The Darien Gap is impassable by car, requiring overlanders to ship their cars between Panama and Colombia. Most ships leave from Colon, Panama, and arrive in Cartagena, Colombia. This article describes how we selected a company as well as the length and requirements of the process.

Choosing a shipping company

After considering both RORO (roll on, roll off) and container-share options, we decided to share a container. Here’s why.

  • You can leave stuff in your car. With RORO, you have to take everything out of your car to prevent it from being stolen. Since the shipping logistics companies with have no control over the car once it gets on the boat, they recommend you take everything of value out of the car. Since we have four surfboards, all of which we love, the security of knowing we could seal and open the container ourselves was valuable.
  • No surprise costs. We were given a quote that included both the Panamanian and Colombian side port fees. With RORO, they’ll give you a quote for the Panama side costs, but you’ll have to pay an unknown amount of port fees once you get to Colombia.
  • More shipping dates. The container share company had boats departing every Sunday, which was far more frequent than the two dates per month offered by the RORO companies.

panama colon shipyards container share vehicle shipping

The Container Share route

We decided to use a container-share company called Ever Logistics. Their instructions were very clear, and our point of contact truly cared about making the process easy for us (something we can’t say about the companies on the Colombian side). For two cars in a 40 foot container, the total cost is $1015 per car.

After deciding we wanted to container share, I posted a very detailed ad on DriveTheAmericas. If you have the organization wherewithal, you can squeeze in one (maybe two depending on the size of your car) motorcycles, which would further bring down costs.

A really nice Canadian couple responded to our ad, and we ended up becoming great friends. You will be spending a lot of time with your container partner, so keep that in mind.

Point of contact: Boris Jaramillo, [email protected]

Timeline: 1 day shipping

Cost: $1015 per car, provided that there are two cars in the container

The RORO route

If you want to go with a RORO company, the cheapest quote we got was from Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics. See contact info below.

Point of contact: Hugo Ruis, [email protected]

Cost: $750 + unknown Colombian port fees

panama colon shipyards container share vehicle shipping

A timeline for container share

When we begun the shipping process, we didn’t realize how long it would take. For example, you load your car into a container 3 days before it ships, and once it lands you can’t actually get the car until two days later. The entire process took 8 days, beginning the day we did the first inspection. We met other travelers who used other shipping companies, and their timeline was very similar to ours.

Before the shipping process

Email with Boris to get your quote and make a booking. He will want you to have another car to share the container with before he will make the booking. Start this as early as possible. Shipping dates are every Sunday. You’ll want to plan ahead to ensure you can find a container share buddy and so that you can complete all the required steps before your shipping date.

Day 1 – Wednesday. Car inspection

Panama City, Panama

Have the car inspected at the DIJ in Panama City. You’ll need to have the car inspected between 8 and 9 AM across the street from the DIJ. You’ll then have to return at 2 PM the same day to pick up your documents. You’ll need to make one more stop to make copies of the inspection document before the customs process the next day.

Day 2 – Thursday. Customs and loading

Colón, Panama

Meet Boris near the Colon port at 9 AM. You’ll fill out customs paperwork, load the car into the container and pay them in cash. Do not forget to remove the car title and your passports from your car! We forgot the car title which made things more complicated on the Colombian side.
You’ll be done by 12 PM and can catch the bus back to Panama City. You’re free to start heading to Cartagena, as there is no other action required on your part.

Day 5 – Sunday. Car leaves Panamanian port

There’s a few things you can do to make life easier on the Colombian side.

  • Print out a copy of your travel health insurance of regular health insurance. The driver who will be driving the car out of the port needs to have insurance. Make sure it lists out what you are covered for and the amount.
  • Pack closed toes shoes and long pants. Everyone will need to be wearing long pants and shoes to enter the port.
  • Make the copies of all the requested documents.
Day 6 – Monday. Car arrives in Colombian port

Cartagena, Colombia

The car will arrive in the port, but you will not be able to begin the pick up process until the next day.

Day 7 – Tuesday. Begin process of picking up car

Cartagena, Colombia
Arrive at the port as early as possible. The logistics company that handles the Colombian side of the process will send you a document with the 21 steps required to get your car back. One of the steps will be to make an appointment with a customs inspection officer. This will usually be scheduled for the next day. Keep in mind that everyone takes a lengthy lunch break, so plan accordingly.

Day 8 – Wednesday. Finish process of picking up car and get car

Cartagena, Colombia
You’ll come back for your customs inspection, finish the process and be free to explore South America.

 

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