img_1056 Quickie Border Update - the Paper Chase Panama The Expat Life

Editor’s note: Since we posted this entry, Panama has begun enforcing its immigration and visa laws more tightly. Officially, it’s no longer feasible to do a “quick” border crossing in order to renew your visa. Rio Sereno, San Vito, CR, and Paso Canoas are still worth a visit, though!

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.

Given the inconsistency, we are always prepared to have to meet the maximum requirement. Here’s what we take to the border:

  • Passport copies. The only place we’ve ever needed them was at Rio Sereno, where both the Panamanian and Costa Rican officials asked for them. But we always have plenty on hand.
  • Proof of financial solvency. Technically, you’re required to carry $500 cash apiece to show that you’re not coming into Panama to live off the teat of the welfare system. Since that’s a heck of a lot of money to carry around, we compromise and take $500 to cover both of us. Mind you, we have never, ever been required to produce the cash, but we know people that have been. We also take copies of the latest statements from our local MultiBank account and one of our U.S. banks; at Rio Sereno, that’s all the guy needed to see. We’ve only been asked for this a couple of times, but who knows when you might get a migración officer that’s a stickler for the rules.
  • Proof of onward transportation. Since we only have tourist visas at this point, the Panamanian officials want to make sure we’re only here temporarily and that we have passage out of the country before our visas expire, six months later. (It does make things a little tricky when you’re planning upcoming travel because you have to think in reverse, with the outbound trip your ultimate destination!) A copy of a flight itinerary does the trick, but I’ve also been able to show an email confirmation on my smartphone.Also, when you enter Costa Rica, you have to fill out one of those little paper slips like they give you on an airplane, which asks you to list your outbound flight number.I’ll say one more thing about this that caught me by surprise. When I was flying home to Panama from Austin, Texas in January, I went to the United desk to check my bags and I was asked to show my outbound-from-Panama itinerary before they would give me a boarding pass, right there in Austin. That’s never happened before but I suspect it’s because I was booked all the way through on United/Copa from Austin to David, Panama.


  1. I’m glad you wrote this Susan, at least now I know I might be getting mixed up with a “notorious border crosser.” Yes! Let the fun begin!!! 😉

  2. Why do all this border trekking? Why did you not just get a friendly nations visa?

  3. Do you need to buy a new outgoing flight ticket every time you renew the Panama tourist visa even? I am a bit confused about how you guys handle that. If I move there I will not be able to afford to fly out often.

    • Sherry – I know quite a few people who book a ticket just before they go to the border, and then take advantage of the 24 hr cancellation to cancel it as soon as they are done. Or, buy a refundable ticket.

  4. Excuse my previous question. I should have read further. I have always been asked for all that documentation, and I have never been allowed on a flight without a return (to the US) ticket booked. I have brought bank statements to the border though and they never asked for cash. That’s a lot of cash to carry around in a crowded place. You’ll love being a resident and not having to worry about any of that any more! The first time they asked about my return ticket and I whipped out the residency card…. YES! 😀

  5. When our son did a border run from Nicaragua to Costa Rica and back again to Nicaragua, he took a copy of his airline ticket out of Nicaragua in April to the states. The Costa Rica immigration officers denied the airline ticket because they said he had to show proof of an airline ticket OUT OF Costa Rica. So, he was forced to buy a TICA bus ticket for $35. I am curious if the CR immigration officers deny you exit if your airline ticket shows you departing Panama and not Costa Rica. Do you have to buy a TICA bus ticket, too?
    This makes absolutely no sense to me. Before we had residency in Nicaragua, we simply took an airline ticket that showed us departing from the airport in Nicaragua and they always accepted it. They want proof that you are leaving Costa Rica. My son’s proof was that he is leaving Costa Rica via Nicaragua back to the states. But, NO, they want the airline departure to say Costa Rica on it. What difference does it make? Latin logic…I guess. I still can’t figure it out.

  6. I believe the rules say you need a ticket to the country that issued your passport, so only a bus ticket to Costa Rica might not work.

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