A couple of days ago we heard from our attorney that our Permanent Pensionado Visa was ready! I was really surprised it was ready so fast. I fully expected it to take several months, we just submitted our application in early July. So, a trip to Panama City to pick up our visa was in order. Given what happened last time we left our employees alone, we really wanted to get this trip done with as few days away from the job site as possible. So we decided to leave early on Sunday morning and return as soon as we got done at immigration on Monday. We got up early on Sunday and drove down to town, parked my car near the central park area and got on the 6:30a.m. bus to David, this takes about an hour. Then we bought our tickets and were on the 8:30 bus to Panama City. Our bus ride into the city went really smoothly, the bus was very comfortable and it only took 7 hours instead of the 8 hours it has taken with all the construction on the PanAmerican highway.
My friend Emma kindly offered to have us stay the night at her place and even picked us up from the bus terminal when we got in. She got a sparkly new car, so we were riding in style! Hah! After relaxing at her place for a bit, with a glass of wine, and a quick haircut for Emma, we decided to walk to dinner. Last time I had visited her she took Kris & I to a yummy Caribbean restaurant near to her apartment, so I wanted Scott to try it. Emma’s roommate Andrew joined us and we had a great spicy Caribbean meal, and two pitchers of Sangria! What a nice end to a travel day.
The next morning we got up at 6:00 and got out the door by 7:00, I had arranged for our favorite driver, Panama John, to pick us up and take us to the immigration office for our 7:30 meet with our attorney. We were experienced this time and knew what to expect. We had to laugh because our driver said, “You do know that the immigration office doesn’t open until 8:00?” Hah! We explained to him that one must get there early and stand in the line that snakes around the corner of the building. And John says,”OH, well, you will be the first in line!” Hah! Silly John….he was surprised when we drove up at 7:15 and low and behold…the line was snaked around the corner of the building….We were not first! Oh well. John agreed to wait for us or return in an hour or so, one really has no way of predicting how long it will take once you step into a government building. We thought it would be pretty fast, but you just can’t count on it.
It was the usual “Pin-Ball-machine” experience. Stand in line outside, get let into the building, stand in line at the reception desk for your number, sit in the uncomfortable chairs and stare at the television screen for a looooong looooong time until your number comes up, hand the lady behind the window your papers, wait for her supervisors to come and review all your paperwork, then wait while the lady stamps everything and then go downstairs to pay $100.00 each, go back upstairs and give the receipt to the lady behind the window, go wait again in reception for another number, then go wait again and stare at the tv screen until your number comes up, then go through the door where they take your photo and finally hand you your pensionado visa ID card……Viola! Done! Three hours gone! But according to our attorney we never have to visit the immigration office again….we shall see about that. So, we officially have our permanent, visa and we have one tiny little thing to complete before we can say we’re done , that is to get our Cedula. This is something the attorney will get for us, we just pay hime $150.00 and in a month or so he will call us and we go to the city to pick it up.
A Cedula is, as far as I can ascertain, similar to our Social Security cards in the states. This card takes us completely out of the immigration system and makes us just like every other citizen of Panama, (Kinda) we aren’t “Citizens” exactly, our attorney tells us the only difference is that we can’t vote. It’s not something that you must have but its a good thing to do and it’s not nearly the same hassle to get after you have your residency visa. After we get this Cedula we will have a number, similar to our Social Security number, that will never change. It will be your number for good. Unlike your Passport number, which changes when you renew it, if I understand this correctly, the Cedula number stays the same. So as of right now, much of our documents like our car registration and our drivers licenses and bank accounts, are connected to our Passport number so when our passports expire we will have to go and renew all the paperwork for all the things that we have connected to that number. With our Cedula Number we will never have to worry about updating it or changing it, since its a number that stays the same. This sounds like a good thing to us, so we will take this one extra step and get it done now.
After our three hours of “Pin-ball-hell” our wonderfully reliable driver, John was there waiting for us. He drove us to the bus terminal and off we went to catch a bus back to Boquete. We bought our tickets, and used our shiny new Pensionado Id’s and guess what…we got our very first discount as pensionados! yep! Our bus ticket only cost us $10.40, instead of the normal $15.00 each! Wow! Sadly, our bus ride home ended up taking us wayyy longer than our ride into the city the day before! Ugggg! You just never can tell what to expect. Maybe it was faster on Sunday because the construction crews weren’t working on the road expansion. And we had the added delay at the checkpoint coming into Chiriqui provence. Normally a guard will come on the bus and check passports and such, this doesn’t usually take much time at all, but this time for some random reason that I don’t know about, they actually made the bus pull into their gated area…when I saw our bus doing this I knew we were in trouble. They instructed everyone on the bus to get off the bus and they emptied all the bags from the luggage area under the bus, they had drug sniffing dogs and they searched some of the bags and then they searched everyone getting back on the bus. They didn’t seem to find anything of interest and we were on our way after all the drama. We left the bus terminal in PC at 10:30 a.m. and arrived in Boquete at about 9:00p.m.
I must say, I got my second wind when we got on the ‘disco tech’ bus from David to Boquete! Haha! There are buses here called Diablo Rojo, they’re very colorful brightly decorated buses that used to be a fixture in Panama City. The government recently got rid of the majority of them but there are still a few around and we just happened to jump on one for our ride back up the mountain last night. I’m sure it’s not quite the same as riding one in the city since the ones going up to Boquete aren’t dodging traffic and speeding around , but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I just love the bright flashing lights and the thumping latin music blasting as we rode back home to our quiet little mountain town. Although I swear, I think the two guys driving and collecting the money were about 12 years old!! Hahahaha!! We were sitting right in the front seat and at one point while we were speeding up the hill, music blaring, lights flashing, I looked up and the driver and his assistant were both on their smart phones checking Face book!!! Oh Boy!!! Some things never change, no matter where you are in the world. I’m just glad the nearly 8 hour bus ride from the city was on a quiet, air conditioned bus and not a Diablo Rojo …that would have truly been a long, long ride!!! Haha! We can check one more adventure off our list!