And here’s the story of our first border crossing….

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This is a story that, not unlike life itself, differs for each person . If you, like us, are living in Panama on a tourist visa, then this is an experience that is not new to you( and if you want to be legal to drive you must endure it every 90 days). Some , like us, are relatively new here and others are old hats at this border run routine. But, its seems, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been living here , you just can’t predict how it will go for you when it’s time to renew that precious little stamp in your passport. Sure, we can all read certain forums and blogs and hear first hand experiences from others who are telling us all what happened for them, but it just doesn’t seem to matter, the only thing that is certain is it won’t be the same for you. It’s the luck of the draw. One thing is certain, if you don’t embrace a “Tranquillo” state of mind, you will be grumpy and maybe angry and definitely frustrated beyond belief, I should know, I’m embarrassed to admit, I lost my grip on my Tranquillo state of mind for much of my time in the mystery land that is the “Frontera”! If not for the incredibly calm, relaxed countenance of my hubby, I would have had a crying, screaming meltdown on a couple of occasions during our border run experience. I actually did have my own silent meltdowns but worked hard to keep them to myself and maintain as calm of an exterior as I possibly could. Scott would probably report to you if he were writing (thank god he’s not!) that my face told it all!! Maybe it was the tears just begging to burst forth or the frequent scowl on my face, (maybe the steam coming out of my ears?) , he could see that a meltdown seemed inevitable. I tried so hard to remain calm, and for the most part I did an ok job faking it, but sadly I can’t claim to have maintained a constant stream of calm like my sidekick! So here’s what happened for us, but remember, it doesn’t really matter because it likely wont be the same for you….

Our plan and hope(dream, really) was to get to Paso Canoas at about 12:30-1:00, Park our car someplace safe, walk to the immigration window where you get your passport stamped “out” of Panama, walk to the Costa Rica side, stamp “in” to Costa Rica, wait a few minutes or go grab a bite to eat then stamp “out” of Costa Rica , walk back to the Panama side, and get stamped back “in” to Panama and then, la de dah, back we go to Boquete. Sound like a great plan right? ya, nope…. we didn’t actually expect this dream to be a reality, but it sounded good, huh! We actually had a bag packed just in case the we had to go find a beach in Costa Rica to hang out for two or three days. If we had been prepared to have a little mini vacation it would have been ideal, but we don’t have anyone who can cat sit for us yet and we have made a commitment at our school and just didn’t feel good about bailing on them. The timing just wasn’t right for us to be gone .We’ve all been reading many conflicting accounts of people being told the requirement was two or three days spent out of Panama before being stamped back “in”. There’ve also been accounts of some people seemingly doing exactly what we had dreamed we would do, even today, the same day we were there!! But , it would not be so for this brave, although not so “tranquillo”(one of us) Duo !

Here’s what happened for us. After finding a place we felt was reasonably “safe-ish” to park our car and possibly leave it unattended for a few days, we made our way to where we thought we needed to go. As we walked up to the immigration area and were looking for the right place to go, a very helpful( for a price :)) Panamanian guy pointed us in the right direction. This “Panamanian guy’s” name was Hamilton (as he said, like the guy on the ten dollar bill) and he guided us through the day, this private guide was well worth the $20. We stood in line, got up to the window and got the “exit” stamp on our passports, then Hamilton very kindly directed us to the other side of the Frontera where we needed to go stamp “in” to Costa Rica. Done, we were half way there, then we took our time , went to get a drink and sit down for a bit before going back to get stamped “out” of Costa Rica, then wait a bit more to go to Panama immigration to get stamped back in . This was our first rejection, nope you must be out of Panama for 24 hours. Ok….We decided to wait for a shift change and give it one more try….No go! Again, you must be out of Panama for 24 hours! GRRRRRR! They were consistent on the 24 hour rule! By this time(it was about 3:30) I was tired, frustrated and sweating like crazy, I needed to be done for the day with this particular adventure. Ok so we noticed there was a tourism office there and we went to see if they could direct us to a hotel nearby where we could stay for the night. There was a place not far, we could easily walk to and it was clean and cost $50.00 for one night and they had a secure place to park our car for the night.

After a good nights sleep we got up this morning (Saturday) and were the first in line at the Panama immigration window when they opened at 7:00a.m. Sadly, we were again rejected (here is where my ‘tranquillo” began to crumble this was rejection #3). The problem was that we had checked out of Costa Rica the day before and we needed to go back to the CR immigration and get a new date on our passports…..UGGGGG! Back at the CR Window there was much discussion behind the glass and I think I heard the word Malo( BAD),( here is when the tears began to form), “we need a copy of these passports” huh? Ok, deep breath, walk across the street to the little place that does copies, no problema! Back again, then they canceled the exit stamp from the day before and re-stamped an exit stamp with todays date! Whew, not so bad! We then walked back to Panama and now there was a looooong line of people from a tour bus! Ok, we waited and then BOOM!! Stamped back IN TO PANAMA! YES! We were on the road headed back to Boquete at 8:30am!!! Whew!!!

Three rejections and a long, hot, frustrating day but Scott still managed to say,”that wasn’t so bad!” Well, Ok…. I just love his positive outlook on our experience . But He’s not wrong, it really was only frustrating because we were so inexperienced with the procedure and with the area. All the immigration agents were actually quite friendly and almost seemed sorry to send us away . They were consistent as well, which is surprising given all the conflicting stories we see on the forums. But the story remained the same with each agent all four times we marched up to the window,”you must stay out of Panama for 24 hours”. They did want to see some form of proof that we had money, we had the $500 each on us just in case, but we also brought the receipt from the withdrawal that had the balance of our account on it. Whipping out a thousand dollars there with all those people around us just didn’t seem like a good plan, so we were glad the bank receipt was adequate. They also wanted to see our airline tickets showing how we would be going back to our country of origin, which we had as well. So, now we’re hoping our residency visa get done before the next 90 days so that we don’t have to do that again. But if we do have to go through it again, I’m sure my “Tranquillo” will be ready to stay in place and my scowl will stay at home. Next time we’ll at least be familiar with what to do, I’m sure it will be totally different next time but not so unfamiliar. And hey, now we have a “buddy”, Hamilton there at the Frontera, I’m sure he’ll be glad to see us next time! 🙂

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About hollycarter184

Life is Good! But it's time for a change, and more adventure! I'd like to share the whole experience of preparing then actually making a reality of expatriating, and moving to a new country. It's an exciting, and slightly scary move full of possibility . I'm looking forward to learning a new language and making new connections with the people who share our spirit of adventure. This blog is my way of continuing my connection with my friends and family in the States. Sooooo here it goes! :)

12 responses »

  1. Now that you have one under your belt you’ll know for next time. If you need it. Our friends went through the larger crossing by David and stayed at a nice hotel on the CR side for $65.00 a night with a pool. Hopefully you’ll have at least your temporary residency soon though! 🙂

  2. Excellent – – So glad to hear that “all’s well that ends well” and you are back home. We have been wondering how you guys would do. Good to hear that (mostly) your tranquilla held up Holly. Just glad it wasn’t the 48 to 72 hours we had heard of. Looking forward to seeing you guys in October. Be blessed, Jerry

    • Yes, I’m sure you can but then you face a whole other set of complications and paperwork and risks as well as insurance issues. We have been advised by several people that it’s not the best idea.

  3. I’ve been looking forward to the story of your ordeal! It doesn’t sound so terribly horrid like what some on the forums have detailed. Fortunately I’ve never had to go through any of that.

  4. Here’s hoping we get our temp Visa in January, then the permanent one four to six months later, then once there, we won’t have to attempt this border crossing thingamajig. Bahahahaha! I can hope all I want–let’s see how things really transpire!

  5. Your husband sounds like a rock of calm; wish I shared more than his name! I need me some ‘tranquillo’ (or some other ‘tranks’). Congratulations to both of you.

  6. You’re right, you can never tell for sure how things are going to go around here! Funny you ran into Hamilton. He saved us too when we did our border crossing because we were hopelessly confused. I would have had a meltdown too without him, and was considering it even with him. you can’t help but imagine what would happen if you didn’t get through and got stuck in that zone between borders.

    Perhaps the whole process is too messed up if there is a bunch of enterprising guys making a living helping people get through it!

  7. Just be thankful it is not good old USA you are doing that in, we have had a few Australian tourists popping over to Mexico and back who have ended up in USA jails, no reason and done nothing wrong. One young woman was there for two weeks. I think tranquillo would be long gone under those circumstances. A little confusion with pleasantness is better then officiousness any day. So when you next have to do crossing be thankful it is not in the USA.

  8. Pingback: How long must you stay out of Panama to reset your visa??? – FindingMySelfinPanama

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