Last Thursday was one of those bumpy, put our Panameño hat on kind of days. We usually take a least one day a month to go to Chitre and do some shopping. Because we have had a trip to the city and stopped to shop in Penenomé on our way back from Rio Hato we decided we didn’t need to take trip this month. Instead we decided that we would do a few errands a little closer to home in Las Tablas (or as the locals call it La Tabla).
One of the errands SU decided that we must do was to renew our driver’s licenses. They are expiring in March so why not go ahead and just get them done early and get it over and done with. I’ve never described how to go about getting a driver’s license in Panama so I guess now is as good a time as any.
First I should note that although you can stay in Panama for six months with a Tourist Visa, you are only permitted to drive with your home driver’s licence for three months. After that you have to get a Panameño license. That doesn’t apply to us, when we got our temporary residency card issued in March 2012 we did our driver’s license around the same time. Our license expiration dates are the same as when our temporary visa would have expired, so for one year. The expiration date is 07 March 2013.
If you already have a driver’s license from your home country it’s a matter of getting all the paper together, getting a blood test and having someone guide you through the process unless you are really, really confident in your Spanish language skills. A year ago I could barely understand when the housekeeper was asking for my dirty towels never mind maneuvering around getting a driver’s license so we had someone help us. Luckily the service included driving us around Panama City because it’s one scary place to drive around for a newbie.
The paperwork you need is:
- A photocopy of your current driver’s license notarized by your embassy. Some embassies might make you have an appointment for this. The Canadian Embassy took our paperwork and made us come back the next day for it. Luckily our helper went back and picked up everything for us. The embassy charges $50.00 for each document.
- You also need to get a blood test. Everybody has their blood type on the back of their license if you have an accident and you end up maimed and need to be transported to a hospital. Actually quite clever, saving time at the other end.
- Then you get notarized copy of your driver’s license authenticated by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores. This costs $2.00.
- Then you take all your paperwork as well as a copy of your passport and your residency visa over to Sertacen. We did our first license in Panama City so we went to the Allbrook location.
- You check in at the front desk and wait for your name to be called by one of the attendants in the little cubbies. Like the immigration office there are chairs that look like you’re sitting in a bus station.
- Once you’re with your attendant at the cubbie you give your address, your height and weight and an emergency contact number for someone in Panama. Picture, click, click without glasses.
- You return to the waiting area and wait to be called for vision and hearing tests.
- Eye test, one road sign and a beep test for hearing just like at home.
- Pay your bill at the cajero, you sit down $40.00 poorer.
- Go and sit in another area where your name will be called. Check, check, check all the information on your brand spanking new card is correct. Sign the slip and off you go, all legal and everything.
You can see why having an expeditor or assistant to help you is a good idea especially if you don’t speak very much Spanish. Renewing your license is easier than getting one the first time. Luckily there is a Sertracen (Driver’s License Bureau) in Las Tablas and it’s very easy to find. Just take the ring road and there it is right at the only stop lights within an hour of our house. (If you hit another set of stop lights you’ve gone too far and you’re in Chitre!) So, after vegetales Thursday (which is another story in itself) off we went to Sertacen.
The office is smaller than it is in Panama. We looked around and saw a lighted number on the wall. We took two tickets from the little number machine by the door and down we sat. But were they using numbers? No! Luckily when “next” was called the rest of our waiting room companions were kind enough to indicate that it was our turn. I don’t know what they were all waiting for, there were about six people in there but I guess it wasn’t to see the girl in the cubbie. This time all we needed was:
- Our current license.
- A copy of our residency visa.
- A copy of our passports.
The girl behind the desk spoke good enough English and we spoke good enough Spanish so that we could understand each other. There was one problem though; she wouldn’t give us our driver’s licenses. Why? They don’t expire until March 7. In Canada we would have been proactive by going in early, you know, avoiding the rush. But then again, would our license expire on the 7th of the month? The new license would be dated from the date it expired. Here they don’t want to see you until the day before the license expires. Yes, we must return 06 March. Ok, gracias! The good thing is we are all organized and ready to go for 06 March. Whoot, whoot, where’s our hats?! Now that we’ve had a dry run so we’ll look like pros when we go next time. We did have a lovely lunch in town and got the grocery shopping done.
We also got a nice newly paved road at our corner just in time for Carnaval, which begins next Friday. The only problem is that the crew that was paving wasn’t letting in any traffic across to our road when we came back from vegetales. But they didn’t bother to let any of the houses on our street know. Luckily we got back just before they blocked it off and we parked our vehicle at the end of the road so we could get out to go to Las Tablas. I quickly called Vecino because he was planning a trip that morning and he pulled his vehicle up the block and across the street too. Otherwise we all would have been stuck at home all day. Bonus, Vecino helped me lug my haul of veggies home down the road. This time we all put on our Panamá construcción sombreros.
When we got home we discovered we had forgotten to do a couple of things. We’ll have to return next week before the craziness of Carnaval begins. This time I’ll put on my sombrero panameño de viajes. You know, a girl can never have too many hats.
* There is a really good blog post at this link with instructions on how to get your license