Shipping across The Darien Gap Pt. 4

2014 update: There is now a vehicle ferry making this much cheaper and easier. See Panama To Colombia car Ferry Xpress on WikiOverland for all the details.

Before leaving Panama City we go to the Marfret office one last time to settle our bill. Apparently it’s quite normal in the shipping industry to pay the bill after the ship has sailed because the agent knows they have the original Bill of Lading, without which you have nothing. When you pay, you get the paper. Seems fair.
When all the calculations are made, the final figure is significantly lower than we were expecting. Both of us keep out mouths shut and pay the $554 each.

Skip a few days to Colombia and the port in Cartegena is not far from our hotel, so on another blisteringly hot & humid day we walk down to our customs agent, hoping to start the paperwork game on the Colombian end. We’ve heard all manner of horror stories from paying many hundreds of dollars to vehicles being impounded to waiting weeks for customs clearances. Sounds like fun in any case.

The agent working for Marfret knows all about us and has our paperwork ready and waiting. Again there are stamps and signatures, this time even a really fancy one that makes the paper bumpy, and us say ‘Ooohhh’. The agent wants us to pay $35 each for a ‘Documentation Fee’, which we try to get out of. When we show the original quote that included a $50 fee, the agent happily raises the price to $50. Damn. After a good deal of negotiating we end up paying $35 each and then split the other $15 (?!?). We’re OK with this as we think it partly makes up for paying less in Panama City.

We move just down the road to customs and get the process happening there and are more than a little amused to once again run into our French friends. It’s great to see familiar faces and we catch up on all the news since we saw them.
I’m impressed when a customs guy checks our container number in a database and immediately knows exactly when the ship docked, when our container was offloaded and exactly where it is. After filling out a standard vehicle form and making certain we have just the right number of copies of everything we’re told to wait while it’s all typed up. The office is extremely professional, clean and air conditioned and I’m really happy with how things move along, not at all stressed. Unfortunately it’s now time for a two hour lunch break, so we settle in for some waiting. After lunch we discover the only person that can give us the final signature is in a meeting and we wait a further two hours for that one signature before we are all set to collect the container.

Around the corner at the port itself we a given security passes and move inside and meet a guy that has been waiting for us. He speaks great English and obviously assists tourists through this process regularly, making things much simpler for us. I don’t have life insurance so am not allowed to enter the actual port to collect the Jeep. I want to go in, but hand the keys over to Vince to keep the process moving along. They seem pretty serious about safety here, actually checking up on his insurance and giving him a vest and hardhat to wear.

vince  the workman e1269901787221 360x480

Vince moves the two vehicles out of the container and parks them in the port, a service we have to pay for. It must be our lucky day as we are not selected for ‘random’ inspection so the process can continue and we don’t have to pay extra for the inspection. A few hours later I watch Vince drive the Jeep out of the port, before he returns for his Land Rover.

I’ve never heard of anyone getting their vehicles from this port in only one day and most people end up paying around $115 after the inspection fees. Talk about a lucky break.
It’s 9:15pm when I drive out into the streets of Cartagena, more than a little dumbfounded to be driving my Jeep in South America. It makes my head hurt simple smile

Final Price(per car, sharing a 40′ High Cube container):

  • Actual Shipping (inc. Ocean Freight, Bunker, Stuffing & Unstuffing & Lashing) $554
  • Documentation Fee for Bill of Lading paid to customs agent Mario $100
  • Bribe for Mario’s guy to correct paperwork at customs $10
  • Port Fee in Colón: $5
  • Documentation Fee in Colombia: $43
  • Port Fee in Colombia: $58
  • TOTAL: $770

(A regular 40′ container is the same price as a High Cube)

Our shipping agent

Rozo / Marfret:
The man in charge who helped us immensely was Mr. Martinez (
I would take his advice on which customs agent to use (maybe Mario, maybe not)

Feel free to ask any questions about the entire process, I’m more than happy to help anyone attempting this.


31 Responses

  1. Oscar says:

    Hello! Dan
    Man that was a great deal you got !
    I heard a lot of different fees from a bunch of people, this is really good information.
    I have been looking at your site on the last 2 days looking for information about any prices
    on gas across central america, if you have any info about it Please let me know, I doing this trip on a budget and save as much money as I can.

    Keep the good work, I looking to read more posting about your trip.
    I should be leaving within 8 weeks if everything goes well
    Remember to check out my site:


    • Dan says:

      Hey Oscar, I’m glad you found the information useful.
      In just about every central american country I listed the price of gas, you’ll have to do through to find it.
      Your nissan will serve you well, there are a ton of them around here.
      Good luck, and I’m happy to help with any more questions you have.

  2. warren says:

    hey there dan. i was just wondering how you teamed up with another car to share the container with. were hoping to get a crate soon and would make it loads easier to share. cheers. w

  3. TheDude says:

    Great inspiring story mate. Good luck in the future. Cheers

  4. Rudy Z says:

    Love your site Dan. Thinking about doing something similar starting this September in a converted Ford van. Do you se many Ford vehicles in SA?

    • Dan says:

      Hey Rudy,
      From my memory, Ford vehicles are around, although not overly common in Central America, and then even more common in South.
      You might find they don’t have the exact same model, or engine, but at least you know a ford dealer will be able to order anything you are desperate for.
      Mechanics on the side of the road are geniuses, and labor is free :)

  5. Rudy Z says:

    Thanks Dan, I just bought an ’08 Sprinter (picking it up on Friday) based on your input and other research that I did. The Mercedes diesel engine is the same throughout the world, and getting a diesel stove (pricey!) and heater simplified the electrical budget. Thanks again and happy travels.

    • Dan says:

      Hey Rudy,
      The sprinter is an excellent, excellent choice. You are going to have an amazing adventure :)
      All the best, let me know if I can help in any way.

  6. ivan says:

    Hey Dan, I was wondering if Panama is the only way to get to Colombia, or maybe somewhere between Mexico and Panama there might be an easier/cheaper fright. Any info you know? Thanks, Ivan.

    • Dan says:

      Hi Ivan,
      There certainly are other ways to get across the Darien. It seems to change all the time, so I don’t know the current details, but I’ve heard of people shipping from Costa Rica->Ecuador, and certainly there are a bunch of things like Argentina or Chile -> Mexico.
      You will have to do a bunch of Googling to see what people have been doing lately.
      Good luck!

  7. Dave says:

    Hey Dan, I just read the 4 parts about crossing the Gap. I have 2 months off in the summer and want to drive to my wife’s home in Ecuador during the summer of 2012. I am completely confident about doing this trip except for shipping my pick up truck. I read about your frustrations. The information you left for all of the readers is really helpful. Any words of encouragement that you can provide would be grateful. I can’t leave until I feel better about my knowledge of shipping my vehicle. I want to be prepared as possible knowing that we will run into difficulties along the way. I won’t have much of value in my vehicle. Clothing, spare parts, nothing that would be diffiicult to replace. What are your thoughts about using the RORO? Is the paperwork the same?

    • Dan says:

      Hey Dave,

      You should be confident about making the drive – it’s extremely rewarding and very possible. I know of at least 5 vehicles on the road in Central America right now, making the drive.
      As for shipping, it can be a pain, but everyone makes it work. I don’t know about RORO these days, you will have to investigate when you arrive in Panama.
      I’m sure you’ll find WikiOverland, the encyclopedia of Overland Travel a great help, especially the Pan American Highay page.
      Let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.

  8. Theawayteam says:

    Hi Dan,
    Great work on the crossing!!
    Finally got some very helpful, useful, advice on shipping a vehicle across the Darien Gap. I have been on lots of blogs looking for this information and will definitely link this blog info to other travelers!
    I will be contacting Mr.Martinez for rates to ship our vehicle from Colon to Cartagena. We live in Mexico for the winter and are used to “Señor, this is not correct, we need another copy, and oh, it’s time for lunch!”
    We are so looking forward to our adventure…..just haven’t decided on our mode of transport yet..either a VW camper van or a 23ft. B+ motorhome! We are in the planning stages now and will leave from Calgary, Canada in October!
    Thanks again for the good work on your blog! Check out ours at 4.5 month, 19,500km around Europe on a BMW GS1200.
    Theawayteam, Wendy and Rob

    • Dan says:

      Hey Wendy and Rob,
      I’m glad you find my blog useful. Have you seen ? It contains all the information you’re going to need for your trip like border crossings, paperwork, bribery, gas prices, camping, maps, roads, etc. etc.
      I hope you find it useful!
      Adding and updating content would help other travelers too! (you can just click “edit” on any page to add/update anything you want)
      Thanks, and all the best on your big adventure!

  9. andre de saint-obin says:

    Hi Dan,
    I’m looking for this address in Panama city to ship the car to cartagena. It seems not complete course nuevo paitilla is a barrio, not a street. Can you please send me the complete address? Thanks, Andre

  10. Ivan says:

    Have a car in Panama waiting to know how to ship it to Colombia..

    Please let meknow if you are ther?

  11. Dean Ellis says:

    Hey Dan,

    I’m going to attempt the crossing in a couple of weeks. I am currently in Guatemala, had to stop and replace the rod bearings in my Cherokee. I am trying to move to Chile and so I have all my belongings with me. Do you foresee any problems with me carrying a vehicle that’s full any more than one that is empty? Would I be better off shipping my stuff to Chile and meeting it there? Any thoughts you can give me would be great. Take care and thanks for putting this thread out there. With no Ferry running it gives me confidence I can still make the journey. :)

    • Dan says:

      Hey Dean,
      Hmmm. I don’t remember for sure, but you might have problems, yes.
      Make 100% certain your Bill of Lading says that the vehicle AND ALL of the things in it (list them individually) are “In Transit”.
      If it’s not very, very explicitly spelled out like that, then the country you land in (Colombia?) will likely try to charge you import taxes on all that stuff.
      As long as you make it very, very clear on the Bill of Lading, I think it will be fine…
      Don’t let the shipping agent (who actually writes the Bill of Lading) tell you it will be OK and be vague on the Bill of Lading – MAKE THEM PUT “IN TRANSIT” on there.!

      Good luck & All the best in Chile – a beautiful place.

  12. lee says:

    hello dan well im trying to get a car from chicago to colombia its 2005 nissan pathfinder i been reading a lot and from florida i could only sent new vehicles from the year i dont if its different if i sent it from panama is for my family that in colombia. i also dont know what i need to sent it from florida to panama any help would be great thank you dan

    • Dan says:

      Hi Lee,

      You mean you would like to permanently export the car from the USA and permanently import it into Colombia?
      Getting it out of the USA is easy (just like if you were taking it to Canada, which lots of people do) but I don’t know anything about permanently importing a car into Colombia. When I did it with my car, it was only temporary, and I had to take it out after no more than 60 days, or I would be in big trouble there. I imagine they have strict import rules to protect their local economy (lots of South American countries have this)

      The office that deals with temporary vehicle impports is calls ‘Dian’ – which is Colombian customs. I suggest you get your family in Colombia to contact them about how they can permanently import the 05 pathfinder into Colombia.

      Good luck!

  13. Barry says:


    Really good information, thanks!
    One question I have is did the cost include your passage too?

    If not how much does that cost?



    • Dan says:

      Hi Barry,
      No, the price didn’t include that. I paid $150 USD to fly from Panama City to Cartegena. I would have liked to sail through the San Blas islands, but that takes time, and I was worried I’d have to pay storage fees for the container on the Colombia end. Good luck!


  14. chris says:

    hey Barry,
    im in Panama City now trying to find a partner to share a 40′ container with to ship my Nissan Quest to Columbia.
    Are you interested?
    Or does anyone have information or good websites to find a shipping partner?

  15. Roman says:

    Hey Dan,

    can you give me the mail adress of the shipping agent in Panama?

    I travel around the world in my VW T4 (Van) and like to shipp from Cartagena to Panama.

    is there anyone who liks to share a 40′ container from Cartagena to Panama
    in August 2014 ?

    thanks Dan and thaks for the nice Blog and all the information


  16. ivan flores says:

    Hey Dan I’m Ivan from Dallas TX , when I ship my car from panama to Columbia , do I need the title ownership of the car , or are the people working on the containers laid back and willing to accept some money ? And what about if I take a car that I own plus another car which I got on a loan ?? Would they let me ship still!! ?? Please letme know , I’m just trying to go back to Peru :)

    • Dan says:

      Hi Ivan,

      It’s very official and formal, you won’t be able to just pay someone some money at the shipping port – it takes days of paperwork before you even get to the port.
      The title or registration of the car needs to be in your name, or you need a power of attorney stating the owner gives you permission to drive it to all countries.

      I don’t think you’ll be able to make it work without that.

      Good luck!

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