Questions and Answers from Chiriquí

I received the following from the American Citizens Services Area in the U.S. Embassy in Panama City.

These were questions that U.S. Ambassador Farrar took on his recent visits to David and Boquete and committed to get answers for.

If you have registered with the U.S. Embassy in Panama City, you will have already received the following information. I am posting this for those that have not had the time to register.

Questions and Answers from Chiriquí

What about more Embassy support for US citizens who are having difficulty with Panamanian government agencies, such as excessive time processing visas, driver licenses, etc.

In most cases, applications from non-Panamanian citizens for Panamanian government services such as visas and driver’s licenses are processed in the same way as for Panamanians, though at times the processing may be slow. While the US Embassy can inquire about the progress of applications, we cannot interfere in their operations, and such inquiries may create longer delays.  If an issue occurs that seems to disproportionately affect US Citizens, the Embassy works to ensure equitable and appropriate treatment for all U.S. citizens.

Why does the passport number have to change when renewing one’s passport – since all legal documents and contracts in Panama are based upon the passport number?

The passport number was never intended to be a long-term identifier for an individual person, simply a way to manage the process of Passport issuance in a manner that allows us to minimise opportunities for fraud. Your old passport and number do not go away nor are they destroyed when you obtain a new passport. It is just no longer valid for travel, which is the sole intended purpose of a passport.

We use the passport number as an inventory tracking number during manufacture at the Government Printing Office and for shipment to the passport agencies.  During issuance, the blank passport is personalised with the bearer’s biographical data and we use the inventory number as the passport number.  This arrangement allows us to track the document from manufacture to issuance. 

This system of numbering is also used to help identify lost and stolen passports to INTERPOL, allowing law enforcement and border control entities to identify cases in which impostors try to use passports that were reported lost or stolen.  If replacement passports bore the same number as the passport reported lost or stolen, it would cause delays and inconvenience for the traveler because border authorities might confuse the replacement passport with the one previously reported lost.

Why does a US-Panamanian citizen’s wife receive only 3 month validity entries? 

We understand that Panamanian immigration officers made a mistake in this particular case.

Where can I find more information about the Free Trade Agreement and how it affects certain products (like cars and honey)?

Web site http://www.ustr.gov/uspanamatpa provides specific schedules for products that can be found under the “General Notes and Tariff Schedules” section: http://www.ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/panama-tpa/final-text.

I would like to hear how the Embassy’s present system used to register Americans living in Panama could be improved so that we could make updating of this information easier.

The STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) system used for registration is being upgraded to make it easier for people to register.  There is also a new mobile version being tested to allow changes and updates from a cell phone.  Access to STEP is via: https://step.state.gov/step/.

Can I register with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) with my Blackberry? 

Smart Traveler is currently compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, iPad (requires iOS 4.0 or later), and Android devices. We hope to make it available for other platforms in the future. In the mean time, our mobile site is compatible with virtually all mobile devices and contains a subset of information available through Smart Traveler.

Specifically, Countries and Other Areas is our mobile version of US Relations Fact Sheets. Additional information is available on the Smart Traveler pages of the iTunes store and Android store.

Can one get Social Security benefits for non-U.S. stepchildren?

Yes, you can apply for Social Security benefits for a non-US stepchild, keeping in mind that if the child is not a US citizen or resident and did not live in the US for at least 5 years, there is a calendar month requirement that must be met every six months in order for Social Security to pay the child.   The calendar month requirement means that the person should be physically in the US from the first through the last day of a given month.    This action should be repeated every 6 months since the child’s benefits will be suspended after the child has been outside of the US for more than 6 months.

For example, the child travels to the US 08/31/2012 and returns 10/01/2012, in this case the calendar month was complied in September since the child remained in US territory for the complete month.   This example outlines the minimum time the child should stay in the US to comply with the Social Security’s requirement.

Once the child returns from the US, the parent should come to the Federal Benefits Unit (FBU) in the Consular section in the Embassy and bring the passport to make copies of the entry/exit stamps, complete address and telephone number in the US, boarding pass, travel itinerary and statements from at least two persons in the US stating that the child remained in the US for a complete month.

Tell us about the safety of our social security benefits that are automatically deposited into a foreign bank.

 

There have been no reported problems with direct deposits to Panamanian banks.  In fact, it is a much more secure option than receiving a physical check, having to cash it, and then carrying the money around with you.  Of course, you can deposit the same check in the bank also, but direct deposit just skips the steps that require that you physically be involved.  It also generally means that your funds are available more quickly.  The only issue we have seen is when an entire bank went out of business altogether, so it is best to choose a bank with extensive presence in Panama.

 

Social Security checks that are sent to Panama – how safe are they?

If you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive your Social Security payments outside the United States as long as you are eligible for them.

If you are a citizen of Panama, you may receive your payments as long as you are outside the U.S., unless you are receiving your payments as a dependent or survivor. In that case, there are additional requirements you have to meet.

If you receive benefits as a dependent or survivor of a worker, special requirements may affect your right to receive Social Security payments while you are outside the United States. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you must have lived in the United States for at least five years. During those five years, the family relationship on which benefits are based must have existed.

Children may meet this residency requirement on their own or may be considered as meeting the residency requirement if the worker and other parent (if any) meet it. However, children adopted outside the United States will not be paid outside the United States, even if the residency requirement is met.

The residency requirement will not apply to you if you meet any of the following conditions:

  • You were initially eligible for monthly benefits before January 1, 1985; or
  • You are entitled on the record of a worker who died while in the U.S. military service or as a result of a service connected disease or injury; or
  • You are a citizen of one of the countries in Country List 1; or
  • You are a resident of one of the countries with which the United States has a social security agreement in Country List 3.

http://travel.state.gov/travel/living/living_1234.html               http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10137.html

I would like to know about Medicare service availability in Panama (or any other place outside the US).

The Social Security Medicare Program does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the United States.

If an American becomes ill or is seriously injured abroad, a U.S. consular officer can assist in locating appropriate medical services and informing family or friends.

If necessary a consular officer can also assist in the transfer of funds from the United States for payment of medical expenses, but the payment of hospital and other expenses is the responsibility of the traveler. 

The inability to receive Medicare reimbursement for services received in Panama will not change with the new Healthcare system being introduced in the US.  However, since US Citizens living in Panama will not be able to secure healthcare insurance under the new plan, neither will they be liable for the $2,000 fine for not having insurance at all.

Refer to this web site for more information:  http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1470.html

Expatriate Health Care and the PPACA

Generally speaking, Medicare does not cover health care expenses while a person is visiting or living outside the United States.  Specifically, it does not provide coverage in Panama.  However, some individuals living here who wish to have Medicare coverage while in the U.S. continue to voluntarily have money deducted from their Social Security checks so that they will continue to have coverage while they are in the U.S., either for planned or emergency types of treatment. 

PPACA implementation rules are not yet complete.  http://www.healthcare.gov/law/index.html

With regard to the PPACA for expatriates, because the individual mandate exempts U.S. citizens living abroad and because citizens living abroad will be ineligible to purchase coverage through any individual plan offered through an Exchange, the expatriates will not be able to receive coverage for medical expenses.  That said, they also will not be liable for the $2,000 penalty for not having insurance.

I have a question about a non residency (tourist) visa for Panamanians wanting to visit the US.  I have tried to sponsor a friend on two different occasions without success.

Sponsorship does not guarantee that a visa will be granted; it is primarily intended to ensure that prospective immigrants will not become public charges. .  You are of course free to include any supporting documents, such as the I-134 form, that you feel may help the officer make their decision, but the individual applicant must still qualify for a visa on their own merits, such as a valid reason for travel, strong ties to their home country, etc.

Will there be a program for Pensionados to become permanent residents? YES

What’s new in regard to the old and new process?

Applicants will now be issued a Panamanian “E” cedula, that will allow them to work, join a political party, and naturalize after an as yet indeterminate number of years of residence.  

Any differences between the new Resident Visa and the current Retirement (or Jubilado) Visa?

Yes:  Please see chart below.  In both cases, a cedula or I.D. is issued to the applicant. If the applicant needs to travel before the process is completed, an immigration fee of o/a $2,000.00 should be covered (this info is provided in the back side of the cedula or I.D. to avoid inconveniences)

 

New Resident Visa Retirement or “Jubilado” Visa
Process fee is o/a $1,000.00 No process fee
“E” Cedula is issued Only a Laminated card is issued
For persons that will have a business or professional activity in Panama For persons intending to retire only
Pays a fee for incoming shipment of household effects, vehicles, etc. No fee for incoming shipment of household effects, vehicles, etc.
The status is permanent, with a cedula issued. The status is indefinite, with no cedula issued.

 

If I have a Retired Visa status and would like to change to the new Permanent Resident status, will this add or decrease the benefits I currently have?

Yes.  By changing your Retired Visa status to the Permanent Resident Status the applicant loses the benefits he/she already has as the categories are different (please see chart above)

Does a shareholder of an SA (Sociedad Anónima – a Panamanian business) operating an existing commercial business qualify for a Permanent Resident?

No, however, this is a specific question that should be raised directly with the Panamanian Immigration Office (PIO) thru a lawyer.

Is a lawyer needed for this process, or can the applicant start it alone?

Yes, a lawyer is required for all types of PNM visa requests.

Is a notarization from our offices required for this process?

Notarization of some documents may be required, but basically all documentation proving that the applicant will have a business or professional activity in Panama should be submitted with the appropriate Apostille stamp.  Your lawyer should be able to answer any questions.

Is there any email address, phone number or webpage to which we can refer interested parties?   http://www.migracion.gob.pa/INDEX.html#

 

I would like to know if the new permanent residency option (if taken) has any effect on U.S. citizenship and benefits. 

Residency in Panama, either with a retiree visa (indefinite) or a permanent residency visa (permanent) is not giving you Citizenship in Panama, so there is no impact on your US Citizenship.  In fact, even if you decided to become a citizen of Panama, the U.S. government allows dual nationality, as long as U.S. citizens continue to use their U.S. passports when entering the United States.

About the new law about residency and work permits in Panama. I want to teach English as a Second Language(ESL) to students here in Boquete but not in the school system.  I would like to know how this law would help me to do that.  

Permanent legal residency status that is obtainable for US Citizens would in effect also be a work permit.  If you have only the old status as a retiree or a tourist, you do not have a work permit and are not permitted to work legally in Panama. 

I would like information on reinstating permanent residency in the US.

Reinstating permanent residency that has been lost is a complex issue and will require a trip to the Embassy with all the necessary documents to apply for the necessary visa and an interview with a consular officer. 

The GOP (Government of Panama) requires “proof” that an Amcit is not married before s/he can obtain residency in Panama through marriage to a Panamanian.  Can Consular authenticate a statement from a US Citizen that he/she isn’t married, and will GOP accept this?  Or is there another solution?

If the parties to a marriage have not been previously married, a certificate of single status (Certificado de Solteria) to that effect must be presented.  This certificate should be issued in the country where you have been residing the last 2 years.  The American Citizen Services (ACS) unit does not issue such documents. 

Generally, this requirement can be satisfied by signing a sworn statement attesting to your single status in front of a Panamanian notary.  Two witnesses, not related to you, must also make a sworn statement that you are single.

For Panamanian citizens: The aforementioned certificates can be obtained at the Civil Registry Office on Avenida Peru, telephone number:  507-8000. 

For more information, visit the following: http://panama.usembassy.gov/marriage_in_panama2.html

If you need an actual marriage or birth certificate, you will need to contact the Records Registry in the State in which the event took place and request an original certified copy with an Apostille stamp from the Secretary of State of that State which then makes it a legal document for use in other countries.

Can we get an update on how Panamanians living in Chiriquí can file for a visa to the U.S. Has the process changed? How long is the process currently taking?  /  Is it possible to have US Embassy representatives conduct visa application interviews while in Chiriquí in an effort to avoid expenses of flying to Panama City for interviews? 

The process to file for a US visa has not changed, but it is now online.  It can be found at http://panama.usembassy.gov/non-immigrant.html .

The length of the entire process depends on the availability of appointments, but generally no longer than 2 to 3 weeks.  There will be an opportunity in September to provide services in Boquete and David, but these services are for U.S. citizens, not tourist visa applicants.

It is not possible to conduct Visa interviews outside the Embassy, because the interview process requires access to the online DS-160 filed by the applicant as well as other information only available from the State Department computer systems available at the Embassy only.

 

Ability of the US Embassy to visit Chiriquí more often.  At least once a quarter would be of great help to those of us who are unable to travel to Panama City due to health reasons.

While the embassy periodically provides services in areas outside of Panama City, we cannot do it on a more frequent basis without reducing services elsewhere. The number of US Citizens registered at the Embassy in the Chiriquí area in proportion to the rest of the country is somewhat small.  If more were registered, the justification for increased local services would be more compelling.

A complete list of services available through each section of the Consular Services

The full list of services changes periodically.  Your best opportunity to find the services you need can be found at the website: http://panama.usembassy.gov/

 

 

What is the process for registering to vote and doing absentee balloting?

Register and request a ballot.  To vote, new laws require you to complete and submit a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) this calendar year.  The FPCA allows you to register to vote and request an absentee ballot.  If you haven’t yet done so, we urge you to do so now.  The easiest way to complete it is online at www.FVAP.gov.  Depending on your State’s rules, you then send it to your local election officials electronically or by mail.

Mailing guidance.  Print out the completed FPCA and the (U.S.) postage-paid envelope containing the address of your local election officials.  You can drop off the postage-paid envelope (containing your FPCA) at the Embassy and we will mail it back home for you without the need to pay international postage.  If it’s easier for you to use Panama’s postal system, be sure to affix sufficient international postage and allow sufficient time for international mail delivery.  

International Letter Mail:  You may mail your Federal Postcard Application or voted ballot to the United States through the Panamanian mail system, with appropriate international postage.  Mail to the U.S. takes approximately ten days. 

Domestic Mail:  DPO mail to some destinations in the United States takes approximately 8 days.  Voters should submit their ballots to the U.S. Embassy no later than two weeks prior to Election Day (October 23).  Ballots must be in a pre-paid postage envelope or the sender should attach first-class U.S. postage (45 cents).  Envelopes without postage will be returned to sender.  The DPO’s service hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.  The DPO is located in the US Embassy compound at Clayton.  Ballots may be brought to the lower vehicle entry area near the Consular parking area on the Embassy grounds (commonly referred to as the primary service CAC) to be mailed. 

How I can change my state of residence from NY to no state or Florida without returning to the US?  Also, I want to change my driver license to another state without returning to the US.?

Having residency in a state normally requires that someone own property or have some provable connection to the state.  You have to check online with the Secretaries of State of the states which you are considering for specific details, because all states are different.

The Motor Vehicle department in each state will also be a good source of information regarding your driver’s license.

About the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)

The FATCA Act is legislation that addresses new IRS requirements for the reporting of foreign financial assets. Although the law has been passed, the actual rules and regulations for implementation of the Act have not yet been completed. 

Additional information on FATCA can be found on the following IRS website. 

 

 http://www.irs.gov/businesses/corporations/article/0,,id=236667,00.html

 

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5 thoughts on “Questions and Answers from Chiriquí

  1. “Please see chart below. In both cases, a cedula or I.D. is issued to the applicant. If the applicant needs to travel before the process is completed, an immigration fee of o/a $2,000.00 should be covered (this info is provided in the back side of the cedula or I.D. to avoid inconveniences)”

    Does this mean we can’t leave the country on a Temporary Pensionado Visa? Thanks

  2. The response I got back from the Embassy is as follows:

    “In this case, we understand that the subject needs to request a Visa Multiple to avoid paying the fine. They need to contact the Panamanian Immigration Office for information on the cost of the Visa Multiple.”

  3. As you may be aware by now that the recent change in residency visa/cedula really stick it to the gringo once again. They take away the tax free benefit and then charge you $2000.oo. You got to be nuts to go for the bunch of crap. Also, remember that they are NOT there to make your life easier. If anything it’s to make your life even more difficult. I’ve been trying for permanent residency for almost 7 years. Providing all the required doc’s and such, invested in a tree farm to help expedite it and all I got was screwed when they change the law. Of course it was retroactive so I was screwed again. Then when we were sure they were going to give it to me after 3 denials for no reason except 3 parking tickets from 7 years ago, these aholes said “Oh now you need a certified accounting of your tree farm by a certified accountant at a cost of $500.00”. Thank you and BTW screwed you AGAIN.!!!

    It’s a ever ending nightmare here for immigration and most other gov’t and bank related issues. BTW, now its impossible to et a bank account here unless you are prepared to give up ALL your private financial info including all your children’s info and your credit card info.. WARNING!!!! All this info goes directly to the IRS at the embassy. Right Don??? Big Brother is watching everyone. Don’t use the banks here. They too make your life a nightmare.

    Good luck to all…you’re gonna need it here now.

  4. I was in Panama City in July and opened a bank account with Caja in less than an hour. I have spent that long standing in line at my US bank. As folks say, your mileage may vary.
    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx

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