Treasure was found in Panama…
As my 5:45am alarm restlessly buzzed from across the room, I rolled out of bed with two thoughts. One, why on earth did I schedule a call for 6am!? And second, all I have to do is get through this call so I can begin my Panama City treasure hunt!
SPOILER ALERT: This treasure hunt doesn’t end in a chest of gold and jewels, but something of much more significance. Something that I will carry with me for life, without physically carrying any weight… Something irreplaceable. No not pizza. But my Panamanian residency!
I was in the process of maintaining my permanent residency in Panama. It was an easy decision to make because of the ease to maintain it – only having to visit the country 1 day every 2 years. And it allows me to inhabit in Panama for as long as I please without having to do the 48-hour border hop. Super convenient.
I had completed some preliminary requirements during previous trips to Panama, and this 2-weeker was scheduled to present my file and then to officially apply with immigration.
Let’s take a step back a couple of days…
My attorney asked me to stop by his office to complete some final paperwork before our trip to the Immigration Office. After filling out numerous pages of information, Pedro confirms the information, and the paralegal and I headed to immigration!
As we parked and were walking towards the entrance, Alexander asked for my 6 passport photos… which admittedly I forgot to get while in the States. No problem though. There’s a portable cart (like a food cart in NYC) set up with an industrial sized printer where I can sit in front of and take my head shot. $4 later and 6 proofs later, we proceeded indoors. I stood in the corner amused by the numerous amounts of people lingering around, as Alexander obtained the tickets with our number. He presented me with B-302. I looked at the screen above and saw they were already at B-140, and immediately B-141 popped up. This was going to be a breeze! Then he said, “We have 1000 people in front of us, let’s find a seat.” I didn’t notice that there were A-, B-, C-, D-, E- F-, G, X-, and Z- about sixty other variations of tickets.
After 4 hours of constant neck craning to check the screen and a full book later, our number popped up. Alexander came up to the window with me and the lady officer confirmed my details. I put my thumb fingerprint on the paper, she gave us a receipt, we paid at the next window, and then returned to retrieve my passport. My documents were presented, and all I had to do next was gather a few more documents to officially apply.
Alexander released me to the street and told me he’d see me tomorrow. I ran to the phone store next door to pick up a cell phone. Tip 101: If you plan to spend time in a country, buy a cheap, local phone (or SIM Card). How else do you expect to fulfill your technology dependence and Uber fix?
Now, that brings us to the following day.
I had a couple pending documents to receive for my final application. 1) Medical certificate of buena salud (good health) from a local doctor and 2) a bank reference letter from my Panama bank.
I insisted to my attorney that I could handle this on my own and didn’t need any assistance. The day prior he gave me the address for a doctor near my bank in Albrook (20 minutes outside of Panama City), his cellphone number, and a good luck Skype this morning. (Can you tell he had doubts!?)
I jumped into my Uber (YES! THERE IS UBER IN PANAMA!!! And yes, I used my new local phone to call him) and head to my bank in Albrook. Pedro texted and asked how it is going. I told him no problems. Because really everything was going smoothly.
My first stop was to my local bank to obtain a recommendation later. Second stop was to get a certificate of good health from the doctor up the street. A few minutes later, I directed the driver to the strip mall where the bank was…. Well used to be. Currently in its place was a newly painted, deep red exterior and Christmas wreaths hanging around the front door. This building was recently converted to a “Casita de Navidad” store for all things Christmas. The Uber driver looked at me and, in Spanish, asked if I still wanted to go in. I did contemplate for a couple of seconds (there was cute décor in the window) but I said “No, let’s just go to the doctor.”
I entered the small waiting space and put my name down with the assistant behind the counter. I filled out a few more forms, and took a seat at the end of the couch. During my 15-minute wait I witnessed a son crying to his father that he didn’t want to go in (they left), a Panamanian woman waiting for who knows what, and listened to the raunchy telenovela on the TV above me.
La Dra. called me in, asked the standard questions, drew some blood, and then provided me with the blood results. She told me I was healthy and gives me a physical certificate of good health. (I don’t know why I didn’t photograph this certificate, but it looked like something you’d be awarded after winning an 8th grade dodge ball competition.) I paid my check-up fee of $30 USD, called Uber, and waited outside for my driver.
In the meantime, I called my attorney and he provided me with another branch to get a reference letter. He warned me it could be a few hours for them to prepare the letter, and to be patient. I headed back to Panama City, and literally right around the corner from my hotel was the bank. Because my banking jargon in Spanish is quite rusty (or rather non-existent), the sweet gentleman at customer service counter thought I wanted to make a deposit. He handed me a deposit slip and asked how much I want to put into my account. Zero, señor. I wanted to put zero dollars in because all I needed was a reference letter. After some back and forth, my extensive hand gestures, and added –o’s and –a’s at the end of the words, the reference letter was drawn up.
I exited the bank into the pouring, rainy, puddle-filed streets and jumped into the first cab I saw. I arrived to my attorney’s office gleaming with self-satisfaction and he gave me a high-five. I did it. In less than 2.5 hours. He told me the paralegal would call me the following day to submit my official documentation, and in the meantime, to enjoy Panama City.
I exited his office, decided to try the subway back to the hotel (for my first time on the subway ever!!!)… and well…. Let’s just say it didn’t go as smoothly as it should have…