Message for U.S. Citizens: Holiday Security Tips and Suggestions

Here is the latest ACS Message.

The American Citizen Services unit at the U.S. Embassy would like to wish you a safe and happy holiday season. Now that the holidays are upon us, here are a few hints and tips that may help you to have a safe and secure holiday season.

Crime and Safety

As you are out and about shopping for gifts, criminals are out looking for targets. Unfortunately, regardless of country, there is usually an increase in thefts and robberies during the holiday season. Here are a few things you can do to make yourself a more difficult target:

· Be aware of your surroundings and watch for suspicious activity that may indicate that you are being targeted. If you note suspicious behavior, go somewhere safe, such as back into a store or mall, and consider informing store security of the person(s) you are concerned about.

· Keep control of your packages, purses, wallets, and other belongings. Do not over-burden yourself with packages and whenever possible keep a hand free.

· Be mindful that disturbances such as loud arguments, people bumping into you, or people dropping things near you may actually be used as distractions to allow an accomplice to steal from you. Ensure that you still have all of your possessions after someone bumps into you.

· When you place packages in your vehicle, ensure that the packages are not visible from the outside where they could be a source of temptation for a criminal. When driving, keep your windows up and doors locked.

· Your credit card information is both valuable and vulnerable. Please safeguard it accordingly and check your bank statements periodically.

Message for U.S. Citizens: Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT)

U.S. Department of State
Invites you to take action…
Your career starts by visiting our website at www.careers.state.gov where you can explore who we are, what we’re about, and more. It’s also where you can register for the next Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT).
All registrations for the Foreign Service Officer Test must be completed online. The link to online registration will be available at our website and the registration package must be submitted at least 48 hours prior to the opening of the window. The test will be offered quarterly, each year, and registration for the FSOT will be open on a continuous basis.
* Applicants must be citizens of the United States.
* Applicants must be at least 20 years old
* Applicants must be available for worldwide assignment.
* No specific level in a foreign language is required for applicants.
* Next test at US Embassy Panama will be on February 5th, 2015 at 9:00 am.

ACS Newsletter – November 2014

Here is the latest ACS message.

Greetings from American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy in Panama. To view the latest edition of our American Cititizen Services Newsletter, please click the following link:

http://panama.usembassy.gov/announcements_and_warden_messages/newsletter.html

We wish you a safe and happy holiday season!

American Citizen Services

U.S. Embassy Panama

U.S. Embassy Outreach in David – December 10th

Here is the information on the December U.S. Embassy Outreach in David. You will already have received this message if you are registered on STEP.

The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Embassy in Panama would like to inform U.S. citizens in Western Panama that we will be visiting David, Chiriqui on Wednesday, December 10, 2014 to provide consular services to U.S. citizens.

We will be at the Ciudad de David Hotel in David, Chiriqui from 9:00a.m. to 3:00p.m. on Wednesday, December 10, 2014. We will offer the following services:

– Applications for U.S. passports (these services will be processed in Panama)
– Passport Renewal (adults and minors)
– Adding Pages to Passports (requires surrendering passport)
– Lost or Stolen Passports
– Notarizations
– Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status (please bring from I-407 and Permanent Resident Card)
– Voting Registration (Please print and complete the form at: http://registertovote.org/index.html)

IMPORTANT NOTICE
1. Please bring photocopies of all documents to be submitted.
2. Please bring the exact cash amount to pay for the service.
3. Please bring completed forms. Please access the following link for information on fees, and forms you need to download, complete and bring: http://panama.usembassy.gov/service.html

A representative from the Federal Benefits Unit (FBU) will be offering the following services:
– Complete proof of life forms (copy of current passport or cedula will be required)
– Medicare enrollment/cancellation (copy of current passport or cedula will be required)
– Application for SS replacement cards (copy of current US Passport)
– Application for new SS card for children under age 12 (copy of US Passport for one of the parents, the child’s copia integra and passport)
– Change of address/residence (copy of current passport or cedula will be required)
– General inquiries

In addition, a representative from the Embassy’s security office will be providing a Presentation on Personal Security Practices on Thursday, December 11, 2014 from 9:00am-10:00am in the Ciudad de David Hotel in David, Chiriqui. This event will be open to the public and all interested U.S. citizens are encouraged to attend.

Please note: No visa services will be provided. Services will be provided on first come – first serve basis.

Thank you for your assistance. We look forward to seeing you.

Sincerely,

American Citizen Services
U.S. Embassy Panama

Message for U.S. Citizens: Final Opportunities to Return Voted Ballots

U.S. Embassy Panama City, Panama
Message for U.S. Citizens
Final Opportunities to Return Voted Ballots
21 October 2014

Embassies and consulates are not polling places. The majority of states require voted ballots to reach local election officials by the close of polls on Tuesday, November 4. U.S. citizens who want to participate in the 2014 U.S. elections should already have returned their absentee ballots to their local election officials. U.S. embassies and consulates are not polling places; same-day in-person voting is not available outside the United States.

Never received your ballot? If you have registered to vote and requested your absentee ballot prior to your state’s registration and absentee ballot request deadlines but have not yet received your ballot, should immediately complete and return a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to ensure your vote reaches election officials by your state’s deadline. If your regular ballot arrives later, go ahead and complete and return it as well. Your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot will only be counted if your regular ballot does not reach local election officials by your state’s deadline. Your vote will not be counted twice. Continue reading

September 2014 US Embassy Town Hall Question & Answer Transcript

I thought you might be interested in the Town Hall meeting in Panama City transcript.

TOWN HALL MEETING – AMBASSADOR’S RESIDENCE

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2014

The following questions were addressed during the Town Hall Meeting held at the Ambassador’s Residence on Wednesday, September 17, 2014. In addition to these general Q&A, a few audience members raised personal topics of concern that the Embassy will address privately.

Question 1) What is the likelihood that Medicare will be available to U.S. citizens residing in Panama, due to the large population of U.S. citizens here?

Answer: Medicare is only available to individuals who are residing in the United States. This is a world-wide policy; therefore it is unlikely that there will be any change to this policy.

Question 2) I have heard that I will need to take a written test (in Spanish) to transfer my United States pilot’s license to a Panamanian pilot’s license. Do we have a treaty with Panama that allows us to obtain a Panamanian pilot’s license just by presenting the U.S. license?

Answer: An audience member responded that holders of U.S. pilot’s licenses should be able to bring their license to the 2nd floor of the Aeronautica Civil Office and get the Panamanian license without having to take the exam in Spanish.

Question 3) I am a dual-national and I require a certification to keep my U.S. pilot’s license valid. I need a Certified Flight Instructor to process my pilot’s license.

Answer: An audience member indicated that he is a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) and would be willing to assist the individual. He also indicated that there is only one U.S. AI (Authorized Inspector) for aircraft in Albrook.

Question 4) What is the status of FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) implementation in Panama? What impact is it having on U.S. citizens?

Answer: The United States and Panama reached an agreement on FATCA, but it has not yet been signed. However, Panama is currently operating as if the document were in effect and already signed. Anecdotally, we have heard of several cases from U.S. citizens where they indicated that opening a bank account or running a business overseas has become more difficult due to FATCA, and Panama is no exception.

Question 5) How do I get information on how to comply with FATCA?

Answer: You can visit the following IRS website to learn more about FATCA: http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Corporations/Summary-of-FATCA-Reporting-for-U.S.-Taxpayers. If you have additional questions, you can also send an e-mail to the American Citizen Services unit at the U.S. Embassy in Panama at: Panama-ACS@state.gov and we will do our best to provide the requested information or direct you to the appropriate office. From time to time, local non-profit groups may offer information sessions and we will also direct these to the attention of U.S. citizens.

Question 6) I have had my credit/debit cards cloned in Panama on two separate occasions. Has this happened to anyone else? Is this common in Panama?

Answer: If this happens to you, we understand that the normal procedure is to go to your bank first and file a complaint. If you do not receive a reply in 30 days or if you are not satisfied with this initial response, you can go to the Customer Service office of the Superintendencia de Bancos located on the first floor of the old HSBC Bank in Obarrio across from Mercurio Jewelry. Please be suspicious of any online requests for money from individuals unknown to you.

Question 7) When you are admitted to Panama as a tourist, you are generally given permission to remain for 6-months. The length of time that tourists are allowed to drive in Panama on their foreign driver’s license is 3-months. Can you please bring awareness of the discrepancy to the Panamanian Authorities to have the driver’s license validity for tourists who hold foreign licenses extended to 6-months?

Answer: We can raise this issue with the relevant Panamanian authorities, but there is no guarantee that it will have an impact on their current policy. Each country and even each state in the U.S. makes their own rules relative to obtaining a driver’s license.

Question 8) I was told that if I don’t travel to the United States at least once a year to have a medical check-up, I will lose my Medicare benefits. I was told this by Blue Cross/ Blue Shield.

Answer: Medicare benefits should be valid in the United States unless the individual writes directly to Social Security indicating that they no longer wish to receive Medicare benefits. The length of time spent outside of the United States or the frequency of medical exams in the United States should have no impact on Medicare in the United States. However, an audience member answered that, if you have Blue Cross or another secondary insurance provider, they are free to institute their own standards and often do require that you be seen yearly by an approved Physician in their network.

Question 9) I noticed that you have a list of Panamanian physicians on your website. Do you have a list of Panamanian attorneys and accountants as well?

Answer: Yes—we have a list of Panamanian attorneys on our website at the following link:

http://photos.state.gov/libraries/panama/11567/americancitizens/attorneys.pdf.

Some of the attorneys listed specialize in tax law—please review the information below their names. In addition, we understand that Accountants are listed in the Panamanian yellow pages under “Consultores de Impuestos or Contadores”. Note: if any of the Physicians or lawyers on the list does not provide adequate service, please alert the U.S. Embassy so we can remove them.

Question 10) I was told by a friend that the DHL office in David, Panama requested a U.S. citizen pay double the required fee to send a pre-paid envelope to the Embassy.

Answer: We will contact the DHL office in David to ensure that U.S. citizens are charged the correct fee for this service. In general, passport applicants are required to mail a pre-paid envelope to the Embassy and include the following items in that envelope: their old passport (so we can cancel it), the cashier’s receipt from the Embassy showing their passport payment, and only one DHL way-bill so we can return the items to DHL in David. We do not require individuals to mail us the payment receipt that they receive from DHL.

In cases where there is no old passport to mail to us (replacement of a lost/stolen passport, adding pages, etc.), the applicant can contact DHL to arrange the payment and e-mail us the DHL account number to Panama-ACS@state.gov with a note indicating that we should return their passport to the DHL office in David in that pre-paid envelope.

Question 11) Why do checks from U.S. banks take so long to process in Panama?

Answer: An audience member mentioned that Panama’s Superintendencia de Bancos has recently passed a regulation minimizing the credit of money for personal checks from Panamanian Banks to T+1 (day of deposit plus one day) so, service should speed up. In addition, banks will standardize check sizes and will also include routing as well as account numbers in a standard format as in the U.S. Both of these processes should be implemented by March 31, 2015. U.S. checks deposited in local banks are not affected by this new procedure since they have to be processed through clearing houses in the U.S.

Message for U.S. Citizens: Absentee Voting Message

U.S. Embassy Panama City, Panama
Message for U.S. Citizens
Completing and Returning Absentee Ballots
25 September 2014

Absentee ballots already delivered to overseas voters. Every U.S. citizen who requested an absentee ballot and selected the fax or email delivery option should have it by now. Please vote and take steps to return your voted ballot promptly so your vote will count. See instructions below.

Returning your ballot by mail. Place your voted ballot in a U.S. postage-paid envelope containing the address of your local election officials. Drop it off at the Embassy, and we’ll send it back home for you without the need to pay international postage. If you can’t visit the Embassy in person, ask a friend or colleague drop it off for you. 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. If time is tight, you may want to use a private courier service (e.g., FedEx, UPS, or DHL) to meet your state’s ballot receipt deadline.

You can also visit our Embassy Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) directly, which is located in our Embassy compound. If you decide to bring your ballot directly to our DPO, Monday through Thursday from 9:00AM – 1:00PM, 3:00PM – 5:00PM and Fridays from 8:30AM – 12:00PM. Someone from the Diplomatic Pouch and Mail Unit (DPMU) will accept the ballot. We dispatch those ballots daily to the United States Postal Service (USPS) in Miami, FL. Mail bags are received by the Sort Facility in Miami the same day. The average transit time for mail from this Post Office to a stateside address is 6 days.

Returning your ballot by email, fax, or upload. Some states allow these options, but may also require you to still mail in the signed paper ballot. Learn more at the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s website at www.FVAP.gov.

Haven’t received your ballot yet? Use the emergency write-in ballot. U.S. citizens who requested an absentee ballot but haven’t received it should go to www.FVAP.gov to complete a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot. Follow the above guidance for returning your ballot. If you later receive your regular absentee ballot, vote and return it immediately. Local election officials will count just one ballot per voter, and will use the regular ballot if received by your state’s ballot receipt deadline.

Forgot to register or request an absentee ballot? Act immediately! There are three options.

Option #1: Register and request a ballot today using the federal post card application at www.FVAP.gov. Select the electronic ballot delivery option, include your email address (and fax number) and send it to local election officials in your state. Almost every state lets you submit it by email or fax. Once your application is processed they will send you your ballot via fax or email depending on your state. Vote as soon as you receive the blank ballot. Registration deadlines vary and some are as early as October 7, so check your state’s requirements carefully.

Option#2: Follow the instructions in Option #1, but also complete and send in a Federal Write-in Ballot at the same time to make sure your vote is counted. This option may be the best one for first-time voters if your state requires you to submit your Federal Post Card Application by mail. Vote and submit your regular absentee ballot if/when it arrives. Local election officials will count just one ballot per voter, and will use the regular ballot if it’s received by the ballot receipt deadline.

Option #3: Voters from the following states can use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot as a combined voter registration form, absentee ballot request, and absentee ballot: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. (NOTE: This form must reach your local election officials by your state’s absentee ballot request deadline or voter registration deadline, whichever is first.)

Returning your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot by mail. Follow the guidance above for returning your ballot by mail.

Returning your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot by email or fax. The following states allow voters to email or fax their signed, voted Federal Write-in Absentee Ballots back to local election officials: Arizona, California (fax only), Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia. (NOTE: see instructions at www.FVAP.gov for faxing or emailing your voted ballot.)

Need help? You can get in-person assistance from our Embassy Voting Assistance Officer by visiting the American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit, U.S. Embassy located in Clayton, Building #783, Demetrio Basilio Lakas Ave., next to “Colego Las Esclavas,” during the following hours: Monday – Thursday from 8:00AM to 12:00PM; Friday from 8:00AM – 10:00AM. The ACS unit is closed for Panamanian and United States Holidays.
Have Questions? Please contact Panama’s Voting Assistance Officer at 317-5000, or at votepanama@state.gov .
Confirm your registration and ballot delivery online. Learn more at the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s (FVAP) website at www.FVAP.gov.

Message for U.S. Citizens: Update on water contamination in Azuero Region

The American Citizen Services unit would like to inform U.S. citizens that Panama’s Ministry of Health (MINSA) has lifted the suspension on drinking water in Los Santos and Herrera. For more details, please visit the following website to see the information provided by the Ministry of Health:

http://minsa.gob.pa/noticia/ministerio-de-salud-levanta-medida-de-suspension-del-consumo-de-agua-en-14-corregimientos-de

Kind Regards,

American Citizen Services

U.S. Embassy Panama

Message for U.S. Citizens: Water contamination in Azuero Region

The American Citizen Services Unit would like to alert U.S. citizens residing and/or traveling in the Azuero Region about a water contamination issue. Please visit the following link to see the announcement that Panama’s Ministry of Health (MINSA) placed on their facebook page: www.facebook.com/minsapanama.

This announcement included recommendations from Panama’s Red Cross regarding water usage in this region. The Red Cross guidance states that water in this region is not currently suitable for drinking, cooking, bathing children under age 2, or consumption by pets. The guidance states that water in this region can be used for bathing, washing clothes, household cleaning and watering plants.

Kind Regards,

American Citizen Services

U.S. Embassy Panama

ACS Message on Security

United States Embassy Panama City, Panama

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Crime

September 9, 2014

This Security Message is to alert U.S. citizens in Panama to recent incidents of thieves targeting customers at gas stations. In these incidents, thieves approach parked cars refueling at gas pumps and steal the owner’s visible belongings through unlocked passenger doors or open windows while the victim is preoccupied (pumping gas or paying the station attendant). In an effort to deter this criminal activity, police have increased their patrols around gas stations.

Another crime trend recently reported in local media is armed robberies of several local restaurants during business hours. Individuals have been entering occupied restaurants and using firearms to subdue customers and employees while their accomplices rob both the restaurant patrons and the employees. Local police claim to have disrupted at least one group of criminals conducting these robberies.

Keep personal belongings out of sight in your car, and leave the windows up and the doors locked when you step out of the vehicle, even if only to pump gas. Do not attempt to chase or detain thieves, as they may be armed. Only you can determine the best course of action when confronted with a critical incident such as a robbery. You must choose a course of action based upon your assessment of the situation in that moment. However, in most cases robberies have been resolved peacefully when the victim did not resist or argue. Cooperation with the robbers and the handing over of valuables has usually led to peaceful resolutions. Your possessions are not more valuable than your life. Immediately report any crimes to the police, as well as to the U.S. Embassy.

We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Panama enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at www.Travel.State.Gov. STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you do not have internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

Regularly monitor the State Department’s website, where you can find current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution. Read the Country Specific Information for Panama City. For additional information, refer to “Traveler’s Checklist” on the State Department’s website. Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate for up-to-date information on travel restrictions. You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to have travel information at your fingertips.

For updated information on the security situation in Panama, please contact the American Citizen Services Unit of the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy at (011)-507-317-5030. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located in Clayton, Building 783, in the Clayton section of Panama. Please visit the Embassy’s website for more information and e-mails should be addressed to Panama-ACS@state.gov. The after-hours and emergency phone number is (011)-507-317-5000.