How To Get Around Panama Immigration
I work in Panama for a Real Estate Company. Essentially, I am an illegal immigrant in Panama. Today I realized that my tourist visa, which is good for 3 months, is set to expire tomorrow. This poses an immediate problem as deportation is a very real threat to foreigners who overstay their welcome. When you enter Panama as a non-citizen, you are able to pay for a Tourist Visa. This visa costs $5 at the border or at the international airport and is valid for 90 days from day of entry. I am sitting on day 89 hoping that tomorrow Iím not in jail or on a plane.
I enjoy living and working in Panama and intend to continue to stay here for some time. I would prefer not to leave as it is a monetary and time consuming obligation. The easiest option is to fly to Costa Rica, a one hour flight that costs around $250 each way. For a fraction of the cost, $25, you can take a bus ride from Panama City to San Jose, Costa Rica. This ride is seventeen hours long. Having done both, I dread the thought of having to sit cramped in a bus for another ĺ of a day. If it is within your means, there is no reason to not take the flight. Otherwise, get ready for a long, long drive.
You are allowed to extend your stay for up to 180 days. This is what I am attempting to accomplish today. My roommate, a Canadian who has lived in Panama for 18 months, has hired an immigration lawyer to get around these problems. She knows first hand the dangers of overstaying your welcome. A year ago she was held in an immigration detention center while her passport was confiscated and transferred to the Airport, where she had to pick it up and leave the country that day. They gave her just hours to pack enough for the trip and get out. Luckily she was able to fly to San Jose and stay with friends, but she reports that it was a traumatic experience. She notes that she had not been in the country for the allotted 90 days, but that immigration judged that she did not have sufficient time to get her affairs in order and they were not issuing her a visa extension, so they deported her.
Iím on my way to buy a bus pass out of Panama. The government requires that all entering parties have a ticket showing that they are planning to leave Panama. I had purchased a $12 ticket in Costa Rica before I left to come down here that I showed to immigration when I entered. It has since expired and I need a new one that shows even with an extension, that I plan to leave. The penalty for not giving Immigration 48 hours to process my request is $25, along with the normal $25 administrative fee and the $12 bus ticket, a $72 extension much less that the $600+ flight and stay or the $150+ bus and stay. Wish me luck.