Current Immigration Anxiety

As many have may seen in recent Panama news media carried interviews with Panama officials, Panama is tightening its borders and border hopping will end (My wording implied from the broadcasts, I have seen).

I have received specific questions related to U.S. citizens no longer being able to cross over into Costa Rica and return to Panama in 3 days. I sent the questions to the Embassy for comment and am posting the Embassy’s current response, until they have more information.

We here at the Embassy have reached out to immigration to obtain details about the news pasted below regarding the implementation of immigration regulations. According to the Duty Chief at Migracion-Paso Canoas, the PNM Immigration Director is enforcing these migratory requirements across Panama. This means that if an Immigration Official determines that a foreigner is using tourism status to reside in Panama, the entry will not be allowed. The Duty Chief gave examples of this situation, indicating that persons who exit Panama before the 6th month approaches and re-enter after three days, which is a clear sign that the individual is residing in Panama under a tourist status, will not be allowed re-entry.

In summary, these regulations were already in the books but now it seems the immigration authorities throughout Panama are going to be stricter about enforcement. That said, we have yet to receive a complaint from a U.S. citizen actually denied entry at the border for the reason outlined above.

Personally I think Panama is doing the right thing. Perpetual visa renewing residents need to end in my opinion. If you have made the decision that you want to retire and live in Panama, then work on getting a pensiondo card.

Panama cannot handle the huge number of people that want to live here and work here and leave every 6 months to renew their visa. A large number of Venezuelans learned this the hard way when they visited Costa Rica and were not allowed to return.

40 thoughts on “Current Immigration Anxiety

  1. When I came to Panama , I applied for the Pensionado immediately, before even finding a place to live. I stayed in a hotel for several days, and took care of business first. I knew I was here to stay, sight unseen. Some may not want to stay, so I feel that the first six months should be exempt from the ‘rules’. If after six months, which should be long enough to make a decision, then apply the rules. It would be a waste of money to apply and then decide Panama is not for you. We are so much more fortunate than Panamanians who want to come to the US. Several Panamanians that I know personally have been denied visas to the US, because the miserable person employed by the Embassy decided that they wanted to stay in the US, which was not true. There are several attorneys who have been used by Gringos and found to be reliable.

  2. As soon as Panama comes up with a solution for those of us who have no finger prints left because of very thin skin then some of us would get our permanent visa right away. Does the embassy have an answer to this problem?

  3. Thanks for the article AND the effort to communicate with the U.S. Embassy. But…
    1. I’m confused. This is dated 7 March 2017 but you AND the U.S. Embassy refer to a SIX month period. Aren’t you both incorrect ? Hasn’t the law changed to be only 3 months ?
    2. While I can appreciate your opinion, it’s a little short-sighted. Not everyone that wants to live here, A) Wants to live here full time; B) Is even wanting to “retire”, as you say. Hence the Pensionado Card is moot.
    3. Further, what exactly does this mean: “Panama cannot handle” (?) the “huge number” (?) of people that want to live here and work here and leave every 6 months (sic) to renew their visa.” ?

  4. 1. You can apply for 6 months. 2. If you don’t want to be a perpetual tourist, then you have no problem. 3. As I said, if you have watched the news, you saw many from Venezuela, that recently were not allowed to reenter Panama, Many were working her because they did not want to live or could not live in their repressed country.

    Panama is strictly starting to enforce stronger border restrictions.

    People can do what they want, but this is a Panama law situation and the U.S. Embassy will have no authority or influence on it.

    I would add that the largest problem I deal with as a Warden for the Embassy is dealing with problems created by perpetual tourists.

  5. Always seemed to me that a tourist is just that..a tourist. Tourists are temporary. Once you decide to reside…you are a resident. It seems absolutely within the rights of this country to do what they are doing right now. Best advice to tourists residing? Decide one way or another then begin process. You either see an attorney and apply for residency or move on. If you KNOW you can not obtain a residency status…then you had best make haste to make other plans quickly.

  6. I fail to understand the logic and reasoning behind baring people that bring money into the country and spend it here.. I’m retired , I have no intention of working. I only am a monetary asset.. I like being a tourist and have no intention of changing my status. I stay in Panama 6 months and leave for 3-4 months.. if Panama doesn’t want me to return. there are other places that do. Panama can use me , more than I can use Panama.

  7. Don, you mentioned problems with perpetual tourist… could you list them? I’m curious. Thank you

  8. Dave, if you read what was written in the Embassy’s statement, I woulf think you should not have a problem. You would not be leaving Panama and returning in 3 days, which is a trigger point of identifying a problem.

  9. Dave, the problems I have dealt with were people who come her, without insurance, use the public hospital, die and leave large bills unpaid to the hospital and other businesses.

    This is why now people cannot enter the private hospital’s without showing the ability to pay. It wasn’t that way when i moved here.

    I dealt with one of those cases this week.

  10. Hey Don, so my wife and I happen to be in the States and returning next week. We own property in Chiriqui and had not yet begun the Friendly Nations Visa process. (we have an appointment in 2 weeks with our attorney). We had been doing the border hop for a couple years but leave every 3-6 months for about a month and then return to Chiriqui. Now we are a bit nervous for the flight back next week – any way to clarify if we’ll have a problem when we arrive at PTY?

  11. I can’t say what will happen. The main red flags are people doing the short 3 day hops, which is an obvious red flag of someone living here as a tourist. They are supposed to have streamlined the process so that you can get yoyr residency visa through the process in 6 months.

    I posted this to alert people that drive to the border, park their car on the Panama sice and make their normal 3 day run to CR, that there is a possibility that they may not be readmitted and having a car parked at the border for a long period of time is not a wise decision.

    As you also read, to this point the Embassy has not seen any problem with US citizens.

    I will add this. I had a friend that was concerned about his border run because they had given him a heard time the last time he came through. He was waiting for his wife’s Embassy interview for her Green Card. I asked the Embassy to write him a letter stating that his wife was scheduled for this interview and requestion that he be allowed to reenter so they could go to the US as a family.

    He was admitted, but not without a hassle.

  12. Perhaps Panama should do as the USA does.. require foreigners to provide medical insurance on entery. Possibly a good health certificate should be required as it is with people requesting residency. i already pay a premium for Medicare and supplemental which is only good inside the USA. It would appear the governments and corporations of the world don’t want anyone leaving their little box.
    . On another related issue being discussed. If the 3 day window is a problem, what time window would be acceptable? Perhaps a month out of the country would satisfy the law makers. One sure way of solving the problem is for all tourist to leave.. once that reality sunk in, we would see a new attitude.. perhaps a tourist appreciation day would be in order.

  13. I can understand Panama’s concern over unpaid hospital bills.

    Fortunately, in the US we have zero illegals that have ever crossed our southern border, so no problem with unpaid hospital bills, or billions in Medicaid fraud.

    “This is a Panama law situation…the US embassy will have no authority…”
    …unless of course the US wants to overthrow the Panamanian Pres…1989..?

    For the record I am a legal resident of Panama, but had run to the border a few times to renew my CR driver’s license…only 90 days allowed.

    My attorney told me to return to the US and renew my license and based on that I would be given a Panamanian lic.

    I spun the wheel and took the exam here in Spanish…just prior found it was via computer..60 seconds per question.

    If you need to guess…go D…yeah, I have my license now.

  14. I know many Americans and Canadians, both young and older people, who come regularly to Panama for a few months a year; generally during the North American cold winter months. They boost the Panama economy by spending money earned in their home country! Maybe Immigration could consider simply implementing a law that requires a tourist to be out of the country 1-3 months prior to returning to Panama or those same people will simply go to another country and Panama will not benefit from their spending!
    I also agree that the Visa process can be long in Panama and one should be able to provide a document to Immigration proving they have applied for a Visa and are in the process of obtaining residency.

  15. cathy is correct. many people like myself and alan will just leave. i like panama, but if the tourist requirment become a hassle, its easier in other places.. if they enact the 3 day 3 month rule, it is cheaper and less hassle to go to nicaragua. a big issue for me is the 3 day rule. when i lived in nicaragua, i could go to the border. one hour away , get stamped and go home all for $12.. 3 days is too long to leave my dog. and crossing the border with her is another big hassle.. i might be better off spending the winter in florida or arizona. anyway , i had a good time in panama, but as they say, all things must pass. im to old and lazy to shell out a bunch of money and time hassling with residency.

  16. I agree with Nancy. I would have had my pensionado three years ago except for the problem with my fingerprints. The attorney in Boquete assured me that I could keep resubmitting them at $350 a pop or border hop. He mentioned some deal that if your here for two years you don’t need the fingerprints sent to the US and can use your status as a person who has not been in any trouble in Panama. I couldn’t find anyone to help me with that. I’m leaving in July for Mexico and will not be returning to Panama.

  17. The new law does not affect “snowbirds” in any way. People coming to Panama for 6 months to avoid the winters in the north are long term tourists or they are potential retirees to Panama. “Tourists” who have lived continuously in Panama for years, only leaving long enough to receive another 6 month tourist visa stamp are the issue.

    Panama isn’t really a tourist attraction during the height of the rainy season.

  18. Jim, It won’t affect the snowbirds in any way except if they usually drive while they are in Panama. You have to do a border hop at 3 months to continue to drive on your foreign license. That I think is going to be a big issue for most.

  19. If you are here in a 180 day visa, then you should have no problem entering and leaving during that period. However, this being Panama, rules are applied differently depending on who is behind the custom’s window.

    This would be different for border hoppers as their history will show being here in Panama for over 180 days.

    Luckily I don’t have to jump through that hoop.

  20. No Don, that isn’t how it works. You get a 180 stamp automatically when you enter the country, for most countries. If you want to drive on your foreign license you have to go to the border after 90 days and leave for 3 days and come back in. That is no longer allowed. Snowbirds that want to drive will only be able to stay for 3 months now.

  21. As I said. I don’t worry about that and you may have experience. I am happy to dee the perpetual tourist visa being removed!

  22. I see you edited your above comment. You originally wrote that you get a 90 day visa and then ask for an extension. That is what I was referring to when I said that is not how it works. I think no border hopping means no border hopping. If you leave for three days and then want back in to renew your licence they aren’t likely to let you in. They have already stated that people leaving for three days and wanting back in is a big no-no.

  23. Yes, I edited my comment because I went back and looked at a previous ACS message and saw that for US citizens, it was still 180 days.

    However, they are supposed to be looking at history. A history should be more than 90 days. However, those of us that have been here for approaching 15 years know that rules are not always applied the same by all government employees.

  24. So I have a new us passport. i believe they key off your passport number and not your name, so for those that show a history of border hopping, getting a new passport will not show any history. Voila go to the us embassy in san jose, ask for a rush passport replacement and stamp back into panama. Any problems with that not working.

  25. Whether they “key off” your passport number OR your name…the same results show up on their computer. (When it’s working !) If the system’s not working so well, they DO look at your passport and check ALL the pages (mind-numbing considering the lines !). My old passport had additional pages…and so, that would take awhile…even thought I always TRY to show any official my latest stamp, so they don’t have to go looking for it. Yeh, right ! But your idea would only work IF their computer’s down and they HAVE to look.

  26. We returned today from Paso Canoas. Fortunately, we had contacted an attorney last week concerning applying for our pensionado visa. On Monday, alll of our friends sent messages telling us about the strict law enforcement. I immediately contacted the attorney and asked if she would email a letter to me confirming we had retained her. She agreed and addressed it to the Migration Agency. I printed it off but did not give it to the agent immediately. She examined every date in my passport and took it to a supervisor. It was obvious I was going to be denied. I then produced the letter and asked if she needed this. Bingo! She asked if I was residing in Panama and stamped my passport. I would advise anyone who wants to stay in Panama to get their visa. I don’t think this will blow over anytime soon.

  27. Thanks for your first-hand report Terri ! Would you care to share that letter ? (E.g. If I could see an actual copy, I could have my attorney do it exactly the same. My experience in other affairs is that there’s something “magical” in how SOME people communicate with bureaucracies here.)

  28. Kevin, I couldn’t do that w/o my attorney’s permission as it is her work product. Also, it contains our passport information in a pdf that I don’t have a way to remove it.

  29. You’re welcome Kevin. If I can be of any other help, feel free to contact me. We have an appointment with the lawyer on Monday and I have a number of questions to ask her. Good luck.

  30. Hi, the way you guys are talking about this seems like it’s only for US citizens lol. I’m a Canadian citizen and I assume that we would also be affected by this.

    We’re not in Panama yet but if we go we would apply for permanent residency (We already visited) via Friendly Nations.

    When you guys say you got your residency or your visa, what exactly do you mean? No one is saying “permanent” or “temporary” residency so I am not sure what you mean. We’re not retired. We’re still around 30.

  31. You don’t have to be retired to qualify for a residency visa in Panama. The point is, if you can qualify for other than a tourist visa, you should certainly consider it if your plan is to reside her more than 6 months a year. I only see things getting more difficult to obtain.

  32. My situation creates a problem with the new rules. My brother has property and residency here in Panama. For the past couple years I would stay down here and take care of his place for 6 months while he returned to the states. When he returns, I go back. One of us needs to be with my elderly parents to help them be able to stay on their place. Means I’m usually gone for 5 months or so. I’m retired. but don’t qualify for pensionado or residency. Too expensive on SS. Only being able to stay for three months messes both he and I up, as he needs to work summers up there.

  33. It is not 3 months. 3 months only apples to the amount of time you can drive her on your US driver’s license. You can stay six months. However, my understanding (have not verified this) is if you are her a full 6 months, you cannot re enter for another six months. If you stay 5 months, you can return after 30 days. If someone has actually tested this, they can comment their experience.

  34. I dont think they are applying the 30 day out rule to everyone who doesnt have residency or it would cause havoc! We were on our 5th month before leaving for a week and we got back in with no problem back in March. Now we are leaving at the four mo mark for a week in july and we will see what happens!
    Has anyone been denied entry or questioned from March to May 2017?

  35. Looking to enter under pensiondo but no income. I have substantial assets. I’m too young for social security and not sure if they will consider assetts. Friendly nations…Im a US citizen and dont want to work. Person of means visa? (Prefer friendly nations).

    Also have 2 misdemeanor DUIs in the US. One in 1995 and one in 2010. Will these preclude residency. If so I have no problem staying 5 mos and leaving for 30 days.

    Would love some answers..thanks

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