Thoughts on The New Panama Tourist Visa

I have had a little more time to think about the new Tourist Visa changes since yesterday and now that my initial shock has passed, I am trying to look at it objectively. The Panama Guide has an interview with Lic. Tomas Garcia Tobar, the National Sub Director of Panama’s Department of Immigration regarding the recent change in requirements for tourist visas. It presents a better understanding of what the intent for the change is.

If you step back and think about it, the term Tourist Visa, pretty well says what the visaś purpose is. The new change allows a person to obtain a 30 day visa and then that person may extend it once for a maximum of 60 more days for a maximum time in Panama of 90 days. Whether the extension is 30 or 60 is determined by Panama on a case by case situation.

I, for one, think that 30 days time in a country is ample time for most tourists. Certainly 90 days should accommodate everyone. If a person expects to spend a large percentage of their life in Panama, then there should be no reason that they should not apply for one of the other visa programs.

Being a person who moved to Panama to live, I am pleased to see that the intent is to keep those that should not be here from staying indefinitely. There has been too much news of pedophiles, tax evaders, criminals etc. coming and staying in Panama and you find out about them after something bad has happened in Panama. This should also remove some sleazy project developers from coming to Panama, running up prices, taking advantage of naive gringos and even Panamanians, then after making their millions living in other parts of the world and not spending that money here.

As with anything of this nature happening, sometimes good people are affected negatively. Panama has a lot of good people living within Panama, earning money and contributing real dollars to the Panama economy, and they may be here on a tourist visa. This is similar to many of the illegal aliens living in the US that have been good for the economy, but none the less are there under the radar.

Well, Panama has improved its radar and is doing something to gain control of a real problem. The US could take a lesson from Panama. Now you can take a pessimistic view of the change and think the world is coming to an end and this change is a good reason to take Panama off your list of retirement locations. However, I think if you are the right type of person, this just might be a new reason to put Panama higher on the list of candidates.

The one thing I do not believe that Panama has done well, has to been to give ample notice to those already here that this change was coming. It should have prepared its border agents in the immigration office to communicate the limits of the visa, to those entering Panama, in a clear but non-belligerent fashion. This is a time when a little intelligent PR would go along way to make what many may take as a negative and present it in a positive light.

My feeling after sleeping on it, is that this is a good change. I want the people that come to Panama to live, to be assets to Panama and not detriments. Well those are my thoughts. I am sure there are other opinions that may differ from mine.

59 thoughts on “Thoughts on The New Panama Tourist Visa

  1. Don after returning from a road trip and reading your initial comment I was not surprised. There has been pressure on the government in Panama to get some control over it’s borders. There are many people who have come to Panama to escape from other places, some have criminal records and might not be wanted here. Requiring a police report for Jubilado Visas followed by a reduction in the term of tourist Visas is an effort to increase scrutiny of who enters and stays here. As you said, 30 days with a 60 day extension is enough for any true tourist. This tightening of immigration policy is a good thing for those who live here legally. I do suspect some people will be leaving since the ability to stay invisible with a three day trip to Costa Rica will now become more difficult or at least more frequent. The world is becoming a smaller place and that has both positive and negative implications.

  2. Hi Lee. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. It is going to be interesting to see how it all transpires.

  3. One potential issue that I see is for people that are going to build a house in Panama before retiring and don’t yet have a visa other than a tourist visa. It will likely take a little more creative effort to stay in Panama while building. We’ll have to see what the level of enforcement is.
    Rob

  4. Rob – That is a good point and one I hadn’t considered. From what I understand today the enforcement is intended to be very strict. However there are issues, such as the one you have just pointed out, that will have to be the true test of an intelligent implementation.

  5. Don,
    As Rob mentioned, this is going to create a deal of figuring things out now, as we already own or home down there, but won’t be moving down there until December or so. Any of the current Visas are going to be very hard for us to make…

  6. Hi Doug. That is the exact reason that Panama should have done a better job of providing information of what was coming down the road. Then people could have been getting prepared and not feel like they are being squeezed in a vice because of a time constraint they hadn’t planned on.

  7. Don Ray,

    Your last reply [what was coming down the road] was the first thing that stuck me “odd” about the change in the Tourist Visa. I have been researching Panama as a place to retire to for about a year, and don’t recall reading anything about a change in the Visa wind prior to a few days ago. Seemed to happen in the wink of an eye. Made me step back a bit and say Whoa! After reading Mr. Tobar’s comments, I too feel much more at ease.

    Thanks
    John

  8. Hi John, I have learned to never say never, but I think this is being done for a good reason. Panama is trying eliminate a problem. Their execution may not have been perfect, but then again, you can say the same thing for many other countries actions.

  9. It definitely (for good or bad) will slow down real estate sales in Panama. Many individuals will look at it as an impediment that will make it difficult to remain for the extended time periods necessary to supervise the construction of homes.
    Furthermore, many foreigners in Panama own homes but don’t qualify for any type of permanent visa. They simply came in on a 90-day visa, then extended it for another 90, then left for a few days to return for another 180 day period. The previous requirement required only one trip out of the country each year. The revised visa requirements will require minimally four (4) trips/year. This certainly will discourage the sale of properties to individuals ineligible for some longer term visa.

  10. Hi Greg – I believe you are right about that. Before owning property a person is going to want to know that he or she can get a permanent visa. that wasn’t true before.

  11. Hi Don – Yes, it will certainly complicate things for many home buyers. Perhaps the government in the face of declining real estate sales might might come up with some additional extended visa to cover individuals who own property. Obviously, they should be separated out from the general tourist category.

  12. When I lived in Nicaragua we Americans were allowed 90 day visas but Canadians were allowed only 30 days. I do not know why.

  13. Greg and John,

    Obviously we are at the beginning of the implementation of the new Visa. I am sure that there may be some things that Panama will wish it had done differently and there may be some things that it will decide to change. One has to be careful what you wishes for.

  14. I sure would like to see a break for property owners. I am on a tourist visa and am doing a fixer upper with plans to possibly build another house. When I am out of Panama for the 3 day thingy, all works stops.
    Now I will have to spend more time out of Panama and the Costa Ricans get my tourist dollars at those times. By the way, I have extended my visa in David and it is a bitch and not guaranteed. There is a lot of glibness in “just getting a 60 day extension”. Try it and see. Also every time I cross the border in Paso Canoas it is different. Everything is a moving target. This latest visa thing has convinced me that I will make no more investments in Panama. I have three titled properties here and can’t risk not being able to get to them. Also I legally qualify for a pensionado, but am hung up in bureaucracy.
    There are a lot of other places that have 90 day visas and I am actively considering leaving here for them. This policy change, like the one a couple of years ago is not well thought out.

  15. Don,
    Since I live in the Peoples Republic of Maryland, which is right next to the Logic Free Zone of Washington DC, I see the concern of you and your readers. Anytime government gets involved in fixing anything, like the imigration bill that Evil Party and the Stupid party is trying to force down our throats, it will just cause needless pain and suffering (TSA), and cost the tax payer a fortune. If I were you I would watch very close what the Govt. beauracrats are up to.

  16. Hi Pantah – have you talked to your attorney and if so what is the attorney´s opinion.

    Kevin – I hear you. Fortunatly I am not worrying about a Tourist as many are. I feel like it will eventually get taken care of, but some things don´t move faster than a snail´s pace.

  17. My understanding is that the tourist visa periods for Panama for the last few years have varied between 30, 60 & 90 days. Others that have been in Panama longer than I have would know better. I agree with Pantah that this policy is not well thought out. There should be some extended stay visa for those wanting to establish themselves in Panama.

    FWIW, I am much more concerned about the implications of the HSBC legal action against the integrity of PIFs than I am about an ever changing tourist visa period.

  18. Hola Don,
    I don’t see how shortening the length of stay will really help with the illegals coming to Panama. It may discouarge a few, but if you’re an illegal, you will stay under the radar regardless of the time permitted here. Unless the Panamanian government is prepared to start stopping everyone, everywhere, all the time, (as in a gestapo action) they will be hard pressed to eliminate the real problems. In the mean time they will discourage honest expat tourists from extending their time in Panama. With that being said I am all for tightening border security both in Panama and the USA. I am just not sure this is the right way to do it in Panama.

  19. On another note, think about the negative ramifications the new visa requirements will have upon the long-term real estate rental market in Panama City. It could vaporize overnight. There are too many other places to set up housekeeping where the tourist visa is either not needed or valid for 90 – 180 days with libereral extensions beyond that. I can’t imagine the government not changing the wording to make individuals buying or renting property a special case.

  20. Rob – I think you are right on the past having different lengths of visa terms and I also agree that the HSBC is a case that is important to watch. I am in the progress of removing an obstical I have that will allow me to cancel my account with Banistmo because of its HSBC involvement.

    Ron -Well part of the change is also a change in the attitude of what is going to happen when violations are found. I get the feeling that there is more of a concern and hear that they are going to strictly enforce the new limits and that wasn’t the case in the past.

    Greg – The real estate market in general will take a hit until things settle down. It may be a buyers market for a while.

  21. This change introduces yet another catch-22 to Panama.

    I guess just like obtaining a drivers license where your stateside license is only good for 90-days and you could not receive a Panama license until you had a Pensionado or other permanent visa (which takes about 4-months after submitting the proper documents) you’ll have to either, 1) break the law or 2) leave the country you are trying to become a permanent resident of. Neither of this options make very good since.

    Perhaps some consideration for folks caught up in the immigration hopper would be appropriate. Barring this I too am inclined to believe that the regulation was not well thought out and will in fact impact Panama negatively.

    J

  22. Obviously there are many rough edges to the current implementation. I think it will get tweeked in the future, because it is affecting too many of the people that Panama wants to attract.

  23. I arrived in Panama as a tourist on May 6 and was told that I could stay for 90 days. They didn’t write 90 days on my passport stamp, though.

    Now I understand the law was changed last week and now one can only stay for 30 days (subject to one extension).

    Do you know if the new law is retroactive and catches me, or whether I can stay for 90 days because I arrived before the law changed? If the former, I guess I need an extension to be granted to me by Wednesday!

    Thanks,

    Colin

  24. I do not personally know how they are treating this. I have read that if you are now beyond the 30 day period, you are in violation and I have heard that if you came in before it went into effect you have the full 90 days. If you are in David, the local emigration office should be able to answer the question.

  25. Pingback: Chiriquí Chatter » Blog Archive » A Spoonful Of Sugar

  26. Hello all friends of Panama!

    It was a sad day when I was informed of the new law which only allows for one month visits to Panama for a tourist, – although you can apply for an extra 60 days after you have been there a few weeks. I have been to Panama four times during the last 30 months and have fallen in love with the country and its people. But also because Panama is one of the few left places on earth where privacy and freedom is still in place.

    For the last few months I have been planning to get a business started for the purpose of promoting Panama to people in the Nordic countries. I have been in talks with a few real-estate promotors and was planning my fifth trip in about 3 – 4 weeks. However, with the recent development, I am not sure what to do.

    This is, in my opinion, a sad day for Panama and for the future of tourism and real-estate in Panama. At least when looking at it from Northern Europe. Here is my grave concern folks:

    When selling an apartment or house to someone in the Nordic area, many of thos would be poople above the age of 50 years.. With other words getting closer to their time of retirement. However, many of those people would never look at Panama as a place to move, relocate or retire. But they would like to look at it as place for a good real-estate investment, and to a large degreee as a place they could travel to for 2 or 3 of the coldest wintermonts here in northern Europe. The key words here are “2 – 3 of the coldest months.”

    With this new law, the market has been killed for all of thos people. Who would like to purchase a place in Panama, hoping to be able to spend 2 – 3 months there, say from January untill end of March, when they have no guarantee that they will be allowed to stay in the country for 2 or 3 months? Answer: Absolutely nobody!!

    I feel this is an example of a new law which has been rushed into place by someone in the government who has not really thought it through.
    If this stands, the month of May 2007 is a sad day for Panama!

    I am really very disappointed by this! If anyone has some information or feedback which could put a more positive look at this situation, please write to me!

    Best personal regards from

    Helge Normann

  27. Hello again!

    If anyone wants to contact me in regard to my comments above, or in any regard having to do with the future opportunities in Panama, please write to me:

    helge@normann.as

    Up untill a couple of days ago, my plan was to move to Panama in September of this year. Now, I am not so sure any more.

    Regards

    Helge Normann

  28. When I hear about people thinking of Panama as an investment, I start thinking of property flippers and they just drive the price up for everyone. I am more in favour of those that want to have a more permanent residency with Panama. But that is just me.

  29. Not everyone who is considering “investing” in Panama is a “property flipper.” If you only have enough money to buy one single vacation home somewhere you would certainly think of that purchase as an “investment” — especially if, like Helge, suggests, you want to use it for 2-3…maybe even 4 or 5 winter months and hopefully, rent it out during those months when you need to be back at work or at home. As long as this new tourist visa time limit is in effect, people will definitely think twice about Panama as a snowbird destination. And I if were looking to “invest” in a vacation home that I could rent to offset that investment? I would now cross Panama off my list.

  30. Suze – I understand your point. As I said that is what I think of when I hear people talking about this type of investment. I may be in a minority.

    I guess I don’t relate to people who can afford even one vacation home since I have enough trouble figuring out how to make ends meet on my primary residence in Panama.

  31. I have been coming to Panama for four years and bought a house in Bocas a little more than a year ago.I do not qualify for any of the visas offered although I spend plenty of money in the country and also bring more money into Panama through friends and family visiting me.I am against the development boom that is happening and did not buy as an investment.I work in the U.S. four to five month and save about $20000.00 which I spend down here in seven to eight month.My mom came from Europe last winter and stayed for three month(spending about $5000 excluding air) and in September I have friends(three couples)visting from overseas for who never would have chosen Panama as a destination if it was not for me living here.They are all well to do and my estimate on their spending for their three week stay including hotels is around $12000.But right now I am holding off on making their hotel bookings for them because at this point I do not know if I will still be here in September with all the hassle of those new laws.The economic loss for Panama just from me leaving is around $40000 a year.I am assuming there is other people with a similar situation like myself out there,people who are doing nothing but living here part of the year,spend money and do not qualify for any visas.I think a lot of those will take their business elsewhere.

  32. Hi Peter, Obviously your being able to continue the way you were would be good for panama. I am in favor of what ever is in Panama’s best interest. I admit that I am not smart enough to know exactly what that is. I just hope Panama does what is best for the majority of its citizens.

  33. Hi everyone. I have read your comments. I too am on a tourist visa. I work as an English teacher – which Panama is crying out for. I do not qualify for any other type of visa and the strong Panamanian teachers’ union stops the government from allowing me (and many others) staying here 100% legally. The work visa policy is nigh on impossible: they will only allow a company a 10% non- Panamanian work force (if the company has less than 9 people that equates to a big fat ZERO.)

    I want to contribute properly to Panama, pay taxes etc, but I have no options now – only a miracle from God. I haven’t got enough money to pay for a plane ticket home either so am a bit stuck in the middle. I looked at the possiblity of getting a visa for self-employment – working for an overseas internet based company- but guess what – I don’t qualify.

    My strong beliefs are that governments all over the world should let people live and work where they want to as long as it is legal and they contribute the required taxes etc. As well you know people who want to work – work those who don’t, don’t WHEREVER they live.

    Yes, Panama will shoot themselves in the foot again!!!! Perhaps I’ll offer my services to a country that appreciates them, like Colombia!!!

    Any advice would be appreciated. One sad English woman.

  34. Adele – I am sorry for your dilemma. I wish I had advice, but I don’t. As with any change of this sort, there are many good people that get caught in the net that was intended for others. I wish you luck. I assume you are talking to a immigration lawyer.

  35. Hello friends!

    Since posting my previous comments, I have done some research to possibly find other alternatives than Panama for my future. I quickly came up with two:

    1. Bahamas. Any tourist are allowed to stay there up till 8 months of the year without anything else than a tourist permission which is given to anyone able to provide for themselves.

    2. Belize. Although they also have an initial 30-day tourist visa, you can purchase a permit at the airport (from what I was able to understand) for a much longer period. I believe it was US$100,-? (Have to check again.) Which is fine by me.

    My grave concern with Panama now is as I stated previously: I have been involved in the marketing of properies in Florida, Bahamas, Switzerland and Spain for years. I know from experience that there are tens of thousands of purchasers who only want to use their vacation home for 2 – 3 – 4 months out of the year. But then you need to be guaranteed that you will be able to stay in the country for say 3 or 4 months. Not to trust a random immigration officer after going through the hazzle of getting your visa extended AFTER you have arrived to Panama (having paid for expensive air-tickets) and then to find out that you have to go back again. Big chock!!!

    Here is another part of the situation: Before leaving Norway I would purchase airline tickets for myself and my wife at the cost of approx. 1.400 dollars each, a total of almost US$3.000,-. Then after 3 – 4 weeks in Panama I would be denied the right to stay untill the return date for thos ticekts 2 months later. Now my tickets are not valid, (unless I paid for more expensive tickets in the first place) and I would be forced to pay 3 times the cost only to go back on plane being very, very disappointed and frustrated. Not too mention the fact that my desire to go back to Panama would have been killed for ever!!

    I am really surprised that people in the government of Panama do not see this!!??

    This is going to be very bad for the country of Panama in the future.

    Helge

  36. Hi Helge. I am pleased that you found your ideal places. I hope you enjoy them. Maybe I will visit the Bahamas one day and I will buy you a margarita.

  37. Hi Don!

    Thanks for your comment. However, I must say that during the last few years I had come to love Panama and have some good friends there. I saw a future with me living there and bringing lots of people to Panama by marketing properties to them. However, now this seems much less interesting..which is a big disappointment to me.

    Nevertheless, we will see what the future brings. Thanks again Don!

    Helge

  38. Well my dad always use to say, “When one door closes, another will open.” Many times in my life I have felt that things were not going well only to learn that better things were in store.

  39. Here is another thought:maybe the U.S. government is behind those new visa laws to see what her wayward citizens are doing abroad.

  40. I don’t think the US could give a R*** A** what its citizens are doing any where as long as they are paying their taxes.

  41. Panama continues to contradict itself. This new visa regulation is no exception. Last time I entered on June 6, 2007, via Paso Canoas, looking for another 3 months permission to spend at the coffee finca I had purchased earlier in the year I had to buy the customary $5 tourist card at the border. The reverse side of this card continues to read unequivocally : “This card enables the bearer to stay in Panama for ninety (90) days……..Surely, in the event of an overzealous official suggesting one should leave within the new law’s 30 days, the tourist card would prevail
    Nevertheless, like other writers to this site, I’ve lost my taste for this country due to this latest requirement. Anyone interested in a 10 acre coffee farm with nice little house high up past Volcan?

    Pieter

  42. wow, after reading this I am now at a loss, that stinking american crap terrorist gov’t has gone too far. When are people going to get sick enough of living in the united states of McWorld to tell unc sam to piss off home and don’t come back. That gutterment is making americans unwelcome the world over as well. President cheney needs to jailed and quick. If I wed a Panamanian would I then be relieved of the visa nonesense? If so, I’m interested in that lil house on a coffee farm.
    I’ll tell everyone I’m originally from Canada.

  43. dear don rey and don brown,

    word has it on the “street” that panama will restore the ninty day

    visa near the end of july!

    this is one of the reasons i love panama it’s innocence and the

    gentleness of its people particularly chriquians. (sp) ellen

  44. restoring visas by end of july is not going to quell the shock of people realising thier possesions and meager existence can be effectively outlawed over night. I had this happen in Fiji a couple years ago building a big hotel for some NZ outfit, one day legal and long term visa, next day illegal immigrant. From what I read, Costa Rica has a much stabler, sensible, freindlier gov’t. Niether do they jail each other for marijuana, which amounts to good coffee if everyone stopped lying about it. I’m soooo glad I found this page.

    cheers and good luck, sounds like yur gunna need it.

  45. Ellen M, posting of July 8th…I’m most pleased to hear the “word on the street” is that the 90 day tourist visa is returning…my pattern for the last couple of winters has been a couple of 60 day trips to my place in Bocas and would like to continue that pattern without extra trips to la migra. Do you have more specific information on the change back to 90 days

  46. so… I returned from the US after the change to 30 days. The lady who stamped my tourist card asked me how many days I wanted to stay. I said 90. She smiled nodded and said ok.

    Last week I exited panama at Paso Canoas border where I was forced to pay a 40 fine for being nearly 2 monts over in my stay. I related the airport story. The imagration person shook her head and told me the people at the airport are in “…. un otro mundo” another world. I began to think that they were happy to mislead tourists in Panama City on the way in so they can collect a fine on the way out.
    They gave me a receipt for the $40 and kept 2 carbons but I figure half of the receipts were trashed.

    They showed me a list, by the way, that had the US and Canada in a little group with Columbia , and Dominican Republic for 30 days.
    Many other countries have 90 days right now.

    Any news on changes to the law?

  47. Hi William. Thanks for taking the time to post a comment. Yes the 90 days for countries other than the US and Canada is fairly recent. The justification for the other countries has been stated that they previously had reciprocal agreements with those countries. This change was done by way of a memo.

  48. All above comments acknowledged and appreciated. I will add my own grain of salt to the story.
    We are “in the process” of jubilado status (one g…darned stamp missing on one darn document: you all know about that, don’t you?).
    Meanwhile, as Swiss citizens, our experience of these last months is as follows:
    Exit and Rentry via Paso Canoas about a month ago: absolutely no problems or questions. Our visiting grandson was with us, already 2 months in Panama: no problem either. The same departed by air a week later from Panama-Tocumen on his way back to Switzerland: no problem.
    At the Pan-American highway checkpoint beyond the Las Lajas turn off: various transits one way or the other without problems (the guys on duty were more curious about the stamps of the many countries we have been to than the Panama date of entry stamp). Last transit, Sep 11th, the official tried to give me a (friendly) spiel about the new 1 month limit. I stood firm and stated that 31 countries, Switzerland among them, were “reinstated” with a 3 months allowance. A superior was called for and gave me right: he had a list “somewhere” with the countries that benefited from the 3 months stay. (Incidentally, I got this info from Boquete. org). The bottom line is that no officer concerned with immigration knows anything for certain: it’s mostly guestwork, most of the time…
    To conclude, an example of bureaucratic imbecility we witnessed at the Paso Canoas Panamanian immigration checkpoint: in line in front of us, a clean-cut couple of young German back-packers. The girl behind the taquilla demanded that they produce cash money, some 300$ between the 2, if I recall. We told them to wait and provided them with the cash so they could produce it. 2nd try: the girl now demanded that they produce a BUS ticket back from Paso Canoas to San José !!!!(they possessed and produced their airplane tickets from San José back to Germany). Now, how much could a bus to San José cost? 25 bucks? When confronted with such utter imbecile idiocy, one wonders at times if the price to pay for staying in friendly, beautiful Panama is not at times too high. I don’t know the fate of these young two but I bet they don’t advertise much for our country of adoption…
    Well, whatever… the world and Panama will keep churning on, with or without us.
    P.P.

  49. So the conversation about Panama reconcidering the change to 30 days is moot. They have decided not to give the US 90 days. They have reconcidered it and many other countries are back to 90 days. Is there no one in the US Dep of State who would protest this situation? Does the US government have no leverage at all with Panama? Panamians get 90 day visas to the US as I understand it.

    So what’s next? I may not wait to see…

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