Many expats who live in Panama never apply for any form of permanent residency. They enter the country and then leave periodically so they can re-enter and stay legal. In my seven years here I have seen the enforcement of the law change significantly, sometimes very lax, sometimes very strict.
The actual law in Panama says tourists from the US, Canada and may other countries may enter without a visa and stay up to 90 days, it also says they can drive on a non Panamanian drivers license the same 90 days.
There are so many different versions of the tourist visa law online that it is hard to sort out what the current law might be but here is the current enforcement and that is what matters.
- A passport stamped with date of entry is valid as a tourist visa in Panama 180 Days.
- You can only drive for 90 days without a Panamanian license and you cannot get a Panamanian license as a tourist.
- When you enter Panama they may ask for the following:
- A return ticket to your point origin, meaning US passport return to the US.
- $500 cash or a credit card to show solvency
- If you are border hopping they now might ask you to stay out of Panama for a least 24 hours.
There may be more hurdles I have not heard yet, please comment if you hit another wall.
Some of these are in some of the versions of the immigration law, some like the return ticket to point of origin, and 24 hours out of the country are not in any version of the law I can find, still you have little choice but to comply.
This is the last year of the current government and if it follows what I saw in the last year of the prior government many things change rapidly to maximize political gain before the keys to the government are turned over to the next regime. Expect the unexpected.
If you are considering staying in Panama I suggest you look into some form of long term residency. The government is money hungry and has made several paths available. All cost money but so does border hopping. Consider the pensionado Visa if you have a pension of over $1000 a month, consider the “friendly nations visa” if you have a business or job offer. One more option if you have been here five of more years of border hopping is buying a two year visa when Immigration has their special visa events. That visa makes you legal, allows you to get a work permit and after two years in theory you can become a permanent resident, no lawyer necessary.
If you need so legal advice click on the the icon for BoqueteLaw.com on the right column.