We rolled back into Boquete yesterday morning (Sunday) by 9:45ish and were on a mission to find a good breakfast and some much needed caffeine(mostly Caffeine)! We had started our morning off first thing with a stroll to the border to finish our border run. Costa Rica side first, BAM! I love the Costa Rica side…they really have it down! No problems, no politics, just fill out the little piece of paper, stand in a short line that moves along quick and BOOM, stamp in our passports and we’re on our merry way. Off to the Panama side to stamp back in….SKREEEEETCH! Then the bureaucracy begins and slow motion sets in, oh, my goodness, how my Tranquilo wanes! Why oh why Panama? Why do you have to make it so unbelievably difficult and (seemingly difficult, Cuz’ what do I know, maybe there’s a perfectly good reason for all the BS ) unnecessarily complicated to get into the country? It seems to me that Panama should be trying to encourage tourism and they would want to encourage people to cross their border…well, in my mind, (which I’m certain is not as bright as the ‘rule-makers’ in Panama) . All I know is that the requirement that each person entering Panama have a minimum of $500.00 cash on them seems a crazy thing, if only for safety reasons. They were making people actually count out the cash at the window right in front of all to see! Really!! Now, the Frontera is a very busy place, crowded, confusing, and I’m sure there are ( not so honest) eyes watching that cash and waiting for an opportunity to relieve people of their hard earned money. I saw young and old, Costa Rican, Nicaraguan, Panamanian, Indigenous, American, European….all being asked to take out the money they have on them and count it, Sheesh!! To many of those people $500.00 is a life savings! . It just seems like there could be more important requirements for coming to Panama than showing all to see that you have $500.00 CASH on you when you walk across the border. But that’s just me….what do I know? After satisfying all the different questions from the man behind the plexiglass window who really didn’t seem as though he were in any hurry to stamp our Passports, he eventually ran out of things to ask for because we are pro’s after all. Yes, we were prepared with an airline ticket out of Panama, (refundable of course!), our bank balance on a withdrawal receipt , which has worked the last two times as proof of our financial solvency, but this particular guy wanted to see the actual $500.00 cash, which I had tucked away in a money belt, so I reluctantly and not happily, brought it out and counted it for him….Grrrrr! After satisfying the guy, he finally, and very slowly stamped our passports and off we went. Good to go for another 90 days…maybe our last one? It could happen. Read the rest of this entry
We just got back home from San Vito, Costa Rica and I have to say, all in all, it was a wonderful little mini vacation, in spite of a little unexpected glitch, (otherwise known as me falling down!). Our last border run we went through a different border, there are two borders to choose from, Paso Canoas and Rio Sereno. Last time we went through at the Paso Canoas border and it was a totally different experience (Yuck!). Paso Canoas is a bit closer and easier to get to, but it’s not a pleasant place, in my opinon. Rio Sereno, on the other hand is a fairly pleasant little crossing, much quieter and not crowded at all! The only sort of bad thing is , if you’re prone to motion sickness , the twisting, curving road through the mountains may not be your cup of tea. I don’t happen to suffer from motion sickness so I found the drive delightful. It’s quite lovely, meandering through a lush green, picturesque area.
When we arrived in the little town of Rio Serano we then had to figure out exactly where the border was. It wasn’t especially evident at first, so we just sort of drove around until we saw an official-ish looking building then Valerie hopped out to investigate. Sure enough, that was the spot. Our friends learned many things about us on this trip but I think the first thing they learned was that we don’t do a lot of planning before we go on a trip. We like to think we’re being spontaneous and adventurous but really , there are times when we’re not always especially smart! This was one such instance when we may have been wise to figure out one tiny detail…. We hadn’t looked into where we should leave our car for the weekend. Ooops! Well, Scott simply found a “good enough” looking spot on the side of the road and pulled over. We had no idea how safe or un-safe it was to just leave a nice car parked on the side of the road for the weekend, but (shrug) what else could we do? We walked away from the car just hoping it would still be there, in one piece, when we returned on Sunday. And given the fact that this post isn’t titled “Car-less in Rio Serano” or “Keith, what do we dooooo!”, you doubtless know the car survived the weekend. Whew!
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! 🙂
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!