(UPDATED OCT 2019)
Below are instructions for a crossing the boarder at the Costa Rica – Panama border crossing in the town of Paso Canoas, near David, Panama. If you are crossing at a different border, the process will be the same, but the buildings will be different.
You are not allowed to drive rental cars across the border from one country to the other in Central America. But you can call a rental car office in David and ask them if they will meet you at the border with the car for an additional fee. (Approximately $40-$50 more, but the price is what you negotiate.) Otherwise you have to get a cab to David to get to the rental car offices. Note: With traffic, the airport rental car offices are an additional 20 minutes past the other downtown rental car offices in David, Panama.
If you are on a bus, they may help you with this process.
If you are planning to take your own car to Panama from Costa Rica, there are several steps you need to complete ahead of time. See my other blog on crossing from Costa Rica to Panama with your own car.
Steps to cross Panama border
Warning: This process takes approximately 1 to 2 hours once you have arrived at the border.
1. Map to Directorate General of Immigration and Nationality, Puntarenas Province, (Paso Canoas). It is a blue and white metal building. It will be on your left before the Paso Canoas-Panama border. When you map to this place, know that your first stop will be across the street from here, so you can park on either side of the street.
2. If you are driving towards Paso Canoas and you see the Panama border building in front of you, this departure tax office is on your right. Pay the exit tax or departure tax (impuesto salida) in yellow building across the 4 lane street from the Immigration office. (The sign on the top of the building just says impuestos.). It is now $9 US per passport or per person.
3. Cross the street to Directorate General of Immigration and Nationality. Get passports stamped at outside window of immigration office (the blue/white metal building). Go to the window that says Salidas (exit). They need to see everyone traveling with you. (Your family/travel companions.)
NOTE: If you need to use the bathrooms at this building, it will cost you 250 colones or 50 cents US, so have change ready.
4. If you have a car that you are leaving at the border. You can leave it on your right. The price is what you negotiate, but usually $12 to $24 US per day. Save your ticket for when you return because a different person may be working there and you want to show your pre-negotiated price.
5. Walk towards Panama. Park to the right of the new-ish modern building in front of you at the intersection.
Someone official looking outside the building with an ID tag will probably approach you to help. They are not actually official. They will be expecting to be compensated. Go ahead and negotiate a rate. It should be $10 to $15. If you have to buy a bus ticket as your proof that you are leaving the country of Panamá, this person may accept the bus ticket as a form of payment if you don’t plan to use the bus ticket. You do not have to hire this person, but if they speak English or whatever language you speak, they are helpful facilitate the process.
1. Go to Migracion (Immigration) office. It is the first floor of the “new” Panama building. Get passports stamped and fingerprinted. When I was there, these outside windows were closed, so go in the door on the left in the photo below. NOTE: Panama now asks to see proof of onward travel, so you have to prove that you will be leaving Panama. So you will need have to have a bus ticket (which you can buy across the street) or show them receipt for a flight on your phone.
2. There is a circular building in the center part of the Panama border crossing area with the below sign on it. Officials may want to take you to a door to the left of the outside staircase to send your luggage through a scan machine. Officials will give you a form to fill out and you turn it in here when you are having your luggage scanned.
3. Welcome to Panamá! If you walk towards Panama, there will be cabs on your left. They can take you to the city mall or to David, or maybe it’s a great time to check out Boquete, Panamá, that is only about an hour and a half from the border crossing.
4. If you take a cab towards David, Panama, you will then be on a 4 lane highway. You are not done yet. There will be a checkpoint within 5 to 10 minutes and they will want to see all your paperwork again.
5. If you need a vehicle bigger than a cab, this is the only person that I could find with a van. I believe his van holds 12 to 15 people. I highly recommend him. He is a safe driver with a nice clean vehicle, and if you ask him to stop by the Boquete sign on the way into town for photos, he will do it.