Guide to shipping your vehicle from Colombia to Panama

without port agent

After travelling through South America for 16 months, it is about time to cross to Central America, and to do so we have to cross the Darien Gap; an expanse of 575,000 hectares of rainforest shared between Panama and Colombia. It split what is consider the largest driving route in the world, the Panamericana Highway.

There are many theories that try to explain why the few kilometers left to complete the Panamericana highway that stretch from Yaviza, Panamá, to the Colombian port of Turbo, were never build. But the truth is that anyone can make their own judgment; governments from both countries say it is because of the conservation of the environment and this magnificent rainforest, but Panamá forgets to tell that over 90% of his illegal wood exploitation comes right from here. On the other hand, everyone knows that the cocaine traffic and migrants find in the Darién a nice access road but

Would it be much worse if there was a real highway?

And, how would it affect to the main income of Panama, The Panama Chanel?

The inexistence of any alternative road obliges overlanders to have to find an alternative way to continue our adventure.

In this case, the only alternative is to embark the camper van on a freighter and fly to Panama to wait for her arrival. It seems to be simple, but apart from being a very expensive process, it also requires several days of paper paperwork, emails, appointments….and patient, all of it in a city  where the heat is far too much.

Step by step to shipping your vehicle from Colombia to Panama

(without dying in the attempt)

In this article we have detailed all the steps to follow in order to shipping you vehicle from Colombia to Panama by yourself, without the high cost of hiring the services of an agent, and reducing expenses as much as possible.

Depending on the size of the vehicles, it must be sent in a Container, Flat Rack or RO-RO.

The first time we shipped our camper van to cross the Atlantic Ocean we did it by RO-RO (from Germany to Uruguay), since the price was more affordable. On this occasion and for the same reason, we have chosen to get a container.

The procedure is relatively simple and does not require the hiring of any port agent, which saves us about $150-200 per vehicle. But it requires of some sort of patience and energy to process all the papers.

Company we have used to ship our camper van; SeaBoard de Colombia S.A.

SeaBoard necessary contacts for the shipment:

  •  Natalia Sarabia  (Commercial Representative)


Phone; +5756722341

  • Emmanuel Contreras Sierra (Export Coordinator)



The steps to follow to proceed with the shipment are the following:

1. Form a group of travellers to share a container.

The containers can be found of 2 sizes; one with a length of 20 feet (6.1 meters) and another of 40 feet (12.2 meters). The height of both containers is the same, 2,60 meters

Prices of the containers:

  • 20 feet = $1.150
  • 40 feet = $1.450

Once the group is formed;

2. Note the weight and approximate measurements of the vehicles that will enter the container and send an email to Natalia (Commercial Representative), attaching this information and requesting a quotation for the hiring of one of the 2 containers.

In the same email, we must ask Natalia for the dates when the next ships departs, and attach a copy of the passport of the member of the group that will take charge of the container. The container is booked under the name of only one member of the group.

3. Natalia will email us back with two forms that each member of the group must fill out. These forms have to be sent back to Natalia attaching a copy of the passport of each member of the group. The passport copies must be 2; one of the page with the general data and another one of the page where we have the entry stamp to Colombia.

In the same email we must:

  • Confirm the date on which we would like to embark.
  • Choose the place where payment will be made for the container (we recommend choosing Panama and thus the payment is made in dollars)
  • Clarifies that the load is NORMAL (NOT dangerous load)
  • Print and save two copies of each form, as they will be requested at another time
Clarifies that the load is NORMAL (NOT dangerous load)

4. With this, Natalia enters all the information in her system and generates a booking number that she must be sent to you as quickly as possible.

5. With the email where we received the booking confirmation, we will also find attached several documents and some very simple instructions we must follow.

Once we receive the Booking Confirmation we must:

  • Check that the data is correct.
  • Fill the forms named MODELO BL.
  • Fill the form named CARTA DE RESPONSABILIDAD DE ANTINARCÓTICOS (1 per person).
  • Fill the form named MODELO IMO (In this, we must write only the info of the person in charge of the container, and the data and dimensions of all the vehicles that will get into the container) See example below.
  • Check that the CONTAINER number (EQUIPMENT) is detailed in the Booking Confirmation form. If this is not, we should call straightaway Seabord or get to their offices, as this number should be written in MODELO BL and MODELO IMO.
  • Send an email to Natalia with all forms except “CARTA DE RESPONSABILIDAD ANTINARCÓTICOS .
  • Make 2 copies of each document.

Modelo IMO
Modelo IMO II



Once these procedures are done, we are ready to coordinate the appointments for the day when we will drive our vehicle in the container. For this we must:

1. Go to the Seaboard offices with our booking number and confirm with them the “filling day” (día de llenado), they must also confirmed they will have ready for us;

  • The helmets and the vest to enter the port.
  •  4 cargo lashing per vehicle to fasten the vehicles.

2. Walk into the port through the blue and white facade building ( Coordinates 10.396120, -75.523307), and say that we want to organize a date to fill the container with our vehicles. Here we will be given a visitor’s pass to access the building. All member of the group must come here.

3. With the pass, enter the first building on the right hand side “COMPAS Building” and go to the window “Documentación  6”.

Here we have to show:

  • Booking Confirmation.
  • Passport photocopy.

Here we get 2 documents. Fill them and give them back in the same window. In one of the 2 documents we have to write our name, passport and vehicle registration, this document is called DOCUMENTO PARA RETIRO O INGRESO DE MERCANCIAS. This document will come with us and will be stamped several times throughout the remaining process. Later on it will be necessary to get the final BL and therefore to get the container.

document will come with us and will be stamped several times throughout the remaining process

4. Go to the Anti-narcotics office located inside the port, white and orange building (Coordinates 10.395652, -75.523380). Here we must arrange with the anti-narcotics police the time and date of container filling. Try to organize the appointment for early in the morning,  8:30a.m. or 9:00am

Each member of the group must show to the anti-narcotics police officer:

  • Carta de Responsabilidad Antinarcóticos (Anti-drug Liability Letter) (bring a copies with you).
  •  DIAM document that we got when entering the country (take a copy).
  • Photocopy of your passport.
  • Copy of the ownership vehicle documents.

The police will give you back several of these documents. All of them must be STAMPED, and we will have to bring them back to them on the day we are meant to fill the container.

5. Return to COMPAS building and go to the window FACTURACIÓN. Here we must to hand in:

  • Photocopy of the Confirmation Booking.
  • Passport of the person in charge of the container.
  • Photocopy of the form  MODELO IMO.

This generates 2 invoices that we must try to pay at the moment (they told us that the system was changing and soon the payment would be made on the day of filling)

The invoices are divided between the number of vehicles entering the container, and the concepts of both are: Container Filling Service / Container Mobilization.

  • Bill 1: 735,000 COL
  • Bill 2: 22,935 COL

6. Arrange with customs (DIAN) the time and date you are filling the container. For this you must go to the DIAN building (Sociedad Portuaria in Carrera 25 with Calle 28) Coordinates: 10.4097 -75.533839. Once at the building we go to the export office.

  • We need to tell them the day we are driving our vehicles into the container for them to send an agent to fix the paperwork.

IMPORTANT: ask for the name and telephone number of the agent assigned for the inspection and request his/her presence at 7:30 am, since the inspection can be done outside the port.

Here they give us a document per vehicle that we have to fill out and photocopy 2 times (photocopies can be made just a few meters from the main entrance of the building).

To this document we must attach:

  • Photocopy of the main page of our passport.
  • Photocopy of the passport sheet where the entry stamp to Colombia is.
  • Photocopy of the vehicle ownership permit.
  • Photocopy of the document that prove the entrance of our vehicle to the country (document of the DIAN, known as TIP).

These documents must be handed in at the RADICACIÓN window, located in the same building. Few minutes after and at the same window you will get back one copy of the documents, it will be stamped and with a bar code sticker. These documents are taken back to the lady who organized the appointment in the first instance for the visit of the DIAN agent on the day of filling.




1. Be ready outside the port at 7:15 am for the DIAN inspection.

  • For the DIAN agent you have to have ready the documents you got the day you organize this appointment (DIAN document with stamp and sticker, photocopy of passport with general information, photocopy of passport with stamp entering the country and photocopy of vehicle ownership documents).

IMPORTANT: if the agent, since you must not forget that he or she works for the government, does not show up at the agreed time, you must call him to tell him to come as soon as possible. The inspection can also be done inside the port. Without such inspection the vehicle does not get into the container as you need this paperwork done.

2. At 8:00 am you have to be in the offices of Seaboard requesting your helmet and vest.

3. At 8:15 a.m. you can be driving inside the port to begin with the formalities. At the entrance of the port we will be asked for the document: DOCUMENTO PARA RETIRO O INGRESO DE MERCANCÍAS. Next step you drive to the vehicle weigh scale, and here you are asked again for the same document. (as we mentioned earlier you will have to show this document until we finish the formalities)

4. After weighing  you go to the cargo area where your container awaits you and where anti-narcotics will carry out the inspection (at the weighing point they indicate where this area is).

5. Once here you must go to the anti-narcotics office in the Orange and White building (coordinates 10.395652, -75.523380) and each member of the group must hand in:

  • Carta de Responsabilidad Antinarcóticos (Anti-drug Liability Letter)The one you show the day you requested the appointment (original and a copy).
  • Photocopy of passport.
  • Photocopy of vehicle ownership documents.
  • Photocopy of the DIAN document of entry to Colombia with your vehicle.

With this you return to the loading area and empty the entire van for inspection. The less things we leave inside, the faster the process is.

6. Once the inspection of anti-narcotics is done, you look for the person in charge of the loading department (the office is in the same area) and you tell him that you are ready to drive the vehicle into the container.

7. When the vehicles are already inside the container and secure fasten, you have to:

  • Ask the person in charge of loading department to give you the plate numbers assigned to each vehicle.
  • Take these numbers to the anti-narcotics office located  in the cargo area (coordinates 10.395053, -75.523994) and tell them that they can go to check the cargo and seal the container.

We recommend taking pictures of the seals place by narcotics and if possible put a stamp that we ourselves buy beforehand.

8. After the above is done, you have to give to the loading department manager you emails address for them to send you by mail the VGM. (Container official weight) This number is received a day later and you must complete an online form that SeaBoard sent you in one of the first emails.

Link to the form: 

A day after you enter the VGM data in the link above you must receive an email confirming the date was enter in the system.

9. Go to the exit scale of the port, here they must stamp your PARA RETIRO O INGRESO DE MERCANCÍAS document.  It confirms that your cargo did not leave port but remained in a container.

10. Go to the COMPAS building with all the documentation you have got so far, give it to them at the “Facturación” window, they give you 2 invoices for the use of the port facilities.

One invoice is individual for each vehicle and the other for is for all.

The price of the individual invoice depends on the cubic meters of each vehicle. A camper van like ours is around 20m3.

Individual invoice camper van: 242,166 COL

Collective invoice: 183,078 COL

11. Last step; with all the documents you have to go to the SeaBoard office to get the provisional BILL OF LADING.

Have a good journey! we see you in Panama

This is the end of the long and hard process in Colombia

So you deserve a bottle of wine to celebrate the satisfaccion of doing things by yourselves.


Get inspired and learn how to live the VAN LIFE with useful tips, links, resources, recommendations and all the information needed to live on road.

Click HERE if you want to read more about “Guide to living the Van Life” or click the YELLOW button to start the download

[purchase_link id=”7070″ style=”button” color=”yellow” text=”Buy It Now” direct=”true”]


  • To have a reference, in a container of 40 feet would enter two vans of about 4.60 meters and 2 motorcycles of a width of 90cm without a problem.
  • If you see that Natalia does not send you the email with the Boooking Confirmation you must call her incessantly. If she does not answer, which is likely, you should go to the Seaboard offices and ask for Emmanuel, a worker infinitely more effective than Natalia.
  • Make pressure and call them as many times as you have to. It is how things works here. Be annoying if necessary.
  • Make an energetic and involved team, willing to read this document individually and not depend on just one member of the team to do the procedures. When everyone knows the steps, the process goes smoother.
  • We did the filling and all the procedures on a Saturday, just in 5 hours, since the schedule is reduced on weekends. It is better to do it on a Friday since the schedule is wider.
  • From the day of filling we have 3 days of free storage in the port. Each extra day costs $ 27 per container.
  • From the port to the office of the DIAN (Sociedad Portuaria in Carrera 25 with Calle 28) there is a toll of 2700 COL.
  • Take several photocopies of all the documents because if you are in the port and you do not have enough you must leave it to find a shop and the closest place to make photocopies is on the main street, about 15 minutes walking. Coordinates 10.400096, -75.521544.
  • For the inspection of antinarcotics we have to empty our vehicle with what is convenient the previous day to organize it and put it in cardboard boxes.
Preparing the camper for antinarcotics inspection





1. A few hours after the departure of the ship from Cartagena you will receive an email to confirm that it is on the way. The position of the boat can be tracked in one of the following links just by entering the name of the ship:

2. Once the boat leaves you have to go to the SeaBoard office in Panama City, near the El Dorado Mall and next to the Golden Lion Casino (Coordinates 9.006200, -79.538307). Here you ask for the account number and bank to deposit of the cost of the container. As a concept  you can write the booking number on the receipt.

IMPORTANT: payment can be made even if SeaBoard do not give us the original Bill of Lading right at that moment. The price to pay is the price of the container, in our case $1450.

3. When you know the exact arrival date of your ship you go to SeaBoard, and with the receipt of the payment you got previously, the provisional Bill of Lading that was given to you in Cartagena and the passport of the person in charge of the container, you ask for the Original Bill of Lading. It must be stamped and it is NECESSARY to remove the container.

IMPORTANT: Although this document can be obtained in the port of Manzanillo, Colon, it is much better to do it in Panama City.

4. Also, when you know the arrival date of the ship you must get the insurance for the vehicle, totally necessary to remove it from the port. You can get the insurance at any FEDPA office. We went to the office located at the coordinates: 8.97847 -79.528766.

The price per month is $25 and we must have with us at the time of getting it:

  • Bill of Lading (provisional or original).
  • Vehicle ownership document.
  • Driver’s passport.
  • Document of the DIAN.

5. When the container arrives at port you will receive an email with the person to contact or where you should write to request the release of your container for the day you want to pick it up.

IMPORTANT: This step is not absolutely necessary, we showed up at the port first thing in the morning the day after the ship arrived and we said firmly that the container was going to be removed that same morning. We did not have problems.

6. The day to get out vehicle comes!

Go to the port of Manzanillo in Colon. From Panama City to Colón there are about 70 kilometers and the cheapest way to travel is by bus. The Expreso bus costs $3.15  approx, it is taken at the Albrook station and takes approximately 70 minutes. It is paid on the bus.

You must get off the bus at the coordinates: 9.337454, -79.880808 (Avenida Randolph, located at the roundabout to Manzanillo) and from here to the port the taxi charges $1 per person.

7. To the port of Colón you must take:

  • 3 photocopies of the vehicle insurance.
  • 9 photocopies of the sealed Bill of Lading (we were aksed for 9 but next travellers were asked for 16 copies … )
  • 3 photocopies of title of ownership of the vehicle.
  • 3 photocopies of the passport (main page and page with entry stamp to Panama).
  • 3 copies of a letter requesting the vehicle TIP in Custom offices (attached file below).

Inside the port it is difficult to make photocopies, and they will be very expensive. Have them all ready.

8. If you have the original Bill of Lading (obtained in Panama City) you must go directly to the Super Comp window, located right at the entrance of the port, and have the Bill of Lading stamped by them. (It does not take more than 5 minutes).

9. With this you go to the area of ​​Ro-Ro, (access through a small door, coordinates: 9.367657, -79.878986) (The taxi charges $2 and walking takes 10 minutes)

10. Here you hand them the Bill of Lading. You tell them you want to take your vehicles. They will ask for your vehicle keys.

SUPPER IMPORTANT: make sure they let you pass to the port to be present in the antinarcotics inspection. If they tell you that you can not pass, you must tell them that you have seen videos and news of vehicles totally damaged inside by the people who inspect them, and that you are getting into the port regardless of what they say.

11. From here you go to the CUSTOMS office that is inside the port, to proceed with the formalities for the entrance of your vehicle in Panama. You must take all the photocopies detailed in point 7 with you.

IMPORTANT: Customs officers are the most incompetent and lazy people I have ever seen, so this process can take 2 hours.

12. The next step is to return to the RO-RO offices and finish with the rest of the documents. Freight release, payment of port taxes in Panama … The invoice is generated per vehicle.

Done! You get back your home on wheels, It´s time to continue with your adventure



  • Accommodation is somewhat cheaper in Cartagena than in Panama
  • Cartagena it bit warmer than Panama. Although both are too hot.
  • In Panama the nearest beach is 20 minutes by car from the center.
  • We recommend buying the flight ticket with the airline Wingo. The airlines charge by default a tax to anyone who flies from Colombia to Panama of 87000 COL approx. On the day of the flight and if we are not Colombian citizens, we must go to the Wingo check-in window and ask them to give us that amount. They return it to us in the act.
  • To enter Panama, you might be asked for:

Proof of air ticket leaving the country. On the website of the company Spirit we can buy an air ticket and then cancel it without any cost. We bought it the same morning we were flying to Panama and canceled it in the afternoon as soon as we arrived at the hostel. The airline conditions to do this with no cost are:

  • Cancel the ticket within 24 hours after your purchase.
  • That the departure date is at least 10 days after the cancellation. We buy for a month later.

To enter Panama you can also be asked for, (although it is random):

  • Proof of accommodation in Panama.
  • Proof that you have $500 in cash or a bank liquidity proof. We were not asked for any of the 2 but our Chilean partner was asked for both.
  • An Uber from the Panama Airport to the center can be around $ 15/20.
  • In Panama you can buy a card at any subway station to take the bus or subway. The card costs is $2, and then you top it up. The subway ticket is $ 0.35 and the bus ticket $ 0.25. With this card you arrive at the Albrook station to take the bus to Manzanillo, Colon.

We hope this guide will be of great help, if you need something else send us and email.
Good luck with shipment!

Has this guide helped you?

Leave us a comment telling us your experience

2 comentarios en “Guide to shipping your vehicle from Colombia to Panama”

Deja un comentario

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *