Updated: March 24, 2017
Panama is saying enough is enough!
Too many people are living in Panama, but not bothering to obtain legal residency.
Panama has made some quick changes to stop that.
As of March 6th, you cannot renew your Panama Tourist Visa, unless you leave Panama for at least 30 days.
That’s right you must leave for 30 days.
Don’t worry, you are exempt if your residency visa application is being processed.
However, for those applying for residency, make sure you are given an ID showing that your residency is in process. Without that ID you need to comply with the new Tourist Visa regulations.
Too Many Illegal Workers
It is the steadily increasing number of people working on a perpetually renewed tourist visa that sparked the uproar.
I don’t think the changes are prompted by North Americans doing this. In my opinion, it is the perpetual “tourists” from other latin american countries that caused this massive rule changes. (The government has also changed some work permit rules.)
When I was in Panama City last month, most of the waiters I talked to were from Nicaragua or Colombia. I was told that the authorities have been increasingly making surprise visits to businesses and asking to see all the workers work permit documents. The large number of illegal workers has been a growing government concern.
Given that Venezuelans were the primary subject of most of the initial border crossing stories there may even be more Venezuelans than other nationalities working illegally in Panama. But whether that is true or not, the new rules are apply to all tourists, regardless of their country of origin.
Protective of Panamanian Jobs
In general, Panama is very protective of jobs for Panamanians. For instance, there are 25 categories of jobs that foreigners are forbidden to hold by Panamanian law. It is also why they have also recently changed how easy it is to get a work permit for friendly nation visa holders.
So it is not surprising they are coming down hard.
There are increasing numbers of people working in Panama, illegally, on a tourist visa.
Need a residency visa? Here are 4 Panama visas you may qualify for.
Even before this rule change there was a number of reasons to get residency in Panama.
The New Rules
90 vs 180 Day Tourist Visa
For citizens of some countries, Panama will now only issue a 90 day tourist visa. It was President Varella’s predecessor, President Martinelli, who lengthened it to 180 days.
In Varella’s Executive Decree No. 590 he shortened it back to the 90 day tourist visa.
However, in Decree No. 591, of the same day, Varella made an exception to the 90 day tourist visa for citizens of countries which are not required to get a tourist visa BEFORE they arrive in Panama.
Therefore, citizens of the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and many other countries will be issued an 180 day tourist visa. This page of wikipedia has a list of all the countries which are not required to have a visa to visit Panama. If you hold a passport from any of those countries, you will be issued a 180 day tourist visa in Panama.
(Note: you can only legally drive a vehicle for first 90 days on a tourist visa, even if you have a 180 day visa.)
30 Day Exit
The biggest change to the tourist visa is its renewal policy.
Now, to renew a tourist visa (both 90 and 180 day visas) tourists are required to leave Panama for a minimum of 30 days before reentering Panama.
Legal Residents & Applicants
If you are a foreigner (e.g., American, Canadian…) with legal Panamanian residency this does not impact you. A foreigner with legal residency in Panama is not required to stay outside the country x number of days before being allowed to re-enter.
Again, if you have applied for your residency visa, but don’t have it yet, you should receive an ID showing that your residency is in process. If you have that ID, you are also not required to stay outside the country x number of days before being allowed to re-enter. (Note, if you don’t have this ID, then you should leave Panama before your tourist visa ends.)
Keep in mind, that the officials at the border crossing don’t always understand the rule changes themselves. Always be polite and gracious. If you need to, simply ask to see their manager.
US Embassy Chimes In
Here is the email that the American Citizen Services department of the US Embassy in Panama sent out about these changes.
The U.S. Embassy in Panama would like to inform all U.S. Citizens in Panama that on March 6th 2017, the Panamanian Immigration Authority (Servicio Nacional de Migracion-SNM) announced new guidance for Panamanian immigration officials on the enforcement of pre-existing regulations.
According to the SNM, immigration officials have been instructed to be stricter about the enforcement of the regulation that foreigners entering Panama with tourist status prove that they are in fact entering Panama as tourists and not residing in Panama.
Since the announcement, the Consular Section has received many questions from U.S. citizens about this new guidance.
Below are the most frequently asked questions along with the responses the Consular Section received from the SNM.
Should you have further questions, please reach out to the SNM directly via phone at507-1800 or visit their website at: http://www.migracion.gob.pa
US Embassy FAQs
In order to re-enter Panama on tourist status, does a U.S. Citizen need to return to their country of origin (the country from which they came into Panama) or can they return from a third-country (example: Costa Rica)?
Answer: In the new guidance SNM does not specify if the tourist needs to return his/her country of origin. What is being implemented is that, in most cases, the person needs to leave Panama for a minimum of 30 days before reentering as a tourist.
In order for a person to re-enter Panama on tourist status, what is the minimum amount of time the person needs to spend outside of Panama?
Answer: The new requirement that is being implemented by SNM in reference to time spent out of Panama is a minimum of 30 days before applying for admission, in most cases.
In order for a person to re-enter Panama on mariner visa status, what is the minimum amount of time the person needs to spend outside of Panama.
Answer: According to SNM, mariner visas are valid for 90 days and must be renewed on the 90th day, or the day before, from the date of the previous mariner visa stamp. Mariner visas can only be renewed once before the visa- holder needs to exit Panama. The amount of time the person with the mariner visa needs to stay outside of Panama is not specified by SNM.
If entering Panama on tourist status, does the method of entry need to match the method of exit (i.e. can a U.S. Citizen enter Panama on a plane and use as proof of exit evidence that they own a boat in Panama and plan to exit via boat)?
Answer: The method of entry and exit into and out of Panama does not have to be the same so long as the entries and departures are met legally by using established Ports of Entry – land, maritime or air and admitted by a Panamanian immigration officer.
Do U.S. Citizens with legal Panamanian residency status also require a roundtrip ticket when entering Panama?
Answer: No. A foreigner with legal residence in Panama does not need to show proof of exit from Panama.
Is a person applying for Panamanian residency required to stay in Panama for the entire duration of time required to complete the residency process? If so, what happens if the process takes more than the allotted six months for tourist status.
Answer: If the person has an ID that shows that his/her residency is in process, the person is fine to leave and return to Panama. If there is no ID, then the person should exit as a tourist (i.e., before the sixth month approaches).
How long does the FBI Identification Record process, required for purposes of obtaining residency in Panama, take? Can this process be expedited?
Answer: For information on the FBI identification record process, individuals may visit https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/identity-history-summary-checks. According to the FBI website, the current turnaround estimate for these records is 12 to 14 weeks plus the amount of time the results may take to arrive in the mail. Currently there is no option to receive the response electronically. For questions on this topic, individuals may call (304) 625-5590 or write an email to [email protected]
Tourists are only allowed to drive in Panama for 90 days. Is there an exception for this given that tourists are allowed to stay in Panama for 180 days?
Answer: According to the Transit authority (http://www.transito.gob.pa/sites/default/files/reglamento_decreto_640..pdf) foreigners that enter Panama as tourists are not permitted to obtain Panamanian drivers’ licenses and are only allowed to drive with a foreign license for 90 days. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Can SNM waive the FBI Identification Record process if a person does not exit Panama for two years? If so, would there be an exception to the 180 day stay limit for tourists for a person trying to obtain this waiver?
Answer: If a person stays in Panama for more than two years then the FBI requirement does not apply. The waiver of the FBI requirement applies to those people that stay in Panama two years, without exiting. In these cases, a fine is paid by the person for overstaying their tourist visa and the person is only required to present a PNM police record rather than the FBI check.
You can find all the decrees and laws that affect immigration at Panama’s department of immigration (Servicio Nacional de Migración de Panamá or SNM). You can visit their website or call them at 507 1807 or 507-1822.
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