Finances have been tight, but I've managed to reach several goals on my path to a new life in Panama. I now have my temporary "Pensionado"resident visa card and a multi-entry visa stamped in my passport. I hope to be able to convert that temporary card into a permanent one by next March. Once you have a Pensionado card, you're no longer supposed to drive with a foreign driver's license, so I went through the process of getting a Panama Driver's License in Panama City. I documented my experience to help other expatriates in their efforts to also get a driver's license here. It's a bit more of a hassle than the (actually, rather good) experiences I've had dealing with the California DMV, and I'll post my document at the bottom of this blog entry just in case anyone's interested.
I also just had dental implant surgery to replace a missing molar. (The crown will be mounted on the implant in 4-5 months - after the actual implant has healed in place.) The dentist in David is incredibly talented - one of the best I've ever had. The total cost of the implant will be about $1,600 - compared to $5,000 in California.
I now have enough personal belongings here to feel at home, including a great little digital stereo system with all of my 360 classical, jazz, folk, international and classic rock CD's ripped to MP3 format and stored on a media player with a high-capacity hard disk. I also listen to internet radio a lot. It's kind of weird to be able to listen to my old favorite local radio stations from the Bay Area here in Panama.
I'll be heading back to Northern California next week to visit family and friends - and especially my grandchildren - over the Thanksgiving holidays. Now that a full FBI background check with Apostille notarization is required for the Panama permanent residency card, I will get my fingerprints taken and the application submitted to the FBI.while I'm in California
I still have a few things to do to get back into my passion - woodturning. I plan to sell some more of my tools and wood while I'm in Sonoma County, including my old "mini" wood lath. I will buy a new one will be better for my needs, and have it shipped to Panama. I will also retrieve from storage some wood lathe accessories that I need to start turning here in Boquete, and bring them back with me in my suitcases.
Although I live in a cool and pleasant highlands (4,500' elevation) area with a number of beautiful back roads and footpaths, I haven't walked and hiked as much as I said I wanted to, but I'm slowly getting into the groove again. When I return, I am planning to push myself back into walking and hiking, and taking an occasional drive to experience and photograph more of the beauty "different" aspects of Panama to post pictures of and blog about.
Enough for now - here's the procedure for getting a Panama Driver's License:
Obtaining a Panama Driver's License:
Tourists visiting Panama may drive with a valid driver’s license from their home country for a period of 90 days, after which they must do a leave the country and come back in, at the least a "border hop" into Costa Rica and back. Panama residents - including those who obtain a Pensionado visa - must get a Panamanian driver’s license, because residents cannot drive with a foreign license like a tourist. Of course, the Panama license eliminates the border exit/entry requirement.
· Make an appointment online (appointment s are mandatory) with the U.S. Embassy. Bring your valid driver’s license to the American Citizen Services (ACS) section and request an affidavit. A standard form is available at the ACS Unit. The fee for this notarial service is $50.
· Take your valid U.S. license and notarized documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for certification. The MFA is located at: Plaza Sun Tower on Avenida Ricardo J. Alfaro (Tumba Muerto) by the National Bank of Panama. Telephone number: 511-4045 or 511-4046.
· Obtain proof of your blood type, if your driver’s license does not include that information. You must visit a lab certified by ATTT .
· Bring your residency documents, passport, valid license, notarized documents and proof of blood type to a SERTRACEN service center (which I call the Panama DMV).
Note: People age 70 and above must also obtain a certificate of good physical and mental health, and also, I was told, an EKG (which, it turns out, was not asked for by the Panama DMV when I went through their process). I went to Chiriqui Hospital on a Friday afternoon the week before my trip to Panama City on a Tuesday to go through the process of getting my Panama driver's license.
EKG: I went to the emergency room, where the EKG's are done, and told them I needed one for my Panama Driver's license. It was completed within 1/2 hour in spite of the crowd in the E.R. There was a 24 hour wait to pick up the report after the cardiologist had read the EKG and completed a cursory report, so I had to go back to David the next day to pick it up. Total cost: $19.97
Certificate of Good Physical and Mental Health: After the EKG was done, and a struggle with asking for help in English, I walked to the office of a geriatric physician down the hall (I forget his name). With my usual chatty demeanor, I struggled to communicate with the young woman in the reception area for the office of the geriatric doctor and a couple of internists. She called an interpreter on the phone for assistance, and I spoke to another woman who talked to me in absolutely perfect English with no accent. I then gave her my new temporary Pensionado carnet and my passport, and she went into the doctor's office. 15 minutes and $40 later I had my letter/certificate. I assume that the doctor know that I had gotten a physical health certificate for my Pensionado card, and probably asked the receptionist/admin whether I seemed to be alert and not exhibiting signs of mental problems or dementia - and I obviously passed the test!
Going to Panama City and getting the license:
- Midnight express bus - big and comfortable - from David to Allbrook Terminal (6 hours, $12 jubilado fare)
- 7:15 - Meet driver/facilitator/translator (Sergio Gonzales) at Allbrook bus terminal. Sergio would accompany me everywhere to facilitate/translate for all the steps of the process - except at the U.S. Embassy Consular Affairs office. (His fee is currently !$10 per hour - well worth it!)
- 8:15 - Arrive at big U.S. Embassy compound, Sergio parks outside and I do the long walk up the gentle hill to the department of Consular Affairs where I get my U.S. (California) driver's license notarized for $50 at the American Citizen's Affairs window.
- 10:00 - Arrive at the Panama Ministry of Foreign Affairs office for U.S. drivers license certification - $40
- Go downstairs to bank, go to the head of line as a Jubilado, buy stamps for $4 and take them back upstairs. Then go do something for three hours while I waited for this to be completed.
- Sergio drives me to the Allbrook Medical Laboratory for a quick "finger-stick" blood test to determine blood type. Regular price is $15, I got the jubilado price of $5.95.
- Then Sergio takes me on a tour up to Ancon Hill which offers a magnificent view of the Panama Canal and the city, and displays his excellent knowledge of Panama and it's history.
- Then it was to Manolo's Restaurante at the Allbrook Mall for an excellent lunch - my treat for Sergio for his excellent services. I received a 25% jubilado discount on my meal!
- 1:15 - Back at the Panama Ministry of Foreign Affairs notary office to pick up completed certification papers.
- 1:45 - Arrive at the Panama "DMV" where I filled out the application, had my picture taken, and took the vision color vision and hearing tests. In spite of a "moderate" red-green color vision defect, I was able (barely) to pick out the red amber and green spots. They did not ask for my EKG, and a sign on the wall said the medical/mental health certificate had to be done by a geriatrics doctor OR internal medicine doctor.
- Go to the head of line as a Jubilado at the cashier's payment window. (The young Panamanian man at the head of the line smiled and waved me forward when the window became available.)
- 3:00 - After about a 20 minute wait, I was handed my new Panama driver's license.
Note: Since I have a temporary Pensionado card, my new license will expire when that card does, so I will have to go back to the David DMV to get a new one when I get my "permanent" Pensionado card. I understand that this is a relatively simple process.
Summary/Impressions of the process: My total time from pickup at Allbrook Bus Terminal until I had my Panama Driver's license in hand was eight hours!! Total time from was 25 hours round trip. (Please note that I went to Panama City for this process on a Tuesday - and for unknown reasons, lines were short moved fairly quickly, and the waiting rooms were not jammed. Luck? Serendipity? God favors me? I don't know, but I was thankful. Careful planning and listening to the advice of others here at boquete.ning paid off.
The most unpleasant part was the minimal sleep on the six-hour midnight bus ride from David to Panama City, and the seven and one-half hour bus ride back from PC to David, but I would do it that way again if I had to repeat the process. Fortunately, I met another expat who was sitting across the aisle from me on the bus ride back, and her family gave me a ride back to Boquete at 11p.m. Thanks Leslie!!