Renting a car in Panama City

The Ultimate Guide To Renting A Car In Panama

Planning your perfect Panamanian road trip? You’re probably considering renting a car. There are tons of pros and cons of renting a car in Panama. Being behind the wheel provides a sense of freedom and allows you to make all the decisions. However, there are certainly some downsides if you aren’t prepared. 

Read on for everything you need to know about renting a car in Panama. Here, you’ll learn more about where to rent a car, what you’ll need, and how to get the best deal. Once you’ve read this, you’ll be ready to hit the road!

Pros of Renting a Car in Panama

Regardless of where you’re living or traveling, renting a car provides a certain amount of freedom that’s hard to attain if you’re relying on public transportation. In Panama, this is especially true if you decide to do any kind of traveling outside of your daily routine. 

Want to check out Coronado for the weekend? Or plan a mountain retreat to El Valle de Antón? You can easily access both of these locations using public transportation. Nonetheless, driving there on your own opens the doors for more flexibility and adventure. You can leave when you want, without having to coordinate bus schedules. 

The incredible landscape of El Valle de Anton.

The incredible landscape of El Valle de Antón.

And once you’re on the road, you can determine the course of your trip. Stop at a small roadside eatery, take the scenic route, or check out a quaint town along the way. When you’re behind the wheel, you have complete control over how your trip evolves. 

Having a rental car can also be useful once you get to your destination. Depending on where you’re headed, amenities can often be more spread out than in Panama City. Having access to a car while visiting some of Panama’s more rural areas can make it easy to access groceries, beaches, or get medical attention should you need it. 

Cons of Renting a Car in Panama

On the other hand, there are plenty of instances where you might think twice about renting a car in Panama. If you plan to spend the majority of your time in the city’s capital, having a car isn’t always a benefit. Sure, things like grocery shopping or traversing the city might be faster with your own vehicle, but not always. 

Panama City is plagued by terrible traffic at peak hours, and driving isn’t always your best bet. Additionally, depending on where you are headed, parking in many parts of the city can be a hassle. While many locations have valet, this isn’t always the case. Many visitors and temporary residents decide not to rent a car in Panama City. Between the great public transportation and ease of using rideshare apps like Uber, many people feel that renting a car in Panama City is more of a hassle than a help.

Even if you want to rent a car to travel beyond Panama City, there are a few things to consider. For one, signage around Panama isn’t always as reliable as some drivers are used to. If you’re planning your own road trip, make sure that you have a good sense of where you’re headed and how to get there ahead of time. 

While looking up directions and using the GPS on your phone can be helpful, this plan can turn disastrous if you’re heading to a more remote location and you lose signal before you arrive at your destination. It’s a good idea to download a map of the region on your phone before you hit the road. 

Another consideration has to do with the quality of the roads you may encounter. In more rural areas of the country, you may find yourself on dirt roads. Worse, rocks, streams, or brush obstruct more rural roads across the country. If you aren’t comfortable driving on more rugged terrain, you might want to reconsider renting a car if you’re headed somewhere remote. If you still think getting a car is your best option, consider getting an SUV that has four-wheel-drive.

A dirt road leading to a beach along the Pacific coast in western Panama.

A dirt road leading to a beach along the Pacific coast in western Panama.

Where to Rent a Car in Panama City 

If you do decide to rent a car in Panama City, you’ll find an array of rental agencies with familiar names. Thrifty, National, Budget, Avis, and Alamo amongst others all have offices in Panama City. Many of these brands have an office at Tocumen International Airport. If you’re flying in and looking to rent a car in Panama, this is an easy place to do so. 

If you’re already in the city center, though, you don’t need to trek out to the airport to rent a car. There are dozens of car rental shops throughout the city. The highest concentration of these is in Obarrio, Panama City’s business district. Within a few blocks radius of Via España, you can find half a dozen car rental places from recognizable brands. There are also a handful of locations scattered throughout San Francisco, along Calle 50, and at Albrook Airport.

If you’re looking to rent a compact car, you can often get deals for as little as $5 per day. This does not include booking fees, and if you want to add on insurance (which is a good idea). SUVs and larger or better-equipped vehicles typically start at $10 per day. It’s important to note that these prices are usually only attainable if you make a reservation ahead of time. If you show up at the rental counter and ask for a car, you will receive a higher rate.   

Booking a car online has the added benefit of allowing you to shop around. Sites like Kayak and Expedia make it easy to compare various brands at once and find the best price for what you need. It’s advisable, though, to always rent from an agency you are familiar with. Some of the less recognizable rental agencies may offer the best price but can be a hassle to work with. 

What Do You Need to Rent a Car in Panama

There’s nothing worse than being ready to start your vacation and then hitting a snag before you even pull out of the parking lot. Make sure you have everything you need to rent a car so that this first step of your trip goes smoothly. 

To rent a car in Panama you’ll need your passport and a valid government-issued driver’s license for anyone who will be driving the car. You can use your international license if you’re visiting Panama from elsewhere. If you’re a resident of Panama, though, you will need to get a Panamanian license. 

Additionally, you’ll need a credit card to pay for the rental fees and the deposit. Just like in most countries, the rental agency will place a deposit charge on your car until after you’ve returned the car in good condition. 

Most rental agencies require drivers to be at least 25 years old. In some cases, a company can waive the age limit, but this often comes with an additional fee. Again, reserving a car online before you need it is a good way to surface any hidden fees and requirements ahead of time. 

In most cases, you can rent a car for a maximum of 90 days. If you think you’ll need a car for longer than this, you might want to consider leasing. 

Tips for Renting a Car in Panama

Apart from booking a car online ahead of time, there are a few other tips that can save you hassle and money when renting a car in Panama. For one, always thoroughly check the vehicle before pulling out of the lot. Take photos of the entire car from all angles. Pay particular attention to any blemishes, scratches, or dings, and report these before you leave. This will ensure that you won’t be held accountable for any damage to the car that was there before you got it. 

It’s also a good idea to read reviews when you’re booking your vehicle online. Renters report experiencing a differing quality of customer service at different agencies. There are even differences in quality between different locations of the same agency. Looking up reviews online is a good way to get a sense of where you’re likely to find the best price AND have the best experience. 

Finally, we can’t stress enough the importance of renting a car that’s appropriate for your trip. If you just want a vehicle for getting around the city for a few days, you’ll be fine with a compact car. If, however, you are planning on going further afield, you probably want to splurge on an SUV. Bumpy, unpaved, and obstructed roads are common outside of the nation’s capital. Having the appropriate vehicle for the trip can make your journey much safer and more enjoyable. 

Follow these tips, and you’re sure to have a stress-free and enjoyable car rental experience. After all, renting a car should be a means to an end of getting to your destination, not an adventure in and of itself. 

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