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Long-term Tourists and Permanent Border Hoppers Beware: Panama Creates a New Law and Shortens the Tourist Visa as of October 1st.

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For many years Panama has allowed foreigners of different nationalities including Germans, US Americans, Canadians, Austrians, Swiss, Italians and other countries to stay in the country as a tourist for six (6) months. Due to this flexibility by the National Immigration Service of Panama it has become a common practice among many foreigners to live permanently in Panama with a tourist visa, entering and leaving every couple of months, and thus renewing their status as long-term tourist in the country for years.

As of October 1, 2021 the maximum stay as a foreign tourist in Panama will be three (3) months.

This new law will also apply to citizens of the above mentioned countries and to tourists who already entered the country. If you have entered Panama as a foreign tourist before October (without changing your status and applying for permanent or temporary residence) and plan to leave the country after October 1st, you should check the date of your last entry carefully in order to avoid bad surprises at the border control, and the payment of fines for over-staying your tourist visa.

In addition to regulating the maximum stay of tourists in the country, the National Immigration Service establishes a new legal definition of a "tourist":

"Tourists are considered to be those foreigners who occasionally enter the national territory without the intention of establishing their residence therein or abandoning their residence of origin while in Panama, provided they enter for the exclusive purpose of recreation, shopping, business, medical tourism, visit, among other similar purposes; and, likewise they have their own economic resources to maintain themselves for the duration of their stay and they will comply with the departure from Panamanian territory, within the expiration of the authorized period".

What does this mean? This article of the Law provides legal fundament to the public officials at the border controls to refuse your entry into the country if the official at the checkpoint discovers during the interview that you are a “long-term tourist" or “permanent border-hopper" in Panama. If you reside in Panama and have not yet regularized your status in the country by applying for one of the various immigration categories, now the time has come to do so.

I want to travel to Panama just to visit, what should I take into account?

If you travel to Panama for sightseeing, to visit the country, to do business, to look for a property to invest, to visit friends or relatives you have three (3) months to enjoy and get to know the country and execute your plans and projects. At the time of entering the country you must have your valid passport (valid for at least three months), your return ticket (within the established legal period,  hence three months), proof of economic solvency (US$500 in cash or a credit card). You must also comply with the current sanitary measures established by the Ministry of Health, which I will explain below.

Current requirements for entry into Panama

All passengers (whether tourists, nationals or resident aliens) traveling to Panama are required to submit a digital health affidavit prior to boarding using the following link: https://www.panamadigital.gob.pa/RegistroPacoViajero

  1. Vaccinated Passengers (full schedule, 14 days after the last dose): You must present your vaccination card, you do not need to present a negative COVID-19 test nor comply with any preventive quarantine.
  2. Unvaccinated Passengers: Must present a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test, performed no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Panama (if not, a test must be performed at your expense at the airport).
  3. Unvaccinated Passengers from high risk countries (India, United Kingdom, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Surinam and Venezuela): Must present a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test, performed no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Panama (otherwise a test must be performed at your expense at the airport) and comply with a preventive quarantine of three (3) days (Nationals or residents at home, non-resident foreigners in an authorized hotel).
  4. Passengers under 12 years of age: will be exempted from presenting a negative COVID-19 test and complying with preventive quarantine if their parents, guardians or caregivers comply with the requirements established according to the risk level of the country of origin.

Always remember to review the current travel requirements prior to purchasing your airline ticket and a few days before traveling. If you are making a stopover in another country before arriving in Panama, make sure you are complying with all the measures and regulations established for passengers in transit in the country of your stopover since they may vary from the regulations applied in your country of destination.

I want to travel to Panama as a tourist and then apply for my residency, what should I do?

If you plan to travel to Panama to open a bank account, invest in real estate and/or change your tourist status and apply for permanent or temporary residency you have three (3) months to do so. When entering the country you must only remember to comply with the above mentioned requirements and bring all the original documents requested by your lawyer for your successful residency application.

Buen viaje! Enjoy your trip!

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