Part 1 – Driver’s License Requirements
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 three days and return to start the 90 days over again. You can do this indefinitely. This is why you must show your passport along with your license at checkpoints – the guards are looking for your last entry date stamp.
When you decide to become a temporary resident, you will be required to obtain a Panamanian driver’s license. You will be able to keep your current country’s license 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 status. Your license will expire at the same time as your residency visa and could valid for up to four years. Long term residents, including local Panamanians, normally renew their driver’s licenses every four years.
If you do not currently have a driver’s license 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 simpler. SERTRACEN is the private company which has been contracted by the Panamanian government for the issuance of driver’s licenses. Requirements for the various levels of licenses can be found on their website at http://www.sertracen.com.pa/, and we’ll cover more of their process for obtaining a license in part two of this article.