Prior to May 22, 2007 Panama's immigration laws allowed visitors 90 days upon entry to Panama
extension of an additional 90 days, for a total of 180 days. Upon completion of 180 days one would be required to leave Panama
for 72 hours, most cruisers crossing the border to Costa Rica
for a few days then returning to start the process over again.
On May 22, 2007 the Panamanian congress signed into law a new Immigration Law.
The new law now grants visitors only 30 days upon entry into Panama with the possibility of one 60 day extension. Having so many questions and concerns I took a trip to Changanola and
spent the morning with the immigration supervisor and learned the following in regards to the new law.
Upon entry you will be granted 30 days. Two days prior to the expiration of your 30 days you will need to go to the immigration office with your application requesting a 60 day extension, two photo
copies of your passport with entry stamp, two passport size photos, proof of financial independence (credit card, $300 cash or bank statement), and a copy of your cruising permit
You will also need a Panamanian resident to sponsor
you, and you will need a letter from the Panamanian resident, a copy of their ID and a copy of their utility bill showing their address. What the sponsor
is doing is agreeing to take full legal
and financial responsibility for you, including responsibility for your body should you die. As our time is due to expire we have looked high and low for a Panamanian sponsor with no success. With out this sponsor one will have to leave Panama every 30 days.
Once you have all your papers in order you go to the immigration office no sooner than two days prior to the expiration of your 30 days. At that time they will tell you that they are granting your 60 days or declining your request. If they decline your application you will be required to leave the country of Panama within your remaining two days left.
If you are granted the 60 day extension you're good to go for two more months.
In either case, prior to your original 30 days or your 60 day extension expiring you must leave the country of Panama and return to your country of residence, before you will be allowed to return to Panama. While the law specifically states you will be required to return to your country of residence before returning to Panama at this time the border officials at the Costa Rican border are allowing trips into Costa Rica and back. This is subject to change at any time.
Expect your first 30 days to be busy with paperwork and finding a Panamanian to sponsor you for your extension. Then be prepared to be busy making travel arrangements before your 60 days is up. Oh, in the past fines were charged for being over on your passport, the new law now states you will be jailed until deportation.
Many of the cruisers here in Bocas del Toro are looking at other options including return visits to the Colombian islands of San Andreas and Providencia and, like us, early departures out of Panama for Cartagena
. We are all hoping the new immigration law will be repealed but until then...