This article was submitted by Marc Sager who attended a Panama Relocation Tour in 2015 and recently imported his beloved Harley in to Panama.
I remember being on the Panama Relocation Tour last January, and how over and over again Jackie would say, “They sell those in Panama.” In the months prior to moving, I went back and forth about shipping my beloved motorcycle. Whichever way I was leaning, I always had the full support of my wife. One shipper had a great price, however I would have to deliver the motorcycle myself to the Port of Long Beach in California. My Panama attorney said to be sure I got a door-to-door shipper.
The Harley-Davidson Dealership gave me the contact information of a shipper who advertised that they did just that. That is the short part of the story.
When I contacted my shipping broker, I was given a price of $2100. Since the motorcycle was already paid for, and I calculated that import duties would be around $450, it was a no-brainer decision to ship it to Panama. I would have my motorcycle for about $2,500. This would be much cheaper than starting all over again.
When discussing the arrangements, I learned that the best my broker could arrange was door-to-port shipping. So my thinking was that I would have to go to the Port of Manzanillo in Panama, pay a few dollars, and have a nice ride from Colon to Boquete.
It would not be that simple, but before I continue my narrative, let me explain that there will be a lot of people involved in the process.
My first contact was the shipping broker. This was the company that put together all of the details to get the motorcycle to Puerto Manzanillo in Panama, and who I paid the money to. They arranged to have my motorcycle picked up the day before I moved out of my house. After that, the shipping company is in charge of moving the motorcycle to the receiving port. At the port, there is a company which receives the motorcycle, and they have to be sure that everyone has been paid, and that the shipping company authorizes the release. After the release is authorized, a visit must be paid to the custom’s broker, who determines how much tax to charge. Then there is someone in Panama City to determine if the custom’s broker has done their job correctly; normally this takes two days.
Now returning to my story. I hit my first glitch when I was filling out forms that needed to be completely filled out before my motorcycle could leave my house. I needed both a local address as a destination address for the motorcycle. With the help of my new landlady in Panama, I got a made up address and the phone number of the caretaker of the property. I also needed an address for the shipper to send the title, so I chose my parents address.
Step One completed, the motorcycle was picked up the day before I moved out of my house of twenty-seven years.
When I arrived in Boquete on the 29th of June, the caretaker gave me a notice that my motorcycle had arrived that day, and it seemed that I was to pick it up within ten calendar days.
Now, I’ve never done this before, so I called the receiving company to ask if I needed anything more in order to pick up the motorcycle. There was a query about whether I had the “release”. I had no idea what they were taking about, however I was sure that I could figure this out once I got there, face to face. So, I contacted Luis Arce (a taxi driver in Panama City) for a ride and help in picking up my motorcycle.
I contacted the airline for a ticket to Panama City, and off I I flew five days after I arrived from Panama City.
Step Two completed.
Luis had Richard pick me up from the airport. We arrived at Puerto Manzanillo just after noon. We employed the services of a guy who works the port helping people negotiate the process.
When we got to the office of the receiving company, I finally was to understand what a “release” was. They sent notice that my motorcycle had arrived, but I should have waited for a phone call to come pick it up. Without the release, nothing happens. Richard helped my make a call to the shipping broker to arrange for the release. We waited. The offices close at 3:00 pm. It became apparent that nothing was going to happen that day, Tuesday.
We went back to Panama City, and I was staying at the Crown Plaza again. I was in daily contact with both my broker and the receiving company. It was my shipping company’s responsibility to issue the release. I spent the afternoons getting to know Panama City. I signed up for a sight-seeing tour on the weekend. I became really thankful for the Panama Relocation Tour’s special deal with the hotel.
Finally, on Monday I get the call that the release has been issued. So, it is back to Puerto Manzanillo with Richard. I pay a $100 certified check to the receiving company; this fee goes to the City of Colon. I’m asked if I have a particular shipping broker.
I’m clueless! My broker said something about this. A few minutes later, this is straightened out, and off we go to the Colon Duty Free Zone. The broker brings up a picture of my motorcycle on his computer, from an ad that I placed when I was trying to sell it. A few questions later, all the while I’m going through Richard for interpretation, it was determined that I would owe $577 in import duties. I couldn’t just pay it, he had to get it approved. Normally, this would take two days, but Richard was sure that with his diligence that he could get it turned around the next morning
So, Monday evening, I’m back at the Crown Plaza. By now, everyone knows the details of my story. I was in a good mood, because I was sure I would get it out the next day. There had been a glitch. The government emails were down. Richard was on it. Finally, just before noon, I got his call. Be in the hotel lobby in fifteen minutes. Off we go to Colon, and Puerto Manzanillo. We stop by the custom’s broker and pay his fee, $174. Off we go to the bank to collect money to pay the duty. The ATM gave me a problem. I had taken out $200 that morning. I found out two important details about my bank’s ATM:
1.) withdrawals are limited to $500 each withdrawal, and
2.) that there is a $800 limit per day. I would be a bit short, and nobody takes credit cards.
Richard loans me $100. I find Banco Nacional and pay the duty. Rush back to the port and pay them $47 more dollars and another $20 to the guy helping us negotiate the process. Then it is about a kilometer away where I am to pick up the motorcycle.
When I took control of the motorcycle, it was dirtier that I had ever seen it. I was certain that it was in good mechanical condition, but was worried that the battery might have been drained. It was supposed to have been disconnected, but I had no idea if it had been. So it would not start. This was not unexpected. The people at the port gladly helped me jump start it, but it seemed not to be charging. I did ride it out of the port and for about a mile before it died. The final step in this saga was to have it trucked the the Harley-Davidson dealership in Panama City. They took a credit card.
The next morning, I told the guy at the dealership what had happened, and left the motorcycle. I expected a phone call from him, but that never came. At 4 pm I called him, and found out that it was ready to be picked up. I rode back to the Crown Plaza, getting caught in rush hour traffic, and running out of gas in front of the reception and the hotel. Compared with all I had been through, buying a gas can and getting gas would be easy.
Normally, this would be the end of this story.
I left the hotel at about 9:00. Life is good. But I get pulled over on Balboa Avenue, because of my California plates. I don’t speak good enough Spanish yet, and the policeman did not speak English. He was motioning me to follow him.
While I was putting my documents back in my saddlebags, minus my California Driver’s License, he disappears. Forty-five minutes later, with the help of some park police, I get my license back and am on the road.
It was a sweet ride to Boquete, and I was glad I would be seeing my wife again. I still spent less than buying a new motorcycle. I saw parts of Panama that Jackie will never take a tour to. Call it a cultural experience.
P.S. I asked Marc if he would do it again knowing what he knows now. This was his reply:
To answer your question as to if I would would do it again, that is a tough question. The cost overrun was about 100%. So it probably cost me about $4,200 covering all costs. The Kelly Blue Book value was $4,500. So let’s do the math. $4,200 + $4,500 = $8,700. Now the cost of a new Sportster is a bit over $13,000, so I came out with a difference of $4,300. I’m happy. I have my motorcycle that I’ve had for the past ten years, and it is the only motorcycle I’ve ever had.
Note: I’m not sure if these costs include more than 10 nights in a hotel in Panama plus meals.