Shipping The Car To South America

We could write pages and pages about all the details and paperwork involved in getting the car loaded up in a container to Colombia. It’s really not that interesting. It’s tedious.

If you are trying to do the same thing, you can do all the internet research you want (we did) and you will find plenty of information on various people’s experiences. All the details vary by person and shipping company, so it doesn’t make much sense to write up a set of procedures. But, the gist is this….

You can’t drive. The Darien Gap separates the two continents and is impassible by car – even a Volkswagen. The Panamanians will never build a road – they like their international shipping monopoly just the way it is.

So, from here, you’ve got two options. Load the car into a container or use Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO).

The container is supposedly safest and costs more. RORO means you hand over your keys and hope you find your car in one piece on the other side. RORO is a little cheaper, but since our car is full of stuff we plan on keeping, we chose the container option.

We used a company called Marfret via their shipping agent. We’ve seen quotes all over the place, but we figured $1500 USD for a 40 ft container with two cars was a really good price. Many other quotes started lower, but all sorts of additional extra fees added up quickly and put them closer to $2000 USD.

Plan on spending three days to get it all done. The first day dealing with the shipping agent.  The next day dealing with the police inspection (10-11 am only) and customs (2 pm only) for the vehicle. Of course, we had problems with our paperwork, but it all worked itself out. The third day you drive to Colon and load the vehicle.

Our agent actually sent a guy to ride with us and walk us though the entire process at the port in Colon. A huge help.

At the port, they called our vehicle a Beetle – we’re getting used to ignoring all the errors on the paperwork. They also expected us to hand over the keys and walk away for them to load it later. After lots of discussion, we finally got permission to load it ourselves and were assigned an escort.

Driving inside the port is pretty cool and there is huge machinery flying all over the place.  Just a tiny bit dangerous. Angela, Bode and Jesse had to wait outside the gate.

I was able to drive right into the container with no problems and let myself out the sliding door with little room to spare. Kyle wasn’t so lucky and ended up having to crawl out his window and slide under the car to exit the container.

We walked away with the knowledge our car was safe behind a tiny plastic ‘security seal.’  The security at the port is actually pretty impressive, but it’s the port on the other side that we’re more worried about.

We each took one bag and started walking out of the port looking for a taxi to Portobello. It felt pretty weird not having the bus anymore.

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