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Formalities with the Panamanian Authorities

by 31 Jan 10:14 UTC
Vessels passing through the Panama Canal will benefit from a wide range of shipping services provided by GAC Group's latest office to open, GAC Panama © GAC Pindar

Formalities with the Panamanian Authorities (clearing in and out, immigration etc.) are separate from formalities with the Panama Canal Authority for a Canal Transit.

Noonsite always states the official laws and regulations for clearance formalities. However, in practice many port authorities in Panama operate differently from each other and cruisers may well find they obtain different clearance conditions to those stated. See the adjacent reports and news for the latest information from cruisers.

Panama arrival formalities

Note: Arriving yachts have 72 hours after arrival in Panama waters to clear in with Immigration and the Port Captain. Be sure to check-in with all authorities as soon as you land in Panama and not later than 72 hours. Cruisers have reported fines of US$1000 each for not having an arrival stamp in their passports.

Advance Notification:

There is a law requiring the pre-registration of visiting vessels. Details about the yacht and its crew are to be sent to the Authorities (AMP) at least 48 hours before arrival at any Panamanian port. This information may be sent by email or by filling in the on-line form. The on-line form is available at AMP website.

In practice many authorities are not aware of the advance notification mandate and therefore it is not enforced in all ports. There does not appear to be problems for any boats that have not done so.

General process

Clearance is typically completed ashore at the respective offices. When the captain goes ashore to complete clearance procedures, all others must remain on board until clearance is complete.

Note that in both Balboa and Cristobal (Colon), arriving yachts may be boarded by Panamanian officials. At Cristobal they may complete all the initial clearance formalities. Cruisers report that the Cristobal Authorities are by far the most strict and "by the book" in all of Panama.

Port Captain's Office: To obtain a "Declaration General" and a "Permiso de Navegacion" (Cruising Permit) which is required by all foreign vessels sailing in Panamanian waters. You will need to surrender the original International Zarpe from your previous port of call and provide copies of your crew list, crew passports and vessel documentation.

Immigration Office: All crew must obtain a tourist visa (and be finger-printed). Be aware some offices (Linton, Balboa Yacht Club and Flamenco Island) are considered branch offices and only provide 72 hour entry visas. You will need to follow-up with a main office for a 90-180 day tourist visa.

Customs and the Port Authority:

Yachts arriving from the Caribbean/South America:

Vessels entering or leaving Panama on the Caribbean side can do so in Puerto Lindo, Colon or Portobelo. However if you go to Portobelo you will need to go to Colon to buy your Cruising Permit - and - if you check in at Puerto Lindo you will need to go to Portobelo to get your visa from Immigration (short bus ride).

It is possible to check in with Immigration at offices at Puerto Obaldia, at the far eastern end of Guna Yala (San Blas) or Porvenir (now called Gaigirgordub) at the western end, however from Gaigirgordub you will then need to go to Puerto Lindo or Colon within 72 hours to get your cruising permit.

If arriving in the Guna Yala first, it is not advisable to take the SUV's from Carti in Guna Yala to Panama City or to Colon to clear in, as you will pass through police check points who will give you a hefty fine (or even arrest you) if you have not already visited an immigration office and had your passport stamped.

Possibly the current simplest solution to clearing into Panama for cruising the Guna Yala is to go to Linton (Puerto Lindo) to get the cruising permit, then take a bus to Portobelo for Immigration to stamp your passports, then sail to Guna Yala and get the Kuna permit at Porvenir.

It is recommended to have the Guna Yala listed on your exit zarpe from your previous port (e.g. Colon via Guna Yala).

Yachts arriving from the Pacific:

Flamenco Signal Station should be contacted on VHF Channels 12 or 16 when moving across or through the marked canal channel. Flamenco Signal may or may not respond.

Visit the branch Immigration offices at either Balboa Yacht Club or Flamenco Island (on the second floor of the building which houses the Duty Free Store) for the 72 hour entry visa (*see below for more info). You will need to also provide copies of your International Zarpe, crew list and passports. Plan to follow-up with the appropriate immigration office for the tourist visa

Go to the Port Captain's office on Flamenco Island (also above the Duty Free Store) to obtain a "Declaration General" and your Cruising Permit. You will need to surrender the original International Zarpe from your previous port of call and provide copies of the crew list, crew passports and vessel documentation.

*The 72 hour visa is intended for commercial vessels transiting the Panama Canal, which most do within 72 hours. In this situation no navigation permit or tourist visas are required. Some yachts using agents have been able use the 72 hour visa (when the vessel has transited previously, is preregistered with the Canal and ready to transit on arrival) but most yachts will require both a cruising permit and tourist visas for all crew.

Panama departure formalities

Domestic Clearance

When sailing from one district to another in Panama (e.g. San Blas to Colon or Colon to Balboa - via the Canal - etc.) it is necessary to clear in and out between Panamanian ports where there is a Port Captain's office. You will need to check out with the Port Captain and obtain a Domestic Zarpe for the next port. On arrival, report in to the Port Captain's Office at no cost. Take with you a copy of your Cruising Permit, a printed crew list and a copy of the boat's registration document - just in case this is asked for.

If employing an agent, it is helpful for them to be present during any inspection or official visit.

International Clearance

Port Captain Office: Take your original Cruising Permit, with a crew list and copies of crew passports. Here you will pay for your international Zarpe.

Immigration Office: Have your passports stamped for exit. Immigration will require a copy of all passports, the crew list and Zarpe.

Officially, the day you check out of Panama for another country is the day you should depart. It is however common practice for boats on the Pacific side of Panama for example, to stop in Las Perlas for a day or two on their way westward with no problems reported to date. Boarding by officials is rare but you may incur a fine of up to $500 if you linger and are boarded.

Note: Should there be adverse sea conditions on the day of your departure, the Autoridad Maritima de Panama may issue a maritime warning and not issue zarpes to boats wishing to depart that day.

Read the full article here.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of

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