Panama: Clearing into Panama at Puerto Obaldia – August 2012

Published 12 years ago, updated 5 years ago

Puerto Obaldia is on the Caribbean coast and less than 5nm from the Colombian border.

Cruising Permit

We cleared in at Puerto Obaldia during August 2012. The AMP officials provided us with three documents: a 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). We were charged for each of those documents as indicated and also charged an anchoring fee ($3) for the 2 hours it took to get the paperwork done plus a lights and buoys charge ($3). The officials were very helpful and documentation was hand typed on an old style manual typewriter. This documentation was viewed by officials at Porvenir and Shelter Bay Marina and found to be in order and acceptable.


The immigration office at Puerto Obaldia wanted us to wait until we reached Porvenir to obtain a Cruising Visa as they could not issue them. We said this was not acceptable because we would then be cruising in Panamanian waters for approx. 8 weeks with valid documentation for the boat but 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.

When we arrived at Porvenir the AMP office checked our passports, charged us for a Zarpe ($20 approx) to go to Colon and raised no issue with our stamps, they did not tell us we were required to report to the immigration office so we didn’t present ourselves. We sailed to Colon with stops en route. We then left the boat at Shelter Bay Marina while we flew back to Europe for 2-weeks. No comment was raised at the airport when we exited. When we returned our passports were stamped with a 6-month tourist visa, the paperwork filled out for immigration showed we would be staying on a yacht at Shelter Bay Marina. We didn’t check in with the immigration/AMP office at Shelter Bay Marina until after we returned from the UK (the office was manned only sporadically due to riots disrupting communications with Colon) so we don’t know if they would have raised an issue with the passport stamps provided at Puerto Obaldia.

Talking to one of the liveaboards who remain in or near to the San Blas region they didn’t know if the rules required all cruisers to have a Maritime Visa (cost $105 + tip) but personally they like the new visa as it is linked to the 12 month validity of the cruising permit and gives them 12 months before needing a visa renewal. All other visas are normally 6-month validity (depending upon your nationality). Our agent for the Panama Canal originally said we would have to buy a maritime visa when we arrived in Panama with the boat but that our return from the UK would only need a tourist visa at the airport which would be sufficient to continue cruising through the canal and into Pacific Panama. The whole system seems is a bit of a muddle.

We also found that liveaboards, who stay in Panama most of the time, when coming up for an annual renewal typically clear out of Porvenir for Sapzurro/Capurgana (Colombia ), sail directly there and use the Immigration Office in Capurgana to get a Colombian passport stamp, they then turn around and head straight back to Porvenir to clear in to Panama for another year. This avoids any expense/bureaucracy with clearing a vessel into Colombia

which can only be done at Cartagena or further East. Those vessels do not seem to choose to use Puerto Obaldia for formalities because they want to acquire a 12 month Maritime Visa in addition to a 12-month cruising permit renewal.

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