This is Dan. I thought I’d share an experience I just had trying to get our car’s tags renewed here in Panama.
We purchased our 2010 Honda CRV back in November and the tags expire on May 25th. They are registered in Colon which is a northern state in Panama, closer to Panama City. We live in the southern part of the country. To make it easier to renew each year, I decided to move the registration down here to our state (Los Santos).
Simple enough, right?
I hired a LAWYER in Las Tablas (30 minute drive from us) to do it all because it’s just that complicated. I met with the lawyer on Monday. He said that I didn’t have all the paperwork that he needed to start the task of the transfer. I had forgotten the original title to the car (because you shouldn’t have it in the car, of course.) But also, I needed a letter from the Pedasi Municipality folks, stating that I indeed live in Pedasi. In addition, I need a letter from an auto parts store or mechanic that is officially licensed by the state to take pictures of my car and verify my identity…etc. It’s called a Revisado letter. Oh, and I got a speeding extortion slip (most people call it a ticket) about a month ago, which I never planned on paying but my lawyer saw the ticket in my paperwork and told me that I’d have to pay that in order to get the tags renewed. I was going 1 million in a 1/2 million zone… or something like that. (Kilometers are for robots and Canadians… am I right?)
Anyway, that was Monday. I leave the lawyer’s office no closer to my goal, although he did fill out 3 or 4 forms/letters, to get a jump start on the process. Good!
Before leaving Las Tablas, I went to the government building my lawyer told me to go to to pay my traffic ticket. I open a door right into a big office wherein there were several workers and a policeman sitting down, taking a break. I show them my ticket and they tell me to go to a window outside. I go to the window (pictured) and she asks for my passport and she does some stuff. Then she tells me to go BACK to the office I just came from. So I go back and some lady rushes up to me, takes my paperwork and tells me to wait outside where there is NO air conditioning. I gave her my best perplexed gringo look (it’s perfected.) There were really good, perfectly sittable air conditioned seats next to where I was standing. The policeman, sitting in those very seats, knew a bit of English and told me I could not be a government building with shorts on. OH YEAH!!! Completely forgot about that. Anyway, she came out and gave me something and then I had to go BACK to the window and give the Panamanian government $50 for the privilege of driving fast.
Tuesday… I go to the municipal building, first thing (10am is first thing for me) and find the office of the lady that does the letter that verifies you live in Pedasi. Yes, that’s a long title. Oh, and they don’t care how I’m dressed in Pedasi… go figure. She wanders around the building for 10 minutes asking someone something, feeds a unicorn… I don’t know. But comes back to her desk with a thumbdrive, sticks it into her computer and opens a Word file. I can see all this because she has her back to me and the computer screen was facing my direction. She proceeds to SCROLL THROUGH HUNDREDS OF LETTERS, ONE PER PAGE, IN THE SAME WORD FILE, looking for the one letter that needed to be filled out for “resident verification”. I guess they never thought to save each letter in their own Word file. I was flabbergasted. Something that should have taken all of about 5 seconds to find, took her 15+ minutes. I’m not kidding. I stood there as she scrolled down through all the letters, stopping to visually scan each one, then scrolled back up and then scrolled back down and up and down… and mind you, there were AT LEAST 100 letters in that one file.
She finds the file, fills it out with all my passport info and then asks me where I live. Are you kidding me? I paused to see if it was a joke. No. It wasn’t. We both know that there are NO ADDRESSES in all of Pedasi. So I tried to explain it to her, in my broken Spanish (it’s broken, slashed and in the ditch, waiting to be put out of it’s misery… but I digress) and she speaks not one syllable of English. As luck would have it, our house was about in the same exact position as their building, only two blocks from the main road. I try to make it ring a bell for her. It’s the ONLY two story, white concrete duplex that is inhabited by humans, in all of Pedasi but I find the one person that doesn’t know that. So I motion for her to follow me. We left her office, walked outside towards the convenience store across the street, and from that location, you can see the top of our house (the porch that Allison enjoys her morning coffee from… or so I’ve heard.) I pointed it out to her and her face lit up with a sign of recognition. Ah yes! And then she asked if it were on that same road we were standing on and I told her no, it was on Calle Ramon Reyes. However, I didn’t say it like a Panamanian would so she gave me the blank stare that I’m all too familiar with (see broken, in the ditch explanation earlier.) Then I tried the best R rolling that I could muster… BINGO! She understands! “Kie-yeah RRRRamon RRRReyes.” Then she asks if there was a number on the house. I just laughed and I guess she took that as a no.
I got my letter. Took about 30 minutes of her time. She charged me $2 and gave me a written receipt. I’m assuming her office is NOT one of the more profitable offices adding to the Pedasi government coffers.
On to Las Tablas to get my “revisado” because Pedasi has no one licensed for that function. Of course. Ugh!
I find the auto parts store that can do it in Las Tablas. They say to get there early because each place is only allotted X number of revisado slots per day and if they use all of them early, you’re out of luck if you get there too late. So I get there about 11:30pm, again, because that’s early for me. I was hoping they hadn’t run out. They hadn’t. Yeah!
The lady asks for my passport and the old revisado letter. She goes back into her office and comes out with two walkie talkies. I am immediately struck with the thought that my day is about to get fun.
She gives me one of the walkie talkies and proceeds to tell me in perfect, rapid Spanish, what I should do with it. I nod, in perfect English, that I understood everything she just said. I did not. However, I do know that she pointed somewhere. That was in English.
I go to my car, assuming she wants me to drive the car in the direction she pointed. There was a dirt road that led to the back of their building. I drive back there and I see several mechanic stalls on my right, all of them filled except for the last one. I drive to it and park and look over at it and I see a webcam on a tripod. Okay. They want to take a picture. But I don’t see my lady anywhere, just a mechanic who is completely ignoring me… in all languages.
So I just take a WILD stab in the dark and pull into the bay, with my bumper about 3 feet from the webcam. Now I have no idea if I’m going to get an oil change or a picture taken. But NOW the mechanic is looking at me. He shakes his head in a disapproving tone (yes, I heard it from within my car.) He motions for me to back up and then he gives me that “baack..baack… baack… STOP!” motion. So I’m stopped with my bumper barely in the stall. I guess the webcam is a zoom cam. Whatever. By this time, I completely forgot that I have a walkie talkie in the passenger seat. “SQUAWK!!!!! (I jump!!) Gibberish, gibberish, gibberish. SQUAWK!!”
Me: “SQUAWK! No habla espanol. Lo siento! SQUAWK!!”
Silence. I just sit there, thankful that no one can see into our hearst-like black windows.
I glance to the right and here comes the lady towards the car. I get out and she motions in sweeping gestures what I should do. She turns and heads back to the office and I still have NO FREAKING IDEA WHAT SHE WANTS ME TO DO. So I just guess. I do know that she needs three pictures. I assumed she already took the first one of the front, so she’ll want one of the side and perhaps the last one of the rear. So I maneuver the car in such a way that I assume she can get the side of the car, although there was a big truck in the stall next to this one that I’m sure was cutting off the rear of my car in the picture. But she came onto the walkie talkie and SEEMED pleased. So I maneuvered again and backed up to the stall and a few seconds later, she said a word that I recognized in Spanish as meaning “we’re finished.”
I pay her $15.70 and I’m on my way with a new letter.
I stop at the lawyer’s office. He has me sign all kinds of stuff. (I might have enlisted in the Army, for all I know.) It is only NOW that my lawyer reveals the cost of all this work. How con-VEN-ient. It was $175, all in, not including my $50 speeding extortion slip and $2 and $15.70 for the two letters.
He says I’ll have my new plates by Friday. That’s a 4 day turn around. If you knew Panama, you would snort milk from your nose in laughter at that promise. But we’ll see. And here, you actually get an entirely new license plate. No stickers. I guess they don’t trust adhesives here… not sure.
As long as I get it before the 25th, when the current one’s expire, I’ll be happy. I can’t stand the thought of having to put pants on to go to a government building to pay another ticket. Because if there is one thing I hate, it’s pants.