Becoming a legal resident is an important part of the expat experience in Panama. When we first arrived here two years ago, one of the first things we did was engage our attorneys, Miranda and Contreros in Boquete, for advice about getting our residency visa. There are a few options available, but we chose to wait until John could start collecting Social Security, which would give us the pension income we needed to apply for the pensionado visa. Why? The pensionado is less expensive and carries many financial advantages. Driving Legally and the Tourist Stamp Visitors without visas who arrive in Panama receive a “tourist” stamp, which entitles them to remain in the country for 180 days. The stamp also entitles you to drive using a valid license from your home country, but here’s the catch – the driving privilege is only good for 90 days. (FYI, only folks who hold a…


After posting yesterday about our quick border run to Pasa Canoas, I realized I left some key information out. Several readers have asked me to go over the documentation you’re required to show for re-entry into Panama. After many re-entries at Tocumen International Airport, Rio Sereno, and now Paso Canoas, we always chuckle afterwards about how consistently inconsistent things are. In Rio Sereno, a little backwater nowhere on the northwestern Panama border, we encountered a very earnest young migración officer who wanted everything – passport copies, proof of financial solvency, plane tickets out of  Panama. At Tocumen, we have never, ever been asked to show anything but our passports. This was also the case at Paso Canoas last week – but strangely, I was fingerprinted and John wasn’t. Guess I’m just looking too notorious these days.

Where did three months go? Last week we needed to make a border crossing for John to renew his tourist visa and keep his legal driving status (I was covered from my round-trip to Austin in January). But instead of crossing at Rio Sereno and spending the weekend in San Vito, CR (a MUST – we’ve done it twice and written about it here and here), we decided to try Paso Canoas. We also wanted to check out the dozens of auto parts stores there, in hopes of replacing a taillight that had had a tussle with a tree a few weeks ago.

Friends had told us that it’s now possible to walk across the border, check out of Panama and into Costa Rica, and then do everything in reverse all in a few hours – contrary to the previous requirement to spend at least one night over the border. With limited time and budget, we decided to give it a shot.

Well, now – that was easy! With another three months having flown by, we just completed our second border run to Rio Sereno on the Panama/Costa Rica border and then on to San Vito, CR for a weekend of R&R. For the absolutely gripping, edge-of-your-seat account of our first trip, check out our previous post here. We’ll let that one explain the whats and whys of this particular rite of passage for new Panamanian expats. This time, we knew what we were doing and where we were going. In Rio Sereno, we drove straight to the secure parking lot across from the Costa Rica police building and then walked the hundred paces to Panama migración. Ten minutes and a vigorous stamp-stamp-stamping of our passports later, we were checked out of Panama and headed across the road to the Costa Rica point of entry. There the immigration officer had us fill out visa entry slips.…

With three months under our belts as Panamanian expats (where the heck did the time go??) we’ve passed a new milestone – our first border run. Everyone who enters Panama gets a tourist visa good for 180 days. But driving is the catch for people like us who are here for the long haul and don’t yet have a permanent residency visa. Although we have another 90 days to play tourist, we’re only allowed to drive with our California drivers’ licenses for the first 90. Soooo – to remain legal drivers in Panama, we had to cross the border into Costa Rica, spend the night, and then come back in with new stamps on our passports and the clock re-set. Bada bing, we’re good to go for three more months!