My adventure, which ultimately led to my destination in Panama was a long one. I drove through Central America, stopping at interesting sites (aka beaches) along the way. So needless to say, I arrived in Panama with a car.
Just like all the other countries (the exception being Mexico that has its own peculiarities) I stopped at the Aduanas, or Customs Office. There I was instructed to buy car insurance first and foremost, nothing could be completed without it. Fortunately, there were several offices that sold insurance in the near vicinity for the same price ($15/month 2015) and you could purchase it for up to three months. I would understand later that three months was the limited amount of time a foreign car could be kept in Panama without further trekking into the land of bureaucracy.
Insurance secured I headed back to the Aduanas Office where they of course wanted originals and copies of everything having to with the car. I was pleased that the nice lady selling car insurance has already taken care of said copies*** (listed below), but I must mention I was wary of handing over my car title and passport and being told to, “go wait over there”, but as one does with all things immigration, I smiled and stepped two feet from the window, which was not quite, “over there”, but no need to get technical.
After twiddling my thumbs for what seemed like endless ages, 15 minutes later my name was called. The official handed over my title, passport and told me to sign both copies of the official car “registration” paper. One was mine, one was hers. Next I was instructed to get the car inspected. Logical enough, if only I knew who was suppose to inspect the car. After waving the paper around in several people’s faces I was directed to the gentleman that had on a polo shirt (it does have official insignia) and a lanyard around his neck with identification. Mr. Inspector took my paper, looked at the license plate, matched it to the one on the paper and looked in several windows. Then he scratched his signature and handed me back my “registration”. The car was legal!
The next stop was actual Immigration. I handed over my passport and my car papers (this was on advice of a local and I am guessing it null and voids any question about my departure or return ticket) and they stamped me into Panama. The story is longer, as I had Jack, my faithful 4-legged travel companion with me, but that part of the story is for another day.
Before you can leave the border area you must purchase a fumigation ticket. This is $1 and allows, although you are forced, to drive through the fumigation machine. This is like a giant car wash, big enough for trucks to pass. A word to the wise, remember to put your windows up. Yes, I forgot! Borders always take longer than one would like, but to help speed things up, while you are waiting for the Aduanas Office to deal with your car, go across the street and purchase your fumigation ticket. It only takes a couple of minutes, but it is one less thing to worry about once you are finally legal.
***Copies you need:
2 Copies of your title
2 Copies of your passport (both the front page and the last page)