Cars in PanamaThere’s been a fair amount of car talk around our house recently, for two reasons.

First, I’m planning a trip back to the US in another month. My primary mission will be to retrieve my car (our daughter’s been using it over the summer) and sell it, so we’ll have some funds.

Second, we’ve decided it’s time to get our own wheels here in Panama.

We’ve gone carless since March. We’ve saved a lot of money as public transportation here is plentiful and inexpensive. And we’ve been able to go from point A to point B without difficulty.

The problem, though, is that doesn’t leave a lot of room for exploration, and exploring Panama is one of the reasons we’re here.

Buses travel along pre-determined routes. And cab drivers like you much better if you give them a specific destination. “Drive down this road, I just want to see what it looks like” doesn’t really cut it — even if my Spanish were good enough.

End result, we’re going to bite the bullet and get a car.

Is it Better to Import Your Car, or Buy Local?

I’ve heard lots of discussion on both sides of this question.

Bring it In

Some expats in Panama choose to import a car when they arrive. If you’re here on a pensionado visa, you can bring in a car every two years without paying duty (although you’ll still owe taxes and fees).

Once you bring the vehicle in, you have to register it. Friends who’ve done that say the red tape just isn’t worth it, and they don’t plan to do it again.

A few other drawbacks to importing a car:

  • Even though your US or Canadian model may be available here, it’ll be different under the hood. You may need to ship parts here for repairs.
  • Finding a mechanic to work on it could be an issue

Here’s more information about importing a car into Panama.

Buy a Local Vehicle

Your other option is to buy a vehicle once you arrive.

There are a lot of advantages to doing it this way.

    • Getting it registered is much easier
    • Finding parts won’t be an issue
    • Finding a mechanic to work on it won’t be an issue

If you can, buy the car in or near where you’ll be living. I’m told that when it’s time to renew the registration, you have to do it in the place it was registered initially. So if you buy in Panama City, you’ll have to go there every year to renew your registration.

When buying a new vehicle in Panama, use the same good judgment you would if you were purchasing in your home country. Just like anywhere else, you can find good deals if you’re willing to shop around and use your word-of-mouth network.

To get an idea of what’s available, check out the online classified ads at Encuentra 24 or Craigslist.

We’ve decided to buy a car locally, not try to bring one in. I love the car that I still own in the US, it’s in perfect condition, and it’s got very few miles on it. Even so, I plan to sell it.

It’s a Toyota Prius, and it just doesn’t make sense to me to spend the money to import it, go through the hassle of registering it, and then have to send back to the US every time it needs a part (if I can even find someone to work on it).

Have you brought a car into Panama, or purchased one here? What’s been your experience? Leave a comment and let us know.

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