Panama City

Before we left for Panama, we ordered a rental car through Thrifty for three weeks. We got a small Toyota Yaris for a great price – $437 for 3 weeks, which includes picking it up in Panama City and dropping it off in David (a $150 charge). (Note: There wasn’t an option to drop off in David on their website, so I had to call Thrifty to make the reservation, but got the same price.)

But among all the other papers I printed for our trip, I forgot to print our car rental reservation. Big mistake. We did call and confirm a few days prior, however. I was also prepared for an additional insurance charge, which Anne from the Embera Indian tour told us they try to tack on. When we got to the counter, the customer in front of us had been fighting with the guy at the counter for 30 minutes trying to get the “mandatory” insurance removed. He finally signed a waiver and went on his way, still feeling like he was ripped off.

When I got to the counter, sure enough, they wanted to charge us an extra $250 for “mandatory” insurance as well. He said it was mandatory in all of Panama. They also wanted to add an extra $150 to drop it off in another city, which was already included in the $437 price I had received (although I couldn’t prove it to him because I forgot to print the paper). So they wanted about $850, more than twice what we had been told when we made our reservation. I also felt like we were being taken advantage of.

I fought (through Jen, my lovely and patient interpreter) with the guy at the counter for 30 minutes myself and he kept insisting that the insurance was mandatory, even though we were covered by our American Express card (and the guy before wasn’t even). He told us that if I walked away to get another quote he wouldn’t hold our reservation – at this point we had to either accept, or cancel. I was fed up with this guy, so I left Jen at the counter to go get a quote from Budget, who’s price wasn’t much better, but at least they spelled out the prices of with full insurance, minimal insurance, or no insurance, to prove that it wasn’t mandatory.

So I came back and had Budget’s quote to prove that the insurance isn’t mandatory and that I wanted it removed. He finally gave me a waiver, which I signed. But he still made me pay the extra $150 to drop it off in another city. So rather than paying the $815 they wanted, we ended up paying about $650, still $200 more than the price we signed up for, but it beat Budget’s over-the-counter price by about $150. I pity the guy in line behind us. But at least he knew what he was up against.

Fortunately, the guy before us has rented from other companies here, and said he only has had this problem with Thrifty, so I think that’s the last time I’ll order through Thrifty internationally. I doubt my reserved price would have been honored even if I had printed out my confirmation.

But at least we have a car now. It’s nice to be out on our own. We had to ask directions a couple times (once at Subway by the Albrook airport, and once at the Miraflores locks), but we made it to El Valle, about a 90 minute drive from Panama City. I think next time we’ll get something a little larger, though. The Yaris barely holds our luggage. One bag has to go in the back seat with the girls. It’s also doesn’t have a lot of power to go up the hills, but at least it’s a stick shift. And it’s much better than taking taxis and buses!

Brandon is a location independent entrepreneur, musician, worldschooling father, and the principal author of this blog. He's all about reaching his potential and enjoying life to the fullest in each moment.


  1. Ugh… what a mess. That would be really frustrating to have to deal with that.

  2. try National on 50th Street, or either Tocumen or Albrook aiirports. I’ve used them for over 20 years & wouldn’t change.

  3. Jennifer Pearce Says: February 16, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Yes, that was an extremely frustrating experience. I am glad we were finally able to get the price down a little bit, but what a hassel, and much more expensive than what we reserved on the internet.

  4. I’ m surprised that people don’t understand that Panama is not part of united states and has their own laws…I did work for companies like Budget,thrifty, and Avis in Panama and the information you stated here is wrong……first at all….any rental reservation that is made inside or out united states only include rates,airport taxes…government taxes, coverage, gas ..etc…miles in Panama are unlimited…so is not like here that in many places you pay for the miles…however, because premium insurances and other benefits from credit cards do not cover cars in Panama is necessarily that customer takes liability coverage(about 12 dollars a day) because AMEX,Visa Gold, and other coverage only COVER YOU CAR, BUT NOT THE OTHER CARS…SO YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT AND IS NOT INCLUDED IN THE RATES…NO MATTER IF IS THRIFTY,NATIONAL,AVIS,ALAMO,BUDGET..ETC…YOU HAVE TO TAKE IT…THAT IS THE MANDATORY INSURANCE FOR ANY PEOPLE…BUT ALSO YOU MUST SIGN A PAPER THAT MAKE RESPONSIBLE YOU FOR THE DAMAGE OF THE CAR IF YOUR CREDIT CAR DENIED THE PAY OR CLAIM…(THAT HAPPEN A LOT)…SO THAT IS THE DEAL…this coverage is called SLI,liablibity coverage, damage of third, etc…now…..if the person do not want to sign the liability coverage the rental just void the contract..because is no way that any rental agent would give you a car of 15,000`25,000 dollars car without any warranty…so that is the deal….how you can denied any coverage?easy…if you are a DOD employee or and they have any agreement with the state department and local rent cars companies you can denied coverage because government will pay for any damage to the car or damage to the properties…so that’s is the only way…not your case…so what you say is just inaccurate and wrong…next time make better your homework and make research///i live here in California…and you can not rent a car here without coverage either…the only difference is that the fact that usually you have rent a car insurance included in your premium….however, i just prefer use my AMEX coverage and take the CDW from the company..just to avoid any problem with my premium….now…back to Panama problem…legislation in Panama are different than here…however…reservations rates never included coverage…you know why?..because franchise in Panama only pay to the franchise a percentage for the rate but not for the sales of coverage…that’s is the agent work…i work for thrifty almost 8 years..but i don’ care about them..but i do car is about somebody telling an story that misses many facts and sounds to me that other american that think that Panama is a colony of United States and as “conquistador” you create the rules as your advantage…but is not the case….
    In another hand there is group of agents that force the sales of coverage to customers because the can get commissions for the sales..i can’t denied that practice…but most agents do not force that practice because today most customers will figure out that sales…so basically that practice would create a mess for the claims of the company in the future…however there is not such “rent a car without coverage”…that’s never happened…so…next time call different companies and get the best rate…because regarding the coverage prices….you will be find the same in all of them…i promised…I do not work for rent’ car companies anymore..but I can tell you that you should make your homework better before to rent a car anywhere…including United states..
    note :if you think I’m wrong…try to rent a car in Costa Rica…Panama is a heaven compared to them…i mean it…

  5. Same thing happened to me with Avis. I have clearly refused their PDW insurance but was told that it was the law. So I took it.
    Now Avis international recognize that I did not have to take it but refuse to remove the charge or say that I was scammed…

  6. I applaud Juan for sticking up for his country. Renting a car in the USA and renting one in any other country will be a different experience. I get all my cars from Thrifty Panama and I am always treated with great service, but I always know what I am getting. I have AMEX coverage but I prefer theirs because I am in Panama. Why pay $17 a day for just liability, if I have to pay that much, I believe in paying a little more, like $34 per day and I get the whole thing covered. My peace of mind is much more and I get great cars and great service.
    But this was written years ago, and this is now 2015 I think they have changed their ways of explaining things…

  7. Julian Loo Says: June 28, 2015 at 6:41 am

    I completed a minivan reservation in advance for our 9 day stay at Panama. The price quoted was $297.19. I planned on using my credit card and take full advantage of the car rental insurance it provides. I did my research and understood that the liability insurance in Panama is mandatory and the credit card travel insurance is ok with that as long as I decline the collision and theft insurance. The guy at the counter told me a whole bunch of made up policies. Thrifty needs a letter from the credit card company and that I could not decline the collision and theft due to the size of the vehicle I was renting (seriously?). So he quoted me 3 other amounts of $718.64 for basic, 759.58 for standard, and 891.79 for full, all hand written on a scrap piece of paper (huge red flag). Because this trip was outside of the US, I also had a second reservation with Alamo for $327.57, same vehicle class (just in case). Boy, was I relieved I did that. The person at Alamo did not give me any grief, and gave me the straight up scoop and I just had to pay the liability portion of about $117 (which I expected) – total $444.

  8. We travel all the way to the airport at pick up time (10:30 am on July 23, 2016) to discover Thrifty did not have the reserved vehicle available. Ms. Vanessa Coca was apologetic and attempted to find us another 7 passenger car. However, it became clear that only a minivan would meet our needs. She agreed to call us the minute the first minivan got returned and we have to leave without a car. Less than than 20 minutes later she called and notified us that a car has been returned and was being prepared for us. Again, we travel all the way to the airport to get the car. Ms. Coca started the paperwork and and even provided us with a copy (it was for a 2016 Dodge Caravan).

    While standing in the Thrifty desk working through the papers and the payment, an individual (who nobody dared to name but we suspect was either Dimas Alfonso or Juan Diego) from Hertz rental car arrived to the Thrifty desk and asked for a minivan. Ms. Coca explained to him that none was available as we were taking the only one they had. Somehow, this individual manage to convince Ms. Coca to give him our car and to have us wait for another car that “was in its way” to the airport. All this was done without us realizing what was going on. By the time we thought we were ready, we realized that we have no car and we had to wait for the other to arrive. It was no longer the Dodge Caravan we have reserved but a Kia Carnival. They promise the delay was for just 20 minutes. Needless to say that the 20 minutes extended for far longer. Ms. Coca went home having finished her shift and left us waiting for the car. The person left to replace Ms. Coca (Nichole) said that someone was bringing the car but they have no way to contact that person. Hours passed by. Then they claimed the car had arrived but they needed to make some minor repairs to it. That took at least another hour. In all, I spent 4 hours standing in the Thrifty airport office waiting for a car.
    Bottom line: It is not only the insurance (my reservation for $129.43 a week ended up costing $487.13 after I was allowed to decline only some of the insurance they applied to the rental) , they have terrible service too.

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