Let’s be honest, here. Visiting immigration is one of my least favorite things on the PLANET to do. It’s confusing, lines are long, and it’s just- well- boring.
To be fair, though- it’s a small price to pay considering all the various and distinctive benefits of living in Panama. Most of us never have to deal with it beyond the procedure of applying for residency in Panama. These tips are to help you make it through that ever-memorable occasion.
1. Wear pants. And shoes. And deodorant.
By pants, I do mean pants. Shorts are not allowed in the immigration office- particularly for men. Women can get away with wearing knee-length or below skirts and dresses, but definitely no short shorts.
Technically, flip-flops aren’t permitted either. This is often a hit-or-miss issue, as I’ve heard of some people making it through and some getting turned away. However, it’s best not to risk it.
Deodorant? Well, that speaks for itself.
2. Get your passport photos taken ahead of time
While applying for Panama residency, you’re required to provide (amongst other things, which you can read about through that link) 6 passport size photos of yourself.
You can get this done right outside the immigration building but I don’t recommend it. The lines are long and the sun is hot. It’s a time consuming and aggravating process.
In Panama, you can get these photos taken at Farmacia Arrocha, which is similar to a CVS or Walgreens. They’re located all over the city and are registered in Google Maps- you can look up the one nearest to you.
3. Bring headphones and entertainment
To me, the worst part about immigration is how loud it is. About 30 different help desks call out waiting numbers over the intercom every couple of seconds. If you’re there for a while, you’re bound to get a headache.
Bring headphones and a book or something else to entertain yourself with. Just be sure to keep an eye on the announcement boards around you, which will have the recently called numbers posted.
4. Don’t bother trying to make sense of the line order
In most places, there would be some sort of obvious numerical or alphabetical system to determine who gets called up next. Panama is not most places.
You will hear W52 called out followed directly by A103. I’ve near lost my mind trying to figure out the algorithm. Don’t. Just don’t.
5. Bring snacks
They have vending machines, but you might as well save yourself the walk (and the often-limited selection.)
6. Be EXTREMELY organized with your documents
I like to have a manila folder with print outs of everything I need, along with the actual documents themselves, all in order. It sounds OCD but it will save you a lot of awkward scrounging at the desk.
7. Be unfailingly nice- even when the person behind the desk is not
There may be times when you want to strangle the person “helping” you. This is normal. Breathe deep and force a smile. It will help in the long run.
I find it helpful to remind myself that however bad of a mood I’m in, it probably can’t compare to the person there all day, every day, getting paid minimum wage to deal with grumpy foreigners.
8. Have copies of EVERYTHING
Extras never hurt.
9. Carry cash
You’ll probably encounter at least one unexpected processing fee- small ones ranging from $5 to $10. Having cash makes this go a lot faster.
10. Bring your very best attitude
….and afterwards, head straight to the pub to celebrate your newfound Panama residency.