Liz Larroquette
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It’s Time To Get Your Papers in Order!

Piles of paper small man

Part of the reason I love Panama is because there are so many interesting people that come in and out of my life. They tend to be a bit more adventuresome, keenly aware of local and international happenings and fully engaged in enjoying multifaceted aspects of life.

I also find they sometimes fly by the seat of their pants!

Stuck

“What do you mean you stayed a week longer in Costa Rica than you had planned?,” I inquired of my freewheeling friend Linda, as we sat down to enjoy cocktails and tapas at the hip and trendy Xuvia Lounge in Costa del Este.

Many people were detained at the Paso Canos immigration point with Costa Rica

“They caught me,” she replied simply as the soft jazz began in the background. “You can’t just make a border run anymore,” she explained. “They stopped a group of us, along with about 100 other people and said it was against the rules.” She seemed a little exasperated and I had to stifle a smile! “By about day three, I really wanted to scream, but fortunately I didn’t,” she continued taking a sip of her drink and perusing the menu.

She looked up and smiled. “It turns out, that as of something like March 6th, we are no longer able to renew our tourist visas by staying out of Panama for a minimum of three days. The new rules, I was told, are that we would need to stay out of Panama for at least 30 days and even if I did, I’d only be renewed for an additional 90 days. It used to be that we’d get another six months on our tourist visas. According to them, I’m no longer a tourist!”

Making It Legal

“Haven’t you been living here for like three years?” I continued with a smile. “You don’t have your residency papers in order?” I knew this wasn’t uncommon for many people who enter Panama on a tourist visa, but Linda had been here for an extended amount of time and did free-lance work as a web designer. “Do you consider yourself a tourist?” I almost laughed as the words spilled out of my mouth.

Keyboard Red Button Visa

OK, so it's not as easy as the push of a button, but getting residency can be done with the right paperwork

“No” she said exaggerating the word. “It’s just that it’s always been an accepted way to stay legal.”

“You really weren’t legal,” I said. “Getting residency status, isn’t that hard. After three years you should have taken care of things.”

“I know now,” she said pulling a little plastic card out of her wallet and waving it. Legal.”

As it turned out, Linda and several of her friends had been detained at a check-point on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. They were only readmitted to Panama after they proved they had arranged for a lawyer to begin the process of acquiring legal Panamanian resident status. It was actually a gift that they let her back in without the 30-day requirement.

Closing the Loophole

“I know we were shown leniency probably because we were Americans, but it did come as a shock because it was such a radical change. They weren’t all that nice to people from other countries.”

“I’ve heard lots of reasons for the crack down,” I said, “what do you think the reasons are for the sudden enforcement?” The bar was beginning to fill up.

People Protesting with Venezuelan flag

Some are linking the visa crackdown to an increase in illegal immigrants from Venezuela, which has been the subject of much debate in the local media.

“We were told by a friendly guard who whispered that it was to curb the influx of illegal immigrants from countries such as Venezuela. One of the guys being rejected told us he made only about $20 USD a month managing a small retail store in Valencia.

He says he can easily make that in a few days here in Panama and so he’s been working under the table and for cash. According to my lawyer, that has been taking jobs away from the local Panamanians.”

I thought about the immigrants I knew who were working without documentation. “Don’t they do the work most Panamanians don’t want to do?” I inquired knowing I was sounding like an American. “Will we be building a wall?” I just had to add.

“My lawyer said she didn’t think it was because of Trump’s issues with Mexico, but that it was more of a move toward closing borders by countries with a higher standard of living. Brexit and Germany’s struggle with taking in all those war ravaged families is part of it. Panama certainly isn’t that vulnerable, but I think we have like 100,000 undocumented people just from Venezuela. That’s a lot of undocumented people.”

Get Your Ducks In A Row

“How much did it eventually cost for you to get your papers,” I asked.

Rubber ducks on beach

The Visa Application process will be easier if you get your ducks in a row before applying!

“Around $3,000 on the Friendly Nations Visa, but I know a lot of lawyers who are increasing their prices just because so many people are needing help right now. Fortunately, I had a relationship with my lawyer prior to my run in with the law,” she laughed.

As I looked around the room filled with young professionals out for an evening of fun, I knew Linda was probably not the only one who had put off the process of getting the appropriate visa. Most of the individuals who were in Panama on behalf of a multi-national company had proper documentation, but the others who had come to Panama on their own to capitalize on the explosive growth and various opportunities, might well have taken advantage of the previous loose interpretation of the visa requirements.

No More Border Runs!

“I tell everyone I see to get things in order,” she said. “Don’t listen to how this might change,” she continued. “Panama is rapidly becoming very global and serious about who is in their country. Quick runs across the border isn’t going to cut it any more. You will be stopped. Count on 30 days because I don’t think you will be as lucky as I was,” she said with commitment.

I smiled. “I think that’s a good thing, don’t you?” She smiled in return and waved for a waiter.

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About the Author Liz Larroquette

Whether you are looking to retire in Panama, relocate your family, or buy property as an investment Liz is a wealth of knowledge you can and should tap into.

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