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.

When I first put up this post I had 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.

I made a third trip to the Panama Canal recently and got new information, so this post was updated on March 5, 2018.

You find out lots of factoids when visiting the canal, 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 an additional 22 days sailing around the bottom of South America, so they’re willing to pay. A lot.

There are different fees for different ships and cargo, as in you’ll pay less to transport grain than you will to transport liquified natural gas, then a different fee structure applies if you load Fitbits into cargo containers. Some ships pay by tonnage, but those with contains have a different rate.

You can sort through the tariffs posted online to sort it out, but from what I can tell, cargo ships going through the wider canal are billed a maximum of $99 per full container, $59 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. A captain has to actually turn over the bridge to a Panamanian lock pilot for the transit and there are robotic guides with cables leading the ships through tight spaces.

The ship passing by in the photo above was loaded with 3,800 containers and going through the original lock system, not the wider one. Here’s what the captain paid when I was there, which was in 2014:

– $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. Many people believe that goods they get from Asia travel by land across the USA, but in reality almost everything that travels across or up the Pacific comes through the Canal to east coast ports. That includes wine from Chile and chocolate from Ecuador.

That charge above is chump change though compared to some recent ones hosted by the wider canal. That wider section of the canal was a massive project that now allows full container ships through. This engineering feat cost billions and billions to pull off, so you can bet those ships making use of it are paying handsomely. Before the expansion, the record was $461,000 paid by one ship. Now the record has jumped to $1.1 million. No wonder this canal supplies 12% of Panama’s gross domestic product.

canal transit Panama

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 $138 to $148 per bed (berth). Enjoy the ride that day—you’ve paid handsomely for it. I recently went from the Balboa dock through two sets of locks to the Pacific on a packed tourist boat. Looking at the prices, I know why it was packed: they have to pay $2,000 for that trip, not counting fuel and labor.

Sailing a Pleasure Boat or Yacht Through the Panama Canal

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

cost to transit Panama Canal in a sailboat

It’s definitely best to go small than to look like a new money Russian tycoon. If you look at the official toll prices here and scroll way down, the small ships pay $800 to $3,200 depending on length. My local in-the-know guide who updated me in 2018 said there are fees on top of that though—kind of like your airline ticket these days—so here are the total amounts he quoted.

Small ships of less than 50 feet in length pay $880 for the transit. Those of 50-80 pay $1,300. Those 80 to 100 feet pay $2,200. Above that it’s $3,200. But hey, if you’ve got a yacht that big, three grand is probably chump change anyway. You’ll also need the right lines for tie-up and a big enough crew to secure them all. No, you can’t use a credit card. (Or cocaine. Supposedly someone tried that once.) There’s also a damage deposit that you’ll get back later if there are no incidents, but you’ll be out around $800 for a while. You can send it all by wire transfer now though and if you’re short, have some $100 bills on you for the unexpected.

What it costs to transit the Panama Canal, from small sailboats to huge cargo ships going through the locks. 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.  More info here. The museum has gotten better over the years though and 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 at regular intervals outside. The place must be raking in money because when I last visited there were hundreds of people streaming in and out at all times. Later when we passed in a ship there was still no space along the observation deck railings for the people looking out at us.

Keep in mind these rates go up every few years, so check the latest before you pull up to the canal opening in your own boat so you don’t come up short on funds.

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. So have some fun here then get out into the countryside or to the beaches. See the Visit Panama site for ideas and gorgeous photos.

  1. Anthony

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

    For those interested check out –

  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


  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


  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.

  19. Sam

    Too bad Jimmy Carter gave the Canal away.

    • Rex Block

      “Returned” is the term you are searching for. Discussions for a plan to return the canal to Panama began in 1974 (Carter was not president until 1977). Ratification in the Senate was approved, 68-32.

      Hope that helps.

  20. Dennis DeLong

    Lots of good information here, but I didn’t find this: I have heard it is possible to traverse the canal as a guest on board the larger cargo ships. Where can I look for information on that, all I am finding is cruise ship info

    • Tim Leffel

      I’ve never heard of anyone doing that, but I imagine it would involve booking the whole passage as people often do, or somehow joining one in transit. It’s pretty tightly regulated though and they are waiting out in the ocean before they go through, so I’m not sure where that would happen.

    • Steve johnson

      There are several freighter lines that take on passengers. Google freighter travel

  21. Charles Christmas

    Thanks for the great information. Am planning to buy a boat and wondered if both pacific and Caribbean would be available. $3000 is not cheap but still cheaper than fuel crew and provisions to get around South America. My questions were answered. Thanks for the bloc.

    • Rex Block

      Also a lot safer avoiding a passage across the southern tip of South America.

  22. suhdude

    wow really love this article thank you for being so kind

  23. Shore

    Do you know where I can find info on how it is decided When a ship goes through? I mean in what order? When we went through in 2015 we waited 8-9 hours and went at night because we were on a smaller luxury yacht…and our guide said that the huge cruise ships get to go through during the daylight because they pay more. We were given our time by the canal authorities that day…is that because we were tiny and insignificant to them, or what is the criteria for order. Thanks for any insight or ideas of where to get my answers, and thanks for your article

  24. roman kazan

    i always thought those cars and stuff from Korea go to California and is sent across the country via railroad. minus the cars made in the Alabama factory. its like that jaguar vehicle in California that came via UK-Panama-California . just something to keep in mind when you buy something on the west coast that came from Europe. Tim Leffel tell us more.

  25. hohohjo

    what is the least amount of money payed to travel through the canal and why?

  26. Capt. Obvious

    Is the cost discussed is one-way or including the return trip (if you make it in within a limited number of days) ?

  27. Robert Damerau

    On recent full passage of CANAL aboard MS Island Princess we were told that the Capts. of ships reemain in command; the Canal Pilots are advisors

    • Tim Leffel

      Nope, they have to surrender control until the canal pilot deems they are in a safe zone (like in the Gatun Lake). Then at the other end, the canal pilot takes over again. This is only for large ships, of course. For yachts it’s not such a tight squeeze.

  28. johnny bonista

    Hey Tim,
    thanks for the money matters-good to know, but do you know where to pay, what documents and hassles we may have. we are planning to go from atlantic to the pacific. is there one office to take care of all requirements? are there agents who can handle everything cause i just want to have a cold drink and wait. hehehe

  29. Joye P Conley

    Thanks for all the information and education!

  30. John W White

    Why didn’t America preserve, at least , Free Transit for its Vessels? Navy Vessels?
    Oh, dear President Wilson gave this freebie away!

    • Tim Leffel

      “Oh why did we not take 100% of the Native American land instead of letting them control their own destiny and build casinos on it where we have to pay them?” Panama was not our land. We just borrowed it for a while.

      • emory

        it’s my understanding that US war vessels travel the canal for free. that was what i was told in panama last may, 2018.

  31. Stephen Porter

    I was on deployment in 98, we were one of the last US NAVY WARSHIPS transiting before the formal turn over to complete Panamanian operation vs jointly. There was this worry that the navy would be at issue using the canal, a few years later was going through again, for the military, we had the same security, and priority of transit. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Colon side when the US Army left, we hoped the government (Panama) or private firm would have taken over the property, when you go to the marina, looks like a warzone cause all the structures have been pillaged, or left in neglect. Great place to visit though, when people talk about the level of crime in the area, like most places, you go looking for trouble, you’ll find it. All the residents we interacted with were very welcoming, and any bank you walk into has armed security, sometimes safer than our own 50 states.

  32. Dennis E. Potvin

    I transited the Panama Canal in 1969 aboard the USS. Nathan Hale SSBN 623 (a missile submarine). Back then any war ship went through ahead of all other vessels. There were at least 30 vessels in the breakwater when we got there in the early morning hours, we went to the head of the line. Is this still the case today? Also, cruise liners pay by the number of beds (AKA passengers). Does this include the support staff which in the case of a 2,000 passenger contingent would add another 500-1,000 additional personnel (AKA beds). I will be making a canal transit cruise (east to west) with my spouse in March 2019

  33. Dennis E. Potvin

    I think I can answer one of the questions that has been asked. Why do large Cruise ships get a higher priority? One reason would be the timing of port calls. There are many thousands of dollars invested, by hundreds of passengers, in shore excursions at various ports. There would be hundreds of unhappy passengers if they got to their shore excursion port and there was not sufficient time to take the excursion and get back to the ship in the allotted time.

  34. Gaspar

    Awesome info by all above….I learnt a lot.

  35. JC

    Would you happen to know if these rates are lower or better for citizens of Panama?

    • Tim Leffel

      I don’t believe anyone catches a break on the fees. It’s all standardized.

  36. Martha Dennis

    Hi, Tim! I was talking to my grandson about the Panama Canal. In fact, I asked him which direction one would be traveling when cruising from the Pacific to the Atlantic. (The answer is, WEST.) So I searched for a Panama Canal map to show him the curve. And YOUR article came up! Interesting read and I’m saying “hello” to you. I met you and your family in Guanajuato. Small world!

    • Tim Leffel

      Small world indeed – and fate I guess. Thanks for getting in touch!

  37. Loring C. Chien

    I’ll bet the per berth cost for cruise ships includes not only the passengers but the crew as well. And the crew are not going to pay it out of their tips. So a ship with 3000 passengers, each passenger will be paying around half the cost for each crew member as well!

    • Tim Leffel

      Well it’s per cabin, but you’re right, they probably factor that in as well somehow.

  38. Jannie

    If i am a panamanian, own a boat and want to travel the country, do I get discount to go through the canal?

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