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Today I rode up to Pasa Canos with three friends of mine - they all had to process in/out to renew their tourist visa, the normal 180-day drill. I went along just to renew my Burger King qualifications. My friends' tour through the immigration maze turned out to be a real hassle! The border area was a zoo - have never seen that many people around in all my years of visiting there. And the long-haul trucks were backed up as far as you could see on both sides of the border. The question that came to my mind even before the 'road got bumpy' for my friends at Panama Immigration was, "How can there be no line at Costa Rica immigration (at either the 'entrance' or 'exit' window) and a long line at Panama immigration (especially the 'Enter' window)?" Well, we soon found out the answer.
The immigration officials in the 'Enter' booth were playing '20 Question'. And note I said 'officials' (plural), as there were three different ones my friends dealt with - so it wasn't just a case of one person having a bad day. "Where have you been?" (In the 45 minutes I have been checked out of Panama?) "Where are you going in Panama? What do you plan on doing in Panama? When are you going to leave Panama?" (What? The date on the plane ticket reservation you just required me to show you didn't give you that answer?) This interrogation seemed to go on forever and was repeated for each one of them.
The clincher however was that the "$500 Cash Game" was resurrected. For those of you that are not familiar with that exercise, from time to time over the five years I have been down here, they sometimes will insist that you have to have $500 cash 'on you' to enter Panama. I once had to get out of line and go to an ATM there at the border and get the cash to make them happy. Well yesterday one of my friends got them to accept his credit card as proof that he was 'good' for $500. Another satisfied the requirement with an ATM receipt from when he withdrew that amount just hours earlier before we left David even though he had left half of it back in his room. The third friend ran into 'serious' problems however because his ATM cards did not have a VISA or MasterCard logo on it. So here stood a gringo with ATM cards for accounts in two Panamanian banks, one of which clearly states it is a business account, and it's 'no go'. So the four of us pooled our cash so that he had the cash. He then got back in the long, slow-moving line, answered the same questions all over again and then had to count out the money for the immigration guy (God forbid that the stack of $20s might really only be $460!)
The good news is, the trip back was uneventful - there were only three police roadblocks coming back to David - well, not counting the one in David.
It would seem to me that the government of Panama might want to take some of the big bucks they are spending around the world convincing anyone who will listen how much Panama loves visitors, and invest it in making sure that government employees who deal with tourist are aware of those warm-and-fuzzy policies.
Is it easier to cross the border to Costa Rica and re-enter Panama with a temporary pensionado ID card and the multi-entry visa stamps in your passport? I've not been to the Paso Canoa crossing, but did the border hop at Rio Sereno last time - piece of cake!
I need to do the hop for my U.S. driver's license permission renewal, but should have a Panamanian driver's license before the next 90-day cycle ends.
I know you do not want to hear this but your US drivers license is no longer legal here once you start the immigration process. You need to get a Panama license. The border hop will not help you if you are stopped since your ID, your passport stamped with your multi entry visa or temp pensionado require a Panama license to drive.
I bit the bullet, Lee. I made an appointment at the US Embassy in PC for Tuesday AM.
I will take a diablo rojo to David Monday night in time to catch the midnight special bus to PC and sleep on the bus. Tuesday morning I will take a taxi to the embassy for my 8:30am appointment, then another taxi to the MFA for Panama certification. With necessary certifications in hand, I will take a late morning bus back to David and a diablo rojo to Boquete. I should be back by early evening.
Then, Wednesday morning I will go to the Chiriqui Mall to get my blood type test and a real Panamanian license at Sertracen.
It will be nice to not have to worry about drivers license issues again for a very long time.
It is a pain in the butt, but it is better than having your car towed and getting a ticket.
Not so fast Dave, sometimes the Panama office that certifies the Embassy papers for a drivers license are busy and will take you paper work and tell you to come back in a few days. However if you speak Spanish fluently you would be able to occasionally persuade them to expedite your application but no guaranties. Also I don’t believe you need a blood test to get your license and just because you have an appointment at the Embassy doesn’t mean you will be seen at that time rather you will have to locate the machine that dispenses ticket numbers and get into the system that way and then you will be called as you number comes up, at least that was how it worked when I did my license paper work a few years back.
I'll keep my fingers crossed, Greg. Let's see if I can keep my string of bureaucratic successes going...
The blood test is done at Chiriqui Mall, and is apparently only for determining blood type. If your blood type is on your existing driver's license mine isn't), you don't need the blood test.
if we recall this fire drill.......in June 2012
had 8:30 apt at Embassy - first in line - waited for about an hour to be seen
bad traffic that time of day
then to MFA......you take a number at the MFA and wait and wait......then they take your papers.....then you go next door to the bank and pay something and bring that back to MFA
then MFA takes your papers and you come back around 1 or 2 pm.......then you go across the street to the lawyers office and get a stamp but be careful as we got the last stamp at around 2:30 and everyone behind us had to come back the next day
then you go back to MFA and take another number and wait......
in between the wait for the 2PM return to MFA - go across the street to the lab and get your blood done
know that no one in MFA speaks English nor do they make any attempt to speak English and they will ask you questions at MFA
we had an English speaking taxi driver who was wonderful and ran a lot of interference for us......and we still did not get finished with MFA until 3PM or so
Sergio Gonzalez 6907 8628
David, Sergio is the best guy for helping you with getting your license paperwork processed ( we also used him) He will walk you thru the whole process if you need. I have his E-mail also if you want to contact him. email@example.com
he may have changed his email.....that is the email we had on file, but we just received an email from him 2 weeks ago
Ken & Pattie recommended Sergio to us - great advice
we did everything in one day - after finishing up at MFA, Sergio took us to get our driver's license - again our Spanish did not seem to work here either
we see the lines and people waiting outside in the heat in David to get their driver's license....easier to do it in one day in PC.....
if you use Sergio, when you are waiting to return at 2 PM, take him out for lunch, anything will do, he will appreciate it greatly
Thanks for the update Pat & Susan will note that on his card
Thanks Susan & Pat and Ken & Pattie for the advice and referral.
I've e-mailed Sergio using both e-mail addresses - and left him a voicemail.
What are his standard fees for this service?
we do not remember because we also hired him for the day after for a private tour of PC......was wonderful.....plus he picked up Pat's daughter and son-in-law at the airport so we negotiated a package deal......plus we bought him lunch on 2 days plus tips so he was well compensated for his time
like many things in Panama.......you can usually negotiate some......but Sergio being solo with a family.......he does not have a lot room as he pays directly for gas etc.......plus a very nice car .....he provides outstanding service and is worth every penny - during the down time he can tell you about Panama.....very interesting
honestly, Pat's Spanish has gotten us through many interactions here in Panama - but we really would not recommend doing this on your own - for some reason our Spanish did not work here and the people did not want to try to communicate (think boring, repetitive job syndrome)