How to Cross the Costa Rica-Panama Border

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Crossing borders is easy with the latest information. Get the newest details & helpful tips about the Costa Rica Panama border crossing here.

map of Costa Rica and Panama

Crossing the border between two countries can be nerve-racking, but it doesn’t have to be. With the latest updates and some real-life advice, crossing the Costa Rica-Panama border is easy and enjoyable. 

Going from one country to the next is one of the best parts of traveling. Within minutes, you’re exploring a new culture and meeting new people. Just ensure you get that all-important passport stamp and meet the entry requirements before entering the new country. 

In this blog, we’re looking at how you can navigate the Costa Rica and Panama borders without a hitch. With the latest information and my personal experience crossing the Sixaola border, you’ll be ready to take on this immigration challenge with confidence. Keep reading to learn more.

Costa Rica-Panama Border Crossing: What You Need To Know 

welcome to Panama sign

These are some exit/entrance requirements for each country.

Leaving Costa Rica

When leaving Costa Rica, travelers must pay a US $9 exit fee when departing by land and a US $29 fee when leaving via air. The latter is added to airline tickets, so you won’t need to worry about making an extra payment. 

Travelers should have their visa or passport ready to be checked by officials, and here you’ll receive your exit stamp. 

Entering Panama

Travelers need a valid passport, proof of exit, and the equivalent of US $500 or a credit card (for proof of economic stability). In addition, some nationalities may need a visa. More on those below.

Leaving Panama

When leaving Panama, you must pay a US $3 exit fee and have your passport or visa ready to check. US $40 is added to airline tickets as a departure tax. You must collect your exit stamp before leaving. 

Entering Costa Rica

Visitors must comply with the country’s entry requirements when entering Costa Rica. 

Non-residents need a valid passport, proof of economic stability, and proof of exit; some might need a pre-arranged visa. 

Need To Know: Panama Costa Rica Border Crossing Points 

famous bridge on the Costa Rica Panama Border

Before you get into the nitty-gritty, work out where you’ll be crossing. The Costa Rica – Panama border has three main points recommended for tourist crossings. 

Pro tip: Panama is one hour ahead of Costa Rica, so when crossing, ensure you don’t arrive after closing time or the daily limit.


Heading to the famous Bocas Del Toro archipelago in Panama? Preparing for a dip in the Caribbean in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica? If your answer is yes, you’ll cross at Sixaola-Guabito, one of the more popular tourist options along the border. 

My Experience

boat on the Costa Rica Panama border
Isobel Coughlan

I have personal experience with this crossing and can confidently say it’s doable for everyone. 

Some cross by foot, and others pre-arrange taxis to take them across. Flexible options are available for all needs.

I crossed with a Caribe Shuttle from Almirante, Panama to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Almirante is a city on the mainland where you can find regular ferries to the Bocas Del Toro islands. Like most shuttles, this one was a straightforward affair. We arrived, jumped into the car, and enjoyed the scenery until the crossing. 

When we arrived at Sixaola-Guabito, we parked and headed to Panama’s immigration office to receive our exit stamp. This is a crucial step—don’t miss any exit or entry stamps, or you could get in trouble later.

Next, we walked across the crossing’s famous bridge with the other bus passengers to Costa Rica’s entry point. 

Here we queued and received our entry stamp. As a UK national, I did not need to pre-arrange a visa for entry, and my entry stamp allowed me to remain in the country for up to 90 days. 

Sometimes Costa Rican officials request evidence of onward travel, but we didn’t experience this request. However, we met many other backpackers who did get asked. Buying last-minute plane tickets is neither fun nor cheap, so plan ahead.

Our ultimate strategy was to ensure a smooth border crossing, make sure our documents were in order, and that we met Costa Rica’s entry requirements. Overall, traveling with a pre-booked bus made the entire crossing experience easy-peasy. 

General Information

welcome to Costa Rica
Isobel Coughlan

Sixaola-Guabito is the crossing point closest to the Caribbean Sea, and most tourists use this route. This is still a quiet land border, as most travelers opt for flights instead of buses. However, taking the sleepier route can lead to finding hidden gems along the Caribbean coast that a plane can’t provide.

Unlike other land borders, tourists crossing here must traverse old railway tracks built-in 1908. Don’t worry. These are safe. The tracks recently underwent renovations to make them safer for the 100,000 tourists that pass through every year. Cars pass over a central lane, ensuring pedestrians have a safe journey. 

This crossing can get busy in peak months, and tourists have experienced up to 3 to 4 hours of queuing. When I crossed, it took approximately one hour because it was the wet season. 

Opening times: This crossing is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Costa Rica time & 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Panama time. 

Paso Canoas

border of Costa Rica

Paso Canoas is another popular crossing located near the Pacific coast. This crossing is situated on the Inter-American Highway, part of the Pan-American Highway—a fun fact for any geography nerds out there.

Out of the three main border crossings between these two countries, Paso Canoas is the busiest due to its location and ease of crossing. Unlike Sixaola, this border isn’t located in a sleepy town. Paso Canoas has many shops and restaurants on the Costa Rican side and internet cafes and buses on the Panamanian side. 

You can even grab some duty-free bargains, so watch for affordable deals. 

A main complaint about the Paso Canoas crossing is that all the immigration buildings look identical. Don’t stress if you’re confused, as many official helpers are on hand to assist tourists in navigating the process. 

If all your documents are in order, you can get through without any hassle. However, you may experience a longer wait here, thanks to the extra presence of commercial traffic. The mornings are the busiest, so avoid peak travel hours. 

Opening times: Monday to Friday: 6 am to 10 pm Costa Rica time & 7 am to 11 pm Panama time. From Saturday to Sunday: 6 am to 8 pm Costa Rica time & 7 am to 9 pm Panama time. 

Rio Sereno-San Vito 

sign for a bus in Costa Rica

The Rio Sereno-San Vito crossing point is between the Paso Canoas and Sixaola borders. This mountainous crossing is the least touristic of the three and doesn’t allow cargo crossings. However, crossing is easy due to the diligence of the crossing and customs officials. The journey from one country to the next can take less than an hour with all documentation in order. 

As this is a quieter border point, the roads in the surrounding area aren’t always paved. This can lead to a rougher journey, so be prepared for a bumpy bus. Its remote location also means travelers should come prepared with snacks, drinks, and any other necessary items.

Opening times: Open daily from 8 am to 4 pm Costa Rica time & 9 am to 5 pm Panama time. Officials at this crossing take 1-hour breaks for lunch at midday, but these times change daily. Be ready for a long wait if you travel around 12-1 p.m., as customs availability is limited during lunch.

What Do You Need to Cross the Border?

Costa Rica Panama border map

Use this list to get your documents in order so there are no surprises when you cross. From tax information to safety tips, this is all you need to swiftly enter either country.


Don’t leave your passport at the last hostel! Make sure your travel documents are front and center before you start your journey. 

Costa Rica requires a passport with three months of validity after your arrival date for entry. Panama requires six months of validity from your date of entry. Some nationalities may also need to pre-arrange a visa—check your country’s entry requirements online before you set off. 

Departure Tax

Yup, some countries ask you to pay a tax when leaving. Often, these fees are hidden in ticket costs, and if you’re leaving Costa Rica by air, you’ll pay US $29. Luckily for non-flight travelers, departure tax from Costa Rica is only US $9 at a land crossing point.

Panama charges a US $40 airport tax when leaving, which is added to the plane ticket price. At a land border, you only have to pay US $3. 

Proof of Exit

Also known as proof of onward travel, Panama and Costa Rica require travelers to have evidence that they’re leaving the country within the limits of their visa. This is a step the countries take to ensure tourists don’t overstay their welcome, but it can be frustrating for travelers with no concrete plans. 

Panama and Costa Rica both require proof of exit flight within 180 days. 

Expert tip: If you don’t have an onward flight booked, you can book a cheap one to satisfy border requirements. Opt for a refundable one to give your future self flexibility.

Proof of Economic Stability

Proof of economic stability is a requirement for both countries, and it’s rarely requested. Still, you should be ready with details, just in case. 

The minimum requirement is either US $500 in cash or a credit card (in your name) that’s in date for a three-month stay. 

Pro Tip: Don’t travel with US $500 in cash. Border officials accept bank statements and printed ATM bank balances. Many also take digital banking screenshots, but they must show a name that matches your passport.


Costa Rican money

Carrying some spare cash is always advisable for border crossings. This helps you navigate last-minute charges and buy snacks from independent vendors (fuel is vital for long wait times!)

Pro Tip: Research which currencies you’ll need before arriving at the crossing. Panama accepts USD and balboas, whereas Costa Rica only uses colones (CRC). Change some cash before joining the queue to avoid awkward situations or a longer wait time. 


Some travelers may require visas to enter Costa Rica and Panama, but many can enter for 30 to 90 days visa-free. 

If you’re not able to visit without a visa, immigration sometimes allows entry if you have a valid visa for the Schengen area, EU countries, Canada, the US, Japan, or South Korea. Explore visa information online before traveling. 

Entry Fee

While there’s no official entry fee for Panama land borders, many travelers have been charged on arrival. Sometimes immigration officials request a charge for your entry stamp. This rate changes from US $1 – $5, and sometimes it’s not charged at all. So, carrying some USD just in case you are charged is advisable.

Since 2019, Costa Rica has charged a US $15 tourism arrival tax for all entrances, regardless of the reasons for travel. This fee supports the tourist board, so ensure you have some Costa Rica colones on hand before arriving at the border. 

Safety Tips 

Overall, these three border points are safe for tourists. You’ll find the crossing easy if you meet the requirements and have your documents in order. 

You can trust local officials and guards, even though entry fees are charged randomly at some points. However, some travelers have reported that officials neglected to stamp passports, stamped incorrect dates, or wrote the wrong number for the visa duration. These issues can leave you facing immigration fines in the future, so stay vigilant and attend a big city immigration office if you suspect your visa is wrong. 

Helpers (or tramitadores) are there to make life easier for tourists, but if anyone else starts getting involved, we suggest ignoring them. Better safe than sorry.

Covid-19 Restrictions

Panama’s Covid 19 entry requirements were lifted in September 2022. Tourists no longer need negative test results, a declaration form, or a vaccination certificate. Masks can be worn but aren’t mandatory.

Costa Rica’s Covid-19 entry requirements no longer require Covid-19 documents, except for visitors from Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and Macao and those who’ve been in those territories for the last 14 days. Any travelers from these destinations must provide tests with negative results taken less than 72 hours before entry. 

Map of the Costa Rica-Panama Border

Getting ready to cross the Costa Rica-Panama border? Know where your nearest crossing and customs point is. 

Here are the three main points you can cross, the northernmost being Sixaola-Guabito, then Rio Sereno, and the southernmost Paso Canoas. Plan your travel route around these three main points for an easy ride. 

How To Cross The Costa Rica-Panama Border

Costa Rica and Panama are two countries you must see at least once in your life. But which path should you travel? Here are the most popular routes you can take across the border that pass through show-stopping destinations. 

Bastimentos Island to Sixaola

boats near the border of Costa Rica and Panama
Isobel Coughlan

Bastimentos Island to Sixaola is a favorite tourist route. Spending time on an unforgettable island (with a magnificent marine park) is amazing. But don’t stop there. Travel across the border to Sixaola and beyond to see the lush green Costa Rican landscapes and possibly a sloth or two.

This journey involves a bus and ferry, as you’ll travel to or from Bastimentos Island. This typically takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, allowing you to jump from country to country in the blink of an eye.

Alternatively, you can skip straight from Bastimentos Island to Puerto Viejo via a bus and ferry route. Since you’re traveling further than Sixaola, the journey takes around 4 hours and 15 minutes in total. But the extra time on the road is worth it when you arrive on the golden sand beach.

The Panama Travel Tour is a trusty operator for either of these journeys. 

Bocas del Toro to Sixaola

pura vida sign in Costa Rica

Another popular route is from Bocas del Toro to Sixaola

Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of Caribbean islands located off the east coast of Panama, so here, you’ll need to cross land and sea to arrive at the border. The standard bus and ferry package takes approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. 

Packages are available from The Panama Travel Tour, an experienced tourist-friendly company.

This is the exact route I took to the Sixaola border, and booking with a trusted retailer made the journey a whole lot smoother. Bear this in mind if it’s your first time crossing a land border!

San Jose to Bocas del Toro

houses in Bocas Del Toro Panama

Not all journeys start in Panama and end in Costa Rica. San Jose to Bocas del Toro is another common route. This way, you can fly into Costa Rica’s capital city and head straight to the beautiful Panamanian islands. 

Two routes are available here, including a quick flight or a bus and ferry. The flight takes approximately 45 minutes and is operated by Costa Rica Green Airways. Alternatively, a bus and shuttle route takes 11 hours and 30 minutes. It is available from a range of operators—such as Caribe Extreme.

No matter your route, we hope your journey is quick and easy (if you follow our tips, it should be!)


How much should I expect to pay when crossing the border?

Crossing from Panama to Costa Rica costs approximately US $47. This includes Panama’s US $3 exit tax, Costa Rica’s US $15 tourist tax, and a US $29 shuttle from one country to the next. We haven’t included visa costs in this fee, as for the large majority of travelers, a 30 to 90-day stay is free. Remember, if you’re traveling from Costa Rica to Panama, Costa Rica’s departure tax is US $9. 

Is there a minimum stay?

Some tourists report that Panamanian officials asked for a hotel reservation for at least one night on entry. In rare cases, travelers have been asked for a reservation of three days. So have accommodation booked just in case. Costa Rica doesn’t have a minimum stay. 

Do I need return tickets (proof of exit)?

Yes, both countries require proof of exit tickets valid in the next 180 days.

Is it easy and hassle-free to cross the Costa Rica-Panama border?

Yes, traveling between these two countries is easy when you have all the documents in order. If you turn up with documents missing, you will have to wait longer and may be detained until your information is sorted. However, this is a rare scenario. 

Posted March 27, 2023
photo of blog writer Isobel
Isobel Coughlan
Isobel is a keen traveler and writer from London, UK. With 40 countries under her belt and months spent on the road, Isobel knows what it’s like to travel without a concrete plan. Her love for freelancing started while studying, and now she embraces the on-the-go life. When she’s not writing, Isobel can be found planning her next trip!
photo of blog writer Isobel