Crossing international borders in Latin America is rarely easy or pleasant (why do they always smell like pee and desperation?). Things are even more complicated when you’re driving across borders in your own vehicle as part of an overland road trip. These border crossing 101 travel tips will help you travel from Paso Canoas, Panama to Paso Canoas, Costa Rica smoothly with or without a vehicle.

From: Paso Canoas, Panama

To: Paso Canoas, Costa Rica

Buen Viaje PanamaPaso canoas border

Goodbye Panama (for now).

Lay of the land: It took about 15 minutes to exit Panama at well-manned offices with no hassles and no exit fees. Entering Costa Rica was equally painless.

Elapsed time: 1 hour.

Number of days they gave us: We asked for and got 30 days since that’s all that was left on our vehicle importation permit (see “Need to know” below). The standard tourist visa duration issued in Costa Rica is 90 days which is given without a fee to US citizens.

Fees: US$15.50 for three months of mandatory driving insurance and US$6 for vehicle fumigation.

Paso Canoas border station Panama costa Rica

The border facilities on the Panamanian side are larger and newer than those on the Costa Rican side.

Vehicle insurance requirements: You must buy local insurance to drive within Costa Rica. At this border, insurance was only sold in three-month blocks.

Where to fill up: Fuel was cheaper in Panama than it was in Costa Rica when we crossed the border, so we filled up before leaving Panama.

Need to know: Costa Rica is always one hour ahead of Panama so be sure to change your watch. Oh, and we recommend you just play dumb and drive through the fumigation station without giving them time to turn on the hoses and collect the US$6. That’s what everybody else was doing.

This border crossing tip is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT FOR ANYONE DRIVING ACROSS: While Costa Rica will renew a tourist visa if you spend 72 hours outside of the country (and that rule is often not enforced) but foreign vehicles are only allowed to be in Costa Rica for 90 days out of every 180. This means that once you use up or cancel your temporary vehicle importation permit you can’t get a new one for 90 days.

Costa Rican officials can “suspend” your temporary importation permit when you leave the country which puts it on hold until you return at which time the clock starts ticking again with whatever amount of time you had left on your original permit before you suspended. That’s what we did with our Costa Rican truck paperwork since we knew we’d be returning to the country.

Costa Rica's poor quality roads - Carratera en mal Estado

This sign on the Costa Rican side of the border says “Road in bad condition” and that pretty much goes for most of the roads in the country.

Duty free finds: There are two large “Mall Libre” facilities on the Panama side of this border but they were pretty shabby when we were there.

Overall border rating: Easy, breezy – just the way we like it.


Here’s more about travel in Costa Rica

Here’s more about travel in Panama


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