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I got my first ticket today. I’m not even sure how it happened.

I was sound asleep when Dean got a call from frantic friends this morning. They were headed to the airport and had been caught in a checkpoint.

They don’t have driver’s licenses and the husband who was actually driving didn’t have his passport either. (Seriously, carry all forms of ID at all times. We’ve learned that. Though we only carry a color copy of our passport pages to avoid losing that precious document.)

Background: a driver’s license from another country is good in Panama for 90 days, each time you enter the country. To get a driver’s license in Panama is a time-consuming and confusing process, and if you don’t have your permanent resident visa, the license is only good for five months. Many ex-pats, nonresidents (whatever you want to call us) wait until we get that permanent visa before getting a driver’s license. I personally was willing to do the temporary license and then the permanent license for peace of mind. Don’t get me wrong, our license that cost almost $200 expires in 12 days and we are in the process of getting the regular license and it is a pain. AND the relocation company doesn’t help this time because they helped with the temp one. Of course, I don’t really think the relo company did much last time so it’s not a big loss.

Our friends were pulled over and being held at the side of the road. Without a license, no one could drive the car. The husband flagged down a cab and sent his wife and daughter to the airport (they were the ones actually flying today), called us and waited.

Dean and I headed out to rescue him and bring back his car, ready to wield those good-for-almost-two-more-weeks licenses.

When we arrived, we offered the officers our resident cards and licenses. They examined them, chatted with us (Spanish, English, Google translate … a standard conversation for us). The officer in charged used Google translate to explain that they were letting our friend off with a warning but if he did it again it would be a $150 fine.

Then they took my license back to the police vehicle. Why didn’t I recognize this as standard ticket-writing behavior around the world?

The officer returned and handed me a slip of paper with an explanation in Spanish. They pointed to the offense, No. 29 “Ceder el manejo a persona no autorizada.” Since I had left my phone in the car, I didn’t have access to my translate app. Our friend thought it was permission to drive his car under his insurance…

I know it sounds a little crazy that we didn’t recognize that I was getting a ticket, but we didn’t. Standing on the side of a highway, in a foreign land, with police officers who mostly only spoke Spanish and us who mostly only speak English…

Like many things in a foreign country, it took awhile to understand. My offense was letting an unauthorized person operate a vehicle. I’m not sure why it was my offense and not the actual driver but there you go…

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