Panama, Republic of Panama
Driver’s License Steps
Note: This information is current as of January 2014. Procedures change occasionally, and may have varied. Plan on 2-4 days for the entire process.
Also, you must already be a resident to authenticate your foreign license.
Here are the steps:
1. Get your foreign license authenticated at your embassy. Your license should be good for around one more year or more to prevent snags. Beware of Panamanian holidays you may be unfamiliar with, so check ahead of time to make sure they’ll be open. The US Embassy works by appointment. See their website.
IMPORTANT: double check that all numbers, dates, ID numbers, etc. on the letter they give you are exactly correct to your originals. One wrong digit and you ill probably have to repeat the process.
2. Panama authentication of your foreign license. Go to the “Departamento de Autenticacion y Legalizacion (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores)” which is located in Tumba Muerto, just past El Dorado Mall, on the same side of the street. Downstairs is Banco Nacional so it is quite easy to find the building. It is a 2-3 story blue building. Facing the building from the street, use the external stairs to the right, and go to the first floor. A few steps on the left you will see a recessed doorway, go in there. Hours are 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM or so, and it is best to get there about 8:30 AM if you can.
Take a number tag for the “submit” process. Watch and wait for your number to be called – it is usually about 20 minutes. Go to the desk to submit your paperwork that your embassy gave you. The clerk will look at the documents and give you a form to take to Banco Nacional downstairs to pay your $2 fee. The clerk will also tell you when to come back to pick it up the paperwork.
Go downstairs to Banco Nacional, where there may be a line outside, but it moves quickly. When you come in the door, turn right. There is a long counter for paying all sorts of fees. You will need to complete the form they gave you upstairs with your name, signature, passport number and date. As the form is in Spanish, you may wish to see if there is help available to fill it out, but it is pretty much self-explanatory.
Once at the counter, they will collect your $2 and stamp your paperwork as paid.
A little before the time when you were told to come back, head back upstairs, take a number ticket for the pickup window (green dispenser) and wait for your number to be called/displayed.
When you go to the counter, show them your bank receipt and they will hand you your paperwork that is now authenticated by Panama.
3. Blood Type Report – Although your original license may have your blood type on it, it will make life easier to get an “approved” blood test. There is a list of approved laboratories on the SERTRACEN (the driver’s license department) website.
Once at a lab, just ask for a blood test for SERTACEN. They will ask for your ID, and take a small photo for the test page. I suggest you show your passport. Processing times may vary depending on the laboratory, but getting this done while you are waiting for your license to be authenticated is a good use of time.
4. SERTRACEN (the Driver’s License Department). As of October 2013 the only office that can issue new driver’s licenses for foreigners that are co-validating their home country license is the one at Plaza Carolina on Via Espana, past Rio Abajo. The office at Albrook will not accept you. The SERTACEN office is just past Via Cincuentenario (where KFC is), about 1 km. on the right hand side, heading away from Panama proper. There is a huge sign on the building (SERTRACEN). Go to the “Licencias” door entrance, the one that faces the parking lot, not on the building front.
MAKE SURE you have with you: (1) your authenticated paperwork from your embassy that has been authenticated by Panama’s Departmento de Autenticacion y Legalizacion; (2) your passport; (3) your original driver’s license from your home country/State; (4) your original Panama Visa/Pensionado/Permanent Visa card, (5) and $40.
When you go in the first door there will be a line to get to a window, where the clerk will meticulously check all documents, data, dates, etc. This is where having made sure all data are accurate will come in handy. The clerk will fill out a small form, staple your copies to it, and then you get buzzed into the next room for the final steps.
As you enter this final room, go to the right, and go to Desks 4-8, where they will do a final review. They ask for a few more details like phone, marital status, where you live, and such. They will take a picture of you there, and also get you to sign an electronic pad to capture your signature. After they hand your paperwork back, go to the left, and near Cubicle 1 is the eye test. The clerk will wave you over and give you a simple eye test. Once you are done, within a few minutes they will call your name for an audio test which is in a side room. They will enter your passport number into the PC and then give you a headset. If the sound is from the left side, click that button. Same for the right.
After the audio test, walk out of the small hearing test room and over to the cash tellers. Give them your passport number, and they will ask for $40 and give you a receipt.
Have a seat by the exit and within five minutes or so you will hear your name being called from the window on the same side of the wall as the hearing test. Walk up, they’ll ask you to sign a few places on a few papers, and hand you your brand new Panama Driver’s License!
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