What kind of car is best? Should I import my car?
The best cars for Panama's roads are Asian. We don't know why but Asian cars just take the heat, wet, humid climate and potholes of Panama City far better. It's also easier to get car parts and servicing for major Asian car brands.
For safety, the best kind of everyday car is an SUV. Due to the chaos of the city there are many fender benders so you'll feel safer in a larger car. An SUV also gives versatility on rougher roads outside Panama City.
If you don't have a car, we recommend you buy one in Panama rather than import one because it's quite expensive and a hassle to import your car-a hassle with legal paperwork and expensive with shipping, import and other taxes. If you have a retirement visa, you're exempt from the import tax, but other taxes apply.
The most popular SUV in Panama is a Toyota Land Prado and that speaks for itself. There are other excellent, less expensive options like Hyundai's Santa Fe SUV.
Getting Around Panama City Initially: Take Taxis or a Hire a Personal Driver
Until you know your way around, we recommend taxis or hiring a personal driver. You can rent a car, but driving around the city is very difficult if you are a newcomer- chaotic streets, unpredictable drivers, few street signs or direction signs and lots of fender benders.
Taxis are cheap, usually safe and can be hailed from almost anywhere. However, we recommend not getting into taxi with two male persons in the front seat. If you are a woman, we recommend you not go alone in a taxi. You can also call a radio taxi to your home or office which is a safe option although it is often hard to get someone to come. If you speak Spanish you can negotiate a price for the taxi to take you around for several hours or all day. If you don't speak Spanish, have someone write a note in Spanish to the driver about where you need to go and what you want.
Another really pleasant choice is to avoid these hassles and hire a personal driver- not expensive by US standards. We recommend Judy Tovar of Easy Travel: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 6617.4122.
Driving in Panama City
This really takes getting used to-it's chaotic and confusing. You'll see at least one fender bender a day. Few streets are clearly marked, traffic signs are confusing and often basic traffic laws aren't followed. It takes time and patience to learn your way around but you will get used to it.
Driving Outside Panama City
Most of the Panamerican Highway is four lanes, easy to navigate and the feeder roads to major cities and destinations are excellent.
Buses-In Panama City and Around Panama
Buses in the city are usually uncomfortable, crowded and worn. But they are a great bargain: 50 cents is a usual fare. There are some nice new Metro buses, but for now they just serve the outlying areas.
Buses to places outside Panama City are a good option. You can get air-conditioned comfortable buses to major cities like David or to Costa Rica. Fares within Panama are between $4 and $15 one way. Airfare is now $160 to David from Panama City- an express bus to David, only $15. A popular option is the midnight express- you sleep for seven hours and arrive in David.
Fares to Costa Rica are around $70 round trip.
All buses leave from Panama's modern new Albrook Bus Terminal adjacent to Albrook Mall.
As long as you have a tourism visa you can use your country of origin drivers license- no problem. Once you have a residency visa, you will have to get a Panamanian drivers license. The office is in Albrook- Seratran- right near the El Rey. You will have to take a written test and have an eye exam.