This is the first time I’ve ever published an article by someone other than myself on the Panama Gringo Guide blog. However, what you’re about to read is information that can be very helpful to future expats in Panama, who are considering the value proposition of buying a car in Panama or having a vehicle shipped to Panama from another country.
As such, this report comes from another young expat in Costa Rica, Jenna, who asked me if I would be interested in printing this here for your review. (Some edits have been made to fit the guidelines and tone of my readership.)
And, so without further ado….
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The country of Panama may be smaller in size, but it certainly doesn’t lack in entertainment. The bustling country provides its residents with many modern day activities and convenient amenities. Traveling as an expat in any new country presents many adventures, but also many challenges. It can be even more overwhelming if you are dealing with a language barrier and conceivably a different currency than that with which you are familiar. However, when you have a private vehicle shipped over after your move to Panama, you will have the ability to leisurely travel and explore your new surroundings with ease. Karen Tremblay, an expat from Canada in Panama, currently residing in Santiago has experience with attempting to live in country without a vehicle. “I thought I would be able to rely on public transportation, or even purchase a vehicle while I was in Santiago,” said Karen. “But it quickly became obvious that I needed my own personal car if I wanted to be mobile and feel safe.”
International auto shipping isn’t exactly simple, as Karen can attest, and it is quite expensive. There is a lot to address and the process of preparing for the transport can be very confusing. Fortunately, overseas transport services are familiar with the challenges involved with auto import policies. When you hire a reputable transport company for help, it is their responsibility (presumedly) to be there for you every step of the way.
How to Prepare for the Process of Shipping your car to Panama
Preparing for the transport is the most critical part. If all facets of the import policy for Panama aren’t fulfilled, your vehicle may be denied entrance into the country. Make sure that you schedule your transport at least a few months in advance. This will give you plenty of time to prepare accordingly. Karen warns that you must be prepared to be patient, reflecting on her own experience, “I decided to ship my car just three months after relocating, but I didn’t actually get to drive it for almost another three months. The process took so long, and the entire delay extremely stressful, even though most of it was out of my hands.”If you decide you DO want to ship your vehicle to Panama, you need to contact Panamanian Customs (or Aduanas in Spanish) to determine the current import policy. If you are traveling from the U.S., contact the U.S. Embassy of Panama directly. Create a list of things you must gather and do before the transport can be made. In a perfect world, your transporter should be able to help you complete these requirements and gather all the pertinent documents required.
Documents to Present to Customs in Panama for Clearance
- Proof of Permanent Residency (in Panama)
- Bill of Lading
- Property Ownership Letter (proving you own the car)
- Vehicle Title and Registration
- Purchase Invoice
- Certificate of Environmental Control and Pollution
“Make copies of EVERYTHING,” Karen cautions, “and send duplicates if possible. Be forewarned that you probably won’t get any of your information back.” (Note by JuliAnne on the importance of having multiple copies for any business process in Panama: you WON’T get anything back, so make three to four times the copies you think you need. You’re guaranteed to have plenty, just in case.)
Before the vehicle can be permitted into Panama’s borders, all of the requested documents must be approved by the Aduanas department. All automobiles entering the country will also be subjected to taxes of approximately 25-40% of the Cost, Insurance and Freight (CIF) value. Proof that these taxes were paid will need to be provided as well. For more information on CIF and how to estimate it, see this link.
Prepare Your Vehicle for Transport
All dependable auto transport companies will ask that you get the vehicle ready according to their standards before they retrieve it for transport. These standard requests are generally simple to fulfill and can usually be completed within a day’s time. If you will not be present in the country of origin for the vehicle’s pick-up, you can assign a proxy to prepare the vehicle for you. “Because I was already in Panama, I had to have my mom take care of my car before it was picked up for shipment in Canada. If I would have known before what was involved (and that I needed a car so badly in the first place) I could have handled it before I moved to Panama.” Karen laments.
Here’s an example of the Transport Company Requirements (prior to pick up):
- Wash the exterior of the car. There shouldn’t be any signs of dirt or debris.
- Clean it out. Take out all items that weren’t manufactured with the car. Extra weight could raise the rate of transport. If you chose open air transport services, only the floor mats, car jack and spare tire should be left inside.
- Check all fluids. All fluids should be topped off except the fuel. The fuel tank should read ¼ full or less.
- Check the tire pressure.
- Take pictures of the inside and outside of the vehicle. Take note of any damages the car already has (and better still, use photo or video as proof). This can be used as a reference during your final inspection when the vehicle has been delivered to Panama.
Preparing the vehicle for the shipping process encourages a successful delivery. It also ensures the safety of those delivering it to the country. When you conduct the vehicle’s final inspection at the point of pick-up in Panama, you should notice that it is still in the same condition it was in before its transport. (JuliAnne’s note: check your photos and videos to be sure!) If you happen to see any damages that you are certain weren’t there before the vehicle was entrusted to the transporters, don’t fret. All reliable transport companies carry insurance coverage. Inform the transporter of the damages so they can fill out a report and help you file an insurance claim with their agent. (JuliAnne note: If additional insurance was an option on the front end, verify that the basic amount covers the value of your vehicle, or elect to purchase the added policy.)
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Special thanks to young Jenna in Costa Rica for sending in this article about shipping your car to Panama, and for giving us a few tips on how to make that process as smooth as possible.
For more on expat life in Panama based on my eight years of living in country (until early 2016), see my books on Panama here. Also, feel free to follow me on Facebook if you’re interested in learning more about my writing as a whole, and on Twitter for snapshots of life in Panama and life in Costa Rica.