News broke this March about dozens of Venezuelans who are denied entry to Panama from the Paso Canoas Border with Costa Rica.

The reason: Immigrants living permanently in Panama as tourists.

The Panamanian government is making an effort to reduce the number of immigrants who continuously stay in the country with a tourist status because they may be working illegally with no working permit.

Panama immigration laws grant Venezuelans, and many other countries like Canada and the US, entry to the country with a tourist permit for 90 or 180 days. Once this period expires, the tourist can apply for a 90-day extension, or can leave the country for at least 72 hours before entering back again with a tourist permit.

The latter is a popular choice for many immigrants who reside in Panama permanently.

Panama Enforces Strict Border Control as Communicated via Twitter

Official Communication from Panama Immigration Services

On March 6 2017, Immigration Panama published on its twitter account

  • Extranjeros que salgan a Costa Rica a sellar pasaporte para entrar como turista no entrarán a Panamá
  • Foreigners who exit to Costa Rica to stamp their Passport to then return as a tourist will not be allowed entry to Panama

The Director of National Immigration Services, Mr. Javier Carrillo, made it clear this is NOT exclusive to Venezuelans. Instead, the measure applies to all citizenships.

Consulted about the situation, attorney Mr. Marcos Kraemer, expert in immigration law, confirmed that existing legislation enables the immigration officer to deny entry to a tourist if there is evidence of irregularities in the visit of such person.

For instance, an immigration officer will be suspicious if a tourist has consistently left and re-enter the country during the last 6 to 12 months. This raises questions about the tourist’s source of income to live in Panama and whether this person works in Panama with no working permit.

Ultimately, the decision to allow the tourist to enter the country is up to the immigration officer.

Implications for the Expat Community

The US embassy in Panama, through its local wardens, encouraged those who plan to reside in Panama to legalize their immigration status, and confirmed that

  • if an Immigration Official determines that a foreigner is using tourism status to reside in Panama, the entry will not be allowed. The Duty Chief gave examples of this situation, indicating that persons who exit Panama before the 6th month approaches and re-enter after three days, which is a clear sign that the individual is residing in Panama under a tourist status, will not be allowed re-entry.

Likewise, the Government of Canada updated its travel website, under Entry/Exit Requirements -> Length Of Stay, explaining that:

  • Tourists may only remain in Panama for a maximum of 180 days. If you wish to remain in the country after that time, you must change your residency status. If you attempt to renew your stay in Panama by traveling out of the country for a short period of time with the intention of returning to Panama as a tourist, immigration authorities may deny you re-entry, as they are implementing stricter border controls.

Are you living in Panama as a permanent tourist?

PanamaKeys is closely following how these measures unfold. If you are an expat living permanently in Panama as a tourist, our advice is that you choose an appropriate residence path. The article Panama Vista Types and Requirements presents three options for your consideration.

We are ready to connect you with the right immigration lawyers, contact us today.

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