You must pay in cash (Seaboard Marine from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia was $1100 for me in 2007 from the Panama side, another $230 on the Colombian side.)
What I recommend:
Go with Seaboard Marine. They’re inexpensive, very professional, have a ship going to Cartagena every week, send you electronic Bill of Lading via email, have offices right on the port on both Cristobal, Panama and Cartagena, Colombia. A ship leaves for Cartagena every Friday or Saturday (you should confirm this with a phone call). Getting a Bill of Lading via email means that you can fly out of Panama on the same day you put your car in the container. Plus, everyone in the ports knows about Seaboard Marine.
Follow these Steps:
First, find a shipping company. They’ll give you time and date of when the ship will be leaving, the name of the ship, and when it’s due to arrive in Colombia. They’ll give you a preliminary “Bill of Lading.”
Make 5 copies of the preliminary “Bill of Lading,” your Panama Vehicle Permit, your Passport with your picture on it, and your passport with the Panamanian stamps on them.
PTJ (Policia Tecnical Judicial). First, go to the Inspection office. It’s the blue shack across the highway from the main PTJ office. This is where you’ll turn in some of your copies of vehicle documentations. They’ll do an inspection of your vehicle and respective paperwork, and tell you to turn a copy into the Main PTJ Office.
MAIN PTJ OFFICE. Jaywalk across the highwayand turn in your paperwork. They’ll give you a piece of paper saying that you now have 7 days to get your car out of the country. Obviously, if something happens with the shipping company and you’re not able to make those 7 days, you will need to do this whole procedure over again. Here’s where the preliminary “Bill of Lading” is imperative. They’ll ask you for a copy of it. Secretary General will sign off the final paperwork.
ADUANA (Customs). Go to the Aduana to get your VEHILCLE exit stamp for your car, indicating that you’re now authorized to leave the country without your vehicle. Do this or you will get be turned around at the airport. You’ll get your own personal exit stamp when you leave the country at the airport.
If I knew all of this, I would have:
1. Gone to Seaboard Marine (in Panama City or Colon) on Monday morning to schedule the shipment of the car to Cartagena, Colombia.
2. On that same day, go to PTJ in Ancon (Panama City) with the preliminary shipment papers to get my car inspected.
3. Spend Tuesday visiting both Miraflores Locks and Gatun Locks.
4. Put car in container on Wednesday. This takes about 2-3 hours.
5. Fly out on that same afternoon to Cartagena. Take a $4 taxi ride to the ‘Old City’ or Cartagena, and ask the driver to take me to a cheap Hostal.
I got my car insurance from for about $25. Go with the form provided by DIAN (Temporary Importation of Tourist Vehicle) and they’ll give you an insurance policy based on the amount of days it says on the paper (60 days).