This message has been shared in a few places, one of which is the blog of our David embassy warden. http://www.chiriquichatter.net/blog/2017/03/15/message-for-u-s-citizensinformation-on-panamanian-immigration-regulations/
The short version is that tourists are allowed to stay for 180 days, and then they must leave for a minimum of 30 days before they will be allowed to come back into Panama.
Here is the full text of the message.
U.S. Embassy in Panama
Message for U.S. Citizens
March 15, 2017
The U.S. Embassy in Panama would like to inform all U.S. Citizens in Panama that on March 6th 2017, the Panamanian Immigration Authority (Servicio Nacional de Migracion-SNM) announced new guidance for Panamanian immigration officials on the enforcement of pre-existing regulations. According to the SNM, immigration officials have been instructed to be stricter about the enforcement of the regulation that foreigners entering Panama with tourist status prove that they are in fact entering Panama as tourists and not residing in Panama. Since the announcement, the Consular Section has received many questions from U.S. citizens about this new guidance. Below are the most frequently asked questions along with the responses the Consular Section received from the SNM. Should you have further questions, please reach out to the SNM directly via phone at 507-1800 or visit their website at: http://www.migracion.gob.pa
In order to re-enter Panama on tourist status, does a U.S. Citizen need to return to their country of origin (the country from which they came into Panama) or can they return from a third-country (example: Costa Rica)?
Answer: In the new guidance SNM does not specify if the tourist needs to return his/her country of origin. What is being implemented is that, in most cases, the person needs to leave Panama for a minimum of 30 days before reentering as a tourist.
In order for a person to re-enter Panama on tourist status, what is the minimum amount of time the person needs to spend outside of Panama?
Answer: The new requirement that is being implemented by SNM in reference to time spent out of Panama is a minimum of 30 days before applying for admission, in most cases.
In order for a person to re-enter Panama on mariner visa status, what is the minimum amount of time the person needs to spend outside of Panama.
Answer: According to SNM, mariner visas are valid for 90 days and must be renewed on the 90th day, or the day before, from the date of the previous mariner visa stamp. Mariner visas can only be renewed once before the visa- holder needs to exit Panama. The amount of time the person with the mariner visa needs to stay outside of Panama is not specified by SNM.
If entering Panama on tourist status, does the method of entry need to match the method of exit (i.e. can a U.S. Citizen enter Panama on a plane and use as proof of exit evidence that they own a boat in Panama and plan to exit via boat)?
Answer: The method of entry and exit into and out of Panama does not have to be the same so long as the entries and departures are met legally by using established Ports of Entry – land, maritime or air and admitted by a Panamanian immigration officer.
Do U.S. Citizens with legal Panamanian residency status also require a roundtrip ticket when entering Panama?
Answer: No. A foreigner with legal residence in Panama does not need to show proof of exit from Panama.
Is a person applying for Panamanian residency required to stay in Panama for the entire duration of time required to complete the residency process? If so, what happens if the process takes more than the allotted six months for tourist status.
Answer: If the person has an ID that shows that his/her residency is in process, the person is fine to leave and return to Panama. If there is no ID, then the person should exit as a tourist (i.e., before the sixth month approaches).
How long does the FBI Identification Record process, required for purposes of obtaining residency in Panama, take? Can this process be expedited?
Answer: For information on the FBI identification record process, individuals may visit https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/identity-history-summary-checks. According to the FBI website, the current turnaround estimate for these records is 12 to 14 weeks plus the amount of time the results may take to arrive in the mail. Currently there is no option to receive the response electronically. For questions on this topic, individuals may call (304) 625-5590 or write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tourists are only allowed to drive in Panama for 90 days. Is there an exception for this given that tourists are allowed to stay in Panama for 180 days?
Answer: According to the Transit authority (http://www.transito.gob.pa/sites/default/files/reglamento_decreto_640..pdf Artículo 110) foreigners that enter Panama as tourists are not permitted to obtain Panamanian drivers’ licenses and are only allowed to drive with a foreign license for 90 days. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Can SNM waive the FBI Identification Record process if a person does not exit Panama for two years? If so, would there be an exception to the 180 day stay limit for tourists for a person trying to obtain this waiver?
Answer: If a person stays in Panama for more than two years then the FBI requirement does not apply. The waiver of the FBI requirement applies to those people that stay in Panama two years, without exiting. In these cases, a fine is paid by the person for overstaying their tourist visa and the person is only required to present a PNM police record rather than the FBI check.