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PANAMA – The long awaited Panama-Canada Free Trade agreement will be signed in Toronto Canada on May 14th said Panama’s Commerce and Industry Minister Roberto Henriquez. The countries completed the agreement early this year and the agreement would give Canada immediate access to Panama’s markets and services while Panama’s access is tied to a deadline. Both countries need to ratify the agreements in order to start up trade. We were told that before the end of 2010 they would be operational.

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license

I have just completed the process of getting my driver´s license for Panama. The following rough guide may be helpful if you are about to apply, or already have a temporary license. Please call or visit Sertracen with your present license and passport before you begin to ensure that you have the correct procedure as it does seem to vary. Their contact info is below.

I am of the understanding that Canadians and Americans who are tourists can drive in the country with their licenses for the length of their tourist visa. Being in process of getting your residency visa does not count, at least my lawyer insisted I go and get a temporary license to drive here and which is a similar process to getting the permanent one. I do not know about other countries but the regulation is probably it is the same.

I have the experience of getting both types of licenses which are basically identical with the exception of the validity. When we recently got our permanent residency I went to apply for my new, 4 year driver´s license.

My version of getting your license is fairly confusing probably because last year they changed their system. This year it was much simpler.

So to be clear on what I had to do, I first applied for a temporary license last year, and months later a permanent one. Be patient, this will take at least a day and two days in my case.

Note: Last year, I was told to first go to the Transisto Office on the way to Tocumen Airport, this was apparently to make sure I had no outstanding tickets and to input my data into the system, then I had to wait 24 hours for my data to be in the system. Even though computerized, it can be pretty slow.

Please ask Sertracen first what they require. Have someone who speaks Spanish call them and ask, or go together. Sertracen is a privately owned company and are pretty well organized so the experience should be painless but since regulations and requirements seem to change fairly frequently, and are different for various countries, best to check with them. They are located on the street behind Rey supermarket just behind Allbrook Airport. Drive off the main road into the street to enter Rey parking lot, take a left (still heading for the parking entrance) but then then a right, drive about 3 seconds on that street and you should see a new Sertracen building on the right.

So in general for Panama, the documents required are:
-Resident Card (or tourist visa if applying for a temporary license)
-Passport
-Driver’s License from Country of Origin
-Blood Test
-Glucose Test

1. You need a blood and glucose test. Fast the night before and then go to a medical lab and ask for a test for driver´s license, “licencia de conducir.” My test was about $20.

In the end it turned out that I did not need step 2 or 3 because I already had my temporary Panamanian license so please double check with Sertracen.

2. You must notarize or apostille your foreign driver’s license. I did that at my Canadian embassy, which costs $50 and was ready the next day.

3. Then that letter had to be authenticated. After the embassy I went to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores which is at Plaza Edison, on the Tumbo Muerto side, corner of Via Brasil and Tumba Muerto.

-Get in line there and tell them you need your notarized copy of your driver’s license to be authenticated. I was told to return in 3 hours to pick up the authenticated document with my receipts and stamps (instructions below).

-You will receive a slip to deposit $2.00 at the Banco Nacional de Panama which is in Edison Plaza as well, bring back that reciept to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores. At the same time, you need to buy from Banco Nacional 2 – one dollar stamps (“estampillas”) The stamps can also be purchased from the same bank teller where you deposit the $2.00. Or outside the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores there is usually a man selling the stamps in case you forget.

-Bring the deposit slip and stamps back to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores and hand them in to the desk to receive your document.

Note: In my case I purchased the $2 stamps from the man outside the door before I went in the the Ministerio the first time, and the woman in the Ministerio showed me where to place them on the document.

4. Head for the Sertracen office in Albrook. Take a number, and you will be called, then they will review your documents. They will ask for a photocopy of your documents which they can make for a few cents. Then you will wait in another area and wait for your number and then you will be sent to another area to wait for your hearing and vision test, then to the cashier to pay $40, and receive your card!

Tangent: I once had to get my driver´s license in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles which was more difficult, and also Japan which was a breeze because like here they just transfer the license after a couple of minor tests, but it is not the same for some. My friends who were not from Canada (I think some European countries may be the same) applying for their Japanese driver´s license had to pass a driver´s test in Japan. Most of them failed at least once, so did the Japanese!

Note: to drive a motorcycle or commercial vehicle in Panama you need a special license.

Sertracen

Allbrook (there is a map on their website)
Tel: 315-0000
Website: http://www.sertracen.com.pa/

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