Simple answer: It depends on where you live.
Many ex-pats want to live in a town with easy access to grocery stores, restaurants, and bars. If you decide to pick one of those towns, then it is extremely easy to get by without having a car if you live close to town. But if you live further away from town, you’ll probably need to own a car.
Both ex-pats and Panamanians have lived in Panama for years without a vehicle. You can too if you pick the right place to live.
There are pros and cons to both having a vehicle and choosing not to have a vehicle. We will explore both options so you can choose which one would be right for you and your needs.
Reasons to NOT Own a Car
* Besides the obvious upfront cost of the vehicle itself, there is the cost for annual insurance, maintenance fees, and gas. There are also annual costs of inspections and car registration in Panama.
* Parking can pose quite a challenge in Panama sometimes. If you live in the city or one of the more popular ex-pat towns, sometimes finding a parking spot can require patience and a little bit of luck! Parking in and around grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping areas is somewhat limited in Panama. A restaurant that has seating for 50 people might have 4 or 5 parking places! You don’t have to worry about parking if a taxi drops you off in front of the restaurant, grocery store, or business.
* Another factor to consider is the rental unit where you live. Is there adequate parking there? Is the driveway steep? Is there enough room to make the necessary turns to easily go into and out of your space?
* If you live near the ocean, the saltwater in the air will cause corrosion and thus more maintenance to keep your car protected.
* Many ex-pats enjoy walking. Walking has many health benefits plus it is a wonderful way to relax and to enjoy the area around you. If you live close enough to town, it is possible to walk to the grocery store then take a taxi home when you have many bags of groceries.
* In Panama City, it’s much easier (and less stressful) to get around using Uber or a taxi. Driving is very hectic in Panama City.
Reasons to OWN a Car:
* Owning a car gives you more choices about where you can live. Rents are more affordable if you are not living close to downtown. The savings in rent can offset the cost of owning a car.
* When you own a car, you’ll be able to go wherever you want to go whenever you want to go. Panama is such a beautiful country, you’ll be able to explore more places if you own a car.
* In case of an emergency, you can get to a hospital or doctor’s office faster if you own your own car. You won’t need to wait for transportation to come to you or rely on friends to drive you. Some towns in Panama have no emergency services so you’ll definitely need a car if you live in one of these areas.
* Some towns have very limited choices for grocery stores, restaurants, shopping, and doctors/dentist, or hospitals. If you live in one of these towns, you will definitely need to own a car so you can easily get to the amenities you need.
Can You Get By Without a Car?
Depending on where you live, you may be able to get by without owning a car. Public transportation is very accessible in most (but not all) areas of Panama. Taxis are also available in most areas in Panama. Uber is available in Panama City.
Many towns have a good bus system which is even more affordable than a taxi. Bus stops are throughout Panama but you can flag a bus down without being at a bus stop.
You can take a bus across Panama. A bus allows you to let someone else do the driving so you can enjoy the scenery. But be aware that some buses are very cold so take a sweater or coat. It is less than $20 to take a bus from Panama City to David, a 7-hour drive.
Some towns have a very limited taxi or bus services. If you don’t want to own a car, do research about transportation options before moving to an area.
Even if you initially decide to NOT own a vehicle, you should get your Panama driver’s license after getting your Visa. Once you get a Visa, you cannot drive without having a Panama driver’s license. If you have a Panama driver’s license, you can rent a car when you want to go on an excursion or when friends/family come into town.