Crossing the Overland Border from Costa Rica to Panama

The Costa Rica to Panama border doesn't need to be hard work. Here's how to do it...

Crossing the order overland between from Sixaloa in Costa Rica to Panama was easy. I’d read a lot of lengthy confusing blog posts about it, so wanted to offer you my experience and advice. I’ll do my best to keep it on point too!

How to get to the Costa Rica / Panama Border

If you’re crossing the border at Sixaloa, it’s likely you’ve spent some time in Cahuita or Puerto Vierjo. From Cahuita, public buses to Sixaoloa depart from the bus station on the hour, from 6 AM through to 9 PM and cost 2190 CRC ($3.65 USD). The journey to Sixaloa takes just over an hour.

The same bus passes through Puerto Viejo half an hour later and therefore buses depart Puerto Viejo every hour from 6:30 AM – 9:30 PM.

Arriving at the Sixaloa bus station, you walk around the corner to an office (pictured below) where you have to pay a Costa Rica exit fee of $8 (or 4,800 CRC) and get a receipt.

Costa Rica Exit Receipt Office
Believe it or not, this is actually where you pay your Costa Rica exit fee

If you’ve heard of a $7 fee, that’s because there is a (usually out of action) machine that allows you to pay by card. When the card machine is unavailable, you’re paying an extra $1 for a human to print your receipt in the office.

Costa Rica Exit Receipt
It’s $8USD for this receipt of paper!

When you have the receipt, walk up the ramp to the bridge. It looks like you’re entering a car wash!

Costa Rica Panama Border Bridge Entrance
It’s not a car wash, so walk through it

Just past through this and on the right hand side is Costa Rica police immigration (as shown below).

Costa Rica Exit Stamp Office
Enter here to show your receipt and get a Costa Rica exit stamp

Enter the office, show your receipt for $8 and they’ll stamp your passport to say you’ve left Costa Rica. That’s Costa Rica immigration over.

Next up is a cool bridge to walk across. There used to be an beautiful wood and steel bridge which you’ll see in many border crossing pictures, but as of March 2019, it was dismantled.

Costa Rica Panama Border Bridge
Costa Rica Panama Border Bridge – look to the left at the dog running across…

Reaching the end of the bridge, carry on to the bottom of the ramp and turn left towards Panama immigration. No border official tells you where to go, so the below picture will help:

Immigration dog
That dog followed us across the border…I wonder if it showed its passport!

It’s essential you go here to get your stamp to prevent problems when you leave the country.

They take fingerprints and your photo as is the standard procedure throughout Central America. They DIDN’T ask for the immigration form. Surprisingly, they DIDN’T ask for proof of onward travel either, only asking “how long are you staying in Panama?

However, the guy next to us in the queue appeared to be getting a grilling about his airline. Although we did have an onward flight booked to Colombia, I believe not being asked about onward travel was an exception, rather than the norm. You can of course risk it, but may need to book a flight there and then. Worth mentioning, there is no wi-fi at the border to do such things.

That’s it, you’re in Panama and ready for onward travel.

A word of caution when crossing the overland border from Costa Rica to Panama

Reaching the end of the bridge where you turn left in to immigration, some people have talked about being ushered in to a small office on the right hand side after the bridge. It looks like the picture below:

Costa Rica Panama Border Scam
You don’t need to visit this office, which is on the right at the end of the bridge

Here they’re asked to fill in an immigration form and begrudgingly pay a $3-4 USD entry tax. I can confirm you don’t need to be in this office, nor do you need to fill in an immigration form, nor pay any money for it!

We weren’t ushered in, but went there just in case. A lady who clearly wasn’t an official border guard was helping a couple fill out the immigration forms. After they finished, she took them away to a shuttle and said she’d come back and help us.

Alone for a few minutes and filling in a form, I looked out the window. Official Panama immigration was across the street. Having previously read travellers were uncertain about this ‘entry tax’, I smelled a rat. We decided to leave before the lady came back and headed to the official immigration point.

Travelling onward from the border in to Panama

Collectivos are waiting by immigration and will take you to Almirante for around $8 – $10 USD per person (haggle them down to this price). You can then get the boat to Bocas del Toro. There’s also a public chicken bus which goes Changuinola and costs $1 USD. From there you will catch another to Almirante and then the ferry to Bocas del Toro.

We travelled all the way to Boquete. This is done by going to Changuinola, then getting a bus to David and subsequently a bus to Boquete.

Costa Rica Panama Border Selfie
It’s so touristy, but I love getting a border selfie

Visa Requirements for Panama

It’s always worth checking the visa requirements from your country of residence before entering a new one. This link will show you the visa requirements for Panama.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top