Paso Canoas: Costa Rica and Panama’s Biggest Border Crossing

There are several reasons why you might be planning to cross the border between Costa Rica and Panama. Many people do this just to explore another part of Central America, while others need to leave the country they are living in (i.e., Costa Rica or Panama) to renew their tourist visa. In our three-and-a-half years in Costa Rica, we have crossed back and forth many times for both reasons, mostly at Paso Canoas. In this post, we will tell you what to expect and give you some details to help make the process as smooth as possible. 

 

Crossing the Paso Canoas Border

Location

The Paso Canoas border is located in the southwestern-most part of Costa Rica at the end of Route 2 (the Inter-Americana Highway). The closest major town on the Costa Rica side is Ciudad Neily, a small city with some shops, banks, and restaurants. Also not far away are the towns of Golfito and Pavones, which draw some tourists. On the Panama side, the highway is named Route 1 (the Pan-Americana Highway), and the closest major city is David, about 45 minutes away. David is Panama’s third largest city and is known for good shopping and an active expat community.

Border Set-up

Chaos

The Paso Canoas border can be intimidating if you have never been. Chaos is one way you could describe it. Especially on the Costa Rica side, there are often tractor-trailer trucks lined up and lots of vehicles parked haphazardly everywhere. The area is usually extremely busy, with lots of people waiting around and others trying to sell you things. It is very noisy as well, with tractor-trailer brakes sounding, music blaring, and the occasional random firework, making you jump. Signage for government buildings is also poor, making it hard to know where to go. But once you get to know this border, it isn’t all that bad. And if you have some shopping to do, it is actually a great spot to find good deals.

 

Crossing the Paso Canoas Border on Foot
The walk between the Costa Rica and Panama Migration offices

 

Overview of Shopping

Whenever we go, we do a lot of shopping in the duty free stores. Compared to Costa Rica’s normal retail prices, which are high for Central America, things like groceries, liquor and beer/wine, clothes, and even car parts and supplies are a lot less expensive. As an example, a nice bottle of wine that would cost $20 in Costa Rica is usually $10 or less at the border. A 5 liter bottle of Pennzoil motor oil that costs roughly $40 in Costa Rica can be found for $20.

We cover the shopping options in more detail at the end of this post.

Map

As for getting around, here’s a map that we made to help you get your bearings. There are only three buildings that you will need to visit (marked in red).

 

Map Paso Canoas Border

The Border Process

Since we live in Costa Rica, these directions will be from that perspective. If you are from Panama, the reverse should be similar and most things will apply.

Parking

If you have driven yourself to the border and are staying only for the day, it is best to park the car in a secure lot and do the process on foot. As you arrive at the border from the Costa Rica side, look for a sign that says “Parqueo Canoas” set back between the restaurants on the right (roughly across the street from the Banco de Costa Rica). Sometimes the view is blocked by a row of tractor-trailer trucks so look carefully. We have safely parked here many times for about 700 colones per hour.

 

Crossing the Paso Canoas Border
Parking lot just past Costa Rica’s Migration Office, on the right side as you’re driving in from Costa Rica

 

What You’ll Need

Note: The requirements sometimes change. We’ll try to update this post if they do, but as of December 2016, this is what is required.

  • Valid passport (that will not expire within 6 months)
  • Proof of onward travel (plane ticket). Occasionally, you also might be asked for a bus ticket from Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica (details below).
  • $500 cash or bank statements or a credit card to show proof of sufficient funds (3 months’ worth)
  • $8 to pay Costa Rica’s exit tax. Payable in Costa Rican colones as well.
  • $1 to pay for a paper stamp to enter Panama
  • Pen to fill out Costa Rica’s required form

Exiting Costa Rica and Entering Panama

The first thing you’ll need to do is get your exit stamp from Costa Rica. Here’s how to do that:

1. Pay departure tax

Costa Rica has a tax (impuesto) that must be paid before you can exit the country by land. Anyone crossing by foot, car, or bus has to pay it. While you can pay this at certain banks in Costa Rica ahead of time, the easiest way is right at the border. Formerly sold from a random van, there is now a storage-container office directly across the highway from the Costa Rica Migration office. The tax is $7 but you will be charged $8 because the company selling it gets a $1 commission. They will need your passport and will give you a receipt to present to Migration when you check out of Costa Rica.

 

Crossing the Paso Canoas Border
Building for Costa Rica exit tax

 

2. Get stamped out of Costa Rica

Once you’ve paid the exit tax, head across the street to the Costa Rica Migration office. It’s one of the first buildings on the left as you come into the border area. It’s a blue and white concrete structure with an overhang for buses and a big open area for people to form a line. You will be looking for the salida (exit) window (see cover photo, above).

 

Crossing the Paso Canoas Border
Outside of Costa Rica Migration Office

 

If there is a big line at the window (common), first you will have to cut to the front to get the required form to fill out. Try one of the closed windows or the entrada (entry) window first, if they are not busy. Don’t worry, everyone does this.

Tip: If you ask for two papers for each person in your group, you won’t have to do this again on the way back into Costa Rica.

Fill out one form for each person and get back in line. The form asks for basic information like your name, passport number, destination, etc. Once it is your turn at the window, give them the paper along with your passport and the tax receipt. Usually the agent doesn’t ask too many questions when you are leaving Costa Rica and just stamps your passport with the exit stamp.

3. Get stamped into Panama

Once you have your exit stamp, walk south along the road to the Panama Migration office. This building is a little hard to find because it is behind other offices in a big concrete building with the road on each side. Walk to the farthest set of windows/offices. Here, you will find an outdoor waiting area with a bunch of service windows (much like Costa Rica but more updated).

 

Crossing the Paso Canoas Border
Panama Migration Office

 

Note: It is a bit of a walk between the Costa Rica and Panama offices (about 5-10 minutes) along uneven terrain so plan on wearing comfortable shoes. There aren’t any sidewalks and you have to cross traffic. If you have young kids, you will probably want to carry them.

Pay $1 to Get Stamp

Before getting in line, look for someone sitting in the corner (usually it is the same lady). She sells the required paper stamp to enter Panama, which is $1. It is best to use US dollars if you have them. She will put this in your passport for you.

Wait in Line to Speak to Migration Official

Next, wait in the entrada (entry) line for your turn. There isn’t a form to fill out for Panama, but the agent likely will ask where you’re traveling to and for how long. Sometimes they will ask for your occupation. All of this will be in Spanish, though some of them do speak some English. They will probably also require proof of $500 (usually can be satisfied by showing 3 months’ of bank statements or a valid credit card if you don’t want to carry cash). We have never been asked to show $500 cash, but others have.

The last requirement is to show proof of onward travel out of Panama within 180 days. This requirement has changed over the years and even differs by border. Bus tickets out of the country sometimes work, but lately Panama has been requiring a plane ticket back to your home country (country that issued your passport).

Since our plane tickets are usually departing from SJO Airport in Costa Rica, we also have been asked (sometimes, but not always) to show a bus ticket from Paso Canoas back to San Jose. Even when we told them we had a car, we were still required to show this. If you are asked, you will have to walk back to the Tracopa bus company’s ticket office near the Banco de Costa Rica on the Costa Rica side to purchase one (even if you don’t intend to use it). The cost is around $15 per ticket.

Have Photo and Fingerprints Taken and Get Entry Stamp

Once the agent is satisfied, they will then stamp your passport and take a picture of you with a small computer camera. As of our last visit in December 2016, Panama also now has an electronic fingerprint machine. The agent will direct you to place your thumbs and fingers on a digital pad to record your prints into their computer system.

Now you’re ready to travel into Panama. Standard visas are for 180 days. There are no border walls or other checkpoints in the immediate area so you are free to explore the entire border zone and its shops if you are planning to stay for only a few hours.

Important: Another trend lately is for the Panama Migration agent to tell you how many hours you must stay in Panama before exiting again. If they do this, they may write the time on your entry stamp. We have been told five hours twice and three hours on our most recent crossing in December 2016. Also keep in mind that Panama time is one hour ahead of Costa Rica.

Exiting Panama and Entering Costa Rica

If you’re returning to Costa Rica after your visit to Panama, you’ll go through the process in reverse.

1. Get stamped out of Panama

Go to the same Migration windows as before, but use the salida (exit) line. You do not need to pay or do anything other than present your passport. This is usually a very straightforward process, but they might check to see if you have stayed in the country for the required number of hours.

2. Get stamped into Costa Rica

Go back to the Costa Rica Migration office. They will have you fill out the same form you did before, so if you got extra ones on your way in, you won’t need to cut the line again to get one. You do not need to pay the tax this time. Costa Rica requires proof of onward travel out of the country through a plane ticket back to your home country within 90 days. We have almost always been asked for this ticket (same one we use for entering Panama). Standard visas are 90 days, but the exact amount is up to the discretion of the Migration official.

Shopping at Paso Canoas

Like we mentioned above, whenever we visit the Paso Canoas border, we do quite a bit of shopping. To give you an idea of where things are, here are some descriptions and directions. Directions are based on looking at the Panama Migration building from the big intersection on the Costa Rica side.

City Mall – Very large, modern two-story department store that has a big selection of groceries, beauty products, homewares, small appliances, clothing and footwear (name brands too), electronics, tools, toys, baby items, and even a large section of furniture. We like to shop City Mall the best because it is the most organized and has great air conditioning! From the big intersection, follow the road (on the Costa Rica side) to the left for about 0.75 km and look for the big red building on the right with McDonald’s, shortly after Dollar Mall. 

 

Shopping at Paso Canoas Border
Inside City Mall

 

Jerusalem Mall – This is a more scattered, less organized version of City Mall. It has one main, more modern building, with several other, somewhat ramshackle, sections adjoining. Has most of the same things as City Mall, but everything is divided among the different buildings. There are several entrances. Vendors are set up outside the front of the buildings, making it hard to find where to go in. But if you go past the vendors, there is an interior sidewalk that goes by all the storefronts. To get to one of the biggest entrances, take the road to the left (Costa Rica side), walk about 0.5 km, and look for the large glass building with a sign for Jerusalem Duty Free.

Liquor Stores – There are several duty free liquor stores to the right of the big intersection. Follow the road and they will be on your left about 0.5 km up the road.

 

Shopping at Paso Canoas Border
Street view (right of big intersection)

 

Car Parts and Accessories – Similar location to the liquor stores, there are several car part suppliers to the right of the big intersection. They sell everything from brake pads to tires, roof racks to rims. Motor oil can be found at one of the malls if you don’t want to make a separate stop. Follow the road to the right (on the Costa Rica side) and they will be on your left about 0.5 km up the road.

Other Shops – On both sides of the intersection, there are a lot of smaller stores filling up every imaginable space. You can find sunglasses, cell phone accessories, clothes, kitchen stuff, and there is even a Crocs store tucked in.

Warning: If you have to cross the border around Black Friday or the weeks leading up to Christmas, build in some extra time. When we visited in early December, there were lines of traffic everywhere and all the hotels were completely sold out with holiday shoppers staying overnight.

Where to Stay and Eat

If you’re looking for a place to stay on the Costa Rica side of Paso Canoas, there are many choices, but they are all very simple budget options. We have stayed at Cabinas Romy, a small motel with about 20 clean rooms. It is very close to the big intersection but fairly quiet at night. Some of the rooms have A/C and cable TV and some do not. Private, secure parking. $30-$50.

Another hotel we have tried is Hotel Los Higuerones. This is a larger hotel set outside of the noisy border area (but still within a short walk). It has the feel of a ranch with nice landscaping and open lawns. The two-story hotel has 39 simple rooms (not much nicer than Cabinas Romy) with different bed setups. Private parking, A/C, hot water, and cable TV. $40-60.

As for where to eat, we have mostly explored options on the Costa Rica side as the restaurants are much more rustic on the Panama side. Of the many small sodas (locally run restaurants serving typical food), our favorite is Inter-Americano Bar and Restaurant. This is right near Cabinas Romy, a short walk from the big intersection on the Costa Rica side. They have consistently good casados (traditional plates with rice, beans, salads, and choice of meat/fish), and the service is always decent. If you’re looking to fulfill a fast-food craving, there is also a McDonald’s at the City Mall or Subway and Burger King near the Jerusalem Mall.

 

Crossing the Paso Canoas Border
Our favorite restaurant at the border (it looks nicer once you get inside!)

 

The Paso Canoas border crossing can be quite intimidating if you have never been. Hopefully this post helps guide you through the process and makes it a little less overwhelming.

Have you crossed the border at Paso Canoas lately? Help others by sharing your experience below. (Email subscribers, click here to post your comment online.)

Looking for more information to help you plan a border crossing? Check out these posts.

 

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78 Comments

  1. Very thorough as always, but a few things puzzle me:
    – If I were to visit Panama for several days and drove to the border, is there a long-term parking option other than paying 700×24 per day?
    – Why would I buy an *exit* stamp from the lady on the Panama side if I am entering Panama? Is that a typo?
    – Would Panama ask for a return ticket if you were a CR resident?

    Overall, sounds like a much bigger hassle than the first and only time we crossed at PC.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Casey, Here are some thoughts on your questions: (1) We don’t know of a lot that advertises long-term parking, but you know how it works here. You just need to do some negotiating. I’m sure you could get a much better rate for longer than one day.
      (2) It is an entry stamp, that was a typo.
      (3) Not sure if Panama would ask for a return ticket or not. I would think they would have a right to since you are not a Panamana resident, but we have not seen or heard about any specific rules related to this so aren’t sure.

      1. They absolutely will refuse you entry without a flight returning to a country of residence. Just happened 3 days ago to some fellow travelers with us. They had to buy a ticket to enter the country.

      2. I would like to know more about what is for sale in the shops at the border. I was thinking of TV’s & stands and decorating items for my home. Also, instead of parking my rental car can I drive it to the different shops for loading my purchases?

        1. Hi Susan, Yes, you can find all of those things at the border. City Mall is the most organized and has some of those things. It is also convenient because it has a parking lot. You will probably have to go to more than one store, though, to find everything that you need. The Jerusalem Mall is more spread out and doesn’t have parking. But you can easily take a cab back to your car for a couple of dollars.

          1. There are multiple parking lots across the street from the three bigger malls (Jerusalem, City and Dolar) on the CR side. The recommended parking spot is 800c/hr. The lots across the street from the malls are 500c/hr.

  2. Hi, Matt and Jenn!

    New expats here. Had to do our first Panama boarder run yesterday (3/7). We went with two neighbors (two of us had to renew our visas, and two went just for shopping). The first think our neighbor said was, “How did you find out about that parking lot.” The second, “How did you know where to pay your exit tax?” Thank you for making me feel like I knew what I was doing!! This blog post was perfect!

    Our report:
    1. Exiting Costa Rica was easy, as expected. Only about 10 people in line ahead of us on Tuesday morning. Later in the late morning/early afternoon, it was dead on both sides. Costa Rica had signs posted that their hours were 8AM-4PM with a break for lunch.

    2. I got a little nervous when I couldn’t find the stamp lady on the Panama side. But once we got in line a man approached us with the paper stamp ready. Don’t worry if you can’t find them, they’ll find you.

    3. Panama didn’t ask a single question. They just stamped us in. No proof of exiting, no proof of funds, but we were prepared for everything except the bus ticket (we were willing to risk going through the line again for that one) out of Panama. We did have our flights out of CR ready. We were a little surprised at how quite that entry went. Handed them our passports, scanned our fingerprints, smiled for the camera, and that was it. Not a single word exchanged. I think we probably just got lucky here.

    4. Since the entry didn’t specify an amount of time we had to stay, I went immediately to the exit line to ask. That officer stamped us out. I think we were in Panama for a total of 30 seconds.

    5. Overall, thanks to this writeup, everything went very smoothly. We went back and got stamped back into Costa Rica after lunch. The only thing they asked us for were proof of our flights out of Costa Rica (which were “conveniently” set for over 80 days). They gave us another 90 day stamp.

    A few things unrelated to the actual border crossing:
    1. On our way down our car AC went out (ahh!), and Paso Canoas is HOT! Across from El Dorado Duty Free is a yellow building that advertises AC repair. We figured we’d get a quick recharge while doing a bit of shopping. Turned out we had a cracked connector and a broken hose (which the guys showed us and explained). Our mechanics here in CR would likely have had to order the part, leaving us without AC for days or weeks! These guys BUILT a connector, and repaired the whole system. Their experience in AC repair was quite evident. Highly recommended if you need AC work and find yourself in Paso Canoas!

    2. As I said earlier, two of the people who went with us just went for shopping, and didn’t get stamped into Panama. We made the mistake of buying “almost” too much liquor. I admit with four of us in the car, each with “almost” the maximum “luggage” amount (5 liters), made the back of our car look pretty crazy. We got stopped once by a random checkpoint, and again at the Rio Claro stop. Both times the checks got a bit… heated. Both stops required a vehicle search, and a call to a supervisor, to get us cleared. Luckily, two of us HAD exited to Panama, and we each didn’t buy the full amount. If you don’t exit to Panama, it is illegal to bring even 1 liter back. The agent explained that if we wanted to do that, we had to go to Golfito, not Paso Canoas. With the Panama stamp, you can bring the 5 liters as “luggage” per person, but if you don’t speak enough Spanish to converse with the officers and explain that, or to remind them that there are four of you in the car, or if you didn’t actually exit to Panama, or if you catch the wrong person on the wrong day, or -most importantly- if you don’t want the hassle, I wouldn’t buy liquor in Paso Canoas. That definitely made for an “exciting” trip. Luckily for us, we had only what was possible to bring with two people having exited and didn’t have any confiscated, but it was touch-and-go there for quite a LONG while at both stops.

    1. Hi Rick, Thanks for the detailed report, I’m sure this will be very helpful to others. Glad the process went so smoothly and especially interesting that you got stamped in and back out of Panama like that. They stopped allowing that a while back so maybe you got lucky or maybe things are changing again. Good to know about bringing liquor back too. Sounds like someone spoke some Spanish to help smooth things over. Those check points can be stressful. Thanks again for sharing your experience!

      1. Consider yourself fortunate since I was required to show a bus ticket ($21) from David to San Jose. I was also told that if I didn’t get the ticket I’d have to “cancel” my exit from CR and that a re-entry stamp would only be good for 5 days.

        Also I was required to stay in Panama for three hours.

  3. We are coming to Costa Rica from David, Panama for the first time. We would like to rent a car in Costa Rica and spend a week or so sightseeing. Are there rental cars at the border? Or are there buses at the border to take further into Costa Rica and rent a car somewhere else for better rates and car options? Thanks for any help you can provide!

    1. Hi Debbie, I think there is an Alamo office at the border or you could use our Rental Car Discount and have Adobe deliver the car to you from their Uvita office. They charge a small fee but it might still be a better deal. Depending on where you plan to go, you could also take a bus to a town farther up the Pacific coast and then rent from there. Safe travels!

      1. That’s good advice! Ideally, we would like to take the Tracopa bus from David to Jaco’ and rent a car there to save mone. Do you know if we would be allowed off at Jaco’?

  4. Hi Jenn & Matt!

    Your site has been so helpful and informative – I really appreciate the amount of thought and detail you put into all of your writing.

    I will be visiting Costa Rica for the second time, and am planning to cross the border into Panama. I wondered if you knew what type of paperwork is required to bring a rental car across the boarder. Any information you have would be very helpful!

    Thank you,

    Mariel

    1. Hi Mariel, We could be wrong, but as far as we know, none of the rental car companies will let you take a car across the border. You could rent one in CR, drop it off at the border (we think Alamo has an office there), and then rent one on the Panama side after. Not sure what is available in Panama, but the city of David isn’t too far and has rental offices.

  5. So you’re writing books about living in Costa Rica and you’re not even legal residents? Nice! Just what Costa Rica needs, more freeloading perpetual tourists.

    1. Hi AJ, Actually we applied for residency about a year ago and are in the final stages of approval. We waited a couple of years to apply to make sure we knew we wanted to stay long-term, since most people don’t make it and leave within a year or two. And for the record, our books are about travel in Costa Rica, not living here.

      1. Bravo, I didn’t see how you all could of been “Freeloading”. No matter how much you do to help some folks, there will be those who instead of thanking you, will be disrespectful towards you!

        I would like to know if I’ll have trouble getting back into Panama. Thursday I plan to head to Costa Rica, to get my Passport stamped, so I can stay in Panama till April, without any hassle. I would like to know what regulation to quote the immigration office, for the American military exemption?

        A Colonel had to stand his ground, against the immigration person in Columbia. They finally did make the call, and found out the Colonel was correct. Any info you can give on that will be highly appreciated.
        I thank you all very much for being there for us!

        1. Hi Rooster, Thanks for your kind words. I’m sorry that we were not able to respond to your question in time for your border trip, but I don’t think we would have been much help anyway, unfortunately. We don’t know anything about the military exemption but that makes sense. Hope you weren’t given any trouble at the border!

  6. Border crossing by rental cars:
    Thank you for important information. But I would like to know more about travelling by rental car and crossing borders in Central America. We like this way to travel, even it’s more expensive, but we like privacy in the car and comfort. Flexibility what time to cross the border and not to meet and change cars. Carry bags, walk, maybe get wet because it’s raining to cross the border and have transfers is not up-to-date travelling when pay for a carrental. Crossing borders with a rented car, we could do in Asia, Orient, Africa, Europe and South America. Why is it not possible in Panama and Costa Rica? Those rental car companies are far away from offering what travelers like? Why they tell, because of a car could be stolen, when they have anyway GPS-Trackers in the cars? Insurance is something to arrange! We heard now it’s possible to travel with the same rental car in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. There might be a car rental company which allows Nicaragua and cross border to Costa Rica. When it’s possible in the other countries, why not Panama and Costa Rica. This would say, those two countries are more dangerous and cars get easy stolen? Is there any company, they rent out private cars? Because they can cross the border?

    1. Hi Nadia, It is definitely inconvenient not to be able to take a rental car across the Costa Rica-Panama border. There could very well be a company that allows it, but we don’t know of one. Not sure of the rationale for why it isn’t allowed for many companies. Let us know if you do find one that permits it, or perhaps, one company with offices in both countries that will deliver the car to the border, at least to help with the lack of convenience issue.

  7. Hi!
    First of all, congratulations on the website, VERY informative and useful!
    I’m travelling with a motorcycle accross South/Central/North America and do not have proof of onward travelling such as plane or bus tickets, only my motorcycle and my travel plans (I DO plan to exit Costa Rica and make my way through Central and North America).
    Do you foresee any kind of problems?
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Daniel, We know a couple of people who have done this and wrote about it on their blogs. One is the Long Way South (overland from Maine to S. America in a pickup truck) and the other is the Live It Right Dream (same but on motorcycles). I know the Live It Right Dream wrote about their experiences passing the Panama-Costa Rica border, so definitely check that out. Hope you have a great trip- sounds amazing!

  8. Hi. I need to buy a major appliance. Do you know if it would be cheaper at the Paso Canoas border or at a Golfito Duty Free store? Thanks.

    1. Hi Nick, Paso Canoas would probably be cheaper but keep in mind that because it’ll be such a big item you might have a hard time getting it back into CR if you don’t stay out of the country for 72 hrs. There’s a similar requirement in Golfito about getting a permit a certain amount of time in advance but you can pay people there for the permit without having to wait.

      1. I just bought a house in Playa Zancudo CR. I went to Paso Canoas and ended up buying furniture and a mattress at City Mall. I paid $100 to have about $1500 worth delivered right to my home. It’s well worth it since trying to sneak it into CR ourselves would have been really risky and difficult.

  9. Hi, thanks for the great info. I’ve been to Frontera (from Panama), and have had no issues visiting (not actually crossing into CR).
    I do have a question I hope you can help with. We have purchased a place in CR (we love it there!), and I am planning to drive to the ‘free trade’ shopping zone FROM CR. I do not plan to travel into Panama. As far as you know, is it possible to drive to City Mall (for example) from Costa Rica with a CR rental vehicle, and avoid the paperwork and border hassles?

    1. Hi Darren, As far as we know, you could do that. You don’t have to cross over into Panama to get to City Mall so you shouldn’t have to deal with any of the paperwork. But keep in mind that you will have to go through the various police checkpoints when you go back into Costa Rica, like at Rio Claro. Technically, we think you are supposed to have been out of the country to bring items back in duty free. Lots of people do this of course without having spent time in Panama but it’s something to be aware of.

    2. Hi Darren,
      We drove from Zancudo, CR to the border and parked for free along the street on the CR side of the street. From there you just walk across the street to any shop you want, including City Mall, which I would recommend as you can find anything there. It’s like most department stores in the States. We bought furniture and payed just $100 extra to have it brought to our house in Zancudo the next day. We were prepared to pay 15% as we were told by both an expat as well as the salesman at City Mall. They only charged us $100 to deliver $1500 worth and I’m not sure why it was less. Mistake? Anyway, we bought a bunch of other stuff which we just carried back to the car and drove home. They often have checkpoints in CR along the route back but we were never stopped. Many of the expats do this without being stopped. But, if you do get stopped, they may confiscate your stuff (unless you give them a $50 bribe/tax). I was also told that many expats plan their trip back between noon to 1 when the cops are on siesta.

  10. Hi guys,
    Thanks for all the great information.
    Quick question:
    About shopping, i need to buy a phone (smartphone samsung s4 or whatever), prices in CR are just crazy…also a hand watch and a big travel bag.
    You think i can find these items in the border zone? Good prices?
    Thank you,
    Mike

    1. Hi Mike, Yes, you’ll find good prices on watches and bags. We have never looked at phones, but when we have looked at other electronics like Go Pros and laptops, they were cheaper than CR but still expensive compared to what we were used in the US. Last time we needed a new phone, we bought an unlocked one on Ebay and had someone bring it down for us.

  11. I am wondering if anyone has taken a bus trip to David. We are making the run at end of next week. Friday and back Monday. We can either stay Paso Canoas but thought we may also go to David ………becasue we can. I t looks pretty, also looks like its on an estuary…..Any ideas would be great. I am worried about crossing as am always terrified of borders. We not planning on shopping, just a border run and love seeing new places.
    Many thanks for the photos,w e will get it all printed out to take with us

    1. Hi Angela, We have not been to David ourselves. It is supposed to be great for shopping. The mini buses for David and other points are right on the other side of the Panama border. Maybe others can chime in more. Hope your trip goes smoothly.

      1. Well back from David, stayed in Hostel Libertad in Pedrogal. It is right on the estuary and the water areas are all gated off so cant onto water unless you take a kayak or boat tour. Nearest beach is two buses away. The hostel was clean, nowhere to cook and no fridge and the room was so hot and stuffy, newly painted so for me was not good as have bad allergies. Also only one socket to spare in the room as the other one had fan plugged in. Wasnt comfortable
        David is not that great a city, if you are petite, plenty pretty clothes and by 8 pm, town is pretty much dead and buses stop running around 7.30pm then the taxis are all looking for rides. Taxis are not too expensive
        Yes the town can be cheap, Campeon, Piccadilly cheap, found local place and ate well.
        Buses run regularly but get jam packed and are cheap.
        Border crossing was a breeze, pay exit tax then get $1 stamp and exit Costa Rica, stayed out three days, to exit Panama, get cleared baggage then you get a token which allows customs to stamp you out. Costa Rica side get a stamp you are are in. For the bus, had to fill out a form but never used it and about 35 km out of Canoas on Costa side, bus was stopped by border police and 5 people were pulled off and the bus went on its way

  12. Thanks for the information. It has been 40 years since I traveled through Central America.

    Am visiting San Jose and am considering traveling to Bouquete, Panama, for several days afterward.

    If traveling via Tracopa bus San Jose – David, does each passenger have to go through this exit/immigration process on their own? I would guess so but is some process made easier for the commercial bus travel?

    Alternatively do you have any experience flying into Panama City ( the flights from San Jose to David mostly seem to take all day connecting through other cities, even Medellin ), and renting a car to drive to David and Bouquete, or possibly bus. I don’t mind spending time driving as you can learn a lot that way, and have driven in worse places than Central America.

    The most convenient, least hassle and time efficient way from San Jose to David/Boquete is what?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Bill, We haven’t taken the San Jose-David Tracopa bus ourselves so aren’t sure. We think that everyone does have to exit the bus and go through the process individually, though.

      We have flown from San Jose to Panama City, but I’m not sure it would make sense for accessing Boquete or David since they are quite far away. The San Jose-David bus is probably your best option. You could look at Tica Bus too. They run direct from San Jose to Panama City and stop less. They do make a few stops, though, but I’m not exactly sure where- maybe in David? Tica Bus does have a more streamlined border crossing process too.

  13. HI There,

    Anyone here has experience with over stay in Costa Rica?
    my Two kids and I over stayed about a week and planning tomorrow to Drive south to Panama.
    What about returning on the same day to CR? any suggestions?

  14. Hi Thanks for the article.
    Just moved to CR and bought a house in San Isidro de General.
    Our 90 day visa is up soon. Rather than the complicated CR- Panama-CR trip to get a new visa, can we just fly to say Miami and then back to SJO. Will they require a one way flight back out of CR?
    Also, is there anything in Golfito that you can’t find in Paso Canoas and are the prices about the same?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Bob, Sure, that would work. The only requirement is that you leave Costa Rica so a visit to the US is fine. They will most likely ask for a plane ticket showing that you will be exiting again in 90 days when you re-enter Costa Rica at the airport.

      We have only been to Golfito once, but thought that the prices were a little higher than at the border. The items they had were similar, but Golfito may have a better selection of appliances.

  15. Hi Matt & Jenn

    I will be doing a border run to Panama and was told that I could not reenter CR for 48 hours. I see others have exited and reentered almost immediatly. What is your experience?

    1. Hi Rick, There is a 72 hour customs rule, but that has nothing to do with coming and going to renew your visa. The amount of time you have to stay out of Panama is up to the discretion of the immigration official. The amount has changed over time. When we first started going to the border, we could check right in and out, then it changed to six hours, and I think last time we went, it was only a few hours. A lot of times they write in your passport stamp what time you can check back in. It can also vary person to person and depending on which immigration official you get.

  16. Hello again
    I too am undergoing residency
    and wonder if I need to show a ticket back out of CR at the border.
    I have my papers to show that I am waiting. I only want to be able to drive is why I am doing the run.

    1. Technically you are supposed to show Panama a plane ticket back to your home country. The last few times we have had to go to the border, we have told them that we applied for residency in Costa Rica and they didn’t make us show anything. We do always have a ticket, though, just in case.

  17. Thank you for this valuable post. We did the border crossing yesterday to renew our visas and your guide made the process simple and we knew right where to go.

    Here is an update with our experiences in January 2018. We went on a Sunday so not sure if that affects anything different from other days. We crossed with 2 adults, 2 seniors, and 4 children – ages 3-10.

    * We stayed at Hotel Los Higuerones and were pleased with the recommendation. We drove down on a Saturday and did crossing the next morning. Rooms were somewhat sparse but very clean and grounds were very nice. A little spendy but it satisfied some of the higher maintenance members of our party.
    *The longest line we waited in was for Exit Tax (Impuesta de Salida). It was almost 30 minutes and we thought this would bode poorly for the rest of the day, however, we never waited in another line after this. The store that sells the Impuesta also does other things like copies and some legal affairs. Most of the people in the line were there for other services. Several people came up and asked to cut in front of us as we got closer to the front, but we and the people behind us firmly told them, no, to wait in line like the rest of us.
    *Like I said, we did not have to wait in another line the entire day. We walked right up to each window and did our business easily and moved on – very pleasant and most likely this was due to being there on a Sunday. Several of the officers got a kick out of our kids and were making faces with them.
    *Panama immigration did not require an outbound bus ticket from Panama to Costa Rica. They looked at our email itinerary for our flight out of San Jose in 2.5 months and were happy with that. They also did not require any length of time in Panama. We could have turned right around and gone back to the exit, but we did want to do some shopping.
    *There was no one selling $1 stamps for entry into Panama and guard we asked said you did not need one. Not sure if due to Sunday or new normal.
    *There is a taxi stand right outside the immigration office in Panama. My father-in-law walks with a cane and so we took taxis to the City Mall. Fee was $2 each way and was worth it for us in the heat and with difficulty walking.
    *The Burger King at Jerusalem Mall has an indoor playground for kids which our kids were pleased to find a way to get their wiggles out. Saw one inside of City Mall as well.
    *Costa Rica immigration did not require any paper forms. Not sure if that is the norm or because of Sunday or some other reason. We walked right up to counter both on exit side and entrance side with no line and just handed them our passports and flight itinerary and they stamped us in and out.
    *Parking lot raised their price to 800 colones an hour. Not that big of difference, but thought I would update.

    Again thanks for the blog and especially this post.

  18. I did the crossing today at February 4, 2018. Got to the border at around 2:30pm and the lineup was not long (probably because they have the election today in Costa Rica). Anyway, I would just like to note a few things:

    – some people from our bus did NOT pay the $8 exit tax (probably they were not aware of it at all) and still got their passports stamped without any issues

    – I did NOT need to fill out any forms at the Costa Rica side. Since I paid the $8 exit tax I showed them the receipt anyway and they just stamped my passport

    – I also did NOT need to pay anything to enter Panama. We were given an immigration form to fill out and our bus driver (Trapaco bus company) helped us filled out the bus # information etc. After that we were asked to enter into a room and some border officers in uniform asked each us to open up our luggage for a quick check.

    – At the Panama side, they didn’t ask me for proof of finance, they didn’t really ask for my proof of onward travel but since I printed out my flight confirmation I showed them the page as well. No other questions were asked.

    – The lineup at both sides were short probably because 1) it was a Sunday afternoon and 2) Costa Rica had their presidential election today.

    Thanks so much for this detailed post. I was definitely nervous and your article helped me a lot today.

  19. We recently crossed at Paso Canoas on a Sunday. It was very easy and no lines. There was no one sitting collecting a $1. This article was very, very helpful. Also we did not have to show $500 or bank statements. There were 4 of us traveling and only one was asked to show proof of onward travel. We were asked where we would be going in Panama but that was about it. Plenty of taxis across the border to take you to David. My husband had to leave early for a family emergency and took the bus back to San Jose and also said it was very easy at Paso Canoas and that was on a Friday. Thank you for witting this article!

  20. Hi – this is very helpful. I am planning on driving to the border and parking the car long term – 3 days and taking the bus to David then on to Boquete. Has anyone found long term parking or would it make more sense to take a bus from Drake Bay, Costa Rica to the border?

    1. Hi Deb, If it’s only for 3 days, you should be able to negotiate a fair price with one of the lots. The people who own the one we mention in this post have always been very nice to us so you could start with them. Drake Bay doesn’t have buses so that wouldn’t be a good option. You could take a bus from somewhere like Golfito or Palmar but the parking should be very affordable.

  21. Hello. I just passed through Paso Canoas for a visa renewal on April 23, 2018. Thank you so much for all of this information, it was really helpful and I felt very prepared! I arrived to the border on a Tracopa bus, which dropped us off just 50 meters from the Costa Rica aduana (customs) office. Directly across the street from the aduana is the impuesto de salida (exit tax) office. I paid the exit tax (he said 8000 colones or $8 although I think that was some crazy mistake or miscommunication. I paid $8 USD). I walked to Costa Rica exit window and was stamped out after only showing my passport and the exit tax receipt – no questions. There was not one single other person in line. (It was a Monday at 130pm). Then a man trying to “help” me took me to the tracopa bus window telling me the exit bus ticket was required. I said thank you, gave him 500 colones to thank him and made clear I didn’t need his help any further as he attempted to walk with me all the way to the Panama office. (I’m wary of these folks at the border who assume you need assistance, particularly as a single female traveler, and I try not to encourage further interaction, although I have never had any issues.) I bought a return ticket, which I was told is an open ticket for any day that I wish to return (as I will need one next week on my return to Costa Rica). I walked to the Panama office and no one was in line. Again, completely empty. I didn’t have out all my paperwork yet since it all happened so quickly and there was no line to wait in, in which to prepare myself. I got to the window and asked if there was some stamp I needed for my passport. The officer said no. Another officer asked for my passport. He asked if I spoke spanish (in spanish) and I replied yes but I am still learning (in spanish). With that he smiled. I took off my hat to smile for my picture. Then one at a time placed my fingers – both hands – on their digital fingerprint system. He asked where I was going. I told him my locations. He stamped me into Panama without any further ado.
    No ticket, no bank statements or cash/credit cards, nothing. I even asked for directions to the bus to David and he gave with a smile.
    It was a great experience, super easy. I hope return to Costa Rica is the same.

    The whole place is over whelming and chaotic though. I walked around and shopped at Jeruselem and City Malls for an hour. One thing I didn’t know is that you have to check your bag into a little booth before going into most stores which really scared me given my bags had valuables, but it worked out fine. I would suggest adding the location of the malls on a map for this site. Even though they are closeby, the whole place can be intimidating and hard to determine which way to go. Also if you continue into David, there are small buses that take you for $2, and they are located just past the panama office, on the left side, after the road that will take you into the Jerusalem mall.

    1. Hi Emily, Wow, thanks for the detailed report. It is really helpful. It seems that the Panama side may not be requiring that $1 municipal stamp before you go up to the official anymore. We heard that from some friends recently too. That’s great that the Panama side was so pleasant. We found that can go either way depending on who you get. That’s a good idea about adding the locations for City Mall and Jerusalem Mall to our map. That whole area is really confusing. Thanks again for sharing your experience. Hope it goes as well on the crossing back into Costa Rica!

  22. Hello Jenn and Matt,

    your website was very helpful! We are going from Panama to Costa Rica (for three days – Corcovado) and want to leave the car in one of the parking lots for three nights. From what I read the best way would be to negotiate a price with one of the shops (maybe close to a police station) or is there a secure parking lot (by that I mean as secure as it can be)?

    Best,

    Matus

    1. Hi Matus, Since you will be coming from Panama, you’ll need to park on the Panama side. I’m sure there are lots but we don’t know of any specific options because we’ve only had to park on the CR side. Maybe someone else can chime in…

  23. Just wanted to mention that if you just want to shop in Paso Canoas you don’t have to get stamped in or out of either country. I have lived in Panama for 18 years and now have a Panamanian passport but as long as you stay in Paso Canoas you don’t have to show it. Since I live only an hour from the border I go to Paso Canoas every once in awhile to shop and I don’t need to officially enter Costa Rica.

  24. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    Thank you so much for this helpful article!

    I’ve been in Costa Rica for nearly three months and so have to do a border run in a couple of weeks. I’d like to come back the same day. I was just wondering if I have to buy a bus ticket out of Panama to show to the officials? Or would proof of flights out of Costa Rica suffice?

    Thank you!!
    Lily

    1. Hi Lily, It depends on who you get on the Panama side. We have been required to get a bus tickets before, but it was only once. Every other time we went (maybe 4-5 times), we didn’t have to. We have our residency now so don’t need to do border runs but you can scroll up to read other people’s comments to hear about their recent experiences.

  25. We are new to CR and have applied for residency. We do have to cross to Panama for visa renewal and I want to thank you for the detailed instructions (also the comments have been very instructive, so thanks to all your readers). I need new tires on my vehicle, but driving across sounds like a whole other ordeal. Any words of wisdom on that process? Also, we just wish to go for a few hours, I imagine one could get by the 72 hour customs requirement if all you picked up were tires and they were on the vehicle. Its a bit like the joke about the guy crossing the border with a wheel barrow of sand everyday which is searched. Finally they ask him if he sneaking anything across the border and he says wheel barrows.

    1. Hi Eric, As an FYI, while a lot of people do buy tires at the border, we’ve heard from our mechanic and others that the quality is not as good there. We got ours in San Isidro de El General for a good price and they’re good quality. Lots of other options too. We haven’t driven across but it is kind of a pain to have to get the permit and pay for the insurance, which is good for 30 days or so. If you’re just going for tires, we’d do what you said and just put them right on the vehicle. Funny about the wheel barrow joke…wheel barrows are expensive in Costa Rica!

  26. Thank you for your blog, really appreciate it a lot. I will need to do my border run soon and I have a dog. How easy is it to do so from CR to Panama and back? thank you

    1. Hi Yassmine, You should try to leave your dog at home for the border run. I guess you could leave him/her tied somewhere while you go stamp in and out, but if you bring the dog up to the counter, they will want you to have the paperwork to bring a dog into Panama. So best to avoid that.

  27. My trip from Costa Rica to Panama 2005
    I just have to enter this one into the journals. I wanted to get a little of what the local culture and lifestyle was like in Central America, well, I got a large dose of Tico reality last night and today as I tried to travel from Costa Rica to Panama. When I arrived at the bus station last night, there is this mild chaos that surrounds everyone from nuns to who knows what, trying to get checked on to get on the Tico Bus (they call it the Ticaboos). If you pronounce it any other way they won’t know what you are talking about. I also memorized the phrase, necesito parar en David Panama (I need to stop in David, Panama) which the bus driver didn’t have a clue about what I was saying because David is pronounced Dah Veed, not Day-Vid. Having ironed that out, and keeping a close watch on my backpack until it got loaded, because of the thieves that pretend that they are working for the Ticaboos are instead trying to move your bag to their car and disappear.
    Getting in my assigned seat and sitting next to a local woman for the next long 11 hours was an experience. The space between the seats on Southwest Airlines has nothing on the Ticaboos. I had a smaller day pack and my camera that I carried on with me and sat it on the floor and it took up
    any space that I thought that I might have had to put my feet, I felt like a newly packaged sardine.
    Now this is not just some cheesy bus, it had three small televisions mounted above the seats on the right side of the bus and everyone had their own volume control so you could listen to the Ice Age cartoon in
    Espanol. Well, my seat was directly under one of these TV’s so I had this light in my face all night and even though I thought that I would turn down the volume, the lady behind me was very old and had her volume turned up so crazy loud that the speaker was buzzing. I then thought that I could plug in my IPod
    and mask the sound, but didn’t work, plus, the air conditioner must have been broken because it was about two degrees over freezing in there…seriously. Everyone complained, at least everyone that could speak Spanish, complained, but it did no good.
    We haven’t even left the station yet and I was already full of all the experience that I wanted on the Ticaboos. I don’t know what the government of Costa Rica does with the hundreds of millions of dollars
    that we send them each year, but it sure isn’t into repairing their roads. I traveled 11 hours of pot holes and curves through the mountains with the beacon from the TV in my face and the lady in front of me had perfume on that was so strong, it made me sick. An hour or so into the trip and I didn’t know if I was going to make it but if the Ticos can do it, I’ll hang in there.
    I thought, what am I going to do to prevent from getting frost bite on the right side of my body where the air conditioner blew out the air? I was absolutely frozen and all of my clothes were under the bus and really only consisted of clothing that was for the equator during August, but I did remember bringing a pair of cut offs in my carry-on bag, so I pulled them out and put my arm in each leg hole to try and prevent from turning blue and getting frost bite. These Ticos have nothing on me, I’ll just be the crazy Gringo with his teeth chattering and wearing cut offs on his arms.
    I survive the night with leg cramps as we pull into Paso Canosa at the Panama border. Now I’ve read that out of all of the border crossings in Panama and everyone said that this one is the worst for disorganization and corruption in Panama. Before I tell you about trying to cross two third world borders with cut offs on my arms, there is no one, and I mean no one that speaks English, broken English, or
    English of any sort, so I am very anxious and defensive about everything that is going on.
    It was a bad omen when I stepped off from the bus and I was greeted by a junkyard dog with only three legs and there were at least 6 vultures circling over the Ticaboos. I swear that this is true. The whole bus has to empty out on the CR side and stand in line in the hot sun to fill out customs forms and get your passport stamped. Not bad, after 45 minutes standing by the side of this one chicken town, I thought that I was done. In reality, the fun had just begun. I started to head back to the bus but everyone else was walking down the street to who knows where? Some guy then starts rattling off instruction in Spanish (it might as well have been Russian for all I understood), and pointing to go down the street. At first I resisted because I had no clue who this guy was and his shirt didn’t say Policia, but he was very insistent. What the heck, do they just drop you off here and I have to get a different bus somewhere
    else? I had no clue.
    So this new guy now basically becomes my new partner and is leading me down the road. OK, at least he knows where I am supposed to go, right? The entire town is about 6 blocks long and looks like the bad section of Tijuana, Mexico. We go past the rooster in the intersection (true) and go to a rundown building where all of these people are standing. Some I recognize as people on the Ticaboos, so I figure that I am supposed to stand here also. Now there are Panamanians and Costa Ricans and hippies from all over
    Central America converging onto this one room shack, as I found out, it was the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the well-developed nation of Panama. Our DMV has nothing on these people.
    I also have to keep watching out for that three legged dog because he keeps following me for some reason. I think that everyone is looking for a free bone from me. Another guy, just standing on the side on this plywood shed, speaks to me in…. that’s right… Spanish and motions for me to go around back of this shack, but I don’t see anyone else going around back so I just stay in the line where everyone else is at, and he makes a comment to his buddies next to him about the Gringo and they both laugh. Up ahead, I can see a familiar skin tone with a large cream colored cowboy hat. The guy looks American but I can’t hear him talk until the guy that lead me down the street starts to shuffle him and me into a different line… a shorter line. Now that’s what I’m talking about. They finally realize that I’m American and I’m going to
    get special privileges. Not…. Special pick my pocket help maybe. So we stand in this new shorter line, for what purpose, I have no idea. Oh by the way, the cowboy is an older guy like me named Travis and is from Colorado. He just spent 4 years in Belize and has traveled the last 3 days by Ticaboos on his way to Panama City. He is meeting up there with friends who have a sailboat and they are heading to South America. Finally, someone who speaks English, but he can only speak a couple of words of Spanish. He
    says that the guy leading us around is showing us the place to go so he can get a tip. Fair enough with me.
    After standing in this shorter line, we are told that we need to buy a stamp and are quickly removed from our present position to go buy a stamp from some guy sitting on the sidewalk with a card table for our passport. One dollar later, fine, and I think that I’m done, just let me out of here. Then, the dude… we’ll call him Jose, leads us to another building a couple of blocks down the street and we
    have to fill out this customs form and pay $5 each for this guy to sign it… fine… just let me back on the Ticaboos… no. no. no… We’re not done yet. Jose’ takes us back to the plywood shack and we stand in the hot sun again with the peasant masses and the three legged dog in tow. It is now about another 90 minutes later as we stand in the same line again and hand over our passports with the $1 stamp and $5 customs paper. Travis and I are thinking that we are getting close to finishing when the guy in the booth starts rattling off orders and was pointing to my Ticaboos ticket to Panama City. Jose’ stepped in and basically said in the best broken English that I had heard yet, and said that we both needed a return ticket to get out of Panama before we could enter Panama. But I only needed one way because I
    am flying out of Panama City and not taking the bus back and Travis was catching a boat and going south. A Jamaican who over heard this reenactment of Babylon, spoke English and said that we have to buy a return ticket on the bus or we can go no further, even though we weren’t going to use it. Yep, we don’t want any riff-raft like us to stay in their country.
    Fine… if this is the last $25 I need to spend here, then just let me out of here! Well, to top it off, Cowboy Travis (he was a nice guy by theway), says that he didn’t have to do any of this in Hondurus, Guatamala, or Costa Rica and so he didn’t have the cash to buy a ticket and asked if I could loan him the money. Really, you just spent 4 years in Belize and you haven’t got $25? Who knows who was scamming who, but he seemed sincere and he would have been stranded in this one chicken town until he got rescued, so I gave him the money. Heaven forbid that I wouldn’t want to be stuck here either. So another $25 later and we stand in line for the last time…. So I thought.
    Customs still had to check everyone’s luggage. Since half of the entire one chicken town had taken so much personal time in trying to make my new visit to their country so pleasurable, I just breezed through the customs search, and finally… Back on the Ticaboos for another 90 minutes! I was never so thankful to get to Dah-Veed in my life. We’ll see what tomorrow brings as I travel by small, very small, boat to take a look at some islands in the Pacific Ocean. I should have filmed this soap opera. You
    wouldn’t have believed it. Pray for me…
    Panama Jack…

  28. Just finished our 3rd visa run to Paso Canoas today with 3 expat friends. We’ve been asked previously by Panama immigration for a bus ticket taking us to San Jose CR for our flight to home country. This time, I went online the evening before and purchased a fully refundable, one-way airline ticket from David Panama to my home country. Worked perfectly when stamping into Panama. So, if you are purchasing that bus ticket from Panama to San Jose merely to satisfy Panama immigration, save yourself a few bucks next time. BTW, I had another fully refundable airline ticket departing San Jose to home country (84 days out) for stamping back in to Costa Rica. Canceled both tickets within 24 hours.

      1. According to Panama’s immigration requirements, their officials at the Paso Canoas border *shouldn’t* say no to anyone who presents a one-way ticket out of Panama to home country within 90 days of entry. Tomorrow, I will be accompanying my wife to Paso Canoas so that she can renew her 90 day visa for C.R. We’re going to use the same process as I did last month – a one-way, refundable airline ticket from David –> home country. We’ll let you know how it goes.

  29. Yesterday, I accompanied my wife to Paso Canoas for her 90-day visa renewal. When stamping in to Panama, she was asked to produce evidence of return travel to home country. The prior evening she went online and purchased a one-way airline ticket from David–> home country which the Panama immigration official accepted without question. After stamping in to Panama she canceled the ticket online for a full refund. For those who have been spending $$ on bus tickets they will never use merely to satisfy Panama immigration requirements, you might want to give this a try.

  30. Hi Guys, I would need your kind advice on getting yellow fever vaccination or not if we are traveling to Panama from Costa Rica ( we read different comments on the blogs and hard to decide…), in Panama we would go to Boquete, Santa Catalina, San Blas and Panama City.
    Thanks for your advices in advance!
    Julia

    1. Hi Julia, When we traveled to Panama a few years ago, we did not get the yellow fever vaccine. Not sure what the current recommendation is but you could check the CDC website. You definitely don’t need it for Costa Rica.

  31. We will have 4 adults heading from Puerto Jimenez to Bocas del Toro and wanting to do it in one day ( most likely a Sunday) so looking at getting an early ferry to Golfito, then maybe taxi to the border. Rather than try to get bus connections to get us to Almirante before the last boat to Bocas, do you know whether you can pick up a rental car to do that trip from the border and drop it at Almirante the same day? If not, maybe a pre-booked transfer or bus connection so we know we’ll arrive in Bocas to start our pre-paid accommodation? Thansk for all your great info here!

    1. Hi Lyndie, That’s going to be a tough trip to do in one day. There’s not going to be a rental car office in Almirante. You’d be better off just having a taxi take you to Almirante. It’s a long drive but taxis are much cheaper in Panama than in Costa Rica. But not sure if you could get from Puerto Jimenez all the way there in one day. You might be better off staying overnight at the border, then getting an early start to Almirante. You could take the buses then too.

  32. So I’ve gone back and forth twice now from Costa Rica to Panama and back again. The process is very easy and much less intimidating than it looks.

    From Costa Rica you’ll need to go to the Impuesto building across the street from the CR Immigration office (as shown on the very useful map). The fee as of August 2018 is still $8 US. Once this is done, take your passport and the receipt they give you to the Immigration “Salida” line. It’s simple, they’ll look at the passport and ensure you’re legally able to be IN Costa Rica to begin with, check the receipt and stamp you out. There is no longer any form that needs to be filled out….just your passport and the receipt.. That’s it…easy peasy.

    Once on the Panama side, you’ll first come to a customs counter that deals with automobiles. Unless you’re parking an auto or trying to cross the border with one, I’d just walk past it (twice now I’ve stumbled into it thinking it was the right place to get “stamped in”…but it’s not…keep on walking. ) The next major section is the right one and you simply walk up to the “Entrada” line. You will need two things: your passport with a recent “stamp out” from the CR side and proof that you will be leaving Panama within the required time period….I’ve always been asked for this and just hand it to them with my passport. Several people mention buying bus tickets. However I learned another trick from fellow travelers. Go online and “purchase” a plane ticket on Panama’s Copa Airlines. They have flights from Panama City and David back to San Jose. Now here’s the catch: they allow you to reserve flights and print out the reservation but you don’t have to pay for 24 hours. So of course you don’t pay, you just print up the reservation and it looks like an authentic flight reservation leaving the country and you haven’t lost a cent. This has passed immigration twice now for me and i’ll be using it a third time on Sunday. They sometimes ask me where I’m going both when entering Panama and when entering Costa Rica (I have yet to be asked for proof that I’m leaving Costa Rica within the 90 day period but I’m ready for it if asked so for this part you may need a bus ticket but I haven’t so far.). No one has ever asked me for proof of cash or credit card.

    Also there are many many people hawking information and taxis that will gladly lead you in the right direction for a small tip. There are also immigration officials on both sides of the border who will gladly point you in the right direction for free. Personally if I’m staying for a short time in Costa Rica, I just rent a car from Alamo/National which is a short walking distance from the border and right next door to the Interamericana Cafe on the CR side, then return it when I return to Panama. (Note that I’m doing it this way because I’m taking week long immersive Spanish lessons in Boquete but I return back to CR on the weekends).

    The interesting thing I discovered is that there is nothing physically stopping you from either driving or walking past the border in either direction. There is passport control stations on either side of the border several miles down the road that may or may not check it. As a gringo I’ve had mine checked every time on the Panama side but have been allowed through without checking on the Costa Rica side almost every time….I would not count on this though.

    I was very intimidated at the prospect of this process but it was much easier than I ever imagined. Now it’s second nature.

    The bus system is easy on the Panama side. Walk to until you see an obvious bus depot. There will be busses of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Almost all of the are going to David. Each bus has a 2 man team working it : a driver and a “handler”. The handler is constantly hawking for people to get onboard THAT bus and they will do so the entire trip to David. HE will let you know for sure if the bus you are on is the right one as he desperately wants your business. Once at the central bus stop in David, the handler will collect your bus fare…approximately $3. From there it’s up to you, another bus will take you to Boquete for about $2 using the exact same system (driver and handler): the handler will ensure you do not get on the wrong bus.

    If you just want to hang out in David, I recommend the Hotel Nacional: the rooms are small but clean and well maintained. Breakfast and free WiFi are included and there is also a cinema right next door with current films (some in Spanish so pay attention). The staff doesn’t speak a lot of English but google translate and a little Spanish will get your thru.

    Good luck, it’s much easier than it at first seems.

    1. Hi, by ‘printing out’ the plane reservation how is this done? Is there a printing office there or does a pdf on a phone screen suffice?

      1. The pdf will suffice!!! I’m old fashion, so still like to print everything up, but I’ve used images from my laptop before and it worked fine.

  33. Hey…Just did a boarder run…. this is what happened!
    Went to Panama ~ A REAL “SHIT HOLE!” We were met at the exit of the bus In Paso Canoas by an Bi lingual Honduran, he told Us he would take Us through the process… we went to the tax office to pay the departure tax, The Guy there printed Us United Airline fake Itinerary then to the Costa Rican Immigration stamped Us., Then we went to Panama Immigration for entering and exiting stamps. Back at the Costa Rican Entry~
    The Costa Rican Official that printed Us a United Airline fake Itinerary, the CR. Immigration police held Us there for a hour… intimidating Us Into signing a waver that we couldn’t pass that boarder Into Costa Rica, and during the interrogation threaten jail, prison, Then the Costa Rican Police walked Us back to Panama Immigration and they voided our exit stamp! The only way we can get out of here Is through David Panama on a flight to San Jose! we made flight reservations for 6 tonight…really not knowing if we will be able to enter back Into Costa Rica!
    The Honduran hustler told Us he and that Costa Rican Officcial do the paper prints all the time with no problem
    IT WAS A HUGE PROBLEM! WE COMMITTED FRAUD!
    Thank God this morning I went back to the Costa Rican Immigration to explain to a new official what happened…He gave Us permission to go through that boarder….once we had the exit stamp from Panama…TG we got the stamp…and took the 12:45 Bus to Quepos where James live…Back living “Pura Vida”

  34. We did the border crossing from Costa Rica into Panama and back earlier this week, and your directions and advice were very helpful – thank you. A couple things I would add: we had to remain in Panama a minimum of three hours; the Panamanian officials would not let us return any earlier. Also, we hadn’t fully appreciated the discretion of the CR officials to issue a visa for periods of less than three months, and that the return date on one’s airline ticket may influence the length of the visa. A woman ahead of us in the line got a four-day visa because of her airline ticket date. We therefore spent an excruciating hour on the phone changing our tickets before we went into the CR entrada line. Sure enough, the date on our new tickets enabled us to get the three month visa. Something to be attentive to, for others doing this jaunt.

  35. Crossed the border at Paso Canoas at 7:30 am on Feb. 6. Thanks to your information and map it was easy peasy. Arrived from Puerto Jimenez by boat and collective taxi via Golfito. Paid exit tax of 8 dollars. Filled out form at CR immigration and there was no line up to exit. The traffic was light so we had breakfast and a bathroom break. Found a pharmacy and the cash machine thanks to your map and Google. Panama immigration was a breeze because I had all the copies listed in your post: airline ticket, passports, bank statement. Once picture and finger prints were taken. No one dollar stamp. We asked for custom forms. The English version was up by the Customs window. An agent double checked everything while we were still in line. Breezed through baggage check. Whole deal including breakfast took about 1 and half hours. Hopped on a collectivo bus and for 2 dollars were on our way to David.

  36. My wife and I crossed into Panama on March 26th and came back to Costa Rica today, March 28, 2019. Very easy process – after paying the exit tax in Costa Rica, we crossed the highway to the immigration office, got in the Salida line (very short) presented our passports and the tax receipt and were stamped out. We didn’t see any forms being filled out, and the immigration officer didn’t ask for one. Going into Panama was easy as well. Presented our passports, showed the person a print out of our flight reservation back to the US from San Jose, had our pictures taken and fingerprints recorded and that was it. On the way back, presented our passports, repeated the fingerprint and photo routine, and were stamped out. Costa Rican immigration was similarly easy, presented our passports, told the agent where we were going to be staying and for how long, and were stamped in with a new 90 day visa. No muss, no fuss, easy as pie. Don’t know if the fact that we are both somewhat long in the tooth and speak reasonably good Spanish had anything to do with it, but it was very smooth and hassle free. Your description of Paso Canoas and directions of where to go were very helpful. Thanks. We parked at the lot you recommended, and the rate was 8 mil colones per 24 hours which seems pretty reasonable to us. Thanks again.

  37. Went through this morning at 7:30. We were the only ones. Exit tax is now $9. Went straight to the Panama migration office ( no $1 stamp). My Salvadoran friend had to show $500 and we did have to get return bus tickets even though he had an air ticket from San Jose and I had my truck parked in the lot (6000 colones per day). The bus ticket is open ended, so we will give them away when we return. I have Costa Rican residency. After seeing my resident card, they stamped my passport without questions and we were off. The form is next and a bit long, but the people were very helpful. Taxi to David. The driver clearly said $25 but charged us $35 when we got there. So repeat the price just to clarify. Otherwise an easy experience and the directions given here are very good. Thank you.

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