It’s about time for us to do our first border run. We arrived here on May 28 and as I’ve written before, everyone who arrives in Panama automatically gets a 180 days tourist visa stamped on their passport. This would normally be more than enough time for most actual “tourists” to be in Panama. But if you decide to stay and make this place your home then there’s a bit of a complication If you decide not only to stay, but to buy a car and enjoy the privilege of driving that car. You see, the brilliant folks who make the rules here decided to allow a foreign drivers license to be legal for only 90 days of those 180 days. So, even though our actual “tourist” visa is still valid, our drivers licenses are about to expire. As soon as our paperwork is in process for our permanent residency visa we will no longer have this issue. But for now, we are off to the border of Costa Rica to stamp out of Panama and hopefully, turn around and stamp right back in. It should be that easy but…
Unfortunately, there is a very recent rumor going around the local forums about a change, not in the law exactly, but in the immigration officers and what they are lately requiring for foreigners to re-enter Panama. We’ve taken notes from many different people who live here and have had lots of first hand experience. It seems that the same thread that we hear is that the requirements all depend upon how the particular guy at the particular gate at that particular moment feels and what he/she decides to require on the day you are passing through. The requirements seem to vary. But basically we should need a valid Passport with at least six months remaining on it, all the proper documents filled out (the ones we get there) they want to see either a bank statement showing you have at least $500.00 (or cash of that amount on your person, we aren’t clear if we each need to have this amount or only one of us?), some sort of proof of how we will be returning to our country of origin, since we are supposed to be on a “tourist” visa. (a bus ticket or proof of an airline ticket out of the country) . The latest rumor we are hearing about is that they are requiring that when you leave Panama you must stay two or three nights in Costa Rica before being allowed back into Panama! HUH? This is a very new rumor, this week and we are watching the comments on the forums closely, no one has actually “confirmed” this to be true. As a matter of fact there is a U.S. attorney who lives in Bocas and hosts her own forum dedicated to laws for expats in Panama, she just posted a comment today about this and says she has not found any such new laws requiring tourists to stay out of the country for a period before being let back in.
Our plan is to go this Friday, after school to the Rio Serrano boarder outside of Vocan, which is not the main border. The one that most people seem to go to is called Paso Canoas , just outside of David. The one we’re planning to try is about thirty minutes further than the one in David but we hear it is much less crowded with busses and much faster. We think It will be about a two hour drive. We figured we would go on Friday then if indeed we end up being forced to stay in Costa Rica for a couple of nights we wont miss any School on Monday. So we will pack a change of clothes and our swim suits and make the most of whatever happens! We will arm ourselves with all the possible requirements, copies of our passports (as well as our actual passports), our registration for our cars (another document we have been told they might accept instead of an airline ticket) We will take along $500.00 (taking $500.00 each just doesn’t feel too safe!) and we may just take the advice of a friend and just book a flight online and bring a copy of the itinerary and confirmation number and cancel the flight after we get back home. Many times you can just reserve a flight that you then never confirm and the airline will not hold it for you.
It should be an interesting experience and we cant say that we will know what to expect next time because you just never know what new requirements they made come up with! But if all goes well with our application for permanent residency, this should be our first and last time that we need to do this. Who knows, its an Adventure, that’s for sure!