Northward-Bound Borders Collection: Panama to Costa Rica

Since we have been frustrated by the lack of information available for Overlanders traveling North, we decided to put together the Northward-Bound Borders Collection. The border information we have been relying on is for those going south, meaning we are trying to piece together information from various sources on the procedures going against the grain. It’s a lot of note taking, a lot of investigation, and really annoying. We appreciate all the monumental efforts of those before us (Overlandwiki, 30forthirty, Drive the Americas) but it doesn’t always apply to us.

So Northbound travelers – here you go – please enjoy our step-by-step process for overlanding borders the opposite direction.

Borders Collection: Panama to Costa Rica

When: June 5th, 2016

Where: Paso Canoas

Time Frame: 3 hours (mid afternoon)


**Warning** since we had so many problems on the Panama side, we can only advise on the process starting afresh on the Costa Rican side. We cannot offer any real advise for the Panama portion.

  • Drive through the Panama immigration/customs building once processed. Cross the main street immediately outside the border building and you will see a Costa Rican Border Office to your right about 200 meters down the road.
  • Request a Customs Declaration Form at an immigration booth. Immigration is located on the Northern side of the building. Complete the form and hand it in at immigration for a passport stamp.
  • Proceed to customs, located on the southern side of the building (other side from immigration). You will need to go inside and fill out the appropriate temporary vehicle import form.
    • Documents Needed (no copies required):
      • Passport
      • License
      • Vehicle Registration
    • A Customs Officer will come outside with you and inspect your vehicle. They did not check anything besides our license plate, and opened the back door but did not need us to open the back drawers.
    • Insurance is located back beside immigration on the Northern side. 90 days of coverage cost $37USD. It does not get refunded if you leave before hand.
    • No exit fees for Panama.
    • No entry fees for Costa Rica.

Pets: Customs noticed out cat, but completely ignored her. No documents needed. We did not declare her.

Additional Notes:

  • Panama side of the border is much more chaotic. Quite a few helpers who are very pushy. They can be helpful if you need assistance with your paperwork in Panama. They seem to work in cahoots with the border officials who often call them over for translation. Negotiate price ahead of time.
  • Although overwhelming at first, the general lay out of the border is in a straight line. When being processed in Panama, enter the building with your vehicle but do not drive entirely through as you’d technically be crossing into Costa Rica. Park somewhere along the offices. Someone will direct you if you are in the way.
  • Police checkpoint located within 20 km of the border. They needed to see our passports and our registration, and our vehicle import form.
  • Fill up on fuel before leaving Panama. Costa Rica is Fucking Pricey.





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