Crossing the border: Costa Rica to Panama

We have now crossed the border between Costa Rica and Panama twice.  Crossing the border is not always that simple and attention needs to be paid to specific requirements for entering and exiting these 2 countries.

We did our crossings on the Pacific side at Paso Canoas which is the main check point between Costa Rica and Panama.  You can also cross the border in the highlands or on the Caribbean coast.

The check point – Paso Canoas

We arrived at the Paso Canoas border via Ticabus at about 6pm. This border crossing is on the Pan-American Highway.  It took us about 2 hours to exit Costa Rica and to enter Panama.

The border control point for Costa Rica is on the left hand side of the road, here you will need to have your passport stamped out, however, they will only stamp you out if you have paid the exit tax of $7USD.  Once stamped out you then have to walk about 500m down the road to the Panama control point, lucky for us the bus company took our bags.

The process of entering Panama will take longer so be prepared as it is slow and can feel far from organised.  The first thing you will have to do is line and and wait to have your passport checked and stamped by border control officer.  Whilst in line you will be approached to pay a tourist tax of $1USD.  We are unsure if this is a legitimate charge but you do get a sticker in your passport so we just paid it (as did everyone else)… However, be prepared to pay the same exiting Panama. We learnt from other travellers that the other Costa Rica/Panama boarders have different charges, and that the Caribbean coast crossing costs $4USD.

Once you have been stamped in you will need to get you bags so they can be checked by customs.  This is the slowest part of the process.  Everyone on the bus was rounded up into a room where a roll call was carried out, the offer could not pronounce our names very well so listen carefully.  After the roll call you are given a customs form to complete and before you can leave the room you need to have your bag checked. This can either mean the officer looks at it and lets you go or they might ask you to open it.

Once you exit the room you have officially entered Panama!

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Enjoy a Panama Beer on the beach

Entry requirements:

Panama has the usual entry requirements of evidence of funds and an exit ticket however, they now require that you have an exit ticket to your home country, not just the one out of Panama.

When we entered no one asked to see anything other than our passport.  We did have evidence of funds and an exit ticket but we did not have a ticket back to New Zealand. On the bus ride approaching the terminal we were debating about getting one but decided to risk it, with the worse case being we would have had to just buy one on the spot.  We have read that some people have had problems entering Panama however, we have not met anyone who has had an issue. We think it depends where you come from and what offical you get as to how many questions you will be asked. Hopefully most genuine travellers will not have an issue.

Key points:

  • The border crossing can take time so be prepared to wait.  The quickest time to cross seems to be very early in the morning;
  • Exit tickets are required to enter Panama and Costa Rica but in both of our crossings we were not asked for these, neither was anyone else, so it is possible to risk it;
  • To enter Panama you may be asked for evidence of a flight to your home country (in addition to normal entry requirements).  If you are concerned about this you could buy a fully refundable ticket or apparently there are websites that can generate fake tickets that we heard some travellers were using; and
  • The exit tax from Costa Rica is $7USD.  You will be asked to pay a $1U-4USD tourist tax on entry to Panama (dependent on what border you cross) – However, we are not sure how legitimate this is, only pay it if you get the sticker.

Want to know more about Panama? Read our Panama City post or North of the Canal

We also have lots of information from our time in Costa Rica, see below;

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Panama City
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Swimming at Bocas del Toro

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6 Comments

  1. It is always interesting to see how border crossings works. Excempting flights, I have so far only done it within the Schengen area, biking across the border between Slovenia and Croatia and crossing the border between Argentina and Uruguay by boat. 🙂

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  2. I was really impressed in Argentina and Uruguay actually. In the harbor we were told to go to one desk where we got the exit stamp for Uruguay. Then the person at that desk were sending it forward to the person at the desk next to it where we got the entry stamp for Argentina. All we needed to do when arriving in Buenos Aires was a fast scanning of the bag and then put of the building. 🙂

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