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Reprinted with permission from Billy and Akaisha Kaderli of www.RetireEarlyLifestyle.com Commentary in blue about driving in Panama added by Jackie Lange of Panama Relocation Tours
Most people in the U.S. and Canada own their own cars. Wherever we want to go, whether it’s to the grocery store or the next town, we simply jump into our cars and start driving. There’s no second thought about traffic rules, which side of the road to drive on, the language of the land or whether the car is in working order.
Generally, mass transport options are scarce for everyday getting around (unless you live in a city with a subway or airtram) and the use of taxis for transport can add up.
The situation is different in a foreign country. Taxis are cheap, and there are other transport choices like tuk tuks, local buses or bicycle driven taxis. Uber is available and very affordable in Panama City. You can even request an English speaking Uber driver.
Still, even with the abundance of affordable selections for getting around, some still prefer to rent a vehicle.
If this is your choice, below you will find nine useful tips for driving in a foreign country.
- Think twice about renting a car. Hiring a driver is an affordable option in many countries. These personal drivers know where they are going, they know the best sites to visit, and will assure your safety. It is a stress-free option. Many car rental places in Panama will not accept your insurance and force you to buy very expensive insurance.
- Become familiar with a rental car by driving it around the parking lot. If you do decide to rent a car in a foreign country, become familiar with the vehicle by driving it around the parking lot. Check that the seat belts are functioning, that the car is equipped with airbags and make sure the brakes and windshield wipers work. Try the headlights to verify they light up, and confirm that the turn signals blink. Check your fluids and fuel levels. Make sure you have Whatsapp on your cell phone and a cell number for the car rental place so you can call them if you have a problem with the car… know that they may not speak English.
- Plan your route ahead of time. This is very important. Know where you are going, and what stops you can make along the way. Weather conditions or even a local political protest can interrupt an otherwise easy trip and turn it into a nightmare, so have a secondary location where you could stay the night. Are you going through mountains? Do you want to avoid big cities or go right through them? Have a list of hotel choices in your destination place as well as your possible secondary stop. Always have plenty of water and snacks in the car just in case you are delayed.
- Get the latest maps and know the metric system. If you don’t know where you are going, how far it is to get there, or what the speed requirements are you are at a disadvantage. Going too slow or too fast, and not knowing what to expect on the roads ahead can create safety problems. Your car might have a GPS, but if you are going to less populated areas, or off the beaten path, those roads will not be registered in your device. You can’t buy a good map of Panama in Panama. Buy your map from Amazon before you come to Panama.
- Read up on the road laws and know the road culture of the country you are in. Stop signs and speed limits can be meaningless in some countries. It behooves you to take this fact seriously. In some countries like Thailand, the one with the larger vehicle pays for the damage, even if it’s not your fault. If a motorcycle driver runs into you, you are liable for the repair of his bike and his medical coverage. Be aware of your surroundings on the road. In Panama, the maximum speed is 100km or 60 miles an hour and it is strictly enforced. There could be police check points anywhere. The police will want to see your passport and driver’s license. They will check the entry stamp in your passport to make sure you have not overstayed your time in country as a tourist – which is a maximum of 90 days if you are driving.
- Avoid driving at night. Road cultures differ from country to country, and besides the fact that stop signs and speed limits can be meaningless in some countries, there are drivers who choose to turn their headlights off “to save battery power.” As astonishing as this might seem to you, it is often done, especially in rural areas. If you cannot see the car in front of you or the one behind you, this places your safety in jeopardy. If you are driving through a rural area at night, there can be cattle, donkeys, horses and other animals roaming the roadways. They are harder to see at night, and running into them is a rude surprise. I would add, try to avoid driving in the rain, especially hard rain, because it’s hard to see.
- Lack of enforcement and bribery are commonplace in many countries. This may or may not be to your advantage. Especially, if you have an accident with a local driver whose brother is the mayor or police chief! Try to keep your cool in any situation. Demanding, screaming and the flailing of arms will only place you lower on the totem pole of getting anything done in your favor. Don’t assume you have rights. Remember, you are in a foreign country. Move the situation forward with politeness and respect, and take care of your complaints later. If you get a ticket in Panama, you’ll have to go back to that province to pay the ticket. Do not drink and drive, or use your cell phone while driving.
- Don’t be afraid to use your horn. Americans are among the most polite drivers in the world, but it gets them in trouble. In many countries, using the car’s horn is a normal function of driving and is a form of communication. Using your horn can be effective in reducing crashes. Always toot your horn when you are passing someone on a road in Panama.
- Use public transport as often as possible. Public transport is often very good in foreign countries. Bus, air, ferry or rail passes make traveling from place to place affordable and less stressful than renting a car and having to remember on which side of the road to drive. You won’t have to be responsible for the vehicle’s safety or fret about where the next fuel station is. You can catch a snooze, watch captivating scenery or read a book while being transported to your next location. Public buses are readily available and very affordable in Panama. Uber is available in Panama City.
Relax and enjoy yourself!
A more affordable lifestyle is important and so is quality and affordable healthcare. Panama delivers here too!
You want to relocate to a country that is safe. Panama is probably much safer than the town where you live now. And Panama is certainly much safer than many places in Europe or Mexico.
But what’s equally important to consider is how stable the government is and how strong the economy is. The last thing you want to do is move from one country with serious financial problems (large debt) to another country with serious financial problems. There is no political tension in Panama. Panama really shines in this category!
My Friend Bob Adams of Retirement Wave recently published a special report about the economic conditions in Panama. The link to the article is below. I think you’ll be surprised at how well the Panama economy does compared to other countries.
So many outside Panama see how small we are and automatically assume that our economy is small too. They also assume that Panama is nowhere near as well off as Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and other much larger Latin American nations. They forget an important fact. It is not only how much money you make. It is how many mouths you have to feed. To compare Panama with other nations in our region, you need to look at our economy in per capita (per person) terms.
Read the Article Here and see two charts which illustrate how Panama compares to other countries. (republished with permission from Bob Adams) You’ll be amazed!
Come see why Panama is the IDEAL retirement destination. It’s easy to start a new business in Panama too. Join us for a Panama Relocation Tour in 2017.
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To a Better Life in Panama!
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We added a lot of videos and photos from the May 2017 tour
As a foreigner, you can legally drive in Panama for up to 90 days using a valid driver’s license from your home country. As a tourist, you can leave the country for a minimum of thirty days and return to start the 90 days over again. This is why you must show your passport along with your foreign license at checkpoints – the guards are looking for your last entry date stamp.
When you get a Visa and become a permanent resident, 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.
The minimum driving age in Panama is 18 years. If you are over age 70, 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.
In order to apply for a Panamanian License you must have residency Visa. Once you get your permanent Visa, your driver’s license will valid for to four years, until you reach age 70, then it is only valid for 2 years.
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. You will have to attend classes 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!)
If you already have a valid driver’s license from another country, the process to obtain a Panamanian license is much easierr. SERTRACEN is the private company which has been contracted by the Panamanian government for the issuance of driver’s licenses. It takes about 2 days because there are several steps.
- 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 charged me $50). You have to bring your valid passport and driver’s license with you.
- Go to the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs 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.
- Step three is to document your blood type through a SERTACEN-approved lab. I paid $4 for my blood test.
- 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 the front and back of each. Vision and hearing tests will be required, along with the payment of all fees which is $40 as of this writing.