Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Leaving Panamá – Entering Costa Rica - Border Crossing Procedure

When we had internet, I forgot to look up the border crossing procedure when you exit Panamá and enter Costa Rica. So on our drive to the border, I attempted to use our Kindle’s 3G service to look up instructions. That is a chore, I tell you, as the pages load slowly and sometimes you lose connection and have to start the procedure all over again. I couldn’t really find anything useful. The one article that went into detail about it was about a different crossing and said things like “go the second window,” etc. Nothing useful like “aduana” or migración. So I thought I would write up an article for people like me to be able to navigate across the border without a guide and without standing in the wrong line for 30 minutes.

Well, from our previous experience with missing the Costa Rica migración and aduana areas and standing in the wrong Panamanian line, we knew that we needed to go to aduana first. However, there are a couple of different aduana windows in Panamá. When we entered, we had to go to the one that said “Captura y Manifesto” and the “Turismo” line in that one. We figured we would try that one again. However, someone came up to us and told us we needed to go the other “Aduana” window if we already had a permit. So we went over there. Apparently this information was correct, as the lady stamped our permit, handed it back, and told us to go the inspectors behind the benches. We went there and the guy directed to another inspector. This one was already inspecting two semis, so we had to wait a bit. Interestingly, when it was our turn, this inspector gave us a more thorough inspection than when we entered the country. In fact, it was one of the more thorough inspection than any of the other ones we had encountered. In fact, one guy wanted to look in every possible cubby hole. For a minute, I thought he would make us unscrew and detach our headliner since there was 4 inches between the ceiling and the rooftop storage compartment. Fortunately, he settled for us lifting up the pop top instead.

After our permit had been signed, he sent us back to the “Aduana” window. The lady there stamped it, asked for the driver’s passport, and stamped that, then shooed us off. Now, we decided to try the exit line of immigration. It was short and we were processed quickly. Then we were free to go Costa Rica.

We saw the fumigation apparatus and figured we would drive through it. They sprayed us and then we stopped, figuring we were supposed to pay. I went up to the guy at the window and tried to ask if we were supposed to pay. He didn’t hear me, but another guy down the way waved me down. I thought he was he must be who we were supposed to pay so I went to him instead. He said that we didn’t need to pay. Apparently they had started made it free to fumigate. Onwards to the offices. This time, I convinced Jonathan to park next to the offices, where it said “no parking – only for inspections.” I figured if we were getting a permit, aduanas would be out to inspect us. Besides, there were a ton of other people parking here.

After filling out the same two forms that apparently every Central American country has for entrance and exit immigration, we quickly made it through immigration. Then we went to Aduana. We presented our suspended permit pass and were given 3 forms to fill out. We asked about getting our vehicle permit extended (we only had 10 days left and wanted plenty of wiggle room to get out of the country), but for whatever reason, he wouldn’t do it. Said we should have asked for a 90-day pass when we had received the original vehicle permit. So, forms filled out, we were issued a reactivated permit. He gave it to another official whose job was to inspect the vehicle. She wanted to see the VIN and the plate. Another officer came up and looked inside. Apparently we passed, she provided us the permit and told us to go through fumigation. I told her that we had just passed through it when we crossed. She looked at me like she didn’t believe me, but I explained the vehicle was still wet from it and she let us go. Wouldn’t have been a big deal to go through it again, though since it doesn’t cost. She is probably supposed to witness the event.

All in all, it really wasn’t too bad. Despite not knowing the procedure beforehand, we only waited in the wrong line once for 30 seconds (we had come prepared to be in several wrong lines for 30 minutes at a time). Plus, it went rather quickly. The traffic at 10:30am on a Tuesday was low, so that helped a lot.

These instructions are for the crossing the border at Paso Canoas with a vehicle, but they procedure should be similar in other crossings.
  1. Go to aduana first. There are several different windows for aduana: Captura y Manifesto [where you get your permit] or Aduana [where you cancel your permit]). You will want to go to the Aduana window.
  2. They will take your vehicle permit, stamp it, and then hand back your permit and tell you to go get an inspector to look at your vehicle. The guys in polos with clipboards are your aduana inspectors. These guys were located behind the benches in front of aduana. He may send you off to another inspector.
  3. Get your vehicle inspected and your permit marked appropriately by the inspector.
  4. Go back to the Aduana window and turn in your permit. They will ask to see the driver’s passport at this time as well and stamp and return it.
  5. Now, you can go to the Salida window on the migración side. They will stamp your passport, ask you a few questions and take your photo, then you are free to pass into the Costa Rican side.
  6. You will see a fumigation station as you approach the Costa Rican offices, you can go through it now or after aduana inspects your vehicle. When we crossed, we didn’t have to pay anything.
  7. Pull up to the Costa Rican offices (white building with a bit of an overhang/awning) on the right. There are parking spots next to the building that say no parking (No Estacionar), but since you will be getting your vehicle inspected, it is ok to park there.
  8. Walk towards the north side and go to the Entrada line of migración for entering Costa Rica. There should be some entrance forms on the counters for you to grab and fill out before you get to the window.
  9. After you get your immigration form filled out and your passport stamped by migración, you can go to aduana, whose offices are located down the hallway to the left of the migración.
  10. If you are re-entering Costa Rica (within 3 months of leaving it), here is where you will turn in your suspended permit pass. You will also have to fill out 3 forms.
  11. With re-issued (or new) permit in hand, the aduana official will accompany you out to your car to inspect the VIN and plate number and make sure you aren’t carrying contraband.
  12. When you pass, you will be handed the permit and told to go through fumigation. If you already have, you can explain that, and you are free to go.

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