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How to Buy a Used Car in Panama: Your Complete Guide

Are you in the market for a car in Panama? Whether you're a buyer or seller, the process might seem a bit overwhelming. If you're considering buying or selling a used car in Panama, understanding the transfer of ownership process, known as traspaso vehicular, is essential. This process officially registers the new owner with the Autoridad de Transporte y Tránsito Terrestre (ATTT) and the relevant Municipality where the car is registered, ensuring that the government acknowledges the change in ownership.


In this user-friendly guide, we will take you through the steps for both buying and selling a used car in Panama. We'll also outline the necessary requirements and provide insights into Panama's car market. Importantly, you don't need to be a resident of Panama to buy or sell a vehicle; even tourists can engage in these transactions using their passport.

Popular Car Brands in Panama and
Where to Find Them

Panama boasts a thriving car market, with some of the most popular car brands including Toyota, Kia, Hyundai, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Chevrolet, and Honda. Spare parts for these brands are widely available across Panama, and you'll easily find skilled mechanics capable of maintaining and repairing these vehicles.

When searching for second-hand cars, is the go-to classified website in Panama, offering a wide range of listings. Even if you plan to purchase through a car dealership, we recommend exploring different online offers to get an idea of current market prices and availability.

Diablo rojo in Panama

Buying a Used Car in Panama
Simplified Steps

Once you've found the right car and reached an agreement with the seller, your next step is to formalize the sale and transfer the car title. Here's a simplified, step-by-step guide to buying a used car in Panama:

Step 1: Visit the Municipality and Prepare Required Documents

The entire process of transferring the car title must be done at the Municipality where the car is registered. It's important to note that if the car is registered in a specific city, such as Panama City, the "traspaso" must also occur there, regardless of your residence. However, car owners have the flexibility to choose the Municipality for registration. It's possible to change the car’s Municipality, but this can only be done in the month when your annual car plate renewal (revisado) is due (not upon change of ownership).

Usually, the buyer and seller meet at the respective Municipality with all the necessary paperwork (see below) and complete the transfer of the vehicle together. After this, the buyer can make the payment in cash or via a local cashier’s check (cheque de gerencia). Although it's possible to create a purchase-sale agreement with a lawyer, where both parties agree to the sale with their signatures and details, it's strongly recommended to complete the transfer of ownership process with the seller before making any payment to avoid future surprises. This rule applies whether you are a buyer or seller.

Necessary Documents

All documents must be presented in their original form. The Municipality of Panama City requires that all copies be authenticated by a Notary Public in Panama, while other Municipalities typically accept regular photocopies of the documents.


Note that in Panama City the Vehicle Transfer Card must be filled out digitally using the following link.  

The List of Required Documents Include:

1. Registro Único Vehicular or the vehicle title (original and a copy) 2. Up-to-date vehicle inspection certificate (Revisado), along with two (2) copies 3. Two copies of the seller's ID card (cédula) or passport 4. Two copies of the buyer's ID card (cédula) or passport 5. Vehicle transfer card (for Panama City, this must be done digitally 6. Valid license plates for the vehicle 7. Proof that both the seller and buyer are clear of any fines or debts with the respective Municipality 8. Valid third-party liability insurance for the vehicle (must be in place)

Additional Documents: In Absence of Seller and/or Buyer

If either the seller or buyer cannot be present during the transfer, you'll need: 1. A notarized vehicle transfer card (available at the Municipality in Panama) signed by both parties, original and a copy (for Panama City, this must be done digitally). 2. A notarized authorization letter from the absent party. 3. A copy of the seller's ID card (cédula) and the facilitator's ID.

Additional Documents: For Legal Entities (Juridical Persons)

If the vehicle is owned by a legal entity or corporation, you must provide the following documents: 1. Transfer card signed by the Legal Representative of the company. 2. Authorization letter on company letterhead signed by the Legal Representative.

Step 2: Vehicle Transfer Card

Fill out the transfer request form provided by the Municipality with the following information. If the car is registered in Panama City, this step must be done online:

  • Full names and personal details of both the seller and buyer, including residence, address, phone number, and ID number.

  • Vehicle details, including brand, model, year, license plate, VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), and engine number (all found in the Registro Único Vehicular).

  • Signatures of both the seller and buyer.

Step 3: Pay Transfer Fees

The transfer of vehicle ownership incurs a fee of $50, payable to the Municipality. Additionally, there are other associated costs, such as vehicle insurance, plate processing, and vehicle inspection, all of which are required for the transfer.


Who Should Pay for the Vehicle Transfer?

The recommended practice for covering the expenses of vehicle transfer in Panama is to split the costs, with a 50/50 agreement between the buyer and the seller. However, it's important to note that these expenses pertain only to the transfer documents, while other costs, such as license plate renewal and vehicle inspection if they are about to expire, are typically the responsibility of the seller. The seller is also responsible for paying any pending debts or fines.


Step 4: Complete the Process

After completing the car title transfer, you will receive the new Registro Único Vehicular in your name. The car's license plate number remains unchanged and stays the same after the transfer of ownership. It's essential to remember that it's mandatory in Panama to maintain car insurance, and you should keep a printed copy of your valid car insurance policy in the vehicle at all times. Car insurance policies typically start at around $100.

Your Roadmap to Buying a Used Car in Panama


In conclusion, purchasing a used car in Panama may seem complex, but by following these simplified steps, you can navigate the process with confidence. The flexibility offered to both residents and tourists in owning, buying, and selling vehicles in Panama makes it an attractive option for those looking to explore Panama, either as their second home or permanent domicile. With popular car brands readily available and a thriving second-hand market, finding your ideal vehicle is within reach. By understanding the straightforward transfer process and preparing the necessary documents, you can enjoy the freedom of the road in Panama, all while ensuring a smooth and legal transition of ownership. Happy driving!

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