Panama, like most other countries, requires a vehicle registration to allow you to drive your car. This vehicle registration consists of the license plate, a windshield sticker, and a proof of payment.
Unlike other countries, Panama gives you a new license plate EVERY YEAR. The plate number will be the same, with a different ribbon color at the top. This helps police officers identify expired plates.
Renewing your vehicle registration is relatively easy. The only pre-requisite is to have valid vehicle insurance when you renew. The whole thing should cost you less than $75 if you own a pickup, and it will be even cheaper for sedans.
Let me tell you abut the common steps.
Step 1: Determine when and where
Panama does NOT have a national vehicle registration office. Instead, every municipality handles vehicle registration. Although you can drive your vehicle anywhere, you can renew your registration ONLY at the municipality where your vehicle is registered.
You should know your corresponding municipality after the vehicle purchase process. But if you want to be certain, look at your latest registration’s proof of payment. This slip always contains the name of the municipality.
Furthermore, vehicle registration must take place the same month every year. This means you will always renew your vehicle registration in the month of March, or the month of July, etc.
You will know this month also from the date in your latest registration’s proof of payment. Your existing license plate also has a sticker in the bottom right indicating the month of renewal.
PRO TIP: You cannot renew your vehicle registration BEFORE the corresponding month. Not even the day before! I have friends who wanted to renew their registration in advance only to be told at the ATTT (Autoridad del Transito y Transporte Terrestre) they have to come back.
On the other hand, you will be fined if you renew your vehicle registration after the corresponding month. Or, if you are caught driving without the new license plate you will get a $50.00 ticket and 3 points in your license.
Step 2: Vehicle inspection
All vehicles must undergo a vehicle inspection (Revisado Vehicular). This inspection must be done in an ATTT authorized garage. You may call your closest ATTT office to confirm whether a garage is authorized.
You must bring the following paperwork for vehicle registration:
- Vehicle registration certificate (Registo Unico de Propiedad Vehicular)
- Last year’s vehicle inspection certificate
- Proof of insurance
Vehicles are usually verified for brakes, lights, windshield wipers, mirrors, and general conditions. The mechanic will take pictures of the front, sides and back of the car, and include them in a REPORT you must bring to the municipality.
The report results are also uploaded via internet to the ATTT system.
From experience, completing the inspection is very straight forward, unless there’s something clearly wrong with your car, like missing a windshield wiper! In fact, many garages make little inspection and simply take the vehicle pictures and give you the report.
I’ve quoted at least 10 authorized garages in Chiriqui and Panama City, and the inspection cost ranges between $10 and $20.
PRO TIP: Sometimes the ATTT system goes “down” and garages cannot upload inspection results. Then you have no other option but wait. The garage may also send you home, empty handed, and you will need to come back another day! This means, don’t wait until the last day of the month to do your inspection!
Step 3: Visit the Municipality
With your vehicle inspection ready, it’s time to visit the municipality. You need to bring the same documents required for the vehicle inspection along with a copy of each.
The first thing to do at the municipality is get a “Paz y Salvo” document. This document states you have no outstanding tickets; and if you do, they must be paid on the spot to obtain the document.
Fees vary from one municipality to another, but you pay around $30 for sedans and SUVs, and around $50 for pick-ups. In general, vehicles with a value greater than $50,000 pay around $50 in fees, while vehicles with a value greater than $75,000 pay around $150.
Once you pay your fee, you immediately receive your new license plate, windshield sticker and proof of payment.
And you’re done for the year!
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