We are not the first to do this, and we won’t be the last, and I’m sure that others have suffered more. But this process is more than a little tedious! Whatever questions I don’t answer, please message about!
This particular blog is now aimed at 2 audiences, our mums, who are probably the only regular readers (and even they forget about it!), and anyone else trying to complete this process while still keeping all their hair (something Richard has failed to do!)
The first tip we were given was not to search for container buddies too early. Pan American Travellers on FB is ideal for doing this, but if you’re looking months ahead – plans and schedules change and your original freight friend might still be chilling on the shores of lake Atitlan as you arrive in Panama City. We followed up on a post from @wanderdon’twonder around 6 to 8 weeks before we wanted to travel. They were 2 bikers so we had space for another car. Again, Facebook came through and @2porcarrera joined our virtual happy gang.
Boris, the agent based in Panama has mixed reviews overall, but still seems to be most overlanders go to guy for shipping. He was mostly clear and timely in his communication with only the occasional double prompt for info from us. We set up a joint WhatsApp group with the owners of 4 vehicles (2 cars 2 bikes) and Boris so everyone was in the loop. We paid the deposit ($300) by PayPal and received it back once we paid him in full in Panama.
Panama City and the first stop was the DIJ check (usually about 3 days before the ship is due to sail), and it was the first time we all met, although we had travelled with “wanderdon’t wonder here and there from Gutamala onwards, the check was straight forward (be there early) as was picking up the paperwork that afternoon. We were in shorts / sleeved tops (no hot pants here though!) and had no hassle getting in the building as has been previously mentioned. The officer initially said we needed an extra document, we assured him we didn’t and all of us left happily clutching our newest bits of paper. We stayed at Hotel Casa Miller, nice hotel, $30 a night, dodgy area but very near the DIJ, with secure parking and walkable to the fish market – essential for post documentation cerviche.
An early start the next morning to meet Boris in Colon. Head out of town via miraflores locks to avoid the Panapass and it takes just over an hour to reach the meeting point – all the traffic is trying to get ino the city so roads out are pretty clear. Boris was there right on time and off we went behind him to the container yard. Much excitement at the novelty of loading cars and bikes, batteries disconnected and of course we would never leave our propane tank buried in the back! It’s supposed to be dry but no-one told the weather that so the yard was full of puddles and mud. Back to Boris’ office, documents printed, checked, corrected, printed and photocopied for all involved. He’ll drop you at a mall where lunch is a good idea before a taxi ($2) to the bus stop and a $3.20 bus ride back to Panama which took around 90mins.
By now you’ll know how you’re getting yourself to Cartagena and hoping that coincides with the shipment! We travelled on the Armande, booked by the very efficient Blue Sailing and were due in the same day as the ship. More about that journey elsewhere.
We arrived on time (Monday) only to find out the ship has just left Cuba! A day free for sightseeing! Boris sends an email with a link to track the ship and the process to go through on this side, it’s roughly useful, but everytime seems a little different! To cut a waiting-game story short the ship arrived midnight Wednesday. We managed to get some of the paperwork done on Wed (taking most of the day) before the ship came in but then spent most of Thursday completing and signing more bits of paper and sitting around waiting, and waiting, filling something else in then waiting some more. Mid afternoon Thursday we went to open the container and get vehicles out… woop woop! But this was a short lived celebration as they still needed to be checked by customs which wouldn’t happen until the next morning. One of the workers requested the cars were left open and keys on the seat so they could move the vehicles around as necessary. The boys decided it was not necessary and the keys came home with them! I think Richard was more scared of my reaction had he done so than anything else!
I should point out at this stage that I (Rachel) am not the registered owner for the car and was therefore not allowed in the port at any time. So while Rich, Luciano, Alex and Jade have sat through this tedious process Caína and I have been a supportive back up team doing tours of the city and drinking Sangria. I call it ‘practicing not being a control freak’!
Friday morning and the customs check went slowly but surely. The final bit of paper to complete was a feedback form… I think I’m glad I’ll never get to see Rich’s opinions of their systems and processes, or lack thereof. However, having fought through this bit as a team on our own (without another agent) has saved us a little cost and we’ve spent about 2/3rds of most people’s shipping costs. (at last – something under budget!)
We are now sat at the final hurdle, awaiting SOAT insurance. Recent changes mean that only 2 companies in Cartegena offer this for less than a year and the systems were down in first one we went to. Number 2 was closed for lunch from 12 until 2. Aaaggghhhhh! We got there at 2 (it’s on iovelander – right near the old town), they took copies of our papers and told us to wait….it’s 4pm on Friday afternoon, the insurance office closes at 4. 5 overlanders wait in sweaty anticipation to hit the road again.
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Sea board. Ship was late – these things happen, apparently due to weather. Evergreen is a cheaper company to ship with by +/-$150 but the dates didn’t work for us.
Insurance: For SOAT – Seguros del Estado, near the old town gate. Open 9-12 and 2-4 not sure if you can do any of this concurrently…
Panama – Hotel Casa Miller $30 – a/c, Netflix, great showers
Hotel San Roque, 100 000 a night for double room, bathroom a/c and a kitchen in getsemani. On ioverlander