How Much Does It Cost to Go Through the Panama Canal?

Costs for Panama Canal

If you’re going to ride a yacht or transport cargo through the Panama Canal, be ready to pony up some serious cash.

I just handed in a magazine story on Panama and was going through my notes from the trip. I visited the Panama Canal for the second time. The first time I actually went through it on a 14-person ship, while this time I just went to the Miraflores Locks visitor center.

You find out lots of factiods when visiting, but I’m most fascinated by the commerce side of it. Obviously it’s easier for a shipping company to go through here than to spend weeks sailing around the bottom of South America, so they’re willing to pay. A lot.

Cargo ships are billed $82 per full container, $74 for an empty one. (So you really don’t want to have a lot of empties.) Then in a system that seems like it was copied from U.S. airlines, there are lots of extra fees on top of that. The ship passing by in the photo above was loaded with 3,800 containers, so here’s what the captain paid:

– $321,446 for the containers

– $11,445 for the work of 7 tugboats

– $4,745 for ground assistants

– $3,600 for ground wires

When they exit the other side of the canal, that transit alone will have added 1/3 of a $million to the cost of the goods on the ship. So if you’re in Boston getting coffee from Sumatra or a car from Korea, keep this in mind when you look at the price.

Speaking of prices, you’ll pay a surcharge if you go on a cruise ship through the Panama Canal. Those ships are levied a fee of $134 per bed. Enjoy the ride that day—you’ve paid handsomely for it.

So what about the poor soul trying to live a lifelong dream of sailing around the world?

canal transit Panama

It’s definitely best to go small than to look like a new money Russian tycoon. Small ships of less than 50 feet in length pay $800 for the transit. Those of 50-80 pay $1,300. Those 80 to 100 feet pay $2,000. Above that it’s $3,000. But hey, if you’ve got a yacht that big, three grand is probably chump change anyway. No, you can’t use a credit card. Or cocaine. Supposedly someone tried that once.

If you’d like to just see a bit of the (slow) action instead, entrance to the Miraflores Locks complex is $15 adults, less for kids and seniors. [It nearly doubled in 2014. More info here.] There’s a restaurant and bar on site. If you’re a Panama resident, you only pay $3. That includes entrance to the museum and a guide explaining how everything works.

Keep in mind these are 2013 numbers and will surely rise. Next year a wider section of the canal opens to allow container ships through. This engineering feat cost billions and billions to pull off, so you can bet those ships making use of it will pay handsomely.

If you ask me, a couple days in Panama City is plenty and there are far more interesting places to go within a few hours. See the Visit Panama site for ideas and gorgeous photos.

Comments
  1. Anthony

    Tim over in the Pan-American Highway community, this is a regular subject.

    For those interested check out – http://www.drivetheamericas.com/

  2. Lisa

    Thanks for this post. I did not know this.

  3. Steve

    I went to the Miraflores Locks in May 2014 and the price has risen to $15 for non-residents.

    • Tim Leffel

      You are correct Steve. I’ve added that info and a link. I’d think twice about paying that much if I were a visitor.

  4. Mark

    Going through the Panama canal today on the Norwegian Jewel.
    This is AMAZING!!
    It is so cool to go through the different levels.
    The history of this place is off the chart as well; 16,000 + French workers died before the U.S. stepped in. I’m happy to pay whatever it cost to get me through.

    • Jeff

      Brilliant…

  5. Jannie

    Do Panamanians pay to transit the canal.

    • Tim Leffel

      I would assume so, but they have little reason to do so unless they’re shipping cargo abroad. And in that case they could just truck or train it to the other coast.

  6. Tim Leffel

    OK all you people who feel a need to spout your political views in a nasty way so you can feel smug and satisfied: it’s not happening here. I’m deleting all comments in that vein and their replies. Take it outside.

  7. D Mckin

    For what it is worth the least expensive ‘per day’ cruise I went on was a Panama Canal cruise in October. Plus we got to see great spots in the Pacific and the Carribean. Our cruise ship was defined as Panamax and I was drinking at the bar while floating up 80 feet through 3 locks and more than 100 years of amazing history.

    Dont let that $134 number fool you. I think the total toll for our ship was around $300000, for a couple thousand people. Not to mention the amazing mules that cost 2mil a pop pulling us through unscathed. Plus the Panama Canal Authority ferries pilots out to the larger(maybe all?) ships so theres no accidents.

    Id recommend everyone check this place out, less than 5 days of sailing on a floating casino/hotel/paradise.

  8. Nunya

    Hi, thanks for the good info. But like your school teachers told you, please date your essay!

    • Tim Leffel

      The date is always listed for my posts if anyone really cares – it’s in the browser URL.

  9. Helene

    How much does it cost to go through the Panama Canal in 2016 with a 48 feet sailboat?

  10. Dude

    Really to expensive.

  11. David

    As I see it will cost around 1000.-$ to transfer a catamaran 18m. It’s ok.

    • Carol

      Thank you. did you go through with several other small boats, or did you follow behind s larger one?

  12. Bill Cadman

    Please be advised Panama Canal Toll is $200,00 to $300,000 for large ships. It is 48 miles from Atlantic to Pacific with 14,00 ships passing through annually. Debt service for the 2016 expansion will be tremendous. Toll increases are inevitable. Today is 6 – 27 – 16 with info from Google. Suez Canal is 103 statute miles long, with 3,100 ships passing through annually. Toll for passage two ways is $1.25 million U.S. dollars. It’s strictly BIG business for shipping companies to transit our every day needs.

    PS With BILLIONS in toll dollars to Egypt, we still give millions of dollars annually to Egypt !!!

  13. Peter

    We are currently transiting the Panama Canal on a large cruise ship. To correct one item, the mules do not pull the ships through the locks. They keep the ship in the middle because at such slow speeds the rudder has little effect. The ship propels itself.

  14. Susan Rice

    Do the commercial shipping companies make payment to the Panama Canal Authority in advance when they make their reservations to transit the canal? Or, does each ship that transits the canal pay in cash, check or money order?

    • Dnaperk

      All payments are in cash as a wire transfer prior to entering

  15. Lonnie

    So from what I gather It will cost $800.00 to go from west to east on the canal in anything less than 50 foot? are there other fees to look at also? I am looking to buy a boat And have come across some really good deals but I want to be on the Gulf side.

  16. autospeed

    If you cannot pay by credit card what payment types do they take?

    145ft Fipa AB

    Thanks

  17. vanman

    Just traveled through the canal aboard the Island Princess cruise ship. Our fee for passage was $351,000 give or take a thousand.

  18. mike

    I was fortunate enough to be a passenger on the first cruise ship to use the new locks in May, 2017. It was on a two week cruise from Port Canaveral FLA. to San Diego CA., aboard the Disney Fantasy. Much fanfare was made by the Panamamian government.

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