Yesterday we made a huge step towards residency – our temporary residency cards. They will serve as the real thing while everything is getting processed, which should take 2-6 months.
I am so happy. I love this country so I am glad to be a resident and no longer a tourist. We also have a multitude of benefits and discounts because we now have jubalado (retired) status.
It has been a process but everything went smoothly. I am so thankful to have our lawyer, Marcos Kraemer. He has been really professional, thorough, and competent as well as being a nice guy to work with. If you need a lawyer here I would highly recommend him, and you can check out his website HERE. We have heard so many stories about people who weren’t given all the information they needed, or things weren’t done right, or a multitude of other problems that caused delays and anxiety and additional expense. I was apprehensive even though we seemed to be in good hands. Now I can say that yes indeed, it went very well.
So, what all did we have to do to get to this point?
The first thing was to wait quite a while. The income requirement for a couple is $1250/month guaranteed income for life (social security, retirement, annuity, etc) For us, we didn’t qualify until last August when my social security payments finally started.
Then it was time to gather all the necessary documents. We got statements from social security and had them apostilled (like an notary but for international business). This involved sending the documents to the state department in Washington, specifying which country they were going to (apparently apostile agreements between different countries can vary), paying the fees, and waiting for them to be processed and sent back.
Then, we needed our marriage certificate which also had to be apostilled, and this went to the Kansas Secretary of State because we were married in KS and it is a state document, not a federal thing. It is so easy to get tripped up on details like this. Also, keep in mind that these documents have expiration dates (usually 6 months) so once they are done things must move forward in a timely manner.
Since there isn’t convenient mail service in Panama they were all sent to my daughter’s CA house, our US address, and when they had all arrived she sent them on to our mailing service here in Panama.
The rest was all done in Panama.
Background check – we were very lucky on this one! Most people have this done in their country of origin. In the US this means you have to have fingerprints done (either there or here) and sent to the FBI. If they are clear enough to be processed (which doesn’t always happen) the FBI will check them against their database and return a report on your status. Then, this must be apostilled. Once this is done and gets to Panama you cannot leave the country or it is null and void (who knows what you were up to when you were traveling about). Since your drivers licence is only good for 90 days on a tourist visa in Panama, before it expires you have to leave the country and return to get a new stamp on your passport and reset it for another 90 days. You can see where people can run into problems with this.
But, since we had been in Panama for over two years, and we hadn’t left Panama for more than 30 days at a time, we qualified to have the background check done here. We went to the office for Report Policia (police report), handed them our passports and copies of our passports, signed our names, wrote the names of our parents, and were told to sit down. In about 10 minutes our reports were ready, free of charge. It couldn’t have been easier.
We also had to get a certificate of good health, so off to the doctor we went for a checkup and those documents.
Then we had some other things to gather – our rental agreement, a utility bill, 5 passport size photos, an application for residency to fill out with piles of questions, a form giving our lawyer authority to work on our behalf, and copies of every single page of our passports including the outside covers. whew!
Marcos looked everything over, got any documents in English translated by a certified translator, got anything notarized that needed it, double checked that we had everything in order, triple checked everything and told us to show up at the Department of Immigration at 8AM on Tuesday so we could be the first in line.
We actually arrived before many of the employees, and there was another couple from the US also going through the process. Marcos explained that there were four stages. The first was entering all the information into the computer. He talked with people, left to make copies, talked more, brought us some things to sign, answered some questions, copied more things, and told us things were moving into the second stage. That, if I remember, is when they check all the information to be sure there aren’t any problems with anything. He talked with the employees, left to make more copies, talked more, we hung out and enjoying talking with the other couple. He left to make copies, brought us things to sign, and then it was time for pictures, the third stage (they also took our pictures even though we had also brought all the pictures with our applications). More copies were made, we signed multiple copies, more copies (it seemed like every time we turned around he was heading out to the copy place!) And, at 11:30 he put our passports back into our hands along with our new cards!!
He said that was the fastest application he had done. We were prepared to spend the day, and he said it is often an hour or two more than this. But, if we had done it in Panama City it would have been three days because one must go to three different offices to get it all done.
Next, we wait. Our applications will be sent to Panama City and assigned to a case worker. When everything is ready Marcos will be notified. We could go to Panama City at that time, but he recommends that he takes our passports and goes by himself to be sure everything is actually ready, that nothing is lost, or they don’t have a problem with anything, or there aren’t any other snags that will cause us a wasted trip. Once he sees for himself that everything is in order we will go to the city, get more pictures taken and I’m sure sign more things, and we will be finished. He says this part is a very quick and easy process.
A drivers licence. Now we have 30 days to get a drivers licence, which involves going to one office in Panama City to verify our US drivers licence, and then another office to verify the verification. Once we have these documents we can return to David and request our Panamanian licenses. If you don’t get your licence in time, you had better keep your residency card in your pocket and show the police your passport and US licence like you are a tourist, in case you get stopped.
Also, another good thing to know – you have to have a multi entry visa in your passport while your application is pending. If you do not have this and you leave the country, you will be charged a $2000 fine! I have heard of people getting this nasty surprise. Thankfully Marcos says he does this for everyone because you just don’t know if there might be an emergency or something that causes you to leave.
Once we get our permanent residency cards, we will apply for a cedula which is a Panamanian permanent ID card. Right now our identity is tied to our passport numbers. When we have to renew our passports the number will change, and will then need to be updated everywhere. The cedula number is permanent so we won’t ever have to worry about it changing. That though, will be a discussion for another day.
Right now, I have a card! We have waited for this for a long time, so it’s almost hard to believe it is actually done. It is too close to Christmas for a party, but when the permanent one comes in we are definitely having a celebration!