Clearing into Panama - Cruisers Report on their Experiences
Published: 2015-02-19 00:00:00
What is clear in Panama, is that each area interprets immigration rules differently. The charges made to visiting yachts continue to vary widely on both the Caribbean and Pacific sides of Panama.
For the complicated history of immigration charges in Panama, see report here.
Below are the latest reports we have received from cruisers who have cleared in at different ports in Panama. Advice is that cruisers should acquire and retain their receipt for any monies paid on clearing into the country, as it may be valuable down the road.
Please do contact us with fees paid if you have recently cleared into Panama.
Panama, San Blas Islands: High Fees in Porvenir - 19th February 2015
Things have gone too far, in my view, with the situation in Panama, especially in the San Blas Islands. Now, I don’t mind much forking out over 1200 USD (for a less than 50 foot boat) to transit the Panama Canal and take 10,000 miles off my passage from the Atlantic into the Pacific, but I protest over being charged (with receipts) nearly 500 USD to spend a week bobbing about in the San Blas Islands. They are nice, but not that nice. The anchorages are pretty, and pretty crowded. There are virtually no services offered.
Here is the state of affairs as of February 2015:
My partner and I sailed in from Aruba and cleared customs, immigration, police and park authorities in Porvenir, San Blas Islands, Panama, on February 1, 2015. The day we checked in to the San Blas, we were joined on board in Porvenir by a couple who flew in from Panama. Altogether, we were charged in USD:
Immigration: 100 USD per person (two people arriving by boat - 200)
Two people arriving by plane from Panama: No charge
Panama - one year cruising permit: 193
San Blas cruising permit for the boat: 20
San Blas cruising permit $20 for each person on the boat – 4 pax: 80
Total bill for four people with one week to spend in the San Blas: 493 USD (we received receipts for each charge by very polite and friendly officials).
Had the two people who flew into Porvenir from Panama arrived on the boat with us, the total bill would have been 693 USD.
Further, we hear some are being charged $10 a night to anchor in some locations.
These charges are not warranted by the experience, in my opinion, it’s not worth it. It seems, like we ‘discovered’ the New World, the New World has now ‘discovered’ us.
BTW - If you are still intent on visiting the San Blas Islands, bring lots of cash, there are no ATMs!
Panama, Flamenco Island (Pacific): Good News on Check-in here - 27th January 2015
I just met with the local officials at Flamenco Island and you can now get your cruising permit and check into immigration on the second floor of the Flamenco Duty Free building office. It costs $185. for the cruising permit and was done in one day. Not sure how they got that number but it seems that the cost has always been around the 200 dollar mark so this sounded about right.
Immigration is right down the hall, so you can check in there after you get your cruising permit.
If you plan to stay more than three days you need a mariner's visa which costs about $100 per person. If you plan to leave your boat within the three day window, bring a copy of your airline ticket and you will not have to pay for the Mariner's visa. Then when you return to Panama by air you get 30 days free, so in this case the Mariner's visa is not required to get an exit zarpe. Just make a copy of the stamp you got on your passport when you entered Panama and bring that along with your inbound boat cruising permit and your original passports so you can pick up your exit Zarpe and get stamped out of immigration.
The Panamanian exit Zarpe is also done at the Flamenco office. Not sure if there is a fee for the exit Zarpe but as of this date there was no fee mentioned.
There is a cash machine in the lobby. All is due in cash and you get official receipts - so there is no hanky panky.
It's best to come early as the port captain's office opens at 0800 and they review the originals, take all your copies, scan them, input the data into their computer and send it to the head office in Balboa for approval by the Port Captain. If you get the forms done early in the day, the cruising permit is usually ready just after lunch the same day and you can then do the immigration work just down the hall. When you pick up your cruising permit you will be interviewed by the Customs agent. He will fill out the forms, ask a few questions and when done, provide you the copies of the document you will need for the immigration officer and also copies of the form for agriculture and health which you just have to keep on the boat and present along with your cruising permit and Mariner's visa should you get boarded by AeroNaval.
The customs gentleman is also a very pleasant man eager to help you through the system.
Immigration closes at 4pm and they are pleasant and eager to assist.
You do not need an agent as everyone seems to understand enough English and the process is fast and easy. Bring all your copies and at least three copies of your Zarpe, passports, your boat registration, your crew list and if your boat registration does not show your address, bring copies of your driver's license. If you are traveling bring at least two copies of your airline tickets and make sure it shows that you depart no more than three days after you check in, or you will have to pay the money for a Mariners Visa. No exceptions, even if the delay is just one day. This Mariner's visa is a hard rule.
The Flamenco office is about a 15-20 min walk from La Playita to the end of Amador Causeway, or a 2 dollar cab fare for two people.
So far, the Panamanian government is trying to make the check in and Cruising Permit process fast and easy, but they are under staffed and ask that you please be patient and come prepared with all the required copies and bring the originals for their inspection or the process may be returned back to the port captain's office which gets pricy due to taxi rides and delays.
SV Moon Dancer
Editor's Note: Authorization for Cruising Permits (Port Captains) and Visas (Immigration) can only be authorized by Main Offices and not Branch Offices. However, documentation can be submitted via the Branch Offices as mentioned in the above report. You cannot do this transaction with one visit to the Branch Office, you will have to return later to check if the documentation is ready. If you go directly to the Main Office the transaction can be done with one visit. As it is Panama, it also very much depends on the Official in charge at the Branch Office!
Panama, Bocas del Toro: Clearing in - 19th May 2014
For me as a single hand sailor I guess the charges in Panama now are the highest in the American Continent.
At Monday 19 May 2014 in Red Frog Marina at Bocas Del Toro I was charged the following fees by the 6 person’s delegation of Panama authorities whom entered S/V Sea Sprite at 1000:
Boarding Services $170.00
Cruising Permit (Valid one year/12 Months) $193.00
Panama VISA per person (Valid one year/12 Months) $105.00
The fees for regular boarding services are during office hours only. There will be an extra fee if check in has to be performed outside the regular office hours.
The cruising permit can be renewed 2 times with additional 12 Months each time.
The 12 Months VISA can only be issued to persons arriving with the vessel and will be canceled when the person leave Panama. If arriving/returning by other means of transport a regular 6 Months entry VISA will be issued.
Capt. Hans-Martin Fruergaard
S/V Sea Sprite
Panama, Bocas del Toro: Clearing in - 1st August 2013
Although the buoys from the Bocas del Toro channel have been removed, we used the way points of the old buoys and followed them in. On calling the Port Captain on channel 16, he suggested we anchor south of Bocas town and call him when the anchor was down. The part of the anchorage which is less than 30 feet deep, was very crowded.
In less than an hour, the Port Captain, Immigration, Customs and Agriculture arrived. They filled out paperwork, took a brief tour, charged us $120, and left with instructions to visit the Port Captain's office the next day. We were not charged overtime even though it was around 3 pm (end of the work day). We provided 1 copy of our boat registration and owed Immigration a copy of our passports.
Fortunately we left the anchorage and moved to Marina Carenero. We subsequently heard there is a high rate of theft from the south anchorage. We could have gone straight to the marina to check-in.
At the Port Captain's office the next day, we met with AMP to get our cruising permit. We provided another copy of our registration, a crew list and he copied our passports. We paid $193 for a one year permit.
Note that some cruisers are getting permits that expire when their boat registration expires which may be less than one year. We caught a break and got the full year even though our registration expires end of Sept 2013.
The Port Captain was adamant that we fly the Panama flag. We were able to buy one at the hardware store.
I have heard there is an online form you can complete prior to arriving to Panama. I did not research it and we were not asked about it.
s/v It's Good To Be
Panama, Porvenir: Immigration charges increased - 15 July, 2013
Now they also ask US$ 100.- per person entering Panama at Porvenir, so they ask the same at every port of entrence in Panama. If the entering person can show an air ticket leaving within 72 hours from Panama, there is no charge.It's US$ 200 for the sailing permit valid for a year, if you leave Panama's waters it loses its validity.
(Editor's Note: Just adding to the confusion, as well as reports from yachts getting visas at branch offices both on the Caribbean coast and Pacific coast (as did Fritz above), others have been told by the branch offices to go to the principal immmigration office for the visa!)
Panama, Balboa: Diablo Heights now the only official Immigration Office - 9 July, 2013
For yachts arriving in Panama from the Pacific and clearing in at Balboa, there has been a new development with immigration.
Apparently Immigration at the Balboa Yacht Club and Flamenco Marina are now considered Branch Offices (like the situation on the Caribbean side of Panama with Portobelo and Porvenir) and all cruisers must go within 72 hrs of arrival to the main office at Diablo Heights to obtain a visa.
Cruiser Kay Langley reports that the Branch Immigration offices can stamp your passport with an "entry to the country" stamp, but this is only valid for 72 hours, after that you are in the Country illegally. If you want to stay longer you need to go to the port Captain first and after that to Immigration at Diablo. She recommends, "Don´t give any originals to the immigation at Balboa or Flamenco. They will be lost and can create problems. I paid for the visa 105USD."
Take a taxi to the Immigration Office in Balboa's El Diablo district (Near the Supermercado El Rey on the other side of the airport, upstairs from a Mercado Gourmet). Be sure to ask the taxi driver to wait for you.
Clearing into Portobelo (Caribbean side of Panama) - 25 April 2013
The immigration office is allowing people to check in without requiring the visa. Whether they suggest you buy a visa or not, it isn't required for cruisers to buy one. They may inform you that you need one but nothing will happen with non-compliance.
S/V Desdemona (American)
(Editor's Note: It should be noted that the Immigration Office here is only a Branch Office under the Immigration Office in Colon. This means that officially they are unable to issue visas, and can only issue "entry to the country" stamps. Entry to the country stamps for yachts at marinas and islands, allow you 72 hrs to obtain a visa (as per the government regulations) at your next port of call (Cristobal/Bocas del Toro/Panama City). Yachts are subject to being stopped and immigration papers checked. Therefore if you have been in the country for more than 72 hours and don't have a visa, you risk being penalized.)
Clearing in at Porvenir, San Blas - March 2013
The situation with official clearing-in rules seems to be ever changing, but this has been our experience. We cleared in at Porvenir, San Blas, where we had to pay:
$193 US for a 12 month cruising permit (you can no longer get a monthly version and it’s required if you are in Panamanian waters for more than 72 hours).
$100 US for a visa for the boat (note if you clear in at the mainland they apparently charge you $100 per person rather than per boat!).
$30 for a Kuna Congress permit for the islands.
The officials, who maintain fairly irregular hours on the island, don’t speak much English and didn’t tell us that we had to clear out from San Blas (to obtain a Zarpe sailing orders) before going to Colon. Friends did get one (by luck) and paid $16 to clear out. When we arrived at Shelter Bay we had to pay a $25 fine for not having a Zarpe.
At Shelter Bay there is a little hut behind the main building to which the Port Captain and an Immigration official come at around 10.00 till 13.00 (till 15.00 for the Port Captain). The clearing in process is pretty slow, so there will be a queue of grumpy sailors waiting in the hot sun.
If you have already cleared immigration at Porvenir you will need to hand over:
1. A copy of your Cruising Permit
2. A printed crew list (they have forms available if you don’t already have one)
3. A copy of all crew passports
4. Your Zarpe from the last Panamanian port
5. A copy of the boat’s registration document
The immigration officer will also want a copy of your crew list and passports. In return for all this you’ll get a pink clear-in document and won’t be charged. You can get photocopies in the Dock Shoppe for 50c each, but the port captain will make copies for 25c in his office, it just slows the process up.
If, however, this is your first port in Panama, you’ll need to:
1. Obtain a Cruising permit from the Port Captain (which at the moment is taking anything up to 10 days due to a new computer system!)
2. Get a visa from Immigration (costs $105 US per person) and you will probably have to take the bus into Colon to get it so calling in at Porvenir first is a good tip.
When you leave Shelter Bay for a Canal Transit, you need to clear our with the port captain (up to 48 hours in advance) and obtain a Zarpe for your next port (e.g. Galapagos), via Balboa – you shouldn’t need to clear in and out in Balboa as long as you leave Panamanian waters within 7 days. You will be charged $35 US to clear out.
‘Maunie of Ardwall’
Clearing in at Bocas del Toro - no visa fees - December 2012
This was our first port in Panama. We got stamps in all of our passports. Immigration fee US$25. I asked about duration and was told we have 6 months, although looking at the stamp, there is no indication of length of time. Hopefully this doesn't present a problem later! See full report here.
Clearing in at Shelter Bay, Colon and Clearing out at Pedregal - no visa fees - September 2012
When we arrived to Colon, Panama in September 2012, we cleared in at Shelter Bay Marina, got our paperwork and passport stamped and paid 20 USD (to the two guys pockets). No receipt. We did not go to the immigration in Colon and we did not get a Zarpe from Colon to Balboa. The Canal Transit went according to the schedule. No problems. We were able to take off our bow sprit and get under 50 feet and saved money that way. First time we passed, years ago, we were 53 feet.
At the Capitania in Flamingo Marina in Balboa, we got the Cruising Permit, 193 USD, good for one year and paid 20 USD for approval of the ship? No inspection was performed. We were supposed to have a Zarpe for going through the Panama Canal, but after some discussion it was ok without. We anchored in the Las Brisas Marina area for free. Lots of boats there. Communication every morning at 0800 on VHF 74.
When we left Balboa we paid 12.20 USD for a National Zarpe to Pedregal. When we left Pedregal, we paid 25 USD for inspection of the boat, which never happened and 21.25 in anchoring fee on the river and light dues. The International Zarpe to Costa Rica cost 12.20 plus 1.25 USD.
We never paid Visa fees in Panama. Some boats paid 110 USD per person in Visa fees in Colon. Our cost in Panama (without the Canal Transit) was 317,70 USD.
Report from Obaldia - 26th November 2012
Puerto Obaldia is on the Caribbean coast and less than 5nm from the Colombian boarder.
I checked in at Obaldia close to the border with Colombia and was charged a total of $235 for a boat of 11 metres. They issued no visa and that was my problem when checking out. The visa charge was $110 and is now only $10. The fee was reduced a few days before I left. There are no charges to clear out.
You must remember that charges and practices can vary from office to office. Also you must clear in and out with immigration every time you move to a different province within Panama.
SV Wild Fox
Update September 2012
Karsten Staffeldt (Panama resident and former cruiser) reports that "Panama Immigration is still confused and I am still getting info. that some yachts are not being charged for or asked for a visa, especially in Balboa and Boca del Toro, although not 100% of arrivals!
Shelter Bay Marina in Colon also report that immigration formalities are still very unclear.
Clearing in at Obaldia August 2012
When we cleared in at Puerto Obaldia during August 2012, Immigration office at Puerto Obaldia informed us that they could not issue us with a Cruising Visa, although the other documents were no problem (Panama Cruising Permit ($205 ), a Zarpe to be in the jurisdiction of Puerto Obaldia ($1.50) and a Zarpe to transit from Puerto Obaldia to Porvenir ($20). After explaining that because we would then be cruising in Panamanian waters for approximately 8 weeks with valid documentation for the boat but that we would effectively be illegal immigrants without a visa in the passport. The official saw our dilemma and obliged by entering immigration paperwork with our vessel shown as a Lancha (ferry launch) and us as passengers/crew at a total cost of $30 for the vessel's immigration formalities, this gave us stamps in the passport with a date of entry shown. We were told it was valid for 6-months. To see the full report, see here
A Nonny Mouse in Panama.
Our Experience July/August 2012
Our experience was: When we arrived in July in Panama we went to Colon for the clearing in procedure. After paying and receiving the cruising permit we were sent to the immigration office. Here we made the same experience as the other cruisers: We were asked to pay 110$ each for a visa, but we simply refused to do so. They threatened us that we would not get an exit stamp when we leave the country, if we would not pay that fee. Still we did not pay. Instead we went one day to Panama City Balboa as we heard that they would not ask for a visa fee. The officer was very friendly and said in the beginning that we could stay as long as we wanted, a year or 35 years and was ready to issue that visa. But then she wanted to make sure and called another officer on the phone. Her mind changed and she said that we would have to go to another office in the next 24 hours and pay 55$ each to get a visa. We said good-bye and refused again to do so.
In August we took a plane to the US (where we are currently) and there was no problem at all to leave the country. Nobody would care about an exit stamp! So we'll see how things go when we return to Panama, but we don't think that there will be any issues. What we have heard also is that some cruiser go by bus to Costa Rica and come back after one or two days to Panama to get their passports stamped - stamp vacation!
Report from Panama City posted on Southbound Group - 13 July 2012
We checked in to Panama City yesterday. We will be leaving the boat here for about six weeks. The Immigration Officer said that when we fly back into Panama make sure and tell the Airport Immigration Officers that we are on a boat and they will give us the proper "Yacht" VISA, instead of a tourist visa. She suggested taking the vessel clearence papers with us to show how we entered the country orginally.
On a side note it took us less than two hours, including driving time to check into Panama and obtain our visas and cruising permit. Prices are $105 per VISA and $210 for the one year cruising permit.
Report from Colon - 25 June 2012
The situation is still erractic in Colon.
I was just charged US$105.00 for a visa today on arrival in Colon. Apparently some people are charged, some are not. I was charged by the Servicio Nacional de Migración $100.00 for a marino visa pleasure yacht and $5.00 for registry fee. This is the most expensive stamp that I've ever seen.
I arrived directly at Shelter Bay Marina because I had some mechanical problems, otherwise I would have stopped in Portobello. The Port Authority and immigration officers at the marina received me and did the initial paperwork right here, but I couldn't avoid going downtown to get a cruising permit and the visa. The surprise part is that I would have to pay for the visa.
I couldn't find written anywhere the amount you are supposed to pay. At the immigration office it is written on their check list to pay the fee, but they don't clearly state the value. $105.00 is in line with the value they were charging earlier on this year. I questioned the value and the fact that some places don't charge it but I was told that it is the law and that other places are not doing it properly.
I've talked to some people here in the marina that arrived a couple days before me that said that they were not charged.
I suggest others to avoid clearing in Colon, if possible. I was told by a Canadian couple that I met at the Port Authority building that Portobello, half a day sailing from here, is issuing visas at no charge. Please watch out to avoid unexpected expenses.
Report from Bocas Del Toro - 26 May 2012
We just cleared into Bocas Del Toro a few days ago. We paid no visa fee, just cruising permit and a bunch of small charges. We had two on board and a dog, it cost us $308. We asked the port captain and immigration about the visa fee, they said none existed.
Process wise it was simple.
We arrived in the morning, set the hook in the anchorage with our Q flag up. By mid day a panga with 6 officials came and climbed into our boat. A couple could speak decent english, lucky for us. We provided 4 copies of: crew list, passports, boat registration, dog documents, zarpe from Jamaica. Then we signed a few things and withing 30 minutes we were off to town to pay. We went to the bank and then paid at the port office. We were done everything before 3pm.
Report from Balboa - 24 May 2012
Yacht PHOCEA with 10 crew on board, has just transited the Panama Canal and departed Balboa yesterday. On arrival in Cristobal/Colon the skipper was not charged any visa fees/immigration when clearing in. PHOCEA transited the Canal on 17 May and once in Balboa made several crew changes, with crew flying out and in. This involved lots of signing of crew on and off the crew list with the Balboa Yacht Club Immigration Officer, but on departure no visa fees/exit fees were charged.
Report from Balboa - 18 May 2012
Cruisers who tried first the Immigration office in El Diablo just a few days ago, made a quick exit when they discovered they wanted to charge $110/person. They refused and instead went to the Immigration office at the Balboa Yacht Club. Here they were checked in for one year at no charge.