(UPDATED OCT 2019)
Below are instructions for a smooth transition 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.
If you are on a tour bus, they will help you with this process. If you will be on foot, you can use these same steps, just skip the steps pertaining to a car.
If you are planning to take a car to Panama from Costa Rica, there are several steps you need to complete ahead of time.
Before you go you will need:
- A permit to enter Panama. (This exit visa can be obtained at the National Registry or Registo Nacional. There are several offices throughout Costa Rica. The validation is for 15 days, I believe you can pay more and get a 30 day validation. There is a fee involved to get the exit car visa, but it depends on your length of stay and I believe type of vehicle.)
- INS insurance certificate
- RTV papers
- Driver’s License
- Title of the Vehicle
Steps to cross Panama border
Warning: This process takes approximately 1 to 4 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.
2. 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. 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.
3. 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 in your family/travel companions.
4. If you have a vehicle, walk past bathrooms on left, go in gated office to the left, fill out form. They need to see all paperwork (listed above) associated with your car. Also if you need to use the bathrooms at this building, it will cost you 250 colones or 50 cents US.
5. MAKE SURE YOU GET ALL YOUR VEHICLE PAPERWORK AND IDs BACK.
1. If you are facing Panama, standing by the Panama immigration building, on your right you will see “Seguro de Automovil” – here they need to see all passports of drivers and make copies of your paperwork and IDs. There are ads all over the buildings, but you are looking for the sign that says “Seguros de Automovil.” Pay $26 for additional Panama insurance (mandatory), plus $1 fumigation tax to take your car into the country.
2. 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 even if they know you will be driving in and out, you have to have a bus ticket (which you can buy across the street) or show them receipt for a flight on your phone.
3. Next, walk towards Panama, past the circled staircase building to “Aduanas Panama” (customs) Panama – show all your paperwork.
4. They will give you a customs form, stay in line and fill it out. You will need to give it to an agent later. Stand at Aduanas window while they go through all your paperwork, and go make coffee, and talk to their friends and call their mom.
5. MAKE SURE YOU GET ALL YOUR VEHICLE PAPERWORK AND IDENTIFICATION BACK.
6. An outside agent will sign off on your form. They may ask to see all your luggage and you will have to get it out of the car and show it to them.
7. Now drive through fumigation. (Honestly, I’m pretty sure this was just water, but whatever, drive through it, it’s a 30 second car wash that you paid a $1 for. Now you can drive into Panama with a cleaner car.)
8. 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.
RETURNING TO COSTA RICA FROM PANAMA WITH A CAR.
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