Since in the mid-end of July of we received our temporary pensionado visa (the final pensionado and process may be completed some time in December +/- a month) we now need to get, by law, our Panamanian driver’s license. To do this we needed to go to Panama City (aka PC).
I know, I didn’t write about the day long experience and the fact that we had to leave our American passports in the hands of immigration for a few hours. They wanted them overnight, we said no! Just know that it was a long day with lots of sitting around.
Back to our driver’s license and PC. I booked us a room at the hotel at the Albrook Mall right next to the regional Albrook airport where our flight landed (versus Tocumen, the international airport). We got in a taxi and told him where we were going. Just a few minutes later we are driving past the hotel. Jim and I look at each other, and I say wasn’t that our hotel. The taxi driver pulls over, apologizes and starts pondering. He is pondering because as far as we could tell the road around the hotel/mall is two lanes of one way. So the hotel was about a block or so behind us with only a one way road away from the hotel. It seemed to us that pretty much we would have had to do a loop around the entire mall to get back to the hotel and let me tell you this mall is HUGE with crazy traffic. Per wikipedia: “Albrook Mall is a large shopping mall and leisure complex located in Panama City, Panama. As of August 2015 it was the fourteenth largest mall in the world, the largest in the Americas and the largest shopping mall outside Asia.” See*** below. We said that’s okay, just let us out here. He did. Good thing it wasn’t raining!
Step one is to have our valid American drivers’ licenses notarized at the Embassy. The next morning our driver picked us up at the hotel to take us to the US Embassy. We pull up to the entrance and the local security personnel says to park over there, that we have to be checked in at the gate and then walk up the hill to the embassy. We get out and are about third in line and the line is getting longer and longer behind us. We are the only gringos in line. This local security guy can’t find the name on the list of the people at the beginning of the line. We wait and we wait while he goes through the list several times. Meanwhile I’m getting antsy. Time is a-tick’n and our appointment time is nearing. You have to make the appointment on-line, bring the confirmation of the appointment with you and here we are being delayed getting in to our Embassy!!! Finally another local security comes over, says something in Spanish to the large group waiting to get in. I thrust our appointment papers in his face, he takes down our passport numbers, and points for us to go through the gate and on up to the Embassy.
Up at the first Embassy building we go through actual metal detector security. I had to leave my cell phone, kindle, chap stick and all five of my lipsticks (hey, one never knows what color they may be in the mood for) in a cubby for pick up on our way out. We walk to the next (and final) Embassy building and go through another metal detector. At the counter the lady gives us each a form to complete and ends the conversation with “don’t sign it yet.” Well guess who signed it – no, not me. Someone who shall remain nameless had to complete the form three times to get it correct. Note – don’t use different color inks on serious, important documents. We were done and back in the car in under an hour. Very pleased with that.
Step two is taking those official, stamped and notarized documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for certification/authentication. The online information says this is on the first floor, the Embassy gave us a paper with the address of the above and it too said the first floor. As we pull in the driver says take the elevator to the second floor. I’m thinking but everything says the first floor. We walk over to the elevator and are pondering the situation. An older Panamanian woman is standing there and in perfect English asks if she can help us. We show here the paper where we want to go and she says upstairs. As this is happening a young Panamanian man asks if he can help us. He too says we need to go upstairs. Such nice and helpful people!!! I guess at this particular building the first floor is what we would call the second floor.
Turns out the lady was going to the same place we were. We follow her to a man at the entrance who hands her a number to wait for it to be called. She tells him what we want and he points for us to get in a line. A few minutes later, the lady comes over and tells us we have to get a number from the man. We go see him again and they start talking back and forth. She finds out for us that what we really have to do is go to an office across the hall, which I believe was a law firm, pay them $4.00 to stamp our documents with an official looking green stamp (Panama loves their stamps), then go down to the 0 (zero) floor to the Bank, pay another $4.00 for the actual authentication service, bring that receipt back up to the “1st” floor Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile the wonderful Panamanian lady is personally walking us through this process and to all these places. Can you believe it – how nice. She was doing paperwork for her son, so her grandson can get Panamanian citizenship. She lived in Boston for a number of years she said.
We recently learned that another perk of the pensionado is that there is a special line at most offices and banks for the jubilados (the local pensioners) and pensioners. At the bank we see a jubilado line so we stand in it The security guard comes over and points to the regular line, so we go over there. I say to Jim maybe he thinks we look too young to be jubilados.
Finally we are back at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, get a number, and wait our turn. We give the lady our freshly stamped, paid for, and notarized documents, she looks something up on the computer, writes it on our receipt and says come back tomorrow to pick them up. What!!! Wait!!!! No where on any of the sites and paperwork does it say that you have to come back. Our flight home leaves at 10:00 the next morning. I ask what time they open – 8:00. There is no way we can pick them up and get to the airport on time. We go back to our car and driver. We explain about having to come back and our flight time. He says he will come the next day, pick up the documents and take them to a courier service for delivery to David. What a life saver.
Once we have these authenticated documents then we complete steps 3 and 4 in David.
*** Although the mall complex itself is huge, in the area near our hotel I’d say at least half of the spaces were not occupied, especially the second floor retail space.
NOTE: One of the benefits of having the pensionado visa is that you get discounts at Panama hotels and restaurants. When I booked the hotel there is no box to check indicating that you have a pensionado. At check out Jim asked about the pensionado discount. We ended up getting nearly $150.00 off of our hotel stay!!!