UPDATE! This information turned out to be incorrect. The change is only for people from countries that have to apply for a visa before being allowed in Panama. It does not apply to people from the US, Canada, and the many other countries who have a reciprocal agreement with Panama. See the later post here.
President Varela published a decree on January 10th that stated the tourist visa would be 90 days (it used to be 180 days). If you are applying for residency you can get permission to be here for 6 months (it used to be a year).
What does this mean? TIP (this is Panama) and no one knows exactly. But it looks like Panama is trying to discourage the permanent tourist thing.
Up until now, it has been possible to stay in Panama for 180 days, leave for a while, then return and get another 180 days. “A while” is ambiguous. It used to be that it could be done in a day, checking out of Panama and into Costa Rica, and then immediately reversing the process and checking out of Costa Rica and back into Panama. Now it is usually at least overnight, or sometimes 72 hours before the officials will let you back into Panama. 72 hours is said to be the official rule but nobody can find where this rule is written down.
Now, however, tourists get a visa for 90 days. What happens after 90 days? Can you make a “border run” and get another 90 days? (not a change for many since your foreign drivers license is only good for 90 days) At first it looked like $50 would get you an extension for 6 months but on careful reading, it looks like this only applies to people waiting to get their residency application processed so it wouldn’t apply to tourists.
The decree is here.
Article 1, in my best attempt to translate says –
The immigration authorities of the National Immigration service will issue a tourist visa valid for a term of no more than ninety days, if the foreigner complies with the requirements (loosely translated) of international agreements with Panama and reciprocal principals.
The National Immigration Service will issue a card of transit for 6 months for foreigners who have presented a request in the categories and subcategories of temporary residents and permanent residents. (article 2 says this costs $50)
There is a news article in English here.
Is this a good thing? There have been a lot of people coming here from Colombia and Venezuela and Panamanians are afraid of that effect on the country, especially if they are poor and don’t have means to take care of themselves of they get into trouble. A tourist also isn’t subjected to any background checks. Even expats from the US have gotten sick without the means to pay and then became a drain on the health care system, or there have been criminals, or people running from creditors.
I’m glad we are legal residents here. I know the process is tedious and costs money, but now we don’t have to worry about any of this. I feel good that we have made this commitment to the country we love. If you plan to live here as a permanent tourist, it is probably a very good idea to have a Plan B in case this becomes no longer possible.
You expressed it very well.
Now you are happy and without anything to worry because you did it the right way. Of course that we should make our authorities to work faster and eliminate a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork but little by little things should be improved.
I think they were able to shorten the one year waiting period to 6 months because applications are being processed faster now. Nobody likes bureaucracy and paperwork but unfortunately it is a fact of life in any country.
The gubment has “modified” this law many times. This will probably not be the last. Back in 2007, when Martín Torrijos was president, the original law of 1960 was “modified” from 180 days to 90. The rule then was 30 days for tourist visa, extended to 90. Then, some nationalities were allowed 90 days, extended to 180. If memory serves, Torrijos issued a decree allowing the 180 day period. The immigration officers were writing “180” on the visa stamp in the passports.
To further roil the waters, tourist CARDS were issued then and treated differently than tourist visa stamps. The whole process of decrees modifying laws is bewildering. Here’s a slice:
Artículo 37. Esta Ley modifica los artículos 2143, 2151, 2173 y 2178 del Código Judicial, los
artículos 67, 131, 132, 133, 133-A, 242, 242-A, 242-B, 242-C del Código Penal, el artículo 1307
del Código Fiscal, el numeral 13 del artículo 8 de la Ley 29 de 1 de agosto de 2005, los artículos
52, 58, 63, 80, 85, 129, 141, 143, 148, 151 y 157 de la Ley 40 de 26 de agosto de 1999 y el
numeral 1 del artículo 1 del Decreto Ley 16 de 30 de junio de 1960; adiciona el artículo 2042-A
al Código Judicial, los artículos 132-A, 242-D y 242-E al Código Penal, el artículo 1309-A al
Código Fiscal, el numeral 8 al artículo 16 y los artículos 27-A, 27-B y 27-C a la Ley 30 de 8 de
noviembre de 1984; y deroga la Ley 25 de 18 de abril de 1978 y los artículos 62 y 150 de la Ley
40 de 26 de agosto de 1999.
Any wonder why the poor folks trying to enforce the law are sometimes a bit stressed?
Oh my goodness! Just write a whole new law. No, I can’t make any sense out of all that either. I guess we will see in 90 days if people are allowed back in, and after how long out of the country.
The legal system there hangs on decrees which sometimes deal with multiple laws on multiple subjects. They are similar to constitutional amendments for the US but don’t require such extensive approval.
This decree deals with the issuance of the carnet that is provided while the expat is waiting for residency status. “Border hoppers” were not the focus of the decree, it was a stopgap attempt to appear to be doing something about the hot issue of illegal immigrants who are blamed for stealing all the jobs.
Panama has a shortage of skilled workers, 65% of the jobs offered during job fairs in the past 2 years went unfilled. When we were there 3 years ago, all the service jobs were being done by foreigners, mostly Colombians and Venezuelans. Most Panamanians were able to find work on Martinelli’s public works projects; we saw many young people sitting on street corners, yellow helmet, and orange vest, texting on their phones. Once those projects completed, the workers had to find entry level jobs that were now filled with foreigners. Since business owners are more concerned with profit than nationality, the foreigners got to keep their jobs.
Whew! Maybe I should go back to law school … in Panama? 🙂
Everyone is pretty confused at the moment. Below is a comment from C Lewis who got a reply from the US embassy saying we still get 180 day visas. I figured all this mainly had to do with people from Colombia and Venezuela and the jobs situation, but many of my readers are expats or potential expats from the US, Canada, and other gringo countries so of course that is my focus. How does it effect them? Our US embassy warden of Chiriquichatter.net is also looking for firm answers and will post news as he learns it.
Actually I think this is a GOOD THING!!! Too many people have been playing fast and loose with the rules for too long, and now, of course, I’m seeing terms like “Draconian measures” being used by these people. Places like Mexico, where many more gringos expat themselves limit people to six months in the country and then they have to leave for six months. At least it used to be like that.
Here’s the thing, too, I bet that a lot of those who will be moaning and whining about having no longer being able to play the perpetual tourist game were moaning and whining about “illegal aliens” when they were living in the States. They should also be made to take a Spanish language test at the end of a year in residence here. One needn’t be “fluent” in the language but they should be able to say more than just, “Donde esta el baño” and “un otra cerveza, por favor.”
I think it’s good too. Though, I can’t say too much because I was a perpetual tourist for 2 years before my SS started and I could qualify for residency. But I never intended to be a permanent tourist. If you’ll never qualify but you make your home here anyway you are only legal because Panama allows the border hop game.
Yes, the people who complain about illegal aliens, people who never learn English… we’ve had this conversation before. Learning Spanish has certainly given me more understanding of people trying to learn English! It’s hard, and even worse for them with English and all its quirks.
I’ve heard that about Mexico too. I think the US only allows 3 months which is hard for the touring cyclists we have met. I think the clock starts ticking when they land in Alaska so they’d better get moving so they can reach the Mexico border within their three months. And, you’d better not just show up at the border and think they will let you in. There is a PROCESS https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/visit/visitor.html
una otra cerveza, por favor, entonces, donde esta el bano 🙂
A veces necisitamos comida también, y una cama despues de muchas cervezas 😀
Our experience 9th of January going into Costa Rica. They did not ask anything (Dutch passports). Going out no problem and fast. The Panamanian customs only asked for flight confirmation. No problem. All fast. After being stamped into Panamá I asked for how long we could stay. Both officers said 6 months. We saw no Haitians or Cubans anymore.
That was the day before the decree. Now the question is, do you still have 180 days, or only 90 because of the change? I plan to stop by immigration tomorrow and see if they can answer this question.
72 hours is still in force. Cabinas Hilda is good and $ 35,- one single and one queens bed. AC, TV and Wifi. Everything at walking distance.
Where is that? We had to do a few border runs before we got residency, so we’d just book a weekend getaway to somewhere in Costa Rica that we wanted to visit. Puerto Jimenez was my favorite, funky relaxed little town near Corcovado national park, beautiful area and not far from the border.
I emailed the US embassy in Panama yesterday. They responded back immediately and said they met with immigration and it is still 180 days that this has been a misunderstanding.
Really! Oh my what a state of confusion this has all been. Thanks so much for passing along this info.
Kris, not sure if you misunderstood the part about the residency time limits. My experience was that after applying for a Penaionado Residency Visa, you get a temporary permit pending the final approval and issuing of your permanent one. The temporary was asked for one year, which they have now shortened to 6 months. They say that their processes are much improved and final visas are being completed well within the 6 months…therefore they don’t think 1 year is needed any longer. The $50 “multi- entry visa is a required document for those in the temporary stage, you can’t leave or re-enter Panama during the time between temp and final visa with out this “multi-entry via” in your passport. The fines for not having I understand are $2,000 +/-.
Hope this is helpful. There is also a rumor, no factual info that I can find, that they are considering further reducing the 90 days at some point to 30days.
Thank you, yes, I understood the part about being allowed to stay for a year, now six months while waiting for your residency application to be processed. I thought the multi entry visa was another thing so thank you for clearing that up. Yes indeed that is a good idea. Even if you don’t plan to go anywhere, what if some emergency comes up? Then, like you said, you could be looking at some hefty fines if you don’t have the multi entry visa.
There always seems to be rumors, and there are even more now with these recent changes. Even when a written document comes from the government things aren’t always clear.
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Wow the visitor visa is 180 days?? I thought it was standard for it to be 90 days basically everywhere even for people with powerful passports like from the US
People from the US and other countries with reciprocal agreements can stay 180 days. People from countries that must apply for a visa will get a visa for no more than 90 days. Everyone was confused for a while! To add to the confusion, tourists with a foreign drivers license can only drive for 90 days even though they are allowed to stay for 180 days.
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