Tag Archives: tourist visa

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


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! 🙂

So Many Different Stories…What will our story be?


Boy oh Boy! Tomorrow we’ve been planning to do our Costa Rica border run to renew our tourist visa, and I gotta tell ya there are so many different stories going around about many different experiences! These are first hand stories from people who have just today and yesterday, gone through the border to renew their tourist visa. On friend kept us posted via FaceBook today and I was so sad to hear that it didn’t go smoothly for her. There are two different borders to choose from . One is called Paso Canoas and it is the bigger of the two, located just about 1 1/2 hours from us on the main road that goes through David. Paso Canoas has multiple gates to choose from and is a much busier place, so Ive heard, I have obviously never been there so I’m just repeating what I’ve heard. The other border is about 2 hours from here in Vocan and it’s called Rio Sereno. This crossing is a much smaller, quieter area. Not as many big tourist busses go this way and there is only one gate ( I think). We had planned to go to the quieter one but are now reconsidering. Like I said , our friend went there today and turned around to come back home because they were enforcing the 48 hour out of Panama thing and they weren’t prepared to be gone for the whole weekend (I wont say “Law” because it is unclear if this is just a recent whimsy of the officers or an actual law) . Yet another person says that he went through Paso Canoas yesterday and it only took him one hour! Sheesh! Our biggest concern isn’t the possibility of a weekend in Costa Rica, it’s what do we do about our car? Shoot, a weekend adventure is right up our alley, that’s no problem at all, pack a backpack with our swimsuits and our toothbrushes and we’re good to go! But our car sitting for two or three days is a bit disconcerting to us. We’ve decided to go ahead and go to the busier crossing because we think that if we stamp out of Panama and then into Costa Rica and just go have lunch somewhere and then attempt to stamp back in at a different gate with hordes of other tourists, they may not remember us and it could possibly be smooth sailing. So the latest decision , after a bit of wine….screw it…let’s just drive, park the car in as good a place as we can and walk on through. We know we could take the bus early from Boquete, but we are just not willing to miss school. I know, crazy, but if we were going to miss class we would have needed to notify them today and we didn’t. We’re probably a little crazy to leave the car but , what the hell! There is a slim possibility that this could be no big deal. Stay tuned!!

Our first border run is this weekend…


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!