How to Buy a Used Car in Panama

Buying a car in Panama, can there be anything more intimidating! Our first vehicle was bought at the dealer new, so they took care of everything, could not be easier. Now, that it was time for a second vehicle we decided to get one second hand.  As of that moment the stress and anxiety settled in!  What needed to be done?  Asked around, put notes on message boards, you name it.  I did get quite a few responses which varied from:  ‘let us know as we are looking at doing the same thing’.  ‘Use a consultant, the process is not worth your time and effort, to go here and there’  mixed info as to where I needed to go,   and well … have fun! So, I set my intimidation aside and decided to confront the problem head on!  I started with going to the local license plate office in Chame  (situated on the 2nd floor of the building where the Banco Nacional used to be, next to the post office) and in my limited Spanish got some information but also got my confidence back as  the clerk was so nice and realized that most Panamanians are willing to help you get through the process.  I found out that I could not get anything done in Chame but needed to go to where the car was originally registered.  I had  a stack of papers (given to me by the owner)  and the clerk was able to tell me where I needed to go.


Off we go to the city, both seller and purchaser.  The vehicle was registered at the Edificio Hatillo.  This building is situated between Avenida de Cuba and Avenida Justo Arosesemena.  The cross streets are 35 and 36th.  We were expecting a dark green building with Municipio written across, well no, it is a light brown building with white vertical slats at the top.  The smallish sign said:  Alcaldia de Panama.  Avenida de Cuba is extremely busy traffic wise,  double parked vehicles and blaring horns with no parking to be found.  First suggestion, park your car in one of the parking areas in Costa de Sur (parks facing the ocean) and take a cab from Balboa.  There is so much construction, rerouted roads, it is not worth the headache to drive there.

Once at the building, there are 2 desks in front of the entrance to the office.  One is for renewal of license plates and the other for whatever else needs to be done such as transfer of property as well as how to have your plates transferred to another municipality.  This lady informs you of the proper documents needed,  how many copies and gives you a number (ask to be in the Jubilado line if you eligible, in our case we did not have to prove anything).

The documents required for purchasing a vehicle were:

2 copies of the vendor’s passport

2 copies of the purchaser’s passport

2 copies of the pink sheet – Registro Unico de Propiedad Vehicular

as well as the originals of:

Registro Unico de Propiedad Vehicular

8.5 x 14 Certificado de Inspection Vehicular – Particular (Revisado)

Receipt of Municipio de Panama for payment of plates

There is a copy machine manned inside the office (which was not working when we were there so had to go across the hallway to another office, go up some steps  to the 2nd floor and get our copies made there).  Close but a little difficult to find.

Once armed with all the proper documents you go sit down and wait till your number is called.  Once summoned, you then go to the cubicle assigned and they will check whatever in the computer, will sign off on the documents and will hand you a Traspaso pour Venta with the details of the vehicle.

You then need to go to the cash (Caja), which also has a Jubilado line, to pay the cost of the transfer, in my case it was for a 2005 Yaris Toyota and the cost was $22.  They will give you a receipt.

This is where I get a little confused, we went back to the cubicle and showed her our receipt, she told us to get in line at the first cubicle (I guess for confirmation of payment) and to come back to her.  We did and were given a last rubber stamping of our documents and were told we were done!  The whole process took about 1.5 hours.

Now, since this vehicle was plated within the last 30 days, I had the opportunity to have the plates transferred to the Chame municipality.  So off I went to get that done.

Revisit the same lady at the entrance of the office, she gave us the proper form to fill (and helped us fill it), told us what paperwork was needed for this process and gave us our ticket to sit down and wait till we were called.

The required documents in this process  are

The form filled out – Declaration Expresa

Copy of the Registro Unico de Propiedad Vehicular

8.5 x 14 Certificado de Inspection Vehicular – Particular (Revisado)

Receipt of Municipio de Panama for payment of plates

Copy of the passport

Again, sit in the waiting room, your number will be called.  Once called you go to the cubicle and they will take your information, give you a document, send you to the cash for payment (in my case it was $20), back in the first line for confirmation and then back to the original cubicle with instructions to take all the documents to the plate office which is outside the door, down a few steps, turn left, Note, the first office is where you pick up plates, you need to go to the next door which looks more like an office environment.

You give them your documents and they will give you back your receipt with notations and tell you to come back after 5 working days to pick up your whole dossier which will need to be brought to Chame for them to register so that next year you can pick up your license plates there instead of going into the city.  This last step took about 45 minutes.  When we left the offices it seemed that Avenida de Cuba was much more ‘relaxed’ (may have had something to do with the fact that I was successful in getting the job done) and  did see a few parking spots, so maybe the secret is to go late morning / early afternoon after the early rush.

So yes, you could hire a consultant and pay for the convenience.  You will need a special card called Recaudacion ($20) that is required if you are not there in person.

I have no idea how much consultants charge, I wanted to do it myself so that I could share the experience with others that may need that little boost to take care of business.  Hope this helps.

Make you sure you wave at me in my ‘new to me’ little Yaris when you see me driving (standard) down the street!