Driver’s License Requirements in Panama

As a foreigner, you can legally drive in Panama using your foreign license for the first 90 days you are in Panama.  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. 

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.

For tourists, this is not a problem.

But when you move to Panama, you will need to be able to drive for more than 90 days. The solution is to get a residency visa, then you can get a Panama 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 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 Panama

To apply for a Panamanian License, you must have a residency Visa. Initially, you are issued a temporary or processing Pensionado 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 $100).  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, $5 paid to a nearby bank. This step can take a day because they will tell you to return later to pick up your documents. The Online Guide lists people who can help you with this process.
  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 visa card, 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 a fee of $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; we have people who 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….the test can be taken in Spanish or English. 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 on 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 you get after your permanent Visa).  If the police notice that you have a stamp on your passport that you applied for a visa but are driving with your foreign driver’s license, they will likely impound your car and 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 renew your license, 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.?

    • Rupinder Virk says

      Hi can a person drive taxi in Panama Who’s having residency visa.

      • Jackie Lange says

        A taxi driver needs a special permit. It is not easy for a foreigner to get the permit to be a taxi driver.

  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.

  11. Massimiliano says

    Hi Jackie,

    Much thanks for this article. Would you be able to advise some driving school where it cost 40$ to pass the theoretical and practical test?

    Thanks

    • Jackie Lange says

      Driving schools all charge $70+

  12. Louise says

    Hello,
    If I understand, you can not get your Panamanian driver’s license here unless you have a visa Can you buy a car without having a Panamanian driver’s license or a visa? Canadian friends are thinking about it, they are allowed to stay for 6 months and travelling around the country, so can only travel for 3 months and get out for one month, but want to drive their own car. What would be required to get a car without a valid Panamanian license.

    • Jackie Lange says

      it is not advised to buy a car until you have a valid Panama driver’s license.

  13. Mindy Deschamps says

    If I am going to Panama for only a week what do I need to do or know to be able to rent a car and drive there?

    Mindy

    • Jackie Lange says

      If you only plan to be in Panama 1 week, you can drive with your foreign license. I would NOT recommend driving in Panama City, use Uber instead

      You will have to buy the rental car company insurance which is very expensive.

  14. Farideh says

    Hello, we are getting close to 90 days in Panama, can we do same day re-entery to Costa Rica and back?

    • Jackie Lange says

      UNless you are out of Panama for 30 days, immigration may not let you back into Panama.

  15. Taylor says

    Do you need a license to drive a UTV (like a polaris ranger or a mule) in Panama if you are already a resident? Do those types of vehicles need to be registered? The Sertracen website shows you need a license to ride a bicycle….class A…is that true?

    • Jackie Lange says

      You need a Panama driver’s license AND the vehicle must be inspected and licenses annually

  16. Jason Sugar says

    Hi there. Great article, thank-you! Question—I already have residency and a Panamanian drivers license. But I’m out of the country and my drivers license expires in July. Do you know what happens if I let it expire? Will I have to start from square one?

      • Jason Sugar says

        Oh, wow, that’s great! Thanks for helping all of us, Jackie—you’re a great resource.

  17. John says

    I have been told that you can leave for 72hours to costa rica for example then come back in panama to extend 90 day drivers license.
    Is the true?
    Thanks

    • Jackie Lange says

      Once you get a Panama visa, you can no longer drive with your foreign license. You must get a Panama driver’s license

  18. Ching says

    Hi!

    Does there surely provide English exam for driving test? Because I asked driving school today, the answer is no. Or can I request a practice book from the SERTRACEN service center?

    Thanks!!

    • Jackie Lange says

      The study book is only in Spanish ( use Google Translate to read in English), but you can take the written test in English.

  19. PAUL CIESIOLKA says

    Hi Jackie, I will be going for my license for the first time since turning 70Is there anything that I will need aside from the doctor checkup ?
    Will I be able to wear my reading glasses for any of the tests?
    Thanks,Paul

    • Jackie Lange says

      you can wear your glasses. The routine hearing and vision test are all that are needed besides the doctor’s letter

      • Nick says

        Hi Jackie. I have single Sided Deafness – what are the consequences of this for the test. I have just relocated to Panama, so will need a license soon. Thanks for your help

        • Jackie Lange says

          I’m not sure you will be able to get a driver’s license if you are deaf in one ear.

  20. Lawrence Albert says

    I have a Panama pensionado and am moving to Panama. If my driving license is revoked in USA will I still get one in Panama? Do they see USA DMV records?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Once you have a pensionado visa in Panama, you can no longer drive with your foreign license. You will need to get your foreign license authenticated at the US Embassy in Panama City, then re-authenticated at the Ministry of Foreign Relations, then you can go to get your Panama driver’s license.

      • Jackie Lange says

        US citizens have to pay taxes on their worldwide income. You may qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. If you live in Panama and sell products or services in Panama, you will need a work permit and you will also need to pay taxes in Panama.

        • Jackie Lange says

          Hello Jeffrey. If you speak fluent Spanish, you may be able to get a job in Panama but understand that the wages are much lower then North America. For a foreigner to work in Panama, you need a residency Visa and a work permit. See what’s available at https://www.konzerta.com/en-panama/empleos.html

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