Friday, August 16, 2013

Costa Rica to Panama Border Crossing - Small Misstep

Border-crossing days are always a bit stressful. Crossing from Costa Rica to Panama was no different. It usually takes 1-3 hours to cross a border because we have to deal with getting ourselves and our vehicle out of one country and into a new country - passport stamps, vehicle permits, insurance, changing money, etc. Costa Rica to Panama was about a 3-hour crossing.  It could've been pretty smooth/fast, but we weren't prepared when they asked us for proof of funds ($500/each) for entry into Panama.  Apparently most people don't get asked this, or perhaps they are starting to crack down more? Another theory is that we looked so sketchy that they wondered if we had $500. Neither of us looked too sharp.  We were sweaty, and we weren't wearing long pants or closed-toed shoes (do crocs count?).

Camping at Playa Pinuelas and doing some last-minute research for the border crossing

The view from the lovely, free camping spot at Playa Pinuelas

Scott didn't feel comfortable slapping down the $1000 in cash that we had in the truck.  I was comfortable doing it as long as it was in an envelope.  We tried to figure out a way to print out a bank statement, but the printer driver wasn't installed on our new computer (yes, we carry a small printer), and our internet connection was too slow to even get a recent bank statement. After an hour of heat and stress, we finally just slapped down a couple of envelopes containing $500 each - the customs guy was really surprised.  He asked me to show him what was in the envelopes, as he didn't want to touch them. I cracked the envelope a little bit, and he nodded "yes". This is a bit of a warning for anyone following behind us - have a recent bank statement available!

(update on Sept. 7th)
The woman who issued our vehicle permit stayed in her air-conditioned office, behind a wall while she filled in all the information about our vehicle.  She never looked at it!  She also never asked us to verify the information before issuing the permit.  The list of mistakes is long and Scott argued with her to change 2 of the items, which she reluctantly did, by simply handwriting on our permit and then stamping it. She didn't change her official copy in the computer. Apparently, this is how it's always done and aduana (customs) don't really care what's on the form, as long as it has your correct VIN number and the date of expiration.  This is not true for people who need to ship their vehicle out of the country! Lesson: make sure everything is correct and do not leave the border until it is. Here are all the things that she did wrong:

  • She put vehicle type as "mula". We asked many locals what a "mula" was and/or if our truck was a "mula". The answer was a resounding "NO WAY!". Most people probably have a "camioneta"
  • She used Heather's passport number with Scott's name on the permit. Lesson: don't hand her 2 passports!
  • We've read many sources that says you must list a number for the motor and chassis because the police who inspect your vehicle before you ship it, want a number in this space. I can't verify that this is true. We asked her to put the VIN number in this space and she was not happy. It was a fight.
  • For number of doors ("puerto"), she put "2". We clearly have 3 doors. Too bad she didn't get out of her air conditioned room to actually look at the vehicle first.
We had to renew our vehicle permit after 30 days and tried to get all of these things officially changed at the office in Divisa. They told us to come back in 3-days (which of course turned into a week), and they would have a new permit. When we arrived to pick up our new permit, we found that the only thing that was changed was the passport number (from Heather's to Scott's). It was still listed as a "mula" with 2 doors and no motor number. After about an hour of discussion, the kind lady at the Divisa office handwrote all of the corrections on the permit and stamped them. One weird thing she did, was put tape over the stamp and handwriting.

When we used the new, mangled copy of our vehicle permit during the shipping process, we got quite a few sideways glances. The customs office at the port in Colon were suspicious and gave us a hard time. Lesson: a mangled, hand-written vehicle permit is quite possibly worse than a permit that is wrong. 


Steve said...

Don't be a a big rush to reach David. Instead, turn left at ConcepciĆ³n then on to Volcan (Volcan Lagunas Wetland) Cerro Punta (Finca Dracula) and Baru Volcano National Park. Then take the back road (Orange Blossom Hwy) over to Boquete.


Heather and Scott said...

Thanks for the comment Steve. You caught us too late. We headed straight to Boquete. Maybe we'll backtrack and go over to Cerro Punta via the back road. We've been in Boquete for the past 8 days, enjoying the cooler weather and the great bike riding (albeit on roads not trails).