Borders and Papers

Border Crossing and Document Information 2013-2014

Borders can seem daunting at first and while they can be chaotic and often eat up most of a day to complete, most are pretty straightforward and the workers will direct you to the next step. If you speak okay Spanish, you will likely be fine on your own, if not, you can negotiate to get a helper for around $5 most places. Some tips to make your border experience better: -BRING PENS! Some borders do not have them available and the officials will literally refuse to let you use theirs. -Driving out of the way to get to a smaller, lesser used crossing is often worthwhile. You wont be bombarded by helpers and vendors and you are less likely to be scammed. -Most borders don’t have ATMs anywhere nearby, they want you to support the money changers. -Know the exchange rates before you arrive so you can haggle for a reasonable rate with money changers. Get the USD>Local conversion as well as the conversion from the country you are exiting to the one you are entering. -Always carry a secret stash of US Dollars in case you didn’t bring enough local currency, most money changers will accept them. If you run out of cash after you’ve exited one country, but before you’ve entered the next, you may get stuck in the border zone! -MOST IMPORTANTLY-Manage your expectations. Don’t make plans to get to a city hundreds of miles inside the country (or even 100). Crossing a border is an achievement, so just plan on making it The Thing You Are Doing That Day. Bring a good book or practice your Spanish with other people hanging out. Getting stressed/angry/impatient will not make anyone help you faster (likely the opposite), so do your best to stay positive and patient.

Your Documents

-Passport -License -Registration -Title Scan FRONT and BACK of all of your documents and email them to yourself in case of emergencies. Whenever you receive a new important document, photograph both sides and email to yourself when you can. This way, if anything bad happens, you have all the important numbers and proof that you had the documents. Carry originals in a safe place and several photocopies of each (copies are expensive at the borders). A Possessory Title will likely be problematic at the borders, as well as anything that doesn’t look like the standard vehicle title. The vehicle should be in your name. I have heard of people traveling with a notarized letter from the owner, but a friend tried it recently and was turned away.

USA to Mexico – California – Tijuana

It is very easy to just drive through the border without getting any documents, however, make sure you stop and get the proper documents or you will have problems later. Insurance -Insurance is REQUIRED in Mexico and is much cheaper purchased online than at the border. If you have AAA, they have good rates. -Traveling without insurance is a gamble. We were never asked to show ours, at borders, ferries or checkpoints, but if you are in an accident you will be arrested and jailed. Tourist Card -Must stop at Migracion to buy $25 Tourist Card -You CANNOT buy this further down Baja, you MUST purchase it at the border -This is required if you are in Mexico more than 72 hours. Expect to be hassled by the police and fined if you are caught without one over the limit. -If your card is lost or stolen, expect to spend a day at Migracion filling out reports and doing A LOT of waiting. Bring a translator if you have poor Spanish skills, the forms and procedures are confusing. You will need to pay $25 for the replacement. Temporary Vehicle Import Permit -You do not need a TVIP for Baja or the border zones (about 16 miles from border), but you DO need it for most of mainland Mexico. You can either drive a bit out of your way to the Banjercito (Bank) to get one at the Tijuana border, or get one in La Paz (Pichilingue) before getting on the ferry. For mainland you will need the TVIP at the border. -The permit costs 48.84 PLUS a guaranteed deposit which is returned to you upon exiting the country. The amount depends on the year of your vehicle, it doesn’t matter if you have a tiny cheapo 150cc bike, a big GS or a car.

  • 2007 and newer models, USD $400.00 deposit required
  • 2001 – 2006 models, USD $300.00 deposit required
  • models previous to 2000, USD $200.00 deposit required

-You may only have one TVIP in your name at a time, which has been a problem for people trying to bring motorcycles in on the back of RVs. -If you pay cash you will get cash upon exiting. If you use a card, you will see it credited back within a few days. Andrea’s card was stolen, but they happily credited it back to my card instead without issue. -Andrea’s TVIP was also stolen, but we returned to the Banjercito where we purchased it and they gave us a receipt which was sufficient proof for the ferry, exiting and getting the deposit back. Ferries from Baja to Mainland

Mexico to Guatemala – Ciudad Cuautemoc

(We highly recommend this border!) $2 (12Q) Fumigation $20 (160Q) Vehicle Import Fee No Other Fees

Guatemala to Honduras – Copan Ruinas

(We highly recommend this border! Very few vehicles crossing, very laid back) -Asked for FAKE 10Q Exit Fee after we’d been stamped out, walked away without paying, no problems. -Better exchange rate for Lempiras(L) on Honduran side. -$34.47 (680.75L) Vehicle Import Fee

Honduras to Nicaragua – Las Manos

(Worst border we encountered in terms of being bombarded by helpers and people demanding fees…however still probably better than the alternatives.) -$3.70 (70L) Exit Fee -2L for copies of import documents -$12 (620 Cordoba) Entrance Fee -$12 (620C) Insurance

Nicaragua to Costa Rica – Peñas Blancas

-$2 Exit fee for Nicaragua -Lots of waiting around on the Costa Rica side -No entry fees or import fees for the bike -Mandatory insurance is $25 and good for one month. -Has one extra step where you take all your papers to a final office for check out.

Costa Rica to Panama – Sixaola

(We Highly Recommend this crossing! VERY laid back, almost no one there. The workers are REALLY bad at their jobs however, so it takes MUCH longer than it should…but at least it’s a low stress environment!) -Panama uses US Dollars interchangeably with the Panamanian Balboa, they are pegged so the exchange rate is always $1-1B -$3 Tax -$25 Insurance -No fees at Aduana -No Fees at Migracion -Final step where you return to the original office and they look at your documents and then let you go.

Renewing your Panama Paperwork

Migracion in Panama gives you 6 months.  However, Aduana (Customs) only gives you 1 month for your bike.  This means if you want to stay longer than 30 days with your bike in Panama, you need to renew your insurance first – via Seguros FedPa – make sure you go to the FedPa specific to motorcycles!  Then you’re going to want to go looking around Panama City a day or two before your paperwork expires.  The offices are not easy to find and the city is fond of one way streets.  If you’re late, you *might* have to pay a possible $250 fine, but you might not.  It really depends whose at the office when you happen to get there.  **For the Renewal, you need 2 copies of each of the following:  license, title, insurance, passport and importation document.  Make these copies in advance!  Each copy at the office is 25 cents.  You also need to hand write a ridiculous letter to ask permission for your bike to remain in Panama for another 30 days.  The guy will probably make fun of you as he dictates the over the top official document:

(Ask them who to make the letter out to)

Solicito permiso para una prorroga de 30 dias para permanecer en Panama.  Yo ingrese por (where you crossed the border) el dia (the date) con permiso # (the number they give you on the aduana paperwork, starts with #PE).  

Muchas gracias,

(Your Name)

(Your Signature)

Pasaporte # (Your Passport number)

Boats From Panama to Colombia

There are a few main options to get you and your bike around the Darien Gap, unfortunately they range from extremely expensive to extremely uncomfortable…and sometimes both!


The cheapest choice is to hire a series of lanchas (small speed boats) from Carti. Slather yourself in sunscreen and hold on to your hat because you will be straddling your bike, in full sun as you bounce over the waves for several hours. Typically you take one lancha from Carti to Capurgana and another to Turbo. Sometimes you won’t be able to make a connection for several days, but this way is still probably the fastest and rates depend on how hard you negotiate, how full the boats are and how big your bike is.  If your bike is very large, this may not be an option or at least a very bad idea. Expect to pay $200-$350 for you and your bike.


You can ship your bike by freight ship or plane, but you have to crate it and then fly yourself. Expect to pay about $1000-$1500 for this option.

Sailboat (Velero)

This is the one we used! Some boats sail from Carti, many from Portobelo. They are all pretty price set at $550/person and $550/bike, you can usually knock a bit off by booking directly throught the captains. If someone in town takes you to meet the Captains, you will not get a discount because they will expect a finders fee! We sailed with the Luka and were really happy with our choice. Captain Bea runs a good operation, everything went smoothly and she’s a fantastic cook! We’ve heard a lot of horror stories about boats breaking down, running out of food and/or water, so ask around and choose your ship wisely! If you’re going to pay that much, at least make it good. 🙂 The nice thing about taking one of these sailing trips is you get to see the extremely beautiful San Blas Islands. Please note that right before our voyage, they changes the law so you can no longer bring motorcycles on sailboats, but we went anyway and had zero problems in customs. Hopefully they keep not enforcing it!


You may hear rumors about the San Blas Ferry. People will tell you they’ve seen it and they probably have, because it’s been sitting in the bay at Portobelo for months! Some people optimistically say it will be up and running soon, others say the owner has made enemies and the boat will be wrapped up in red tape forever…so don’t count on this method!

Cartagena – Colombia

Go to Migracion and get your passport stamped, we went with the Captain, if you use lanchas of shipping, I’m unsure how that works. We didn’t have to pay any fees as they were included in our trip. Unload your bike (you MUST have it for Aduana, despite whatever the Captain may tell you. Drive to Aduana and wait around. Eventually people will walk outside with a clipboard and check your VIN number, and make you a paper. You should not have to pay any fees.

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