you have applied for residency but are still waiting, you MUST have a multi entry stamp in your passport.

Once there, you must present all your documents and leave a copy of all papers. They will issue you a certificate that is critical to show at the various authority windows you will visit at the border. You must make copies of that certificate, which can easily be done at the border (at a copy stand). Then you may proceed to the border, which is where you are almost guaranteed to be confused if you are trying to cross without the help of a guide. There are few signs suggesting which office to see and in what order, and its always a little mysterious.

You will need copies of all the aforementioned documents ( I recommend 7 copies of everything, including your passport.)

If you are very fluent in Spanish and have two or three hours to spend, you can do this on your own. If you want to get across without the nightmare, hire a guide. There are men who will approach you and offer to get you through the process. Of course, they expect to be paid, and between $10 -$ 20 works miracles. Very low cost in my opinion for your sanity.  Be sure to negotiate a price prior to hiring the guide, and ask for his ID which is usually worn on a lanyard around the neck.  Only pay them at the end of the process when everything is in order. (He may ask you for a few dollars in change to give to various clerks along the way to get your paperwork done faster). With a good guide, you may be out in an hour and then Costa Rica will have its own process as well. The guide will need copies of the documents plus copies of the aduana proof of payment.  He will get the copies for you for very little cost.

After this process is complete, your vehicle will be inspected by a border authority.   They really do not look too carefully through your car, but have the right.

You then receive a document of inspection and then you need to get into a line to get your picture taken and your passport stamped and then you can proceed through the border.

In Costa Rica, you will have a much easier and shorter process ( hopefully).  There are guides there who are also helpful to put you in the right direction, but it is so much simpler.

First:  Go to the window at the border that says Entrada al Pais ( either ventanilla 3 or 4)  Looks like a ticket office at a theatre.  Hold up your fingers to let the person know how many immigration document copies you need- one for each person traveling into the country.  This is the same form you receive on the airplane to enter Panama.  Once it is filled out take it back to the window with your passport  and get your passport stamped.

Next:   Proceed to the window for Insurance – Seguro.   Even if your insurance agent assures you that you are covered in Costa Rica and don’t need to take added coverage, the Aduana office there won’t allow your car to enter the country without buying their insurance.     They have a system that forces you to buy insurance  for your stay. You will need copies of both sides of the car registration, passport of registered owner, copy of the exit stamp – the one you just received, and pay $31.00.   Get the document copied across the street at the copy stand.

Next take all the documents to the Aduana office to the right of the insurance window and be sure to list the names of all drivers.  You need to also include in the form they will require to fill out, the license number of the car, the VIN and the description of the car.    May as well have it with you so you don’t have to run out of the office to check at your car.  They issue you a document that you must show to the police in Costa Rica if you get stopped ( we were once pulled over by an unmarked police vehicle that I  thought was just crazy guys trying to give us trouble and I didn’t stop till they pulled out their badges and waved them at us.)

The customs agent will go out to your car and inspect your stuff ( again an inspection) and then you have to drive your car over a sprayer station that is spraying insecticide to the underbelly of the vehicle.  – You stay in the car with windows closed.

Enjoy your trip to Costa Rica.

On your return to the border, you go through a similar process of stopping at the same ventanillas ( windows), get your passports stamped, go the aduana office, fill out documents and as of July, 2014, they charge an EXIT tax of $7.00/pp to get out of the country.   There is a touch screen kiosk in the aduana office and you may pay with a credit card.

Cross back to Panama, turn in the documents, get passports stamped, get sprayed again for bugs and be glad you made it!!

Read about Panama here!

Read about Costa Rica here!

Panama – Costa Rica Border

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