Wednesday, June 29, 2011

LICENCIA DE CONDUCIR

Today, after six months of planning, I got my Panamanian Drivers License.  Here is a very brief description of the process:
  1. In Panama City last March, got an official affidavit/copy of my US drivers license at the US Embassy. Cost:  $51.
  2. Then went to the Panamanian Office of Foreign Affairs to turn in the affidavit for verification (even though it was already verified at the Embassy).
  3. While waiting for the Office of Foreign Affairs to process the affidavit (which may take a few days), bought two postage-stamp-like $1 "timbres" from a man who hangs out on the steps of the office center where the Office of Foreign Affairs is.  He charges a $.10 mark-up but hey, it supports his family.
  4. Went to the Banco Nacional in the same office center to turn in a deposit slip filled out at the Office of Foreign Affairs and deposited $2 into their account.
  5. Took the validated deposit slip and the two timbres back to the Office of Foreign Affairs when my verified affidavit was processed later that afternoon.
  6. Licked the two timbres and applied them to the back of the verified and processed affidavit/copy of my U.S. drivers license, then took the verified and processed affidavit/copy of my U.S. drivers license to another desk at the Office of Foreign Affairs, where they stamped the stamps with a rubber stamp.
This month, after my permanent Pensionada was processed, I was ready to apply for my 4-year Panamanian drivers license.  This has to be done within 90 days of my last entry into the country on April 6, so I had until July 5 to finish everything.

  1. Realized I had lost the papers above, so I returned to Panama City last week (the only place where it can be done) and repeated Steps 1-6.  At least I got my permanent Pensionada card in the same trip.  Cost of round-trip airfare:  $255 (but I will get $40 Pensionada discount back after only 4-6 weeks processing time).  Cost of new affidavit/copy/timbres/Office of Foreign Affairs fee:  $55. Cost to pay my lawyer's husband to take me around the city again: $50.  At least the Office of Foreign Affairs processed the affidavit/copy in a few hours when I showed them I had to be on the 4:00 pm return flight the same day.  Otherwise it would have taken at least overnight.
  2. Additional photocopies of my passport main page plus any other pages with immigration stamps and the date of my last entry into the county.  Photocopy of my permanent Pensionada card.  Done locally in Boquete.  Cost:  $.25  No need for affidavits.  Made sure the cards were positioned at the top center of all the copies.
  3. Went to the medical laboratory in the same Chiriqui Mall as the drivers license office to get my blood typed.  Cost: $4 (after a generous $6 Pensionada discount).  Waiting time for results:  45 minutes.  Made good use of that time by going to Hospital Chiriqui laboratory for more blood work in connection with getting health insurance - filled out health insurance application and saw a doctor in the hospital for my insurance exam.
  4. Returned to medical laboratory after lunch and picked up the lab report with my blood type.  Why didn't I get this done ahead of time in Boquete, you ask?  Because there are no "approved" clinical laboratories in Boquete, and I went to the trouble to look up the list of approved labs ahead of time. Everyone goes to the lab in the Chiriqui Mall anyway.  (By the way, if your U.S. drivers license shows your blood type, you don't need to go through this step.)
  5. With all paperwork in hand, finally went to the Sertracen office in the Chiriqui Mall.  This is a company with the official contract from the Panamanian government to process the drivers licenses.
  6. Showed the paperwork to the receptionist.  All was in order.  YES!
  7. Waited along with about 100 other people to get my photo made and paperwork double-checked by another person and fill out the application. Fortunately Pensionadas go to the front of any line n any public office, so that was a plus.
  8. Then the power went out at the office.  Everyone acted normally, as if nothing were wrong.  
  9. After all this paperwork, I vowed not to leave the office without my drivers license unless they had to carry me out feet first.
  10.  A man came out from an inner office carrying a penlight (which was really unnecessary because the whole front wall was windows and one could see perfectly well without power.  I noticed the lady at the station where my application had been placed on the top of the pile was still working on her computer.  I could see the reflection of the light from the monitor on her face. A good sign.
  11. The power came back on after about ten minutes.  The lady called me up to her station, processed my application into her computer and took my picture (without glasses). 
  12. Went back to wait with the 100+ people (more people were there by now) to wait for my eye test, which I had been stressing about. After a few minutes they called me to the eye test station, which was right next to the other lady who had processed my application into the system. No problema - passed with flying colors.
  13. Went back to wait with the 100++ people to get a hearing test behind a door in a soundproof room.  After a few minutes they called my name and I went into the inner sanctum for the hearing test, which was a nifty computer program with a touch screen and earphones. High technology. No problema.
  14. Was sent to the cashier at another window. Stood in a short line. Paid my $40 and got a receipt. Was told to go back and sit with the 100+++ people.
  15. After a few minutes, someone at another window called my name, but I didn't hear it. All could have been lost at this point.  But by then all the other 100++++ people knew who I was because I was one of the few who had actually been processed during that time -Pensionada and all that. So some friendly people in the waiting room told me to go on up and showed me where the other window was - in a back corner of the room, not visible from where I'd been sitting.
  16. The lady in that window handed me my drivers license.  I said "Gracias a Dios" with true sincerity and kissed it, then walked out to make the drive back home.
  17. I forgot to time it, but I think it took about two hours once I was at the drivers license office,  I am very proud of the fact that I did it all in one trip - after the Panama City fiasco, that is.  Some gringos need up to seven trips because they don't do their homework.  Of course, I did have to make two trips to Panama City, so I shouldn't gloat too much.
And here is what I have to show for all this effort.  I think the picture says it all - what it feels like to work with the system:


In the end, it really wasn't that bad. It would have been much easier and cheaper if I hadn't lost the original paperwork. But now you know what I did, and what you will need to do to get your Panamanian Drivers License. 

Of course, by the time you do it, the procedure may have changed. So you will need to learn it for yourself anyway.

Now just in case you missed something, here is a quick recap.

Got it?  Good.  And good luck.

-bjd

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