Driving a Car in Panama

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Driving in Panama

Always carry your passport (or Panama ID called a “Cedula”), your country’s driver’s license (if you do not have a Panama driver’s license) and International Driver’s Permit when driving a vehicle in Panama.  The Panama police
will ask for these if you are stopped while driving.

A foreign driver’s license is valid for 3 months in Panama.  The police officer may
ask to see the Panama immigration entry stamp in your passport to verify that
you have not been in the country longer than 3 months.  After the first 3 months foreigners are required to obtain a Panama driver’s license.

The ATTT is the Panama government agency responsible for road travel including vehicle registration and licenses.  Their website is: Autoridad del Transito y Transporte Terreste

Panama Road Rules & Regulations

  • The minimum age for drivers is 18;
  • You must drive on the right side of the road;
  • You must keep the following documents on your person or inside the car at all times:  your ID, your valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance papers, and accident report form.
  • It is prohibited to be using a cellular phone while driving.
  • Children under 5 years old must be seated in a special car seat in the rear.
  • 3rd party insurance is mandatory.
  • Seat belts must be worn by the driver and front seat passenger.
  • While rules of the road are often ignored, the laws can be enforced by traffic police.

Traffic tickets issued by the police for violations such as using a cellular phone while driving must be paid within 48 hours at any Autoridad del Transito y Transporte Terreste office.  The ATTT office in Panama City is located in the Juan Diaz neighborhood in the Los Pueblos area.

Speed Limits, Roads and Driving Drunk Panama Roads

Panama has a network of paved highways connecting Panama City with the Atlantic Ocean coast and through the interior to the border with Costa Rica.  Panama City’s main roads and in most large towns are paved and fairly maintained.

Panama’s main highway is called the Inter-American highway which runs from the border with Costa Rica to Yaviza, Darien Province.  Past Yaviza leading to the border with Colombia is the main road which stops at the impenetrable Darien rainforest making driving unfeasible.  Colombia is generally accessible from Panama either by foot, airplane, or by boat.

There are toll highways called the Corredor Sur and Corredor Norte with nominal toll fees depending on the length of time spent on the highway.

Panama Road Problems

Panama City is experiencing a lot of road work, building construction, and a metro subway system construction project (completion expected in 2014) all contributing to closed roads and single lane traffic causing a lot of traffic congestion.

Panama City has many manholes which are uncovered, drainage problems, and potholes on its roads.  Panama City also has poor road drainage after heavy rains causing road flooding problems.  There are few traffic lights in Panama City.

Much of the work on Panama’s highways outside of Panama City occurs during the night with few road lights increasing night time hazardous conditions.  The roads in the undeveloped regions are rarely paved, as well as, the small roads off the highways.

Panama Speed Limits

Typical speed limits in the city streets are from 25 to 30 Km/h and about 100 Km/h on Panama’s highways.  All road signs, speed limits, and many car odometers are in Kilometers.

Panama Car Insurance

Every car in Panama must have 3rd party liability insurance.  This means that the car is insured but not the driver or owner.

Some Panama car insurance policies have roadside assistance coverage.

Panama Drinking and Driving Laws

Panama’s Blood Alcohol Content is a zero driving limit.  This means that just a small indication on a breathalyzer can result in a drunken driving violation.  Drinking and driving can end up with receiving a fine and having the car impounded.  The police
in Panama City often set up road blocks in different areas to check drivers
and occupants ID’s and drunk driving.  However, breathalyzers are seldom used.

Riding a Bicycle in Panama

Bicycle riding on the streets of Panama City can be hazardous.  That is because Panama City drivers can drive erratically and are unpredictable and many drivers ignore stop signs.  The traffic congestion in Panama City due from all of  the construction projects can be heavy at any time during the day which makes bicycle riding even more dangerous.

Panama City does have parks suitable for bicycle riding like the Cinta Costera on Ave. Balboa and the Amador Causeway.

Parking in Panama

Cars seemingly park wherever they want without regard to signs, red or yellow paint on sidewalk borders.  There are only a few streets in Panama City with hourly parking meters.

If you happen to get a parking ticket in Panama City it must be paid at the Municipio de Panama.  Panama City’s Municipio is located on Avenida Cuba.

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