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Old 28 Dec 2009
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Shipping a 4WD across the Darien Gap

Hello, any experience out there shipping a vehicle from Panama to any City in Colombia or Ecuador?
Any advice or recommendations are welcome.
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Old 6 Jan 2010
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I'm interested in this too. I'm particularly looking for options larger (wider) than a container.
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Old 17 Jan 2010
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Yep, another 2 couples interested in the best way to go with shipping from Panama to South America -ones heading South from Canada at the moment....
any good, bad or indifferent experiences ?


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Old 23 Jan 2010
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like this . . . . . .

We are in our IVECO 4x4 ( www.philflanagan.com )
Currently in Nicaragua and about to cross into Costa Rica.
Towards end of Feb or some time in March we will be shipping our truck into Columbia.

I know 2 other vehicles driven by friends of mine and they have separately shipped from Colon (Panama) into Cartegena (Columbia).
The first was in December and the second was just 2 weeks ago.
So, I have extensive info for container arrangements, I'll just copy and paste it below but first I thought maybe helpful to outline my knowledge so far . . . .

For us 4x4 ers we have 3 (4?) options for shifting vehicles down:
1) - Container. Essentially 2 options here, single or double. ballpark figures for container costs are $1500 for a single and $1950 for a double. when i say double I am referring to what is known as the 40' High Cube. This will fit for example a Toyota Land Cruiser, my Iveco and still space for say a motorbike.
The 40' High Cube price of $1950 is the container price and so obviously 2 vehicles split that cost (ie 950 each)

2) - RoRo. 'Roll on Roll off' - cheap, (approx $450 (which includes paperwork costs) and quick n easy BUT - risky, very high occurrences of vehicles getting broken into and stuff nicked and even if you empty the valuables you will find that what is worth little to you can be worth stealing to a lowly paid dock worker!

3) - LoLo 'Lift on Lift off', this again is a low price option 3 or 400 dollars, the vehicle is loaded via a crane and/or cargo net onto an empty banana boat and transported. Advantage can be you get to go on boat aswell and the excitment of this less travelled route could in itself be fun. Disadvantages can be tricky to organise, you're on your own with paperwork etc (no shipping agent getting used), the port is not used to 'tourist traffic' and so can be risky.
I would suggest good spanish is needed and better to perhaps have at least 2 vehicles at same time.

4) - DoDo - 'Drive on Drive off', one of the banana boats (see above) actually has loading ramps and it is in theory possible to drive your vehicle straight onto the boat. The boat is 'Elizabeth III' and it runs about twice a month out of Panama.
All the same comments / risks for this option are same as option 3 !

What are you paying for :
There will be a container cost quoted. This may (or may not) include the cost involved with packing your car into the container (often called 'stuffing') and it may (or may not) include the cost of preparing what is known as the 'bill of lading' (paperwork).
Often the Panama end will also quote you for 'un-stuffing' the container in Columbia.

Once in Columbia there will be costs of importing and various bits n pieces for getting the vehicle from the container and onto the road.
This is likely to be a tedious, time consuming and probably frustrating process, which if delayed can cost you. For example any delays of emptying the container will cost $25 per day, if the container has oil spilled they will charge you ( $200 ?), and while you are waiting for your home you have live somewhere so remember things like hotel costs at $50 per night ++
etc etc

The most cost effective way to container ship is via a 40'HC, all costs are shared between two and the obvious advantages of processing paperwork with another etc etc

Both my friends shipped with another traveller whom they made contact with during the week or so when they had arrived in Panama.

Both paid the same (approx).

$1950 for container, BOL, stuffing & un-stuffing. (divide by 2 if sharing)
$ 250 each approx (no more) for port costs in Columbia.
$ 50 per night hotel (3 nights needed)
$ 134 + taxes for one way flight using Aires. : AIRES - Las mejores ofertas en tiquetes aereos

Where to go?

Most people will ship into Columbia, it is the common destination and so all services are geared towards this being the smoothest option. However, quite possible to ship south to Buenos Aires, takes 30 days on the water, flights are 4 times the price and the costs are 20% more for the container. However, it puts you way down in the south which can have advantages.
Venezuela is also an option, costs and times are about the same but the paperwork process there is supposed to be considerably more difficult (frustrating). Ecuador also possible, same info for Venezuala.
BARWIL shipping agency is very good, Evelyn there speaks good english and is very used to cars (bikes) being shipped, she is very helpful.
Of the 203 vehicles they shipped in a year, 200 went into Columbia and 3 went into Ecuador.

It is now 23rd January and we are planning to ship at end of Feb or March some time.
I know of 4 other vehicles behind us whom are all heading this way with approximate schedules the same as ours and so we will combine shipping with one of them.
At moment container looks most likely, but we will investigate the DoDo option and see if possible.
If we container will will probably use Evelyn (see below).

Blow by Blow of the processes involved


Panama City:
1. Your Agency prepares your papers.
2. Policia Tecnica Judicial, before 11:00 a.m. (inspection of the cars)
3. Secretaria, next building, after 2:30 p.m. (no shorts or sleeveless shirts)
4. Agency, pay them and get plane tickets (AIRES - Las mejores ofertas en tiquetes aereos)

Colon-Manzanillo: all the process took 4 hours.
1. Customs, they stamp exit on your passport and make some photocopies (no shorts or sleeveless shirts).
2. Shipping Agency for some papers
3. Pay for port fees (Almacenaje), 5USD each car.
4. Go to Port Terminal for inspection and stuffing of the cars into the container.

CARTAGENA (you pay everything in pesos 1USD = 2000 pesos)

1. King Ocean Services (Manga). Get some papers.
2. Pay at Citi Bank: 85 USD for a container with 2 cars or 65 USD with a single car. (Old Town)
3. King Ocean Services: leave a deposit of 400.000 pesos (200 USD) per container
4. Custom Office (DIAN-Manga). Get your temporary import car papers (They will need several signatures). You don’t pay anything.
5. Port Terminal: pay 220 USD, per container 2 cars or 190 USD, per container 1 car for the Movement and Opening of the container. Get the signature of the custom inspector (Dian-Port).
6. Custom Office (Dian-Manga). Get the signature of the boss. You don’t pay anything.
7. Port Terminal: pay 80 USD, per container 2 or 1 car, for driving the cars out.
8. Port Terminal: pay 23 USD, per container 2 cars, for the two cars to become again two separate units.
9. Port Terminal: before you leave be sure that they issue the Container Inspection Report, so that you can claim your deposit back from King Ocean Services.

As you may know, most travellers ship with Seaboard or Barwil. We went to both, and told them that if they had another car we would like to share a container with them. After two weeks Barwil had an American couple, so we shipped together.

Evelyn Batista from Barwil is a very good salesperson, and she will even help you get your plane tickets; but after you leave her office you will start thinking that Barwil is not such a good agent after all. When you arrive in Colon nobody is there to help you, and first thing at their office you sign a paper in which you accept all responsibilities if they damage your vehicle, so they make sure you won’t claim against them.

When you arrive in Cartagena at King Ocean Services they take a 200USD deposit, in case the container is dirty and/or damaged. In our case, it was already both dirty and damaged; be sure to make photos before you load your vehicle, show them to the lady the moment she mentions the deposit, and make a strong point that you won’t pay anything for cleaning.

For us, both the shipping agent and customs were in fact easy work. The real difficult part was the port in Cartagena; there are several terminals, and we ended at CONTECAR; we don’t know how the others are, but this was awful.

You will need proof of life insurance to enter the port area, and it will take a long time to check that yours is not fake!!!!!

First you meet with a young lady at Atencion al Cliente (what an irony); her name is Nery Pianeta, and her main goal is to make your life miserable. Some of her tactics include rejecting your photocopies if they are a little dark, or making you fill out new formularies if she doesn’t like your handwriting. Then she will spend her time “working” on your papers; she will go back home at 6p.m telling you that everything is ready. Next morning, when she comes back she realizes that she “forgot” one last step for the process to continue. As you have to go through her several times, she will repeat this every time.

On her left, at another desk is her boss, Martin Osorio. We had a big argument with him, but he was supporting her all the time; of course, he knew what was happening from the beginning. So, we don’t know what to recommend, you can push them to try to make the process quicker (but this can turn them against you), or you can be patient (but then they will charge storage fees per extra day after the 3rd)

Just for comparison, the port at Colon took 4 hours, and in Cartagena (CONTECAR) it took 2 and a half days of running like mad between different offices.

So, good luck, and let’s hope that your container doesn’t end up at CONTECAR.

so, hope all that is of some help to you guys?

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Old 6 Feb 2010
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Great read, great info... If you need more info concerning general shipping things... read my Karin's shipping write-up.

Adventurous greetings,
- On the road since 2003 in an antique Land Cruiser
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Old 15 Mar 2010
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If you need an agant in Panama just have a word with Maricarma at Panama Shipping email marauz@karakolycargo.com she shipped us from Panama to Guayaquil go service and the money was right hope this helps.
Have a great trip all John Cox.
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Old 16 Mar 2010
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Wow!!! This is great info, Thank you all. I finally decided to buy a Toyota Hilux in Argentina and use it to tour the south cone of Latin America (but you never know), Instead of bringing a 4x4 from the US, most likely it will sell well once I am finish my assignment here in Argentina (do not think I can take it back to the US).
Best to everybody
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Old 17 Apr 2010
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Hey Guys,

I ended up sharing a 40' container with a french couple and the bottom line (for absolutely everything) was $770 per vehicle. Pretty cheap I think.

You can read about the whole story here: http://dangrec.com/shipping-across-the-darien-gap-pt-1

and if you just want to skip to the price breakdown check here: Shipping across The Darien Gap Pt. 4 | The road chose me

The agent we used was "Rozo / Marfret"
The man in charge who helped us immensely was Mr. Martinez (gmartinez@therozogroup.com.pa)

Hope this is helpful,

http://wikioverland.org - The Encyclopedia of Overland Travel
http://theroadchoseme.com - Driving a Jeep TJ from Alaska to Argentina
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