Have Your Vehicle Safely Shipped to Panama

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.
Welcome to Panama sign
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.”  

Container Ship in the Panama Canal

Container Ship in the Panama Canal

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
  • License/Passport

“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

Night view of Panama City, Panama

Night View of Panama City, Panama

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.


Panama Papers & What It Means for Expats

The Panama Papers scandal…

Ugh. Is anyone else tired of hearing about the bad guys? Frankly, this story is old news. There have always been people trying to hide their money from the government – in any country – and they took whatever means they could to do so. Some countries – like Panama – had set-ups – at least for a period of time – that allowed them to do that.

It’s important to note that the type of ‘numbered corporation’ type of set-up that allowed this type of thing in Panama hasn’t been legal now in Panama for some time. Something like four or five years.

So, while, yes, those with lots of wealth took advantage of it for a number of years in many countries, including Panama, Panama’s government decided to put a stop to that way before the Panama Papers story came out.

Entonces (which means, “Then…”), to me, this stuff is old news.

Panama Papers and What It Means for Expats

But, let’s step away from the media hype at the moment. Does all this seemingly new scrutiny on banking – in Panama and other places – really impact you as an expat living in Panama or retiring to Panama?

Good question.

Bad PR about Panama

In my opinion, there hasn’t been much immediate impact to expats. Some locals I’ve talked to – both expats and Panamanians – feel that their country has been slimed because of a few rotten apples. Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela even wrote a column about the Panama Papers in the New York Times last Monday. You can see that here: Panama’s President writes about the Panama Papers in the NY Times.

Don't Blame Panama. Tax Evasion is a Global Problem

So, beyond a grand slam of Trump-sized bad press in the past few weeks, what else has happened that really impacts expats in Panama immediately related to this?

Impacts to expats living in Panama from the Panama Papers scandal

Has real estate demand, which has been higher in the past four months according to my broker friends in Panama City, been negatively impacted? Nope.

Are expats having to jump through extra hoops to get bank accounts opened any differently than they were a month ago? Nope.

Let me clarify that opening a bank account in Panama as an expat – especially if you are from the U.S. – has been laborious now for some time. I’ve written a few other posts about my own experiences with banking in Panama, which you can refer to here:

The Frustration of Banking in Panama

How Banking Works in Panama

More on Banking in Panama

So, related to banking, the reality is that Panama has not been a free-wheeling, easy-to-get-an-account, skip tracing paradise for a few years. Especially not for U.S. citizens.

Anyone heard of FACTA? It’s been in place now for several years. And, for those U.S. citizens that live in Panama,  it’s been a requirement for three years now that you claim, list and report every single bank account you have abroad to the Department of Treasury AND the IRS. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of the individual, yes, but banks in Panama in the last five years – as those laws took shape and the implementation became real – began to require annual W-9’s on all U.S. account holders. And if you didn’t do it, my banks told me they would freeze or close your account. Does that sound like a fiscal paradise to you?

I personally have filled out at least ten W-9’s in the past five years. (Again, it’s a yearly requirement – or maybe they keep losing last year’s form, who knows…this is Panama.)

There have been rumors – and these are only rumors, people – that some Panamanian banks are losing their relationships with their correspondent banks in the U.S. However, larger, reputable banks in Panama that are on the up and up have not reported any issues related to this type of thing that I’m aware of.

How might this impact me if I lived in Panama and had a bank that lost its U.S. correspondent bank? Well, for one, it would make doing any international transfers difficult – at least for a period of time, until a new correspondent bank was found.

Moving beyond the Panama Papers scandal

Otherwise, for expats living in Panama, the Panama Papers is something that’s old news. Day-to-day life is ongoing. The challenges of adjusting to life in Panama as an expat are ongoing. (For more on that, get my first book, The Gringo Guide to Panama: What to Know Before You Go, as that is its main subject matter.)

So, let’s let the high-paid attorneys and the governments and the media carry on with whatever else they need to about the Panama Papers. The rest of us – with real jobs and school commitments and mouths to feed and books to write – have moved on.

Sunrise over the Pacific in Panama, April 15, 2016

Sunrise over the Pacific in Panama, April 15, 2016

Panama street scene, April 15, 2016

Panama street scene, April 15, 2016

My Name is Elizabeth…er, JuliAnne Murphy

JuliAnne MurphyMy name was Elizabeth Vance, but you can now call me JuliAnne Murphy.


If you’ve followed the Panama Gringo Guide blog for some time, you may have noticed that something big has changed.

That’s right! My name!

Who is JuliAnne Murphy?

JuliAnne MurphyWell, to be honest, nothing has changed. I have not changed. I’m the one that authored both Amazon bestseller The Gringo Guide to Panama: What to Know Before You Go on Amazon, and The Gringo Guide to Panama: More to Know Before You Go. I’m the one that lived for eight years in Panama (until early January this year). I’m the one who has been blogging on this very site at www.PanamaGringoGuide.com  since late 2012 and interacting with you on Google+ and Twitter along the way.

Yes, those are both my books – written, edited, published in 2012 and 2014 respectively under my pen name Elizabeth Vance, and updated and republished this month in March 2016 under my birth name JuliAnne Murphy.

Why the Pen Name?

Elizabeth Vance reveals her birth nameGreat question! I’m so glad you asked. Why did I decide to publish both my books under the name Elizabeth Vance originally? It wasn’t the simplest of choices, that’s to be sure. Most often, publishing starts out stronger when you announce a new book to the people who already know and love you. 🙂

But, as often has been the case in my life, I chose the road less traveled. I chose a pen name in order to maintain my privacy because I was still living in Panama. And, Panama is a tiny, tiny fish pond, in both the social and business realms. I had nothing to hide – no, nothing like that, but I did not wish for my executive life and my writing life to intersect.

Publishing under a pen name allowed me to have my voice, and to be free from the confines of what anyone else thought or for any of those  famed “should”s that so many of us feel the burden of, in our everyday lives, to hold me back.

It was the right decision for me at the time and a path that blossomed into tremendous success.

So, why retire Elizabeth Vance now?

Again, great question, thank you! I recently left Panama and moved full-time to Costa Rica. With that life change – and the new book I am in the midst of writing – I decided I was ready to start writing and publishing under my birth name, JuliAnne Murphy.

So, thus the change on the cover of my books you see on Amazon, my new page on Facebook, this blog, and the launching of my new Official Author website, JuliAnne Murphy dot com.

Am I still an expat?

Panama Gringo GuideHappily, yes. I lived in Panama for eight years, and recently relocated full-time to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. You can see more of my  new journey unfold on my new blog, Living La Pura Vida in the weeks and months to come.

So, now, the cat’s out of the bag! I am Elizabeth Vance, but from now on you can call me by my birth name, JuliAnne Murphy.

My best to you on your onward journey – whether it’s Panama, Costa Rica or wherever you may land.