Why an International Driver’s Permit may be a good idea
You may have heard that you should obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP), sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “license”, before you travel. First of all, you DO NOT need an IDP to rent a car or drive in Panama. Your current driver’s license and your Passport are all that is required. So, why get an IDP? Do not confuse an International Driving Permit with a license to drive in another country! You still must have a valid driver’s license from your country. The only purpose of the IDP is to authenticate your driver’s license. This is especially true if you are from the US where every state has a different looking license. How else are Panamanians to know what you are carrying is real and not just something you whipped up on your computer? When you are asked to show your license, hand over your driver’s license along with the IDP and passport and there will be no further questions. An IDP is valid for 1 year from the date of issue. However, foreigners are only legally allowed to drive on their country’s license in Panama for up to 90 days. After that you have 2 options. If you plan to become a resident you will want to apply for a Panama driver’s license. If you remain a tourist, you can leave Panama and return anytime after being out of the country for at least 3 days and you start over with another 90 period of allowed driving. You can do this indefinitely and use the same IDP until it expires after a year. The reason you have to show your passport with the driver’s license and IDP is so they can see the entry date stamped and know you have not exceeded the 90 day time period. The only agencies legally authorized in the US to issue an International Driving Permit are AAAand the National Auto Club. Do not be sucked into internet scams that try to sell this document for $60 or more! The actual cost is only $15-20. It is a very simple process and can be done online or at your local auto club office. Consider the International Driving Permit a form of inexpensive insurance that is worth having to prevent any possible issue that may or may not arise while you are driving in Panama.
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