Simple answer: The need for a car depends on where you live.
Many ex-pats want to live in a town within walking distance of grocery stores, restaurants, and bars. If you decide to pick one of those towns, it is extremely easy to get by without 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 without a vehicle for years. 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 would be right for you and your needs.
Reasons NOT to Own a Car
* Besides the apparent upfront cost of the vehicle, there is the cost of annual insurance, maintenance fees, and gas. There are also annual inspections and car registration costs 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 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 enter and exit your space easily?
* If you live near the ocean, the saltwater in the air will cause corrosion and, thus, more maintenance to protect your car.
* Many ex-pats enjoy walking. Walking has many health benefits and is a wonderful way to relax and enjoy the area around you. If you live close enough to town, it is possible to walk to the grocery store and then take a taxi home when you have many bags of groceries.
* In Panama City, using Uber or a taxi is much easier (and less stressful). 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 can explore more places if you own a car.
* In an emergency, you can get to a hospital or doctor’s office faster if you own your 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 need a car if you live in one of these areas.
* Some towns have very limited choices for grocery stores, restaurants, shopping, doctors/dentists, or hospitals. If you live in one of these towns, you must own a car to get to the amenities you need quickly.
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 of Panama. Uber is available in Panama City.
Many towns have a sound 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 very limited taxi or bus services. If you don’t want to own a car, research transportation options before moving to an area.
Even if you initially decide not to 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.