Shipping to Colombia - big trip - preparation - shipping to colombia

Putting the roof tent on the bonnet, the easy way

Just fits in

Well tied down

Shipping to Colombia is fairly easy. All you need is money, patience and paperwork. Its a big advantage if you can speak spanish too. Also, you need a Carnet de Passages et Dounes, if you don't have one then things will be very difficult once you get to South America. We decided to ship to Cartagena (Buenaventura is another possibility) because its a privately run port and has good security...and Cartagena is a nice place too! Here is how we did it.

Find a shipping company

We went to Colon and checked out all of the ports. The guide book says you can get a ride on a freight boat leaving Coco Solo which is an incredibly minging place with some very dubious characters around. We asked but they wouldn't take the landy, just people. This is a mad option for extremely tight backpackers who can look after themselves.

We checked out a respectable looking company at the neighbouring Manzanilla port but they wanted $1100. In Colon itself there is the Cristobal port near the bus station. There are some banks and a white office building full of different shipping agents. Most are good and offer prices around $1000. One offered us $750 but without a container and he also seemed a bit dodgy. At the entrance to the port is the office of Seaboard Marine and we found they could do it for $950 and seemed the most knowledgeable and switched on.

For your $950 you get the following:-

$700 - 20 foot container, big enough for a landy

$75 - putting the landy in the container, strapping it down and sealing it

$150 - loading the container onto the ship

$25 - paperwork (only pertaining to the shipping, not customs etc)

Note that this covers all costs at the Panama side. Once it arrives in Colombia theres more to pay.

We had to go and arrange the shipping reservation at their offices in Panama City. They're on Via Espana, on the 12 floor of a tower block called Plaza Regency. We were closely attended by the attractive dorises working there, the Bill of Lading was soon drawn up and the landy was booked on a ship called Curacao, sailing the following Thursday. We could either pay in Panama City or in Colon. The latter is not the sort of place to be walking around with $950 in your pockets and theres also a handy cash machine at the bottom of the Regency tower block.

For the Bill of Lading (BoL) they need a consignee address which is your address in Colombia. We didn't have any hotel in mind so we just gave T's name, email and passport number. It would have been a lot easier to have acommodation arranged in Cartagena as they weren't too happy about this lack of address and made us sign a disclaimer in case there were any problems because of it. For the shippers address, however, residential home addresses are fine.

The guide book said to write 'Esta mercancia (carro) no tiene fines de lucro. Para uso personal' on the BoL but this had no effect whatsoever. Make sure the BoL specifies 'pier to pier' shipping and not 'door to door'. Also ensure the BoL states that the car is used.


Once the shipping is sorted it was up to us to do the customs side of things. This is all done on the outskirts of Panama City and is easy. However, we mistakenly thought that we could do this in Colon so we had to use an agent the day before shipping which cost us $35. She was good though and worth it if you can't be bothered to do it yourself but its no different to a land border paper chase and easy if you know how.

First go to the office of the Policia Tecnica Judicial (PTJ) with the car. A guy looks at the vehicle document and checks the chassis number against that of the vehicle. They also check in their files that the vehicle isn't stolen. You get a document, valid for 8 days, which certifies that all is correct. This costs nothing and is fairly quick.

Next step is the customs, which is about a mile away. When we entered Panama they asked us by which border we'd be leaving the country and for which destination. Obviously we said we'd be leaving by sea for Colombia. This is written on the document 'Control de Vehiculos' you get at the border and aids the paperwork at customs when leaving the country. Here you get a document called 'Permiso 130' and the vehicle is stamped out of the owners passport. This costs $8 and is also straightforward.

At the docks

One of the benefits of using Seaboard is that their Colon offices are right beside the customs offices at the Cristobal port entrance. All the people working there know each other and we soon had the usual cursory landy inspection and all our papers stamped before driving into the maze of containers to find our little empty one waiting for us with a couple of port workers ready to help out. We took off the roof tent and put it on the bonnet so the landy could just squeeze into the container. Then it was tied down, the seal put in place and its number and the container number noted down. We left the port with just a bag of clothes each and got the bus back to Panama City for $2. Taxis to the airport, 20kms outside the city at Tocumen, cost about $20 so we got the bus which dropped us off at the entrance for 25 cents each!

Getting to Colombia

Unfortunately it wasn't possible for us to go on the ship with the landy so we had to fly. It was actually cheaper to fly via Bogota with Avianca instead of going direct to Cartagena with Copa airlines. We used this to have an afternoon and night in Bogota to see what it was like. It was wicked. Flight cost $158 each one way but would've been cheaper if we'd booked in advance.

Port offices in Cartagena

Entrance to the port

Landy arrives in Colombia

Getting the Landy out

Arriving in Cartagena we phoned the Seaboard office there and they confirmed the ship would arrive the following day, Saturday. We arranged to meet at the office on Tuesday as Monday was a holiday. We arrived and the Seaboard people ascertained which port the container was in and printed us off the original BoL. They also wrote a letter to the Socieadad Portuario (the Cartagena port authorities) to say that the container is only pier to pier and not door to door shipping which was wrongly specified on the BoL.


First we went to the ground floor of the port offices at the Socieadad Portuario and filled in a form to get registered on their database (you get a 'NIT' number). Then we were given 2 bills to pay pertaining to unloading the container and having it opened. One was for 170,000 pesos and the other for 193,000 pesos, about $150 dollars. Thats all we had to pay, customs cost nothing. There is a cirrus (not visa) cash machine in the office and two bank windows to pay at where they accept Colombian cash only. Once the bills are paid they give you a white piece of paper which says which warehouse the container will be at. Next go upstairs and see Hernando Tovar who is very helpful and arranges a time for unloading the container. Its best to arrange this for the next morning if possible. We were there during Easter week and so things were much more difficult.


Next go to the DIAN offices which are a five minute walk down the main road and around the corner. Here ask for Glenys Quintero whos office contains a couple of awesome dorises, or the boss, Edgar Jiminez whos secretary is very tasty. Unfortunately they are very helpful and efficient so no long delays here! Give them the Carnet which they photocopy along with your passport. Try and arrange for a customs inspector to be there at the time the container is opened. They should talk to Hernando at the port and arrange things but it didn't work out for us. You really dont need to pay the 'tramites' guys, who wait around outside the offices, $60 to do this part for you.

Opening the container

Get a magnetic security pass from the downstairs port office (have to swap ID for it, try and use some other ID, not passport as you will need it later) and enter the port area through the revolving gate. Go to the warehouse office where they give you a paper which an the authorization to leave the port with the goods. One of the guys dressed in blue will open the container. While waiting you can watch the teams of police who search almost everything which is being exported very thoroughly. Once the container is opened you have to drive the car to a secure car park full of expensive new cars and wait for the customs guy to turn up.

When the customs guy arrives (we had to go and get him from the DIAN offices) he checks the chassis number against the Carnet, has a quick look in the back and then signs the Carnet, tears off his piece and writes the car details into your passport (no stamp for it). Thats it as far as customs is concerned but getting the car out of the port involves a bit more hassle.

Getting out of the port

Go back to the warehouse and ask for someone to release the goods. If noone will do it go and see Hernando and he'll sort it. The authorization paper gets stamped and you have to sign it and put your fingerprint on it too.

Thats it. Drive out into the streets of Cartagena and check out the sights!


back to diary entry

Join our Mailing List      Read Guest Book

all content is copyright 2002