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Driver’s License Requirements in Panama

As a foreigner, you can legally drive in Panama for up to 90 days using a valid driver’s license from your home country.  Panama does not accept international driver’s licenses.

If you want to drive longer than 90 days, you can leave Panama for a minimum of thirty days.  When you return, you’ll get a new entry stamp in your passport so the 90 days will over again.  Some people have been able to leave Panama for less than a week, then come back in to get a new entry stamp in their passport.

There are checkpoints throughout Panama.  If you get stopped, the police will ask to see your passport and your foreign license.  They are looking for your last entry date stamp to verify that you are driving legally in Panama.

To avoid this madness, you will need to get a residency Visa to live in Panama indefinitely and get a Panama driver’s license.  You cannot get a Panama driver’s license until you have a residency visa.

When you get a residency visa, you will be able to obtain a Panamanian driver’s license. You will be able to keep your current country’s license also, so you can use it when you visit back home.  Understand that once you get a residency Visa, even a temporary visa, you are required to get a Panama driver’s license right away if you plan to drive in Panama.  If you leave Panama right after you get your temporary Visa and do not plan to drive in Panama, you can wait until you get your permanent Visa to get your Panama driver’s license.

Are you thinking about moving to Panama? Check out our guide to living in Panama and learn more about our relocation tours.

The minimum driving age in Panama is 18 years.

Driving in PanamaTo apply for a Panamanian License, you must have a residency Visa. Initially, you are issued a temporary or processing Visa, which is only valid for 6 months. So, your Panama driver’s license will only be valid for 6 months.

Once you get your permanent visa, you will need to renew your Panama driver’s license.  Your Panama driver’s license will valid for four years until you reach age 70, then it is only valid for two years.  If you are over age 70, in addition to the steps listed below, you must obtain a doctor’s certification to prove that you are healthy enough to manage a car.  This certification has to be from either a Gerontologist or a Doctor of Internal Medicine.

If you do not currently have a driver’s license from your home country, or your license is expired, your application process will start from square one (see Plan B below).  You will have to attend a driving school class and be certified through an approved driving school, take a practical driving test in a car that you provide, and pass a written exam to demonstrate your knowledge of the laws of the road. (Warning:  this test is administered only in Spanish, but you can take a translator with you!)

THE EASY WAY…

If you already have a valid driver’s license from another country, the process to obtain a Panamanian license is much easier.    It takes about 2 days because there are several steps.

  1. In Panama City, visit your country’s embassy to complete a notarized affidavit of your driving history (which usually involves setting up an advance appointment and paying a fee. The US Embassy charges $50).  You have to bring your valid passport and driver’s license with you. This takes about 30 minutes.
  2. Go to the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Relations to have your affidavit validated. You will have to pay a small fee for this, $2 paid to a nearby bank. This step can take a day because they will tell you to return later to pick up your documents.
  3. Step three is to document your blood type through a SERTACEN-approved lab.  I paid $5 for my blood test.
  4. Bring your residency documents, your passport, your current driver’s license, your notarized documents, and your proof of blood type to a SERTRACEN service center.  Be sure to bring both the originals of all these documents and a photocopy of each front and back.  Vision and hearing tests will be required, along with the payment of all fees, which is $40 as of this writing.  Once you get your permanent visa, if you are a Pensionado, you will get 10% off the cost of getting a driver’s license.
  5. If you get your foreign license authenticated at your Embassy, you do not need to take a written test or a driving test.  You will only need to do a vision and hearing test at SERTRACEN.

I know it sounds complicated.  Don’t worry; your attorney can help you get a Panama Driver’s License while you are in Panama to get your residency Visa.

You cannot get your foreign license authenticated at the Embassy until you have a temporary visa.

In Panama City, you must authenticate your current driver’s license and the authentication at the Ministry of Foreign Relations.  But the rest of the process can be done in the province where you live.

PLAN B

Because it could take a while to get an appointment at the Embassy, or perhaps you don’t want to travel to Panama City, you can pay the driving school nearest you $70 to get a certificate and the test questions to study for the written test.  The written test is composed of 10 multiple choice questions with only 60 seconds per question….you can take a certified translator.  THESE ARE THE TEST QUESTIONS IN SPANISH AND ENGLISH

For the driving test you are required to demonstrate 3 parking skills:
1) pull into designated parking space
2) parallel park
3) back into designated parking space

Once you complete the written test and the driving test and you have your blood type, then you can continue to SERTRACEN to do the vision and hearing test.

CONSEQUENCES OF NOT GETTING A PANAMA DRIVER’S LICENSE

Once you get a residency visa, you can no longer drive with your foreign driver’s license.  You must get a Panama driver’s license.  When you apply for a visa, a stamp is put in your passport that indicates you have applied for a residency Visa.  If you are stopped at a checkpoint, the police will ask to see your passport or your Cedula (national ID card that you get after you get your permanent Visa).  If the police notice that you have a stamp in your passport that you applied for a visa but you are driving with your foreign driver’s license, they will likely impound your car and you will get a $150 ticket.    Therefore, it is better to use a taxi or ask a friend to drive you until you get your Panama driver’s license.

RENEWING YOUR PANAMA DRIVER’S LICENSE

You will need to renew your Panama driver’s license every 4 years unless you are 70 years old, then it will need to be renewed every 2 years. To get your license renewed, you do not need to go through the authentication process again.  You will only need to take a vision and hearing test to renew your license.   If you are over 70, you will also need a doctor’s letter that you are ok to drive.

It cost $40 to get a driver’s license initially.  Once you have your permanent residency visa, you will get a 10% Pensionado discount so you can renew for $36.

Jackie Lange

Jackie Lange is the founder of Panama Relocation Tours and lives in the highlands of Boquete Panama. She has helped thousands of people relocate to Panama.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Connie Rysavy says

    What is the cost of the actual drivers licence. I know all the other costs.

    • Jackie Lange says

      It cost $40 for your driver’s license. It will need to be renewed every 4 years for an additional $40. Once you reach age 70, your license needs to be renewed every 2 years.

  2. Keith Wilhelm says

    I already have a Panamanian drivers license. How do I upgrade to get a 15 pasdenger van license, please.?

  3. Jay says

    Hi Jackie,

    First of all congrats for your website and Q&A conference call, it is a great tool so I am sure your relocation are very efficient too !
    I have read on some site that this border trip, (“If you leave Panama a few days before your 90 days is up, you only need to be out of Panama for 3 days before you can come back in to Panama to drive another 90 days.”) doesn’t work anymore, do you have an update on that. We want to do our residency and our permit but we have a 6-months trip planned to panama and we might need more than 3 months to decide if we decide to stay in the country but would need to drive more than 3 months.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hi Jay

      You’re right that Panama has really cracked down on “border hops” of just going to Costa Rica for a few days. Many people have been denied entry back in to Panama unless they have been out of Panama for 30 days. However, if you fly to Colombia or Ecuador for a few days, it seems to be easier to get in through the airport than the border towns if you’ve been out less than 30 days. A much better/safer plan would be to come to Panama with all your documents ready to get a residency Visa. Then do a 60-90-day evaluation to decide if you want to get a Visa. Before the end of the 90 days, get a Visa and a Panama driver’s license so you can legally drive in Panama and not have to worry about being forced to stay out of Panama for 30 days.

  4. Lenore Elaine Mallernee says

    The fee for your affidavit is now $100. The new Consulate General discovered that there are 2 signatures on that document, and the fee is supposed to be $50 per signature. At least that is what I was told at the U.S.Embassy, when I asked if there was a recent fee change. Just so no one gets caught short of cash when they go.

  5. Lenore Elaine Mallernee says

    Things do change, which I discovered 2 weeks ago at the Embassy. See comment below.

  6. Omar says

    I come from Taiwan, If I didn’t have Embassy at Panama, how can I get Panamanian driver license?

    • Jackie Lange says

      You’ll need to contact an Panamanian immigration attorney or a Panama Consultate closest to you. Sorry, we do not have that information.

  7. Cliff Buede says

    Where in Penonome is the office for license renewal?

  8. Robert Askew says

    Search on Google Maps for ‘SERTRACEN Penonome’

  9. Steve says

    Hell Connie, thanks for the informative article. I present have a license from Saudi Arabia. However there is no SA embassy in Panama to authenticate it. Is there another way to have this completed?

    Best Regrds.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Your immigration attorney can help you get your license authenticated in Panama City. We have a list of recommended immigration lawyers in the https://panamarelocationtours.com/guide

  10. Amy says

    Can you renew your temporary drivers license online? I’m getting my permanent visa tomorrow and am wondering if I have to renew at Setracen or can I do it online?

    • Jackie Lange says

      You cannot renew your temporary license online.

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