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Monday, March 18, 2013

Paying a parking ticket in Panama

A couple of posts ago I wrote about getting a driver's license in Panama, where I posted a ticket for my dysfunctional headlight at the bottom. Well, I've done it again. This time it's a parking ticket. Geez, I don't know what's going on. I never got tickets back in the States. I'll figure it out how to abide by the laws here, eventually.

In the meantime, let me just say this, parking in Panama City is ridiculous right now. The problem used to be that people parked wherever they wanted to, which meant cars were up on all the sidewalks and parked out on the street medians, but now, since the traffic cops have started cleaning up that problem and towing away vehicles, they've almost become like ticket Nazis. 

A few weeks ago, I showed up early at an appointment, just to make sure I was able to find a parking spot. The street where I usually park suddenly had signs all over the place with a picture of a car being towed away. So, not wanting my car to get towed, I found a back street, where cars were parked all along the side of the road, and no "no parking" signs were anywhere in site. Two hours later I returned to see that every car parked on the side of the road had a ticket stuck to its window. 

Mine was the one in the photo above. I found the traffic cop a block away and asked what was the problem. I explained that there were no signs posted and from what I could understand (in Spanish), he told me you can't park on the shoulder of a street that has only one lane going in each direction. This didn't make much sense considering in another neighborhood friends of mine got tickets for being up on the sidewalk (on the same kind of street) and the cop said the only reason I didn't get one was that my car was parked on the side of the street, not the sidewalk. 

This is the area where my appointment was located

I can't help but think I only got a ticket because this particular cop felt like giving out tickets on this particular street on that particular day. I've passed by that street many other times and cars are still parked there (with no tickets attached). 

Anyway, the last time I got a ticket, the one for the headlight, my father-in-law, who is a lawyer, paid it for me. I gave him the money, of course, but I didn't have to actually pay it myself. This time, with the parking ticket, I had to figure out how to do it myself, and just on time as they only give you 30 days to pay it. The fine increases if you pay late, and the penalty gets worse from there. I'd put off paying it until right around the 28th day of my allotted 30. I just didn't feel like dealing with what I was sure would be a painful process. In the end, I was shocked at how easy it was to pay the ticket or boleta

If you read my "how to get a driver's license" post, you'll remember that I mentioned SERTRACEN as the final destination in your steps to getting that coveted license. SERTRACEN is the license issuing agency. I went to the one in Albrook to get my license and stopped by there early this morning to pay my ticket. I took my passport, my driver's license, my immigration card, and the ticket. I wanted to make sure I had everything they might possibly ask for. 

The Albrook SERTRACEN office

I expected to go through a lengthy process, like the one for getting my license. I stood in line at the information counter and when I reached the front of the line, all I did was flash the lady my ticket, and she pointed at the caja (cashier) line. There I found a line of 16 people. This was at 9:30 a.m. on a Monday morning. It only took about twenty minutes to get through the line.

When I finally reached the cashier window, I slid my ticket to the lady and that was it. She never asked for my passport or anything else. The ticket had the vehicle tag number, or placa as it's called here, written on it already (if for some reason your ticket doesn't have the placa number written on it, you want to make sure you have that handy). She punched a few numbers into her keyboard and told me it would be $10. I paid in cash and that was it. Ordering an Oreo Blizzard at Dairy Queen is more difficult. 

I've been told it's always smart to hold onto the receipt they give you. Keep it in the glove compartment of your car incase you get pulled over sometime and find that your payment didn't register in the system for some reason. That receipt could keep you out of jail. 

If you want to find the SERTRACEN office nearest you, go to

To see a list of fines for other tickets you might receive here in Panama, go to

So, that's it for paying a ticket here in Panama. As always, thanks for reading.