Registering a Car Purchase in Panama

Registering a Car Purchase in Panama

As with most things here, we have heard a lot of negative comments by people here about the bureaucratic problems with regard to getting cars registered, getting a drivers license, getting a Visa, and buying a house. If you are prepared, you will not have any problems. I always take on the job of doing research about what it is I am going to do in advance, so I can always have the needed paperwork anyone will require for these purposes.

In the case of registering a car, we were lucky that the seller went with us to do his end of the paperwork.  Cars in Panama are  registered in different locations depending on where the person first registered the car. You can move the registration to a more convenient city near where you live, if you choose.  I was told the cost of doing that is $25.00. First you must know that in Panama, you must get new plates on your car every year. This means you must visit your place of registration every year to get a new plate. Our car was registered in Bugaba which is about 40 minutes towards the Costa Rica border. It is a small community, therefore the office to register your vehicle does not have as many people lined up as say David would on any given day. Because of this, we choose to leave the registration at that location. During our 2 hour process in Bugaba there were no lines with people waiting.

First Time Process for Registering a Used Car Purchase

The seller must fill out a  “Tarjeta De TraspasoVehicular” form from the city where the car is currently registered. This is the form that states the owner is transferring ownership to someone else. In Bugaba the cost of  this form is $2.00 each. Always buy at least 3 card forms in case you make a mistake, you will have another to use. You can get these at the window where you register your car.

The seller must bring in the following:

  • 3 copies of the sellers current passport (and old passport if that number was the one you originally registered the car with)
  • 2 copies and original of the registration of car from current year (Inspección Vehicular)
  • 2 copies and original of proof of insurance coverage
  • 2 copies and original of title (Registro Unico de Propiedad Vehicular)
  • Paz y Salvo” from the “Municipality” of the owner (a paper which states you do not owe anything to the government and that the vehicle is paid in full)  You can now get this online at

If the sale is before the plates have expired there is nothing more to bring. However, if the plates are near expiration or have expired you must also bring an additional 2 things. One, photos of all sides of the vehicle, which can only be done by an authorized mechanic and the Certificate of vehicle inspection for the year(inspeccion vehicular). These are usually done at the same place. Most dealerships and garages do this. It does not take an appointment. Usually go in the morning early and they fit you right in.

The buyer must bring in the following:

  • 3 copies of the buyers current  passport and 3 copies of  proof of insurance. ( We had the seller transfer his insurance to us)

You bring all the documents to the front window and the pay $5.50 to have the process started. You will be given an account number and a deposit slip for the  Banco National and will need to immediately go there and pay $20.00 cash. They will give you a receipt  that you take back to the ATTTT which stands for Autoridad del Transito y Transporte Terrestre and show them that you have paid. Because we were jubliado’s or retirement age, we did not have to pay tax on the car purchase. After you wait while they do more paperwork, you will get the new title with the new owners name on it. And you are done. For us this process took about two hours including the bank visit. Not bad.

We Re-register in February


Required Documents You Must Carry in Your Car in Panama

The law states that you must carry with you in your car the following:

  • Your insurance coverage papers
  • Copy of your title
  • Copy of your passport
  • Copy of Drivers Handbook (easily get at most pharmacies) We bought for $10.00
  • 2 copies of the Accident Report Form or (Formato de Accidente) You can find this at i have yet to find the English translation of this form.
  • I also would recommend having a copy of your drivers license, foreign or Panamanian
  • I also would recommend having a working camera to take pictures at accidents.

I have been told that when you are in an accident now, to first call your insurance agent and do not talk with anyone else until the insurance company says otherwise. Do not admit fault or exchange information. Also do not move the vehicle. I know this last part is up for contention because the laws change. If however, you move your vehicle before a police officer comes, that police officer will deem you the person at fault. “Accident Forensics” is when you become the legal person at fault because you have moved the car in the accident scene. You will automatically be the person responsible for the accident without any further investigation.



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