I love driving in Panama, maybe because I do it in the countryside where you rarely experience traffic jams, and when I am in it the city, the driving there appeals to my aggressive driving nature. You can only drive on the license from your country of origin for so long before you run into problems, so obtaining a Panamanian driver’s license became necessary for me. Like most things here, obtaining a Panamanian driver’s license is more involved than obtaining one in your country of origin, and I experienced first hand the trials and tribulations of getting one here. Budget about $125, and read on to learn the four steps to get a driver’s license in Panama.
Let’s first clarify: you can drive up to 90 days with your home-country driver’s license as a tourist. However, you are required to get your Panamanian driver’s license as soon as you start an immigration process to obtain permanent residence in Panama.
Requirements may vary depending on your situation. However, we can simplify the process assuming you have a valid, non-expired and legible license from your home country
Step 1: Visit your Embassy or Consulate in Panama to notarize (authenticate) the license.
Be mindful: some embassies require you to make an appointment, while others allow you to show up anytime. Fees vary from embassy to embassy.
- US citizens: Make an appointment online. Then bring your valid U.S. driver’s license and a copy of both sides to the American Citizen Services (ACS) section. The fee for this notary service is $50 as of July 2017.
- Canadian citizens: Bring your Canadian driver’s license and passport to the Canadian embassy for authentication. The embassy is open to the public between 8:30 am – 1 pm Monday through Friday. As of July 2017, the fee is $46 USD/$50 CAD, and you may pick up the authentication the following day at the embassy.
Step 2: Certify your notarized (authenticated) driver’s license
The certification needs to be done at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Panama City (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores – Departamento de Autenticacion y Legalizacion)
This office is located in the 2nd floor at the Plaza Sun Tower on Ave. Ricardo J. Alfaro, (a.k.a. Tumba Muerto). You must bring the valid driver’s license and the documents from your Embassy/Consulate. The authentication process takes one day. You are required to pay $4.00.
Step 3: Blood Type Test.
You are required to proof your blood type. A blood work costs around $15-$20 in one of the Sertracen’s authorized laboratories. Exception: This is not required if your blood type is written on your driver’s license.
Step 4: Visit Sertracen.
You can consult Sertracen’s website to find your closest office, and office hours.
You must bring original and copies of the following documents:
- Original and copies of valid immigration card (Temporary or permanent Panamanian resident cards).
- Original and copies of valid Passport.
- Original and copies of valid driver’s license.
- Document obtained at Embassy/Consulate, and Foreign Affairs.
- Blood type test result
Keep in mind that Sertracen won’t run copies for you, even if they have copy machines! Save time and have your copies made beforehand.
Once at Sertracen, you will get a number an wait to be called to a booth. There, an officer will review your paperwork. Afterwards, you will be instructed to a hearing and a vision test.
The hearing test takes place in front of a computer. You wear earphones and must identify 10 times whether sound comes to your left or right ear. The vision test is similar to a simple eye test, where you identify symbols and traffic signs.
Both tests are in Spanish, but they are really simple. I remember many other English-speaking foreigners doing their tests with me, and none of them flunked!
A Sertracen officer takes your picture after these tests. You then visit the cashier in the same office to pay a $40 fee. Finally, sit and wait for 15-20 minutes to have your name called, when they finally deliver your brand-new Panamanian driver’s license.
The license you obtain is valid for 4 years if you have a permanent residence card. Otherwise, the license will be valid for the duration of your temporary card.
Senior citizens disclaimer: you must complete a driving test after 85 years old.
Did you get your Panamanian driver’s license? Share your experience with us and leave a comment below!
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