Updated in December 2012: there was much excitement earlier this year with an announced RoRo-ferry-service between Panama and Colombia; unfortunatley the latest information indicates that this will not be happening, in part due to objections by the US government!
Also: Barwil, the shipping agent we used in Panama City, has moved office! New: Panama Pacifico International Business Park, Tower A, Floor 4, Suite 401, Panama, Republica de Panama, Ph.(+507) 263 77 55 (unchanged)


Shipping our Camper to South America

Vehicle Shipping from Central America to South America
[current 01/02 2008, last update: 06/2013]

Note: some of the quoted prices seem to have come down since we first published this report, despite increasing fuel cost; this seems to be due to better availability of capacity since the Global Financial Crisis 2008/09.
 
If you have read our reports you should be pre-warned that shipping a vehicle from Panama to Colombia can be a stressful experience - but don't let that deter you from making the trip between North and South America!
A lot of the stress resulted from the size of our camper; if you are driving something smaller, which fits into a container, the procedure is a lot easier, cheaper, and most likely less stressful.
Container shipping is probably the safest option because your vehicle is locked away, whereas with all other options you're handing over your keys and the vehicle is accessible during the entire voyage. The width of our US style camper was the biggest hurdle, because otherwise we could have taken an open-top-container (same measurements as standard container, but no roof, and the bar across the doors can be removed for easy entry - this option is less safe!)
Container Measurements
STANDARD 20'
INSIDE LENGTH
INSIDE WIDTH
INSIDE HEIGHT
DOOR WIDTH
DOOR HEIGHT
 
CAPACITY
TARE WEIGHT
MAX. CARGO
19'4"
7'8"
7'10"
7'8"
7'6"
 
1,172 ft³
4,916 lb
47,999 lb
5.89 m
2.33 m
2.38 m
2.33 m
2.28 m
 
33.18 m³
2,229 kg
21,727 kg

 
  STANDARD 40'   HIGH CUBE 40'
INSIDE LENGTH
INSIDE WIDTH
INSIDE HEIGHT
DOOR WIDTH
DOOR HEIGHT
 
CAPACITY
TARE WEIGHT
MAX. CARGO
  39'5"
7'8"
7'10"
7'8"
7'6"
 
2,390 ft³
8,160 lb
59,040 lb
12.01 m
2.33 m
2.38 m
2.33 m
2.28 m
 
67.67 m³
3,701 kg
26,780 kg
  39'5"
7'8"
8'10'
7'8"
8'5"
 
2,694 ft³
8,750 lb
58,450 lb
12.01 m
2.33 m
2.69 m
2.33 m
2.56 m
 
76.28 m³
3,968 kg
26,512 kg
   
OPEN TOP 20'
   
OPEN TOP 40'
INSIDE LENGTH
INSIDE WIDTH
INSIDE HEIGHT
DOOR WIDTH
DOOR HEIGHT
 
CAPACITY
TARE WEIGHT
MAX. CARGO
 
 
 
1
2
 
 
 
 
19'4"
7'7"
7'8"
7'6"
7'2"
 
1,136 ft³
5,280 lb
47,620 lb
5.89 m
2.31 m
2.33 m
2.28 m
2.18 m
 
32.16 m³
2,394 kg
21,600 kg
  39'5"
7'8"
7'8"
7'7"
7'5"
 
2,350 ft³
8,490 lb
58,710 lb
12.01 m
2.33 m
2.33 m
2.31 m
2.26 m
 
66.54 m³
3,850 kg
26,630 kg

1) = top sidewalls can be forced wider by a few centimeters
2) = top bar (above doors) removable to enter taller vehicles

If you find somebody else along the way to team up with and share a 40' container the cost will be roughly $1,000 per party - expect $1,500+ for a 20' container due to all port and handling charges being roughly the same! This option is particularly attractive with one vehicle just over 20 Feet, and one under.
 
The second option is so-called RoRo-shipping (Roll on, Roll off), where the vehicle is driven onto a ferry-style cargo boat. These vessels are being used to ship new (and used) cars and machinery around the world. A RoRo shipment would have been our preferred option too, because it's safer and cheaper compared to the LoLo (Lift on - Lift off) option we had to take in the end; in most cases RoRo is even a little cheaper than container shipping. There are routes down both, the Pacific and Atlantic coast, of Central America.
BUT: due to a booming world economy in 2007 and early 2008 all ships seem to be booked to capacity, and it's increasingly difficult to get a free slot. (A figure I just read: in Colombia in the month of November 2007 alone were almost 23,000 new cars sold - the majority is being shipped from somewhere else.) So if you desire RoRo-shipping book the journey early (several months in advance - 3 wasn't enough in our case! This will put a lot of stress on your trip because you will be travelling to a deadline.), and make sure you get a booking confirmation!
RoRo shipping is cheaper overall, because you are only paying for the actual size of your vehicle (not the air in a container), and all port and handling charges are less, too. Currently (late 2007 / early 2008) the going rate for RoRo between Central and South America is between $50 and $65 per cubic meter, plus document and handling charges. Beware: these charges are constantly going up, as do the charges for container freight.
 
In Costa Rica you can catch RoRo vessels in Caldera near Puntarenas on the Pacific, going to Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, and in Puerto Limón on the Atlantic, going either to Colombia or Venezuela. We only know about CSAV and NYK Lines taking cars on board in Costa Rica - the agent for NYK is
Barlovento Agencia Maritima S.A.

Zona Industrial de Pavas, La Virgen Edificio 3
Phone: +506 296 8480
GPS: N 09°56.188' / W 084°07.214'
Contact:
Mr. Alexandro Vargas [speaks English]
Email: vargas[at]barloventocr.com
This Agency has a dubious reputation as being unreliable; we can't confirm this since they answered all our enquiries - only the timing of their vessels was wrong.
 
An enquiry with CSAV returned that they only take vehicles up to 2.20 meters in height, but we know of people who around the same time have shipped taller campers with them...
 
The NYK and CSAV vessels, travelling the Pacific, also stop in Balboa in Panamá, so you could book them from there, but we believe the saving is not significant. The only problem is that the port of Caldera in Costa Rica is often full, and ships then don't dock but sail on.
 
From Colón in Panamá there are regular RoRo ships, owned by Wilhelmsen, going to Cartagena; we could not get onto their vessel because it was over-booked. The Wilhelmsen schedules can be found on the internet (use the "Customer Tools"), their exclusive Panamanian agent is Barwil (address below). WARNING: we have heard of stories where the vessel first returned to Mexico, hence its arrival in Cartagena was delayed by 2 weeks!
 
In the end we had to settle for a LoLo (Lift on - Lift off) shipment on a flatrack; a flatrack is compatible with standard containers = it's basically the base of a container. Due to our camper being wider than a standard container the flatrack probably took two container spaces on board (which explains the higher charges). Other LoLo options are a little suss since your vehicle is lifted onto the ship in a large net, or simply with ropes tied to wooden bars under the vehicle frame.
All our shipping, both in Panama and in Colombia, was handled through Seaboard, and in hindsight we would almost suggest, if you choose a simple container or flat rack shipment, to try and deal with them directly (they deal with vehicle shipping all over the world, but most people in Panama seem to be going through an agent, equating extra costs, and we would think you could cut out this middleman).
 
The agent we have used, as have hundreds of other travellers before us, is
Barwil Agencia S.A.
Panama Pacifico International Business Park
Tower A, Floor 4, Suite 401
Postal: P.O. Box 0843-01562, Balboa
Panamá
GPS: N 08.976331 / W079.522112
Contact:
Mrs. Evelyn Batista [speaks English]
Email: evelyn.batista[at]wilhelmsen.com (expect detailed replies)
or her secretary mabel.estribi[at]wilhelmsen.com
 
Phone:+507 263 7755
Telefax:+507 223 0698
 


Other agencies, we have heard are handling vehicle shipments in Panamá are
PANALPINA
Ojo de Agua, Transistmica
Panamá, Rep. de Panama
Phone: +507 280-1111
Fax: +507 273-7704
panalpina.com [they employ English and German speaking staff]
 
CSAV (RoRo Service, as mentioned above > Costa Rica)
Calle 50 y Equina 54 Este
Edeficio Frontanae, Lokal 2a
Panamá
Phone: +507 269-1613
Contact:
Ernesto Mock [recommended by other travellers]
 
Kuehne + Nagel S.A.
Av. Manuel Maria de Ycaza y Calle 5
Edif Magnacorp, Piso 6,Of 601&602
Panamá City
Panama
Phone: +507 264-2523
Fax: +507 264-1097
info.panamacity[at]kuehne-nagel.com
 
[out-dated as of 01/2011:]There's a completely different option to ship vehicles from Panamá to Colombia using regular banana freighters run by the Chiquita Company.
These boats leave every week from the north coast of Panamá, the vehicle is lifted LoLo inside a large net... This option is supposed to be very cheap!


For customs procedures and other help at import into Panama, only in German, we received a recommendation to use
Profesor Peter R. Wolf, from the Centro Cultura Aleman,
email: prwolft[at]hotmail.com
Tel. +507 225-1926
  or +507 260-3923


As of information May 2013 the following shipping agent, who received high praise from numerous travellers, has stopped this kind of service because it became too time consuming! Possibly contact Enlace Caribe regarding a recommendation for another agent…
Enlace Caribe Ltda.
Luis & Sonia La Rota (Luis speaks good English)
3a. Avenida No. 26-47, Oficina 103
Manga, Cartagena
Colombia

Phone: +57-5 660 8960
Mobile: +57-315 758 5872
E-mail gerencia[at]enlacecaribe.com
enlacecaribe.com
GPS: N 10° 24.546’, W 75° 31.938
 


Kuehne + Nagel S.A.
Edificio Administr. de Zona franca
Calle 29 No. 27-05, Local 3, Manga
Cartagena
Colombia
Phone: +57-5 6607703
Fax: +57-5 6607718
info.cartagena[at]kuehne-nagel.com
 

>> Page 2: The procedure in Panama >>

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