Sunday, September 2, 2012

Shipping Across the Darien Gap Colombia

Warning: This is another post about logistics. This will not be interesting to you unless you are doing this trip as well. This is the third in the series, start with the summary and then read Panama.

We arrived in Cartagena on Thursday August 23rd, our boat with the container was supposed to leave the 21st, arrive the 22nd, so perfect, right? Except, when we called Seaboard and Barwil they told us the boat wasn't arriving til Saturday. They of course never thought to call and tell us this. Luckily we could track the boat online. We wanted to start the process as soon as possible, but the boat did not start moving til Friday afternoon. We called Seaboard and they are not open on the weekend, so we had to wait til Monday to get the Bill of Lading from them (which is necessary to start the car import process). So not only did their boat leave almost a week late and they didn't inform us, they also were not very helpful in the process and made us wait in Cartagena until the next week.

Note: Lots of people seem to hire an agent for this process, we did not. It costs about $175 dollars to do so.  Most people in the offices speak no English, so if you don't speak Spanish, this process could be very difficult. People tend to be friendly and helpful, so if you are confused, ask someone.

To start the process you must get the Bill of Lading. For us (since we shipped with Seaboard Marine) this meant going to the Muelles de Bosque port at 8am. The Seaboard office is to the left of the entrance (note you don't need to go into the port to do this, they have a window outside). They had it mostly ready when we got there. We had heard from others that if you got all your paperwork done before 1030am, you could get your car the same day. We rushed over to the Manga port where the DIAN (Aduana) is to get our car import form and schedule our inspection. Note that you need to go to the North side of the port (the taxi drives seem to know where the DIAN office is). When we got there the woman took our paperwork (which involves a copy of your passport, passport stamp, title, cancellation form from Panama, and bill of lading), but informed us we couldn't get our car inspected til the next day at 8am. It was only 9am at this point, but she said no way, even after much arguing. At this point, there was nothing to do except spend another hot day in Cartagena.

The next day at about quarter to 8, we showed up at the Muelles de Bosque port again. This step involves getting someone to open your container and getting an invoice. This happens at the document office. You need to surrender your passport at the gate to go in. When we went to the desk, the woman seemed confused by our Bill of Lading and asked if Seaboard marine had put other things in our container??? This was not the case. BUT, Seaboard Marine did screw us a third time, they had not informed the port that our container needed to be moved, so it was not in fact in the inspection area. This could not actually be done til 2pm, since it had not been scheduled the day before. At this point, it turned out the magical inspector (who is supposed to be at the Muelles de Bosque port from 8-2) had already left, it was only 930am. They were also confused at the port who was supposed to pay for the unstuffing of our container. Luckily, we had a detailed receipt from Barwil that we showed them, at that point they were able to send an invoice to Seaboard Marine, but this took almost three hours to go through their system.

There was a woman that worked in the Muelles de Bosque office named Andrea, who spoke English really well and helped us a lot. She was able to call the inspector and get him to agree to come back at 2pm. At this point there was a lot of waiting around. The port basically closes from 12-2pm for lunch. We were able to get our container moved and unstuffed before 2pm as well as getting the invoice needed for port fees (which you pay once your car is inspected). This probably could not have happened in one day without Andrea's help.

Once we were able to get the invoice and into the port, they had already opened our container. Apparently this is pretty common, no inspector or anything (so much for all the photos of the customs seal and such). The car was alright, but they insisted on driving it out of the container and then basically told us to get lost. We drove the car back over to the document office (or rather the area in the fenced off port closest to the document office) to wait for the inspector. We waited and asked everyone and waited some more. Finally at around 330 we found Andrea again. She was able to call the inspector and he agreed we could take some photos of the car and bring it to him at Manga (we had to suggest this many times, they did not offer). We snapped some photos (after getting yelled at by the guard and then getting permission) and got back in a taxi to Manga. We found the inspector and he signed our papers after looking at just two of the many photos of the car and the VIN. He gave us our stapled paperwork that we had given to the woman in the Magna office the day before, which now included permission to enter Colombia with our car! We got into another taxi and headed back to Muelles de Bosque to pay our invoice and get the exit permission from the port. This was all pretty quick. We rolled out of the port around 5pm (remember to pick up your passport and return your badge).

All in all, it would have been easier to ship with someone that shipped to Magna, to avoid the back and forth. We also could have done the whole process in one day, since the inspector never actually went to see our car in Muelles de Bosque. This was all annoying, but after almost two weeks, we were very happy to have our car back and get out of Cartagena. I could not say I would recommend using Seaboard Marine, with all the trouble we had with them. Although, I am not sure there is a better option.


  1. In this case, I don't think so. Everything just has a really stupid slow process...