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Central American Roadtrip

“Kathleen, I’m in the process of moving from Yellowknife in northern Canada (y’know, up around the Arctic Circle) down to British Colombia and from there I’m headed to Panama. I’d like to drive from Vancouver to Panama City, and I’m wondering if you folks have any information on this?

“Every time I put anything into Google asking about this I get nothing that is pertinent. I can find nothing anywhere about how safe it is to drive through Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, or Guatemala.

“I’ve recently spent a month in Costa Rica and Panama and don’t think I would have a problem driving in either of those countries as far as safety is concerned. Now the drivers are crazy, I know that, but I didn’t see anything that led me to believe it wouldn’t be safe to drive a vehicle (older modem, not flashy) with my personal belongs in it through those countries. The people all seemed to be very helpful, even to a gringo who doesn’t speak Spanish.

“As I said, I have an older vehicle that runs very well and is in good shape but I don’t really want to pay to have it shipped. Also, I’m very capable of driving it (ex-professional driver here, past taxicab, limousine, and ambulance driver). I realize that a single woman driving alone might not be the best idea, but maybe I could find someone to accompany me. What do you think?

“Love to hear any comments you have because I’m moving to Panama one way or the other, but I will need my car and they are so expensive in Central America!”

–Heather L., Canada, On Facebook

Generally speaking, we don’t recommend driving through Mexico to get to Central America. I’d say that, especially as a single woman traveling alone, this might not be a good idea right now.

Also, we strongly recommend against bringing your car with you (shipped or driven) to your new country, in Central America or wherever. Too many unknowns. Will your car be appropriate for your new situation? Will you be able to find parts locally (the older the car, the bigger a challenge this will be)? Will you be able to find a local mechanic who knows how to repair that kind of vehicle? Will you be liable for import duties (the answer to this question in this case is no, not if you’re establishing legal residency in Panama through this country’s pensionado program).

We know people who have driven down from the United States to Panama and who have now been in Panama for close to two years. They say it wasn’t worth it. In fact, every person I’ve known over the years who has driven or shipped his vehicle to his new country with him has decided, eventually, that it wasn’t worth it.

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