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Border Crossing :: Costa Rica to Panama – Paso Canoas

Crossing the border from Costa Rica to Panama at Paso Canoas is fairly simple.  Unfortunately, however, Panama was the first country where we found it necessary to bribe officials.  We had to give two bribes within the first hour of entering Panama, which totaled in $45 USD.  I attribute this to bad luck and bad timing (we crossed the border on a Friday evening), but I will warn that Panama has a multitude of highway police stops, so be prepared to show your license frequently.


Show your passports at the migracion office, and fill out a form for your vehicle importation to Panama.  Proceed to the office on the left to fill out paperwork for your vehicle importation cancellation.

If you are looking to do a little shopping, Paseo Canoas is not a pristine shopping mall, but it does offer cheap bootleg DVDs and CDs, clothes, duty-free alcohol, and other items such as cell phones and trinkets.  The town is chaotic and dirty, but is a fine place to grab a quick bite to eat on your way out.  Panama uses US dollars, eliminating price calculations and money exchanges at the border.
TIP: If you choose to buy a DVD, make sure to play it on the TV provided to check for quality and language preferences.

Head toward the “Bienvenidos a Panama” station sign and obtain a tourist card at the Tourist Office ($5 USD per person).  Then walk around the sign to the migracion office to get your passport stamped.  While waiting in line at migracion, someone will approach you with a sticker that must be purchased for $1 USD per person.

After your passport is stamped, walk back to the Tourist Office, and you will see the Vehicle importation office to the right.  Here you will purchase your vehicle importation permit, after they have directed you to the nearby office where you need to purchase auto insurance ($15).  While you are there getting insurance, get copies of your vehicle title, passport, and the insurance form you get.  Then head back to the Tourist Office.  Once you fill out your paperwork, you will be required to provide copies of your passport, seguro, and vehicle title.

Next stop is the Aduana office where they may or may not search your car.  They will compare the VIN number on your vehicle and then sign off on your prmit to enter with the vehicle.

Your last stop is at the quarentina (or agricultural) office just further towards the border from Aduana, where you will pay $6 USD to spray your vehicle.

Quarentina was our first point of conflict for the day.  Once the officials saw Domino, they claimed that we needed a license for him to enter Panama.  This, of course, couldn’t be purchased now as it was after 5 on a Friday and the office was closed until Monday.  The official stated that we would have to wait until Monday to complete the process (camping in the border area or returning to Costa Rica), or we could pay a small fee and they would “overlook” Domino.

Nick was determined not to pay a bribe.  Throughout the trip, we have tried our hardest to deter bribes, because our bribes will only encourage this behavior for future tourists.  While I sat in the truck with Domino, I watched Nick through the office window, waving his hands and pacing the floor in front of the official’s desk.  The argument remained jovial, but the officials were obstinate.  After an hour of quarreling, Nick reluctantly agreed to pay the man, and he pocketed $25 USD.  I am still unsure of whether this pet license actually exists (Nick is certain it does not), so if I find any information I will make sure to post it.


There is a police checkpoint about five miles into Panama from the border crossing.  Be careful – make sure not to speed.  We were stopped for supposedly speeding (which we weren’t), and Nick had to pay $20 in order to avoid a ticket.  The police made it clear that a bribe was necessary in order to continue our journey.  By the time we finished our border crossing procedures, it was already dark, so we unfortunately opted to pay the bribe and be done with the situation.

As we left the police station, Nick cursed Panama and it’s police while driving down the highway.  Suddenly, we heard a siren and saw flashing lights behind us.  They were pulling us over again!  “What now?” we thought.  We couldn’t believe it.  A police officer walked to the driver’s window and handed Nick his Panamanian tourist card and vehicle entry papers.  Nick had left them at the police office, and they took the time to catch up with us to return them.  “I’m still mad,” Nick said, “but at least they are earning their bribe money.”

Tickets in Panama do not have to be payed on the spot (which we did not know at the time) and so Nick suggests telling them to go ahead and write you a ticket when they threaten to.  They usually theaten a ticket with a hefty fine ($150 is what they told us), unless you want to slip them a little something to not write the ticket.  They will usually not bother writing you a ticket at all when you tell them you prefer the ticket.

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2 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Hi Anne,

    Check out my forum post, “Necessary Documents for Crossing Borders with a Dog,” which can be found here: http://ramblewriter.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=20. This will give you the list.

    The Paso Canoas border was the trickiest, but overall traveling with a dog is extremely easy, and definitely fun. Ted will have a great time!

    The best advice I can give is to of course, have your paperwork in order, but also to be confident about your papers when you hand them to officials. Most officials have not seen International Health Certificates before, so acting assertive will help you get your items approved.


    1. admin on July 22nd, 2010 at 2:51 pm
  2. My buddy and I are planning on heading to Cape Horn in late October this year. But I will not go if I can’t take my sidekick, my 8 month old Shiloh Shepherd, Ted. What kind of paperwork did you have to acquire before hand for border crossing with Domino?

    Thanks, anne

    2. Anne Carter on July 21st, 2010 at 11:35 pm

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